Saturday, October 22, 2016

Seoul - Rome

October 23, 2016 I spent most of last week in Seoul with our friars at their provincial chapter. I had been the visitator for this province since the Assistant General for Asia comes for Korea and he could not do the visitation in his own province. I had a presentation that went less than an hour, but there is something about being present for the discussions that shows the local friars that we, in Rome, care about what is going on there. The General and Benedict, the Assistant General for Asia were also there. I was also present on Wednesday for a discussion on the future of our Philippine custody. We have been looking at the situation for some time, and would like Korea to take a more active role in guiding the Philippines so that they could be better prepared to become a province. There will be a proposal at the second session of their chapter in November that says this. I arrived back in Rome on Thursday evening. I had a few meetings on Friday, and yesterday I was trying to catch up on rest and sleep. This has been a bad jet lag time since I did an around the world trip in about ten days. It will probably take more than a week for me to catch up. Later this morning the General Definitory heads out to Portugal. It is only about a two hour trip. We have a congress there to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Militia of Mary Immaculate, a group founded by St. Maximilian Kolbe. Then we will also have a definitory there. From there I will head to Dublin for a visitation of the Irish part of the Great Britain/Ireland custody. I will not be back in Rome until early December. I have finished some books: Dunkirk: Retreat to Victory by Julian Thompson The story of the mass evacuation of most of the British Expeditionary Force from northern France where they were trapped at the beginning of World War II has always fascinated me. This is not the book to read about this topic. It delves mostly into land defences as the pocket which held the Brits collapsed around them. It speaks at length of the names and identify of various groups of soldiers. It only quickly covers the actual evacuation. A Change in His Heart by Jack Gredrickson This is a very good story about a beaten down detective in a small city who seeks to survive numerous indignities throughout a snow storm. In the meantime, a discount store owner and his assistant are selling cheap, fire damaged boots to a multitude of customers. These stories collide when the detective buys a pair of boots which smell of smoke, have a purple dye that runs, and are uncomfortable. The owners assistant discovers both that his boss has been setting him up to be charged with sales tax violations, and that he sabotoged his romantic interest. It has a very good ending. Seven Women by Eric Metaxis This is a companion volume to Metaxis’ book on seven men. These are important women who, by their faith, managed to change the world. They include Joan of Arc, Susanna Wesley, Hannah More, St. Maria of Paris, Corrie ten Boom, Rosa Parks and Mother Teresa. This is a nice mix of the Christian tradition,, including two Catholics, one Orthodox and four Protestant. Three are from previous centuries while the other four are recent, including two who gave their witness saving people during World War II. This is the author of a biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and another one on William Wilberforce who fought for an end to the slave trade at the beginning of the 19th century The book is a series of short biographies, and is an inspiring read Rocks with Wings by Anne Hillerman This is one of the books written by the daughter of Tony Hillerman. He has written a long series of books of police enforcement on the Navaho reservation. His books give a wonderful insight into modern day Navaho culture Anne Hillerman is successful on that insight as well, but the plot of her detective story leaves something to be desired. She seems desperate at the end of the book to put everything in at once, and she has characters saying things that are unlikely just so that she can tie the plot together. I hope that her future books are as good on the cultural elements but improve on the detective part of the story. Hail Dayton by Rachel Maddux This is the story of visiting a small town in Tennessee, Dayton, in which the famous Scopes Evolution Trial took place. There is nothing much there, but a few years ago the town fathers arranged for an annual commemoration of the event with a series of plays and other events. The author comes from up the road a bit in Tennessee, and Dayton had often been used as a mock term for a hick town. After visiting Dayton, the author finds that much more difficult to do. Hope you have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Rome - Montreal

October 13, 2016 Peace and Good, The last few days of last week were spent in Rome. There I had the joy of showing my niece from Chicago, Christine, and her husband, Reid, around Rome. They arrived on the 4th and left on Saturday morning. Even though I have theoretically lived in Rome for the past six years, I get very few opportunities to see the city. It is sort of like what happened growing up in Buffalo which is just down the road from Niagara Falls. The only time that we really got to see it was when relatives were in Buffalo to visit us. Likewise, when I am in Rome, I am usually there for meetings and don't get to see the sights. So it was great to see my relatives, and it was great to see the city as well. One of the things that we did was go to an audience with the Holy Father. It is funny that until recently I have not gotten to see him up close, and just in the past two months I have seen him three times: in Cracow, in Assisi and at St. Peter's Basilica. He looked tired this past Wednesday, as he did in Assisi. I have to keep remembering that he is around 80 years old, and that is really a lot to ask of someone at that age. On Sunday I flew out to Montreal where we have been having meetings for the past few days with the provincials of our federation. This is a beautiful city, and the friars here have been incredibly hospitable. They are Polish friars, and the Poles show hospitality with food. That has been the case, and I think we all put on 10 pounds in the past few days. Tomorrow I head on to the next city: Seoul. I will be there to give my report on the visitation that I did there to the friars present at their provincial chapter. I will arrive on Saturday and leave on Thursday. I have finished some books: A Certain Recollection by John Buentello This is the story of a police officer who responds to being awakened in the night by passing police cruisers by getting up and going to the scene of the crime. The only problem is that he is not an acting officer. He is retired and is suffering from dimentia. Yet, his natural instincts are powerful and he is able to solve the crime before the other officers sufle him off the scene. Hitler’s Scientists by John Cornwall This is an overview of science in medicine from the end of World War I up to the end of World War II. The author speaks of how many of the scientists did terrible things, some because they wanted to but others because they were afraid of losing their privilege or status. He contrasts the many failed research projects in Germany because of lack of organization (with various offices fighting for projects and refusing to share their findings with others) with the more centralized research projects in Great Britain. He sounds a warning at the end concerning scientists (e.g. geneticists, virologists) who feel that they can do whatever they want because they are only trying to learn (without examining the possible terrible consequences of their choices). Tales of the Trash by Peter Hessler This is a really fine short story of an ex-patriot living in Cairo and his trash collector. Although those who collect trash seem to be at the bottom of society, it is actually a very developed system of work and bribes and rights which regulates trash collection better than most modern companies could ever devise. The trash collector becomes a type of friend with this man, sharing beers in the evening and the trash collector even asking the man’s advice with medical matters. Rival Rails: the race to build America’s Greatest Transcontinental Railroad by Walter Borneman This is the story of the quest to build transcontinental railroads (not just the first one) and all the machinations what various rail barons went through to get their rails down and to try to keep others from doing the same. One get the sense that most of those building up their railroad chains (either through construction or through purchase of pre-existing railroads) didn’t really consider the cost and profit question, nor did most of them have as their first priority the service that they were going to offer to their customers. There is an interesting aside about a Fred Harvey who set up the first decent railroad restaurants and then also the best dining cars available. Serial Killer by Jon Breen A couple of police detectives go to a creative writing class to share their experiences of policing with those who want to write detective novels. One of the students asks whether they have ever dealt with a serial killer. They recount how a man feeding the birds in a park became so upset with another man who tried to stop him because of the harm he was doing to the birds that he eventually killed him. There is a clever twist when they are asked why the detectives would consider him to be a serial killer when he only killed one man. I hope you have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Rome - Assisi - Rome

September 27, 2016 Peace and Good, This past week was quite busy. It began with a meeting with provincials and custodes from all over the world. We had a first meeting with half of them in January, and this was the second meeting. Then on Tuesday we went up to Assisi to be with the Pope as he greeted an ecumenical meeting. On Wednesday we went up to Mt. LaVerna where St. Francis received the stigmata, the wounds that Jesus had. Then on Wednesday night we returned to Assisi and were there until Saturday. On Saturday morning we drove down to Rome. On Sunday morning, I went out to our school in the suburbs, the Seraphicum, where I studied as a student. There I gave a conference to the provincials and custodes who are in charge of our jurisdictions in Africa. All throughout the week I preached in Italian and English to all the friars at the meeting. The homily was only about five minutes in each language, but it took all day to prepare for the next day's homily. I will be heading out to Geneva tomorrow morning and will get back to Rome on Friday afternoon. I have a meeting up in Geneva with the staff of Franciscans International which works as an NGO at the UN office there. We got to see the Pope quite close this past week. From the friars who saw him when he first arrived in Assisi in the morning, they said he was in good shape. Later in the day, however, he looked and acted very, very tired. He is around 80 years old, and he only has only lung because of a disease from which he suffered many years ago, so no wonder he was tired. I have finished some books: White Seed: The Untold Story of the Lost Colony of Roanoke by Paul Clayton I thought that this was going to be an archaeological study of the settlement in Roanoke which had been settled by colonists sent by Sir Walter Raleigh, but which then disappeared before a relief ship arrived with supplies. Instead this is a reconstruction on a fictional and a little meladramatic level of what the colonists encountered between the time they were dropped ashore and when the relief arrived (but too late). Like many historical fiction accounts, it is not bad, but not really great. Divine Droplets by WLG Enterprises The title of this story is from a particular type of Sake that the main character likes to drink before he goes out to kill a young woman. He has just escaped justice because of a police error, and he now feels invincible. The policeman who planted a bit of evidence confronts the lawyer who got this evil but rich man off, and she “accidentally” drops a sketch book in front of him which will certainly convict the man of some murders for which he had not originally been charged. Daughters of the Springs by Lauren Groff This is a cute story about the female divers at Wekki Wachi in Florda. It is a hokey old fashioned show of mermaids, but somehow it works. The writer, who is a bit of a feminist, was nevertheless impressed by the beauty of the divers and their movements while underwater. She had arrived expecting to see something that would annoy her, and yet the reaction was the opposite. The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914 by Christopher Clark This is easily one of the best history books I have ever written. So many historians speak of the causes leading up to World War I as being the fault of one country or another. Clark shows the complexity of the relationships and motivations of various countries in this period. He delves into why a relatively minor event in the Balkans would lead to a world war. He exploded various pet theories of historians with concrete evidence. His work is remarkably well researched, but one never gets the feeling that he is simply throwing out quotations simple to use them. I cannot recommend this book enough. The Drought by James Born This is a very well written short story about a police detective on the homicide squad in Florida. The title refers to the idea that there was a period in which there were few murders. The detectives have little to do. Then one of the detectives is called to investigate a police shooting of a civilian. He does his investigation in a methodical, professional manner. He is pressured by the assistant state’s district attorney who wants to blame the policeman for this shooting for political reasons, but he resists this temptation, even if it means he would be transferred out of homicide to a less “attractive” police division. Have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

San Antonio - Rome

September 14, 2016 The Feast of the Exultation of the Cross Peace and Good, This past week I left San Antonio for Rome on Tuesday and arrived at noon on Wednesday. This was a frequent flyer ticket, so you sort of have to take what is available. I ended up flying from San Antonio to Nashville to Philadelphia to Frankfort to Rome. Fortunately, all the connections went perfectly and my luggage did not get lost anywhere along the way. The weather in Rome is a bit warmer than when I left, and unusually we have had a few thunder storms. That is really not that common here in Rome. Please keep the mom of my former assistant, Linda Johnson, in your prayers. She passed away this past week. Linda's mom's name is Margaret Carver. She died in her home town of Dundee, Scotland. We began our definitory on Monday morning and will go until lunch on Friday. Fortunately, there is not that much on the agenda this week. Next week we have a meeting here in Rome and in Assisi with half of the provincials from throughout the Order. We met the other half in January, and this is sort of a check up on how things are going half way through our six year term. I will be preaching at the Masses throughout the week (in Italian and English). I found out that this week we will be going to Assisi a bit earlier than we had thought to attend a session offered by Pope Francis so we will get to be close to him. I had not seen him in the first few years that he was Pope, and now I get to see him twice within a few weeks. I have finished some reading: Astoria: John Jacob Astor and Thomas Jefferson’s Lost Pacific Empire by Peter Stark In the early 1800’s, John Jacob Astor launches a plan to establish a settlement on the Columbia River in Oregon so that he might trade various goods for furs that he would then ship to China where they were most valuable. He would then buy goods there and ship them back to the States. He sent two expeditions, one overland and one by ship. Those going overland had a very rough time of it, and many of them died along the way. Those going by ship arrived, but when they got there, it was a very difficult proposal. The expedition ended when it had to be sold to the British during the War of 1812. It was an audacious proposal, but even though it failed, it laid claim to the northwest and led to the settlement by which Oregon and Washington became part of the Union. Six Women of Salem by Marilynne Roach This is the account of the Salem witch trails. It seems as if much of the material is drawn from the trial records, but then the author invents the thoughts of the main characters even if they are not elsewhere recorded. There is no psychological assessment of the hysteria which led to this tragedy. Rather, it is simply a record of what happened, repeating certain reactions among the young girls supposedly tormented by the witches over and over again. It makes for difficult reading because of the highly repetitive nature of the account. Ashes to Ashes by David Farley An American visits the place in India which is considered to be the navel of creation and which in modern times is used for the cremation of many Hindu people. He describes the process of cremation and his interviews with the untouchables who do this work. He himself, because of difficulties, had considered killing himself. This trip was to investigate a place highly associated with the dead so that he might reflect on his own possible death. It is interesting that the trip seems to bring him to a certain peace in which he was able to accept what life visited upon him. The Map that Changed the World: William Smith and the Birth of Modern Geology by Simon Winchester This is the story of a heroic and tragic figure who was the first to chart the various geological layers of strata under England. He was from a commoners family, and was thus poorly received by the founders of a geologic association which was made up of titled participants. He squandered his resources on various houses and enterprises and ended up in debtors prison. After that episode, though, he simplified his life and eventually his work was recognized by those who be and he was given a modest pension by the government. His finding proved to be controversial for they challenged the idea of creationism held by most believers in his time (for he was able to date various fossils and layers of rock to their various ages). Sack o’Woe by John Harvey This is the story of a policeman who watches over sex offenders in England. His wife and children leave him because he spends so much time with those difficult people. It is as their hurt has been contagious and been brought home. One of the men who he watches moves in with a young woman who has small children. It does not turn out all that well. The title comes from a blues song that the policeman first heard when he received a record from his father. Ebola: The Natural and Human History of a Deadly Virus by David Quammen This is a short account of the search for the cause of the Ebola disease, including the attempt to find the host that hides the virus between outbreaks. It has an epilogue which speaks of the recent outbreak in Western Africa. It is more of a popular overview, but it does give enough information to have a good sense of what doctors are dealing with. Have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude

Monday, September 5, 2016

Ellicott City - Austin - San Antonio

September 5, 2016 Peace and Good, This past week has been in the States. Tomorrow I head back to Rome for some meetings. I finished my doctors' visits. All went well. I then flew down to Austin for a meeting with the provincial of our Mid-Western province and Mexico. These two provincials have a lot on which they could work together, and this meeting was an initial encounter to speak about the possibilities. I am very pleased with the results, and both of the provinces will spend the next year discussing the possibilities and presenting their determinations to their provinces. I then went down to San Antonio. There is a formation house here, and one of the friars, fr. Don Barassa, whom I know since his earliest days in the Order, made his solemn profession of vows on Saturday. These days have allowed me to share with these friars what is going on in the larger Order, especially in terms of the fight for justice and peace. I was very pleased with their questions and the discussions we had. I was able to finish a project this morning of editing a prayer book for our friars in Padua. The prayer book is in English, and it is especially intended for pilgrims to Padua. I have finished some reading: The Gift of Rain by Tan Twan Eng This is a most unusual story that is set in Malaya at the beginning of the Second World War. A young man, half English and half Chinese, the son of a shipping magnate, finds a Japanese friend who teaches him the martial arts. The Japanese man was using the boy to find out information needed for the coming Japanese invasion. When it comes, the boy is caught between serving the Japanese in the hope of saving his family and fighting against the Japanese. It is an incredibly ambiguous story told from the point of view of someone whom most would classify as a collaborator. It is well done. Skinhead Central by T. Jefferson Parker This is a well written short story about a policeman and his wife who move to Idaho upon retiring. Not too far away is a group of skinheads, one of whom steals something from the couple. We also hear about the son of the couple who was shot while on duty as a policeman. In a very short space, the author manages to paint a touching and not trite picture of loss and redemption (although not exactly a whole new start for the thief). The Poison King: The Life and Legend of Mithradates, Rome’s Deadliest Enemy by Adreinne Mayor This is the story of a king from Asia Minor who challenged the growing power of the Roman republic. He was famous for his use of poison and his remedies to prevent poisoning (which makes sense given that his father was killed after having been poisoned by Mithradetes’ own mother). He was remarkably successful in his battles, but then faced a series of defeats because of bad luck, poor training, etc. This book is very good, but it tries to demonized the Romans a bit too much. Eichmann in Jerusalem by Hannah Arendt Hannah Arendt was a correspondent from the New Yorker who was a Jewish woman born in Germany. She fled and practiced her journalistic career in the States after the war. She went to the trial of Adolph Eichmann in the 1960’s. Her observations are very good. She sees Eichmann as a not too intelligent bureaucrat who probably never thought through the consequences of his choices. She speaks of the banality of evil. The Jewish government of Israel were hoping that they might portray Eichmann as a historic evil figure, and he turned out to be quite different. This is a good reflection on the issue. The Thirteen Colonies by Louis Wright This is an overview of the history of the English colonies in North America from the time of its discovery until the time of the American Revolution. Although I have studies these topics a number of times, it was good to get an overview of the history. The book is not terribly insightful, but it does give a good portrait of the issue. The Last Days of the Incas by Kim MacQuarril This is a thorough study of the Inca Empire at its inception and then during its conquest by the troops of Francisco Pizarro, the Spanish Conquistador. How is it that so few troops were able to conquer a mighty empire of millions of people. The Spanish soldiers do not come out looking all that good. For all their protestations that they were doing this for the spread of Christianity, they proved to be incredibly greedy and cruel. They certainly didn’t act like Christians. The book also treats of the discovery of Inca ruins, including the famous remains of Machu Pichu. I hope you have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Rome - Ellicott City

August 27, 2016 Peace and Good, After I returned to Rome from the definitory's trip to the Dolomites, I minded the store while the other Assistants and the General were off on the road. Then last Sunday I flew into Baltimore for a series of medical and dental examinations. All went well, but I have a couple of small follow ups to schedule at the beginning of next year. It has been a quiet week at Ellicott City. I have been running to and from doctor's offices, but I managed to get them all in within a week. On Tuesday I have a short trip to take to Hartford (just for the day) and then on Thursday I head off to Austin, Texas for a meeting with the provincial of that part of the country and the provincial of our Mexican province. We are trying to develop some sort of partnership in that part of the country to help us in the Hispanic ministry. I have finished some books: The Happiness Metric by Madeline Drexler This is the story of a trip to Bhutan, a country in the Himalayan Mountains. They have established a national index to measure happiness. While that sounds silly at the surface, it does measure the impact on policies upon the citizens of the country and not just the amount of money to be earned by a few. In some ways, it is very successful, but in others it has proven most difficult to get an accurate read of what would make the people happier. For example, in a profoundly Buddhist country, what is the consequence of the growth of consumerism. This is a good reflection on some of these issues. Today is Better Than Tomorrow by Benjamin Busch This is a travel story of a retired army officer who travels back to the Iraqi province where he once served as a military governor after the US invasion of that country. This part of the country has continued to deteriorate and is now all but hopeless. That is the reason for the title of the story, for the inhabitants are sure that things will only get worse. The Demon in the Freezer by Richard Preston This is the same author who wrote the Hot Zone. His specialty is stories about the danger of infectious diseases. This one deals with the Anthrax scare immediately after 911 and how the same event could have involved the spread of a genetically engineered smallpox virus. We know that this was investigated in the Soviet Union and now in Russia. We don’t know, however, the exact details of how dangerous this all is. East of Desolation by Jack Higgins This is the story of a bush pilate who files in Greenland. He is asked by the authorities to aid in the investigation of a plane crash. It turns out that there is much more involved in the story than a simple plane crash. There is a question of smuggling and murder. One of the main characters is an over the hill action actor. It is a good story, although not the best that Higgins has written. America in the Gilded Age and Progressive Era by Edward O’Donnell This is a Teaching Company course dealing with the United States from between around 1880 to 1920. It was a time when Robber Barons manages to gain control of much of the industrial production of the country, but also of a movement to bring more social justice to workers and the poor. This course speaks of industrial, political and social movements during the era. It is quite well done and worth listening to. Encountering the Manuscripts by Philip Comfort This is a study of the evaluation of manuscripts of the New Testament text. There are approximately 5,000 important manuscripts, mostly in Greek although some of them are early translations in other languages. There are also quotation contained in the writings of the Fathers of the Church All of these have to be taken into account when one is trying to establish a critical edition of the original New Testament text (or at least as close as we can hope to arrive at it). The book is not for the casual reader for it is highly technical in detail. I had studied some of this when I was a student at the Biblicum many years ago, so this was a good refresher course for me. Have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude

Friday, August 19, 2016


August 19, 2016 Peace and Good, I have been in Rome since we came down from the Dolomites (the Italian southern Alps). Rome is usually unbearably hot at this time of year, but this is one of the most pleasant Augusts that anyone here can recall. There are a lot of tourists in town, but many of the Italians have abandoned the city for the months, going either to the sea or to the mountains. Yesterday I traveled up to Padua for the day for the funeral of one of our friars, fr. Enzo Poiana. He was the rector of the Basilica of the Santo (St. Anthony). He was only 57 years old and died of a heart attack while on vacation. The basilica was packed, and there were many bishops, priests, dignitaries. He was very well liked by the people, very down to earth. Before he joined the friars, he was a member of the Alpinisti, the Alpine Italian troops, and there was a very large contingent of them there as well. The day before yesterday word came out that the Pope had named a new rector to the Office for Family Life. We have been expecting major shake ups in the offices, and this seems to be the first out of the bag. We'll have to wait to see what other jobs and shuffled. Sunday I will be heading out to the States for my annual 50,000 mile check up with the doctors. There are multiple visits throughout the week. I finished some books: Pirate Latitudes by Michael Crichton This is a manuscript of a completed work that was found in his files upon his death. It is about a freebooter in Jamaica during the 17th century who hears about the presence of a Spanish treasure ship in a harbor of a Spanish island not too far away. He decides to capture this ship and its treasure, but he must gather a most unlikely crew of briggands, and then he and his crew must undergo incedible adventures in capturing and holding the ship. It is a fun read, not too serious but not intended to be. Bridge of Spies by Giles Whittell This is the story of the shooting down of the U2 flight flown by Gary Powers as well as the attempt to bring him back from the Soviet Union. He was traded for a KGB spy who had been arrested after making some dumb mistakes. The man, in fact, was a rather horrible spy. Furthermore, there was a graduate student who had been arrested for doing research into the economy of East Germany which was considered to be a form of spying. The author tries to give an objective account of what happened, even showing how deeply flawed many of those involved in the story were. Suez: The Forgotten Invasion by Robert Jackson In 1956, Nasser, the president of Egypt, nationalized the Suez Canal. The Brits and the French were furious, and they plotted with Israel to invade. Israel first captured the Sinai, and then the British and French invaded under the guise of serving as a peacekeeper force to separate the Israelis from the Egyptians. The United Nations (led by President Eisenhower who was furious at this move) ordered a proper cease fire and the evacuation of the invaded territories with the establishment of a neutral peace keeping force. This book is very much written from the British point of view, and although it fully recognizes the military mistakes made by the Brits, it is slow to recognize the diplomatic mistakes (all but blaming the Americans for not joining them in the game). Death Trade by Jack Higgins I always like Jack Higgins’ book. This is not his best, but it is still enjoyable. It is about a secret service in Great Britain under the direct authority of the Prime Minister. They are trying to help an Iranian scientist escape from Iran where he has been coopted to invent a new type of atomic bomb. This involves both Iran and Al Quaida. The dialog is a bit corny, but as a light read, it is quite enjoyable. The Shroud by Ian Wilson This is a historical and somewhat scientific account of the Shroud of Turin. The author has done a remarkable amount of research on the topic. He reaches certain conclusions that are not common to all scholars of the shroud, but his findings are most creditable. He, for example, identifies the shroud with the mandelion of Edessa ( a city in Asia Minor where a cloth containing the image of the face of Jesus was preserved for the first few centuries of the Church. Other scholars sometimes hold that this was a separate cloth mentioned in the Gospel of John while the shroud was kept somewhere else.) I would recommend this book to anyone who is interested in this topic. Have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude