Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Felix Finkbeiner:  Stop Talking and Start Planting

In 2007 a nine year-old boy in Germany was given an assignment in school to write a paper on the issue of climate change.  Not long into his research, Felix Finkbeiner discovered the story of Wangri Muta Maathai, the Kenyan hero who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her Green Belt Movement that has been responsible for planting over 30 million trees across Africa to fight deforestation and soil erosion.

Trees lower carbon dioxide emissions, and thus diminish the Greenhouse Effect.

Inspired by this great woman, young Felix decided that the rest of the world needed to follow suit.  His initial goal was to plant 1 million trees around the world.  On March 28, 2007 Felix planted his first tree at his school, and Plant-for-the-Planet was born. 

Supported by his parents, who are both environmental activists, as well as his classmates and his school Felix began to visit local schools, and helped them start tree-planting drives.  A website was developed that taught people how to plant trees, provided information about environmental issues, and gave links to like-minded organizations.
Soon the local media picked up the story, and in just three years Plant-for-the-Planet had planted its 1 millionth tree in Germany alone. 

Felix was invited to speak at conferences in South Korea, Norway, Switzerland, Sweden, Austria, Italy and China.  And in 2011 he addressed the United Nations, challenging the adults in the room to “stop talking and start planting.”  By that time, Felix had also established an international youth board made up of 14 representatives from eight different regions around the world to facilitate tree plantings, grow the dialogue about environmental concerns, and empower more youths.  Currently, over 100,000 children are participating in the mission of Plant-for-the-Planet in over 190 nations. 

His belief---adults alone cannot be trusted to make the changes necessary.

The United Nations Environment Program was so impressed with Felix and his organization it turned over management of its own Billion Tree Campaign, an incredibly effective tree-planting program in its own right, to Plant-for-the-Planet soon after his U.N. speech.

The number of trees planted since Felix planted his first tree in his elementary school’s courtyard is 14,201,740,128.   His goal is to have 1,000 billion trees planted worldwide by 2020. 

Is anyone questioning that this advocate for Mother Earth will reach that number?

Felix Finkbeiner is a hero you should know. And I'm Dr. Ross Porter. 
Hugh O’Flaherty:  The Dangerous Game of Hide-and-Seek

Hugh O’Flaherty grew up on a golf course, and dreamed of being a professional golfer.  He was good enough to receive a college scholarship offer, but decided to pursue his other great love, religion, instead.  And the world should be forever grateful.

O’Flaherty had planned on being a missionary priest, but because of his interpersonal and language skills (he was fluent in several languages), his superiors decided that he would be more useful as a diplomat.  Between 1925 and 1938, he served in Egypt, Haiti, Santo Domingo, and Czechoslovakia, gaining invaluable experience and contacts that would come in very handy when he was transferred to Rome as a Vatican official in 1939. 

By then, Italy---allied with Nazi Germany---had set up Prisoner of War camps around Rome, and O’Flaherty was assigned to the papal nuncio as an interpreter and assistant.  He visited the POW’s, ensured that they were receiving proper care, and contacted their families to update them on their loved ones.  But O’Flaherty got himself in trouble with the Italian government when he began broadcasting on Vatican Radio not just news about the POW’s, but the poor conditions in the camps.  The Italian government pressured the Vatican to remove him from his POW assignment, and keep him silent in Rome.  This turned out to be providential. 

In 1943 Mussolini was ousted from power and thousands of prisoners were released.  However the Nazis quickly moved into Italy and the direction changed radically.

Immediately they sought to round up the just-released POW’s as well as the Jews.  O’Flaherty responded by setting up Vatican-sponsored underground networks that provided false identification papers for refugees, and employed churches, monasteries, convents, and private homes as escape routes and hiding places for men, women, and children. 

Lieutenant Colonel Herbert Kappler, head of the Gestapo in Rome, did learn of O’Flaherty’s activities.  He had a white line painted on the pavement at the opening of St. Peter’s Square, where Vatican City became Italy---and one left the protection of “neutral” soil.  He promised to torture and kill the priest if he ever caught him on the wrong side.  This did not prevent O’Flaherty from making his pastoral rounds, disguised as a street cleaner, a laborer, a postman, and even a nun.  This was described by one saved prisoner as “The most gigantic game of hide-an-seek you’ve ever seen.”

It is estimated that of the roughly 9,700 Jews in Rome, only 1,007 were caught by the Nazis and shipped to concentration camps.  O’Flaherty alone was responsible for saving 1,700 Jews, as well as 6,500 other refugees.

But Hugh O’Flaherty’s most unlikely “save” came years after the war.  Month in and month out, year in and year out O’Flaherty visited his old nemesis---the former head of the Gestapo in Rome Lieutenant Colonel Herbert Kappler---in a Roman prison cell.  O’Flaherty challenged the hate and the fear, and slowly the walls came down in Kappler, and a light shone in the darkness.  And in 1959, fourteen years into his life sentence---and with O’Flaherty as witness---the former Nazi accepted a Jew as his Lord.

Sometimes the truth is stranger than fiction…and more inspirational.

Hugh O’Flaherty is a hero you should know. And I'm Dr. Ross Porter.