Shriver Stories: The Ambassador Will Vouch For Me

Charlene Duline (Peru 1962-64) had just moved to Paris in 1969 and Christmas was approaching when she read in the newspapers about a Christmas Eve Mass that the new Ambassador was having in the ancient Sainte Chappelle Church. Well, why don’t I let Charlene tell her story of meeting up with Sarge once again, this time in Paris.

The Ambassador Will Vouch For Me

It was 1969 and Christmas was approaching. I was settling into life in Paris, France after moving there two months previously. I saw an article in the newspaper about a Christmas Eve Mass Sargent Shriver, U.S. Ambassador to France, was having in the tiny, ancient Sainte Chappelle church and inviting diplomats, friends and family. It was going to be an intimate and elegant affair, and I decided that I would like to attend. A friend who was a volunteer in Morocco was coming to spend Christmas with me, and I knew she too would be thrilled to attend. I immediately wrote Ambassador Shriver telling him that we were RPCVs and we would certainly enjoy attending his Christmas Eve Mass.

A few days later as I returned from shopping, the concierge greeted me at the door with an envelope. She said, “Your ambassador’s chauffeur brought this for you.” I grinned, grabbed the envelope and flew up to my apartment. I ripped open the envelope and there nestled inside was an elegant invitation inviting Janet Ghattas and Charlene Duline to Ambassador and Mrs. Shriver’s Christmas Eve Mass. I swooned.

On Christmas Eve Sainte Chappelle glowed like a jewel as it basked in candlelight. Small heaters scattered throughout the church kept the worshippers warm. The Mass was simple, but touching and beautiful. Famed opera star Roberta Peters sang. Afterwards there was a receiving line to greet the Shriver family. Janet and I couldn’t decide what to say. As Shriver shook my hand I blurted out that we were RPCVs in Peru and Morocco. He grabbed Janet’s hand and shouted to his wife who stood right next to him, “Eunice! Eunice! Here are some Peace Corps Volunteers!” Eunice took it in stride saying, “Oh, Peace Corps volunteers are everywhere.” Sarge stopped the receiving line to chat with us. How like him! It was an incredible welcome to Paris.

A few days later I went to the embassy to cash a check. I was told somebody at the embassy had to vouch for me before I could cash a personal check. I almost said I didn’t know anybody at the embassy, but then I remembered that I did know somebody. I said, “Ambassador Shriver will vouch for me.” And indeed he did. Thereafter, whenever I went to the embassy to cash a check, the cashier called the ambassador’s office and I was always vouched for. Sarge Shriver believes in, and loves his volunteers!american-idealis1

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  • CHARLENE: A micro-memoir as lovely as Sainte Chappelle itself! Attending Christmas Mass at Sarge’s special invitation and given such a hearty welcome in the reception line is easy to imagine. Sarge was that kind of guy.

    Like you, I served in Peru in 1964, too. After the Peace Corps, I joined Sarge’s War on Poverty in New York.

    A bit later, you met Sarge in 1969. But the one time I met Sarge happened a just few years ago at DC’s Blessed Sacrament Church’s community center. He was already slipping into decline when he autographed my copy of Scott Stossel’s “Sarge: the Life and Times of Sargent Shriver.” Though seated and no longer as ebullient decades after he had so heartily greeted you in Paris, he still seemed especially pleased as this star-struck RPCV stood before him.

    I don’t know about you, but JFK remains my favorite President. Of course, had Sarge won the Democratic nomination and then the Presidency in the ’70s, it would have been a tough choice to decide between the two.

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