“What are you writing about?” asks our doorman, Jose Temprano, and when I say, “Yogi Berra and Pope Francis’ visit,” this thoughtful staff member (they all are, incidentally) says he hopes it’s about “Yogi’s great character, unlike that of too many athletes.” Not surprisingly, this was my intention, and the column title, “Person, Not Player the Main Focus” is the title of Times’ writer Harvey Araton’s account of this most beloved Yankee’s funeral.
And don’t we need that – in general – focus on character, and Pope Francis would say this was surely basic church doctrine. But “the church” (all faith groups) could use some related lessons from Yogi to help fill those pews and prevent more parish mergers whose immeasurable loss was not addressed during Pope Francis’ visit. And so in need of remembrance and adoption are these lessons from Yogi, thankfully found in Daily News reporters Larry McShane, Christian Red and Larry Vinton’s Sept. 30 account of his funeral. (Do get a copy.)
Lesson number one as recalled by ex-Yankee manager Joe Torre was “Yogi’s uncanny ability to make people smile.” Although these words followed Torre’s tribute to “this American treasure who leaves behind a kindness and respect for all. He affected so many people in a positive way,” it’s the smiling that so needs an imminent revival, in general with love one another, love thy neighbor -- faith groups setting the example. Now you may not get even a nod from others sharing your pew.
During Pope Francis’ visit, which made great multitudes smile (for a while), the pope told Our Lady Queen of Angels school’s 4th graders to keep smiling, even though there are problems at home. Surely he also meant the school must hear about these problems, often alcohol and drug-related, which find treatment in 12 Step groups which often meet on church premises. Children should share their problems. Everyone should.
Ironically, this school is part of the Our Lady Queen of Angels church, which was closed some years ago to highly publicized parishioner protest, and now some recently closed parishes are desperately hoping the Vatican will reopen their churches which are even self-supporting and also accessible. But more must be publicly said about the ongoing hardships these mergers create, to both parishioners and the community as meeting places for Alcoholics Anonymous and other public service groups. Ah, and these churches are beautiful human scale buildings, beacons of hope even for non-believers.
And infinitely more must be said about how Yogi Berra with his wife Carmen and family of three sons faithfully attended their parish church in Montclair, New Jersey. All important was Yogi and Carmen’s role model marriage and intact family (extended, of course). natural support systems so essential for a stable and non-violent society.
The Catholic Church is not alone in hoping Pope Francis’ visit gets more people into those pews and seminaries and convents. But it would help if more sermons and Sabbath school lessons were based on Yogi Berra’s life and his being “a legacy of kindness and respect for all and his uncanny ability to make people smile.”
Remember as well, Derek Jeter praising Yogi for being a good listener as well as a good talker. And although a generation apart, these two became close friends. As did Yogi and Ron Guidry, and do read Harvey Araton’s book, “Driving Mr. Yogi, Yogi Berra, Ron Guidry, Baseball’s Greatest Gift.” Intergenerational friend and familyships are especially needed as the population ages, with the obvious, able-bodied helping those who are not, but some babies from Yogi’s “Greatest Generation,” thrown out with the bath water of ill-advised change need to get back into the mix.
And, how we need to “share the talk!” so everyone’s voice is heard. Faith groups, all people of good will, should be in the vanguard of reviving both too little practiced examples of peace and justice for all - sharing the talk and overcoming generational apartheid.
To be continued, no doubt, and it can be done if enough of us try. Smile!