News from Maine

Who would have guessed that some of the most fascinating religion-related news in the last 12 months would come from Northern Maine. Two weeks ago, Richard Albert, who lives about 100 feet from the Canadian border, was fined $10,000 for crossing the border to go to church, something he has been doing for 40 years.

Albert lives right next door to a US Custom's office and was caught on camera passing a closed border station. A special program that allowed Albert and others to cross the border on a pre-approved basis was cancelled after September 11.

Here's the problem, according to the Associated Press, for those like Albert who need to cross from Township 15 Range 15 in Maine to St. Pamphile, Quebec.

The elimination of the special program creates problems for the people who live in this settlement. Family and friends, and such amenities as stores, churches and medical facilities are in Quebec.

"We're supposed to stay here and not move?" Albert said. "We're being treated like animals here. At 9 p.m., we're locked in the barns and at 6 a.m., we're let out to pasture."

The Kennebec Journal pointed out that Albert would have had to drive 200 miles
roundtrip to cross legally--not a great idea in the middle of a Maine winter.

It is not hard to understand why Albert and perhaps a few others might not have thought that the border patrol was serious about its don't-go-to-church-or-anywhere-else rule. After all, given the real threats posed by terrorists, a visit to a church in St. Pamphile does not seem to reach the danger level posed by drug dealers, smugglers or terrorists.

"This situation, it's like having a nightmare, and you feel that Big Brother is really controlling you and you can do nothing about it," Albert told the AP. He hasn't been to church since.

And then there's the sadder story of the Gustaf Adolph Lutheran Church, where 16 people were poisoned from drinking coffee laced with arsenic after church. One church member died while another committed suicide a few days after. He's the prime suspect, though the case is not solved. The national media swarmed the town after the poisoning but have long since left. Meanwhile, folks like 80 year old Ralph Ostlund, who survived the poisoning, are left with a long haul back to any kind of normal life. The Portland Press did a long follow up story in December.

Here's a little bit.
For a town eager to move on, to reclaim the simple peace and simplicity they say existed before the arsenic poisonings put New Sweden on front pages around the world, Ostlund's recovery and optimism are an inspiration.

It hasn't been easy.

"They've taken so long," he said of the legs that are slowly regaining a fraction of their old strength. "It's a long struggle." But then, as if to balance the ledger, he adds: "I wasn't supposed to make it. I made it. I'm around. I wouldn't wish what I went through on anybody. It happened. I have to put up with it."

The fact that the poisoning has not been solved has made healing harder. Dale Anderson, another victim told the Portland Press that having some definitive answers would put people's minds to rest.

"I'd know who I could get mad at," he said. "We'd like to clear it up so people can feel good about themselves and the town, so people would stop worrying is there somebody out there going to do something stupid again."

But then there's Mr. Ostlund who laughs as he describes being a guinea pig for doctors studying arsenic poisoning.

I had a good 80 years," he says. Then, smiling an infectious grin, he adds, "Well, 79 and three-quarters."

The piece closes with Ostlund leaving to visit relatives in Florida but promising to return.

"I wouldn't think about living anywhere except New Sweden. Why would you want to live anywhere else when you're in the best place in the world?" he asked, then added: "We thought it was the safest place in the world, but we found different."


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