Archive for the 'Personal' Category

Beach Book

Later this year, Tau Publishing of Phoenix, Arizona will be publishing two new books of mine. One will feature my Haitian Advent Journal from last December. The other will a book I’ve been working on for years…it is titled THE CANVAS OF MY SOUL: A Filmmaker’s Journey with Saint Francis and Thomas Merton to the Peripheries of Poverty and Prayer.

Last summer Tau Publishing released a revised and updated version of my book The Sun & Moon Over Assisi. They released this new edition of the book in both hardcover and paperback. Writing that book changed the course of my life and led me to create my own ministry of serving the poor through the power of film. The book was published in 2000 and was named the best spirituality hardcover book of the year by the Catholic Press Association. A paperback version was published in 2008. But both the original hardcover and paperback have been out of print for many years. I am thrilled the book has been resurrected…and improved. The mission of Tau Publishing is to promote Franciscan Spirituality and Franciscan authors. They need to sell books in order to continue publishing books. I strongly urge you to visit the following link, and check out The Sun & Moon Over Assisi.

And also take a moment to see other wonderful books published by Tau Publishing, including the recently released spiritual autobiography of Murray Bodo, OFM, who is, in my opinion, the best living Franciscan writer today. Any book by Fr. Murray is worth reading. Speaking about The Sun & Moon Over Assisi, Fr. Murray said, “Straub presents…a Francis and Clare who ring true on every page,” adding that the book takes the reader on “a profoundly human pilgrimage.”

Peace and blessings,

Gerry Straub

Back from my 4th trip to Haiti

The following is an e-mail I sent to some family and friends on August 27th, three days after I returned from two difficult but inspiring weeks in Haiti.

 “We can only become saints by facing ourselves, by assuming full responsibility for our lives just as they are, with all their limitations and handicaps, and submitting ourselves to the purifying and transforming action of the Savior.” -Thomas Merton

 After five full days, I was ready to give up. Life in the slum was just too hard, too harsh. I didn’t think I could survive another day. I was emotionally and physically drained. I’ve filmed in slums like this all over the world, but to live in one is another story…a horror story laced with rodents, roaches, ants and mosquitoes. Life without running water and electricity is exhausting and brutally difficult. The stench of human waste and rotting garbage is inescapable and nauseating. Violence and corruption are common place. The slum that had been my home for five full days is in the earthquake-devastated city of Port-au-Prince, Haiti. This profoundly impoverished area is known as Girardo-ville. Access to the heart of the slum is limited to one unpaved road that is almost impassable. The difficult physical journey out of the slum is symbolic of the even more difficult journey out of the hopelessness of the place and a city where death and disease still lingers in the toxic air.

 During the night of my sixth day in the slum, I became very sick. I awoke in the middle of the night and was shivering from the cold even though the night air was still very warm. Despite my shivering, I was running a fever and was wet from perspiration. Worse, I could not stop coughing. I became anxious when I realized there was no way out of the slum at night, that I had no access to help. When people get sick here, especially at night, they die. It is that simple. Residents of this slum have nowhere to go for help; even if they did, they have no money to pay for medical treatment. Curable illnesses, such as malaria and pneumonia, quickly turn into death sentences.

 In this place of overwhelming need, I faced my own emptiness and limitations. In a sea of black faces, I faced my own dark side, my own deep poverty and loneliness, my own weaknesses and doubts. In this deeply dysfunctional city where extreme chaos and suffering are the foundation of every day, I found beauty, grace and a new way to look at life. I saw the futility of my own self-centeredness. In this broken place, I caught a fleeting glimpse of the wholeness where the unity of being resides, where there is no division between body and soul, faith and actions. In the harshness of daily life in the slum I came to see how hauling water could become an act of love that bound me to myself, to another and to God. In this slum, my understanding of myself, my life and God were stretched way beyond the boundaries I had previously experienced. This slum became a place of personal Transfiguration.

 Mysticism and mercy help us to learn to love beyond our present capacity. The mystic is simply a person who has experiential knowledge that God dwells within them, in the deep recesses of their soul, hidden but truly present. Mercy is a ray of light and love in the midst of darkness and despair. Mysticism and mercy form the bridal chamber of love.

 I have been home for three days and am slowly recovering from my respiratory illness. During the 14 day trip, I took over a thousand still photographs as I thoroughly documented life not only in the slum where I lived but also in two small tent cities. From my perspective, the situation in Haiti seems to be getting worse. There are still a million homeless people in Port-au-Prince. Tents are everywhere. They line the streets, they fill the fields and are jammed into every open space. After six months, many tents are becoming frayed from the intensity of the sun and the nightly rain storms. Infectious diseases are spreading like wildfire. Violence against women is rising steadily. Many people are forced to bathe in the streets without the benefit of any privacy. The poorest of the poor eat cakes made of mud and polluted water. At night, kids chase the rats away with sticks. And the rubble from the collapsed buildings is everywhere. Traffic is a nightmare.

 It will take a little time to process this experience…and I am going to give it the time in needs. In stillness and silence, I am slowly transcribing all the notes I took on the trip and sorting through all the photographs. By simply being in Haiti without any agenda, without the pressure of trying to make a film, I gained a clearer sense of perspective…about myself and life. In the slum, I saw how defenseless and vulnerable we all are, how precarious the human situation is. Every day people die from the icy cold of indifference and loneliness.

 In following Christ, I have seen with my own eyes in so many places around the world how life is filled to overflowing with pain and struggle. Following Christ leads to the Cross, and it doesn’t offer an easy way around it. To become a disciple of Christ means accepting a spirituality of the cross and renouncing a spirituality of glory. Christ humbled himself in order to love me. He gave of himself in order to love me. In turn, I must give of myself in order to love Christ and all of creation.

 Contemporary society, with its ever-accelerating pace of life, is becoming increasingly fragmented and superficial. We’re in such a hurry we don’t take time for simple acts of kindness. For the most part, sadly, we people worship on the altar of self interest. Today, more than one billion people are undernourished, and one child dies every six seconds because of malnutrition. In light of such an overwhelming (and under-reported) disaster, compassion compels us to put the common good ahead of greed and profits.

 I have filled up many frames and minutes of my films, many chapters and pages of my books, with words about poverty. So much of what I have written is merely empty rhetoric because I really was far removed from the brutal reality of chronic poverty, experiencing it from behind the safety of a camera and the shelter of a hotel. Even living for two weeks fully immersed in the life of the poor was not a true experience of poverty because I had a plane ticket out and a credit card in my wallet. But it did give me a much clearer idea of just how terrible the lives of the poor are. Life in the slums and tent cities of Haiti is saturated with violence and boredom. Basic human dignity is snuffed out by the constant struggle to survive each day. It is hard to imagine living a life without hope, and to face on a daily basis absolute insecurity and complete vulnerability. How can we truly know and understand what it is like to live with constant degradation, desperation, uncertainty and hopelessness? After being home for only three days, I have already begun to slip back into my comfortable and orderly world where I do not have to give a thought to food and water.

 But poverty is more than a lack of food and work. Poverty is a destructive force that destroys the unity of the human family by dividing us into camps of those who have and those who don’t have. And between the rich and the poor, there is an impenetrable wall that separates us. That scandalous wall must come down.

 Extending compassion to all people, even our enemies, is the very heart of the Christian faith. Jesus makes it abundantly clear that compassion is to be our central spiritual practice. And through compassion, we are better able to control greed and work together for the equitable distribution of the resources of God’s creation through the fullest utilization of humanity’s creative ingenuity, so that one day soon there will be no hunger on planet Earth.

 Peace and blessings,


Easter in Assisi

On Monday, March 30th I will be flying from Los Angeles to Frankfurt, Germany, where I will connect to a flight to Rome, Italy. And then I will travel by train to Assisi.

On Thursday, Friday and Sarturday of next, I will be giving a retreat for American college students studying in Perugia, Italy (just a short drive from Assisi) in a program offered by St. Bonaventure University. After the retreat, I will spend Holy Week and Easter in Assisi. During that time I hope to be able to give more serious thought to the film on St. Francis, with an eye toward returning in May for some additional filming.

Lent has been very busy for me. I have given my “poverty and prayer” presentation to many high schools, universities and churches, traveling to Spokane, WA, Detroit, MI, Reading, PA, Ossining, NY, Raliegh, NC, New Rochelle, NY, and three towns on Long Island, NY. I am weary from the travel, but I nonetheless am happy to have a chance to return to Italy.

I am going to spend time on Sunday trying to post a blog for each day that I am away. If my time runs out, I might resort to posting quotes instead of reflections.

Peace and blessings,


Life and Death

On the day after Christmas, I boarded a plane and headed back to Assisi. It was a short trip, two full days of it spent getting to and from Italy. I returned on Sunday night.

My time in Assisi was marked more by thoughts of life and death than by the reality of the cold and snow. In the early morning hours of December 30th, Padre Gerhard Ruf, an 81 year old German Conventual friar died in his room after a heart attack. His knowledge of the art within the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi was virtually unsurpassed. He dedicated his life to helping pilgrims better understand and appreciate the magnificent art that graces the walls of the church. He lived at the Sacro Convento at Basilica of St. Francis for 50 years, and his books on the basilica are filled with a lifetime of wisdom and knowledge. His body was placed in a simple room in the Convento within hours of the discovery of his death for the brothers in Assisi to say farewell. I was fortunate to be allowed to spend time in the room. The funeral Mass was celebrated on December 31st in the lower church of the Basilica. The Bishop of Assisi was the celebrant and it was a beautiful farewell to a man who truly lived his call. Before the Mass, I was privileged to be with a small gathering of friars and sisters as Fr. Ruf’s coffin was sealed; it was a simple yet deeply moving ceremony, preformed with dignity and grace.

Padre Ruf’s passing offered me the chance to reflect on the mystery of life and death as I begin the New Year and think about challenges in my personal life and in the life of The San Damiano Foundation. I hope each of us can live each day as if it were our last, doing what we love out of love. Let us try to greet each day of the coming year with love in our hearts.

My Kid Sister

Today I remember in a special way the anniversary of the death of my younger sister, Teresa Marie, who passed into eternal life six years ago after succumbing to a long battle with leukemia.

I was in Manaus, Brazil working on my film Embracing the Leper during the last weeks of her life. I called her as often as I could, but phones in the area where I was were hard to find. I returned home on a Friday and was informed that the next day they were putting Terry into hospice care. My impulse was to rush to her side. But I had caught a nasty cold in the Amazon; it was so bad I could hardly speak. My family persuaded me to stay home and rest over the weekend and travel to New York on Monday. Terry died on Sunday. To this day, I regret not getting the chance to see her one last time, to hug her and tell her I loved her.

Terry was truly a loving person, who gave herself fully to everyone she encountered.

I miss her very much.

A publisher (who rejected my book on St. Francis) asked who the market was for the book. Without hesitation, I said, “My kid sister.”

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