TAMPA, Fla. — Friends and former parishioners in Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s church took to the stage at the Republican National Convention to tell stories of Romney’s kindness and charity Thursday.
Grant Bennett, Romney friend and Belmont, Mass., church colleague, spoke about Romney’s work as pastor at his Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and his focus on service to others.
So, what specifically did Mitt Romney do as our pastor?
For one or two evenings each week and several hours every weekend — week after week and year after year — he met with those seeking help with the burdens of real life, burdens we all face at one time or another: unemployment, sickness, financial distress, loneliness.
Mitt prayed with and counseled church members seeking spiritual direction, single mothers raising children, couples with marital problems, youth with addictions, immigrants separated from their families, and individuals whose heat had been shut off.
To uphold the dignity — and respect the privacy — of those who came, he met with them in private and in confidence. He has upheld that trust.
Mitt’s response to those who came was compassion in all its beautiful varieties: He had a listening ear and a helping hand.
Drawing on the skills and resources of those in our congregation, Mitt provided food and housing, rides to the doctor and companions to sit with those who were ill.
He shoveled snow and raked leaves for the elderly; he took down tables and swept the floors at church dinners.
According to Bennett, Romney’s admonition was to “find our life by losing it in service to others. He issued that challenge again and again.”
Ted and Pat Oparowski, members of Romney’s congregation, put a face to Bennett’s description of Romney as a force for good.
Explaining that they are a family of “modest means” firefighter Ted Oparowski spoke of meeting the Romneys and the son, David, the Oparowskis lost over 30 years ago with the Romenys by their side — “America deserves to hear it” he exclaimed.
“You cannot measure a man’s character based on words he utters before adoring crowds during happy times,” he said. “The true measure of a man is revealed in his actions during times of trouble. The quiet hospital room of a dying boy, with no cameras and no reporters — that is the time to make an assessment.”
Pat Oparowski detailed how son, David, at age 14 was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma and the way in with Romney helped David and the family — including helping young David write his will.
“On another visit, David, knowing Mitt had gone to law school at Harvard, asked Mitt if he would help him write a will. He had some prized possessions he wanted to make sure were given to his closest friends and family,” she detailed. “The next time Mitt went to the hospital, he was equipped with his yellow legal pad and pen. Together, they made David’s will. That is a task that no child should ever have to do. But it gave David peace of mind.”
She posed the question: “How many men do you know would take the time out of their busy lives to visit a terminally ill 14 year old and help him settle his affairs?”
Pam Finlayson, another church congregant, offered a similar story of service. Telling of the struggles her family endured when baby Kate, born prematurely, suffered a severe brain hemorrhage when she was three days old.
Her lungs not yet ready to breathe, her heart unstable, and after suffering a severe brain hemorrhage at three days old, she was teetering on the very edge of life.
As I sat with her in intensive care, consumed with a mother’s worry and fear, dear Mitt came to visit and pray with me.
As our clergy, he was one of few visitors allowed.
I will never forget that when he looked down tenderly at my daughter, his eyes filled with tears, and he reached out gently and stroked her tiny back.
I could tell immediately that he didn’t just see a tangle of plastic and tubes; he saw our beautiful little girl, and he was clearly overcome with compassion for her.
During the many months Kate was hospitalized, the Romneys often cared for our two-year old son, Peter. They treated him like one of their own, even welcoming him to stay the night when needed.
Finlayson went on to explain, choking up and with many in the audience in tears, how her daughter died at age 26 a year a half ago. When she passed, the Romneys reached out to offer their support.
“It seems to me when it comes to loving our neighbor, we can talk about it, or we can live it,” she said. “The Romneys live it every single day.”