Scientologists ready to help when needed

The Chicago Sun-Times/July 5, 2002
By Cathleen Falsani


Kim Perfetti spent July 4 relaxing with friends and family at the beach, celebrating her freedom as a citizen of the United States of America.

But Perfetti was also on call, just in case something terrible happened.

Perfetti, a 36-year-old mother from Chesterton, Ind., who works for a dentist in downtown Chicago, is a volunteer minister for the Church of Scientology.

In case of terrorist strikes on July 4, the Church of Scientology organized more than 10,000 volunteer ministers across the country to be on alert. To help--to assist, as they say--if there were an emergency.

One of about 30,000 people involved in Scientology in the Chicago area (including parts of Indiana and Wisconsin), Perfetti is linked to the nationwide cell phone and e-mail network set up to coordinate the volunteer Scientologist ministers in case of disaster.

Back in December, a few months after America experienced the most heinous terrorist attacks on U.S. soil, Perfetti decided to undergo three weeks of training to become a volunteer Scientologist minister.

"The reason I chose to do the training was you can think about 'How can I help?' and sit and think and wonder and try to come up with ideas," she said. "Or, you can just help."

"As a volunteer minister, I don't think about it. I just do."

Doing, in the Scientology tradition, means giving an "assist" to a person in need.

That might mean making sure everyone at the scene of an accident is calm until paramedics arrive, trying to keep an injured person focused on what's going on around them so they don't go into shock, or directing people to safety during an attack.

Perfetti gave her first official assist as a volunteer minister a few weeks ago when she happened upon the scene of a car crash near a downtown Starbucks.

"The woman that was hit, I did a 'locational' with her, just to orient her in the here and now. After about a half-hour she popped out of it and started laughing."

What did Perfetti do to orient the injured woman? She pointed at a tree.

"The commands are very simple: 'Look at that,' and then you wait for them to acknowledge," she said. Later, the woman asked Perfetti what she had done to help. "I said, 'I didn't do anything. You did it.' "

More than 800 members of the Scientologists' Volunteer Minister Corps spent months helping victims and rescuers at Ground Zero in New York after Sept. 11, said Susan Strozewski, spokeswoman for the church in Chicago.

Based on the teachings of Scientology's founder, L. Ron Hubbard, volunteer ministers use church practices to help people out of an immediate problem of emotional travail," Strozewski said.

Take a man injured in a car wreck, for instance.

"It literally brings the person out of the incident to, 'Here I am. I'm still alive, and now I can move on."

Even if moving on simply means getting into an ambulance.

But the volunteer ministers also try to help traumatized people move on emotionally, psychologically and spiritually so they can handle what needs to be done.

Perfetti had her cell phone at her side Thursday as she arrived at the beach with other revelers. If something were to happen, she'd be ready to go wherever she was needed at the drop of a hat.

"Knowing that--God forbid--something should happen, I know what to do to help, there is a higher level of responsibility, a higher level of knowingness of being able to give people what they need," she said.

On the day Americans celebrate their freedoms, practitioners of Scientology, a religious philosophy created in the United States a half-century ago by Hubbard, are on alert to exercise not only their faith, but many of the freedoms their fellow Scientologists don't share.

In Germany, Scientology is viewed not as a religion, but as a money-making scheme. Scientologists have been banned from public service, even forced to remove their children from public schools.

In 2000, the French National Assembly unanimously passed a bill to make it easier to crack down on what the government considered cults, including Scientology.

Many people in the United States consider Scientology a cult. Even President Bush had something disparaging to say about Scientology last year when he announced his plan to offer government aid to religious institutions that run social services.

"I have a problem with the teachings of Scientology being viewed on the same par as Judaism or Christianity," Bush said.

The irony, or at least the juxtaposition of what American Scientologists are prepared to do for their neighbors and how they are viewed by some of their neighbors, is not lost on Strozewski.

"Anything that's new, anything that's unknown, people are going to fill that vacuum with their own information. . . . There's going to be rumor, and there's going to be innuendo," she said.

"I don't think Scientology would have been able to grow as quickly as it has--we're barely 50 years old--if it hadn't been founded here in the United States where religious freedom is so precious."

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