Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Off to Africa: Nairobi, Kenya: August 1, 2009

August 11, 2009

Peace and Good,

Well, I finally got internet access so I can fill you in on the latest. I am in Nairobi and other sites in Kenya giving a retreat to our friars in formation as well as a series of talks.

I was originally supposed to fly over here on Delta, but a couple of weeks before my departure, they stopped flying there. (The reason is that our ATF was not satisfied with the security arrangements in Nairobi.) They gave me another flight package, which meant flying through Accra, Ghana there and on the way back with a 12 hour layover in and an 18 hour layover on the way out. That was actually not bad, because I contacted the friars there and they were going to pick me up and I would stay at the friary in Accra.

On the day of departure, I never got past the Baltimore airport. The weather was bad in New York (where my flight to Accra was to originate), so I missed the connection. It took three hours and four dropped phone messages to make a new reservation, this one through London with only a 3 hour layover. I purposely flew to New York 6 hours early lest the weather interfere again (which was lucky, because the weather in Baltimore later in the day was terrible).

The flight itself was very good, if very, very long. When I got in, my bags did not. Fortunately, I have learned always to pack a change of clothing in the carry on just in case. The first bag arrived on Sunday, the second on Tuesday (just after I left for the retreat house, three hours away). Still, the friars here and especially fr. Giles who is from my province and teaches here were great. Anything I needed, even before I asked, was placed at my disposition.

I gave a five day retreat to thirty-two of our theology students from Ghana, Kenya, Zambia and Tanzania. The theme of the retreat was the priesthood, for this is the year of the priest and that is what they are studying for at this point. I was very impressed with their fervor and commitment.

After this, we had to drop some friars off at two of the friaries, each a few hours from each other. This gave me a chance to see our friary in Seboukia, which is the national Marian shrine for Kenya. Right now, the shrine is a converted garage, but construction has begun on the Basilica and the friary. The friars have a work crew and they quarry the stone themselves. It is on a mountainside with 250 acres of property. It is going to be an incredible site.

The day after we went to a friary in the diocese of Meru (Riuru). This was the friars' first site in Kenya when they arrived 25 years ago. There is a formation house, a friary, a Church, a convent for the three resident Felician sisters, a retreat house (for 20), and a dispensory. Again, the friars are doing great work.

I also forgot to mention that I visited our parish in Limuru (one hour from Nairobi). It is high in the hills and cold. (Kenya is much cooler than I would have expected. You need a sweater each night, and sometimes during the day.) We are on the equator, but at least a mile in elevation in this part of the country. In Limuru the friars have a parish and a printing press. Once again, they're doing incredible things. They work with a group of sisters who run an orphanage and a school for young women to learn to knit, sew, computer skilles, etc., so that they can find work.

The rest of this week I will be in Nairobi giving talks, etc. Next Monday I head to Accra, Ghana, and then Tuesday to Baltimore via New York.

I finished two books. The first is called the Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors by James Hornfisher. We call many people heroes these days, but this tells the story of a group of distroyers and distroyer escorts that fought a battle against unbelievable odds to save a group of carriers and the soldiers who had landed on one of the islands in the Phillipines during the Second World War. If you like military books, this is a must read.

The other is a book called Out of Mao's Shadow: the Struggle for the Soul of a New China by Philip Pan. It is a kind of Profiles in Courage of people who fight for freedom and human decency in China. It is not all an easy read because of the violence described, but it also is a very good book. Philip Pan was a Washington Post reporter who lived in China for many years. It is good to read something like this to balance the portrait we received during the Olympics.

Keep me in your prayers as I travel through Kenya.


fr. Jude


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