Starry Nights, Sunlit Mornings
edited: Friday, October 26, 2012
By Jack Pantaleo
Posted: Friday, August 04, 2000
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Jack Pantaleo worked as the Co-Director and Co-Founder of the AIDS InterFaith Network in San Francisco. In "Starry Nights, Sunlit Mornings," he describes three miracles he witnessed regarding people with AIDS.
An article by Jack Pantaleo
From 1983 until 1989, I served as codirector of the AIDS InterFaith Network in San Francisco. The network became a model for spiritual caregiving for people with AIDS and their loved ones. But it's the miracles that I remember most.
It all started during a monthly board meeting when a man named Valentino de la Guardia sat across the table from me. "I came here to ask you to pray for me," he said, looking into my eyes. "I have Kaposi's sarcoma lesions all over my body. You are my last hope."
I looked around the room. All eyes were on me.
I had led many board meetings, but this was the first meeting in which a man with AIDS had asked me directly for prayer. And Robert's Rules of Order, as best I could recall, said nothing about how to handle such requests.
I believed in prayer. I believed in God's healing power. But I didn't be-lieve in my ability to invoke that power. I had only a moment to think. So I swallowed my pride and non-belief in myself-and arranged to talk with the man following the meeting.
As the meeting ended, my heart began to race. These were untested spiritual waters.
I had no degree in healing, but I awkwardly placed my hands on his head and asked God to teach me how to pray. I asked what to ask and how to ask it.
Valentino responded with smiles and tears of relief. Other than his doctor and nurse, no one had touched him in months. The power of simple touch was anything but simple. My hands tingled.
Valentino's request for healing led us in directions I had never imagined. That night marked the AIDS InterFaith Network's progression from Robert's Rules of Order to God's Rules of Healing. Soon we began a prayer team, which initially consisted of two dear friends, Elwyn Atwood and Terry Barnard, and myself.
Elwyn was the assistant verger at Grace Cathedral, the Episcopal cathedral in San Francisco. At ten o'clock every Wednesday evening, we would descend to the Chapel of Grace in the cathedral through a series of back passageways. The only lights would be glowing votive candles and the constellation of miniature lights that line the chapel's ceiling.
We sat on the steps near the altar and stared at the makeshift night sky, imagining the wonders of the universe. And we prayed. We prayed for ourselves. We prayed for each other. And we prayed for guidance. What were we to do, and how were we to do it?
The answer was always, "Just pray." So we prayed.
Bolstered by those weekly prayers, we began visiting people with AIDS in their homes, including Valentino.
One day, we received an emergency call from Valen-tino's mother, Flora. She spoke only Spanish. She had an interpreter call us. She was desperate. Valentino had developed pneumonia since we had last seen him. He was on oxygen and confined to bed. He hadn't eaten in more than two weeks. We rushed to their home on Alvarado Street in San Francisco.
Flora opened the door. Her eyes were filled with dread. She clutched her chest and yelled something in Spanish. She led us to his room, where Valentino lay motionless. I reached for his hand. He raised it slightly, grimacing in pain. Elwyn, Terry, and I looked at each other and back at Valentino. Without saying a word to each other, we simultaneously took off our shoes and climbed into bed with him. We held him in our arms and in our words, caressing his forehead, stroking his arms and legs. We prayed aloud for God's healing power to fill the room.
Flora sat next to the bed. She must have wondered what we were doing. For a moment, I wondered the same.
After a good forty-five minutes of prayer, Valentino's body suddenly felt lighter in my arms. I felt an intense joy. I looked up. Elwyn and Terry were smiling. Valentino sat up and said, "I'm hungry."
He removed the oxygen cannulas from his nostrils and repeated the words in Spanish to his mother. She began to sob and clutched her chest again. She then hurried to the kitchen and frantically banged pots and pans while she prepared dinner.
We left that evening after watching Valentino devour his first meal in weeks. Only when we walked out the door, did the reality of the miracle hit us. The man who was too weak to get out of bed had cheerfully seen us to the door. We stood there in awe. We had learned how to deal with death in the epidemic's wake. Now we had to learn how to deal with healing.
It was in silence that we had climbed into his bed. Now it was in silence that we left his house. The miracle was too precious to be shouted from the rooftops. It was a gift we cradled in our hearts. A gift that guided our paths through the days of epidemic to come.
As the epidemic escalated, the dreaded AIDS virus became a powerful avenue to both hate and compassion. While TV evangelists proclaimed AIDS to be God's wrath on gays, many churches began responding to the AIDS crisis with love.
This was particularly true of the Episcopal Church in San Francisco under the guidance of William Swing, the Episcopal bishop of Northern California. In 1985, we received a call from Bishop Swing, inviting the AIDS InterFaith Network to coordinate monthly healing services in the very place we had prayed every Wednes-day, Grace Cathedral. The services were held the first Monday of every month and were an invaluable source of spiritual and emotional healing for people with AIDS, their loved ones, and their caregivers. They became a model for AIDS healing services in many parts of the world. Everyone we prayed for was healed in some way. We had spiritual and emotional healing in abundance. Yet I found myself longing to see more physical manifestations of our prayers.
"Thou shalt not put thy God to the test," Luke 4:12 says. My heart responded, "Then why is it OK to put me to the test? God can take it better than I can. I need a sign!" I was tired of watching so many people suffer and die.
Word of a physical healing came in a very unexpected way.
Before the start of one healing service, I stood in the Chapel of Grace. A woman in a nurse's uniform ap-proached me cautiously. "May I help you?" I asked.
"Yes," she said shyly. "I want to know where the healing happens."
She explained that she was an AIDS nurse. "Last month," she said with a tear-stained voice, "a patient of mine came to your healing service. He was a man with AIDS who had lesions all over his face and body. The following day, he came in for his weekly treatment. At first, I barely recognized him."
She paused to catch her breath. "I barely recognized him because all the lesions on his face and body were gone. There is no trace of the AIDS virus in his body." Tears rolled down her cheeks.
I wanted to shout with joy. But joy was not in the woman's eyes. She was terrified.
"I don't believe in God," she continued. "And I certainly don't believe in religion. My whole world has been turned upside down. I came here tonight because I have a tumor in my neck. I came to be healed. Except, I feel guilty even asking."
"That's not a problem," I assured her. "Most people here believe in God, and even they feel guilty for asking." She smiled.
During the service, she knelt in front of me. I anointed her with holy oil, while several people surrounded her with the laying-on of hands.
After the service, she quietly left the chapel without saying good-bye or speaking to anyone. She did look back, though. Her puffy red eyes blinked once, and she frantically ran out the door.
I never heard from her again. Or from the man who had been healed. But she had given me the sign that I had so desperately needed.
Once again, I felt no compulsion to shout it from the rooftops. A peace flooded my soul. I walked home in silence.
The third miracle was no heal-ing of body, mind, or soul. But it is a miracle that encompasses all the rest.
One day the network received a call from San Francisco General Hospital's AIDS ward. A man named Peter was in a coma, near death, and the hospital staff was unable to locate his companion in life, his lover.
Peter had grown up in Southern Baptist churches. So we sent a Southern Baptist minister to attend to him, a man named Frank Scarlett.
When Frank arrived at the hospital, he was taken to Peter's side. Frank reached out his hand, and Peter grasped it firmly.
The nurse jumped when she saw this. Peter was supposed to be in a deep coma. She rechecked his vital signs. There had been no change.
Peter not only grasped tightly, he wouldn't let go. Other than an occasional break, Frank stayed with the man through the night and into the morning. Peter would not die. There was something unfinished.
At dawn, the hospital staff finally reached his lover, who had just re-turned from a business trip. The man rushed to the hospital. He entered the room. Frank took Peter's hand and placed it in his beloved's. Their hands clasped tightly, one final clasp-and Peter died. It was finished.
The minister stared in awe at love's power. The love that once dared not speak its name now sang in the sunlight.
Through the years, there has been death-all too much death. There has been healing-all too little healing. And there has been love. Never too much, and never too little.
Today, the miracle of love still sings in the morning sunlight and still quietly lulls me to sleep as I stare at the stars, the same stars that guided my way in a cathedral of grace.
From The Other Side Online, © 1997 The Other Side, Mar-Apr 1997, Vol. 33, No. 2.
Web Site: The Other Side Magazine
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|Reviewed by Regina Pounds
|A fascinating subject, a wonderful, well written article..what a life you lead!
An update would be nice.
Best regards to you,
|Reviewed by John Domino
|A wonderful story!
You are a blessed writer.
Yours in the grace of Jesus Christ.
|Reviewed by Joanna Leone
|Beautifully written!God does his work in mysterious ways. I enjoyed reading this. It really touched my heart.
Stop in at my authorsden sometime, I would love to hear your opinion.
|Reviewed by Chrissy McVay
|Bless you for your selfless work! The Writer's Digest Award is also an impressive accomplishment. Good luck with all your ventures.
Chrissy K. McVay
|Reviewed by Eddie Thompson
|an amazing article...God certainly moves in special ways.|
|Reviewed by michael l.
|valentino was a special sweet and spiritual man who was a friend of mine when we both lived in elizabeth,nj some 25-30 years ago. he and his mom were devoted to him. he loved life and was eternally optimistic as i'm sure he still is wherever he is.........|
|Reviewed by michael losch
|Reviewed by m j hollingshead
|enjoyed the read|
|Reviewed by Candida Eittreim
|If only more would believe, what miracles would be accomplished! Thank you for a lovely and soul stirring article.
|Reviewed by Elaine Masters
|A beautiful article, testifying to God's involvement with people today. I've witnessed some healing miracles, too. Healing prayer is definitely for today! Of course, when we pray for someone and there's no sign of healing, we feel foolish. But it's God who is making the decisions, not us. I hope those prayer meetings are still going on.|
|Reviewed by Cynthia Borris
This was a pleasure to read. I'm glad I checked out the featured authors for this week. Not only is this extremely well written, it is uplifting and speaks volumes of the human connection. As an added bonus I was thrilled to see you are in the Bay Area also.