Monday, May 30, 2011

Ellicott City - El Paso - Carlsbad - Mesilla Park - Montreal

May 30, 2011

Peace and Good,

I hope you are well and are enjoying the Memorial Day weekend.

I finished off my visitation of Our Lady of Consolation Province (the friars in one of the mid-western provinces). I visited the friars in Western Texas and New Mexico.

Our parish in El Paso. This community has three different ethnic groups. There are the Hispanic (Mexican) members of the parish and they are the most numerous. Then there are the members of the Tigua tribe, native Americans. Finally, there are the Anglos. When one enters the Mission Church, one of the things one sees is images of corn all over the place. Corn is considered to be a sacred gift, and in fact, when members of the tribe bless objects (statues, caskets, etc.), they pour corn flour on it.

I then went to Carlsbad, New Mexico, about a three hour ride from El Paso. The countryside is beautiful but desolate. There are three friars in Carlsbad taking care of two parishes. The area is quite stable because of discoveries of energy sources, especially oil and gas, in the area.

Finally, I went to the retreat house in Mesilla Park, which is next door to Las Cruces. Las Cruces got its name from the many crosses that dotted the hill sides from the friars and native Catholics who were martyred for their faith. There was a retreat group from El Paso there and they are past of a program to help people grow in their faith. They prayed and attended conferences from early in the morning til late in the evening.

On Saturday I began my trip from El Paso to Montreal, and arrived on Sunday afternoon. This air connection is difficult to make, having to fly from El Paso to Houston where I overnighted, then to Atlanta and finally to Montreal. I am here with fr. Marco, the Minister General, for the chapter of the custody of Polish friars who are working in the Montreal area. The custos took us around to see a bit of the city yesterday evening, including the Basilica of St. Joseph which is a beautiful shrine built be St. Andre, a brother of the Holy Cross who had a dream to build a shrine to honor St. Joseph.

I finished a few books.

The first is the next volumes by Suetonius on the Roman emperors, specifically Vespasian (the emperor who followed the civil war between three different generals after the death of Nero), his son Titus (who conquered Jerusalem and destroyed the temple and the city), and his brother Domitian (who might have assassinated his brother Titus and who persecuted Christians - the Book of Revelation was written during his reign).

A second book was the Longest Journey by EM Forster. It was a strange book that spoke about how the English upper class, university educated people treat others. In this case, there was a young, privileged man and how he treated his half brother who was his mother's son by an illicit union. The whole question of treating people with respect, loss of honor, etc. is the major topic.

A third work was La Grenadiere by Honore de Balzac, a French author from the 19th century. It is about a woman who is dying and how she cares for her two young sons and tries to prepare them for her passing. This short novel is quite good, showing the shifting of emotion and the confusion of this sort of situation.

Hope you have a good week.

fr. Jude

Monday, May 23, 2011

Valetta - Rome - Vatican City - Baltimore

May 23, 2011
Peace and Good,

Well, I finally got out of Malta on Sunday evening. It is only an hour or so from Rome by flight.

In Rome we had a week long definitory. Monday we received a surprise announcement. One of the Assistant Generals, fr. Vincent Long Nguyen, from Australia, has been named the auxiliary bishop of the archdiocese of Melbourne. It is a very large diocese, and he will be responsible for the Western sector of the city. He has been the assistant general for the past three years, himself having taken the place of a friar from Japan who resigned because of illness. He will be greatly missed.

The rest of the week was non-eventful. I have been reflecting on my final report for the visitation to Malta, but I don't want to write it until I finish visiting a couple of friars who are serving outside of the country. I had already spoken with a Maltese friar who is serving in London, and Saturday I went to the Vatican to meet with a friar who is a confessor at St. Peter's. (Actually, we have a large friary just for those friars who are involved in that ministry - I think that there are 16 of them in all).

Sunday I flew out to Ellicott City, and stayed overnight, with a trip to El Paso scheduled for this afternoon to continue my visitation of the mid-western province.

I finished a few books.

The first was the Wheel of Darkness by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child. It was a suspense novel about the theft of an ancient artifact from a Buddhist monastery in the mountains of Nepal and how a CIA agent and his protegee recover it.

The second work was Amy Foster by Joseph Conrad. The more I read of Conrad, the more I like his writing. He was a Polish author who settled in England and wrote in French and English. This is about a young man who leaves the mountains of Poland to emigrate to the States, but who is shipwrecked on the shore of Kent in England. Because he speaks no English, he is first treated as someone who is insane and dangerous. Even when he marries a local woman who took mercy on him, he is ultimately rejected by her which leads to his death. It is a wonderful reflection on the difficulty of understanding people of other cultures, one of Conrad's major themes.

Finally, I listened to a book called Assegai by Wilber Smith. It is a British swashbuckler set just before the outbreak of World War I in East Africa. It is simplistic and demeaning at times to locals, but overall it is a good read. Nothing serious, just an enjoyable book.

Hope you have a good week.

fr. Jude

Monday, May 16, 2011

Gozo - Quara - Birkikara - Valetta - Rome

Peace and Good,
When I last wrote the blog, I was on the island of Gozo, which is a smaller island near the island of Malta. The population is only about 40,000 on the entire island, and they are very religious. The churches are always packed.

I took the ferry back to the mainland and visited the parish at Quara. This is not that far from St. Paul's Bay, but it has a very different population. There are many immigrants, troubled families, etc. in the parish. The pastor and the friars there are trying to reach out to a population which is not all that church going (which is most unusual in Malta). One of the friars is a former DJ and he is working with a team to produce a song to present to the Holy Father for World Youth Day in Madrid this summer.

The next stop was Birkikara. There is a friary church there (which is not an official parish). There is also an apostolate for printing religious materials in Maltese called CAK (pronounced Chuck). It is a relatively new apostolate, and is doing wonderful work.

Finally, back to Valetta to meet the provincial and his definitory for a preliminary after visitation report. That went very well. They were very receptive to my observations, and responded that many of the things I noticed have been themes which they have been addressing over the years.

Saturday evening I was to fly back to Rome, but when I got to the airport, I had a sinking feeling when I looked at the flight board. There was no flight to Rome. They had changed the flight from the evening to the morning, and I had never received a notice. Fortunately, it was relativly easy to rebook the next day.

I am back in Rome for the week for a series of meetings. Then, on Sunday, back to the States, and on Monday off to Texas.

One of the things that I noted in Malta is that on May 28th, there is a referundum on divorce. They do not have it. Coming from the States, that is such a foreign concept. The whole question being asked is whether allowing it will weaken the fabric of society and the family. It is a very, very Catholic country.

I finished a few books. The first was an abridged version of the Front by Patricia Cornwell. Usually, abridged books handle the story rather well, but this particular version seemed jumpy. The story itself was OK, but I have noticed in Cornwell's books a tendency to make a manipulative woman the villian of the story.

A second work was a continuation of Suetonius' biographies of the emperors of Rome: Nero, Galba, Otho and Vitellius. Nero is portrayed as a monster, which is the accepted version of the story. The only difficulty is that Suetonius is writing after the event in the company of those who opposed the Caesars, so is this a true version of the political spin put out by the opposing faction? The other three were three generals who tried to take the throne over a period of eighteen months of civil war. None of them come across as that praiseworthy.

The third work was a biography of Daniel Boone by John SC Abbott. This was a librivox version (a free download from the internet done by volunteers). Both the content of the book (which was racist against native Americans to say the least) and the reading (which was done by one narrator) were poor. What was good was to get a picture of how much Boone did for his people, and how little he was compensated for his efforts.

Have a good week.

fr. Jude

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Rabat - St. Paul's Bay - Burmarrad - Vittoria, Gozo

May 8, 2011

Peace and Good,

I began the week in the city of Rabat. You might notice that this name might sound familiar. It literally means fortress, so many cities in the Middle East received that name. Technically, Malta is not part of the Middle East, but it was under the Arabs for some 150 years. Next door to Rabat is another city named Mdina, which likewise is a name that should sound familiar (there is a Medina in Saudi Arabia).

All of the towns in this part of Malta are fortresses. In the 1560's, Malta was invaded by the Turks who, after a seige of a few months, went home. The Knights of St. John (which eventually became the Knights of Malta) protected it against the Muslims until the days of Napoleon. It was occupied by French troops for a little over a year, and then the Britist took over and governed it as a protectorate until the 1960's.

From Rabat, I travelled to St. Paul's Bay. This is a beautiful bay on the northern part of the island. It is a tourist area. A town of some 12,000 people during the winter explodes to over 60,000 during the summer. There are no very nice beaches right there, but in the bays not far away are some beautiful beaches with fine white sand.

The friars in St. Paul's Bay are very busy between the parish and other responsibilities that they take care of (e.g. Fr. George works on the diocesan tribunal).

While I was there, we had the funeral of one of the friar's grandmother. The island is small enough that most of the friars in the province can be there for those events. This was already the fourth time in two weeks that we had gathered together. It is so different from the States where our friars are often hundreds of miles away.

Nearby is a smaller parish called Burmarrad which is staffed by three friars. I visited there on Wednesday.

Then, on Friday morning, I took the ferry over to the neighboring island (which is still part of the republic of Malta) called Gozo. It is one third the size of the island of Malta with about 1/10th the population.

I will hear back to the main island this evening. I will continue to be in Malta until Saturday when I fly back to Rome.

The churches all throughout the island are incredible. They are heavily boroque with little angels and gold leaf everywhere. Many of them have a number of tombs under the Church floor (the tombs are not raised, they are flush with the level of the floor, decorated with beautiful colors of marble).

I finished a few works this week. The first is called Ethan From by Edith Wharton. This was one of the first novels which did not try to have a happy ending. It is about a farmer who does not really love his wife and she does not love him. A young cousin of his wife comes to his farm to help his wife who suffers from psycosomatic illnesses. He slowly falls in love with her, but the wife knows and makes life miserable for the two of them. The farmer and his young love even try to kill themselves by crashing their sled into a tree, but only end up broken and disabled, which leaves everybody miserable.

A second work was a short work by Nathanael Hawthorne called a Select Party. It is the story of heaven in an almost Mark Twain approach. It is nice, but not all that serious.

A third work was a biography of Peter the Great by Jacob Abbott. He has written a number of short biographies that I have read on major historic figures. They were written for school children in Britain around the year 1900, and so they are simplified, but informative.

Peter comes across as modern in his attempt to modernize his country, and yet medieval in his cruelty and capricious decisions. It is hard to get a read for him. You have to admire the city he built, St. Petersburg, but then you have to realize that thousands of people died building it. He is a very complicated figure.

I hope you have a good week.

fr. Jude

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Rome - Valetta - Rabat

May 1, 2011

Peace and Good,

Before anyone asks, no, I was not in Rome for the beatification of Pope John Paul II. Like many of you, I watches it on TV. I am in Malta now for a visitation of the province.

Malta is a small island (30 miles by 50 miles) to the south of Sicily. It is an independent republic. The population is 400,000, with over 1,000,000 people of Maltese descendance living throughout the world.

In ancient times, it was settled by people from Phoenicia (modern day Lebanon). The people still speak a Semitic language related to Hebrew and Arabic, although almost everyone also speaks either Italian or English or both.

From around 1500, it was taken care of by the Knights of St. John. This became a fortress against the Turks throughout the 1500's, and also against Nazi Germany during the Second World War. It was called an unsinkable aircraft carrier because there were seven air fields that would intercept ships bring supplies to Rommel in North Africa.

In 1565, Sulaiman the Magnificent of Turkey invaded Malta but could not conquer it. This is called the great seige. It was said afterward that whenever the island of Malta was referred to in the future, he would day that Malta doesn't exist anymore.

Valetta, the capital, was built by the knights on high ground. It is incredible how they built a small but very modern city from the sandstone quarried right on the spot. The co-cathedral of St. John in Valetta is one of the most magnificent baroque churches in the world. The museum also contains two paintings by the famous artist Carrevagio.

Now I am in the small city of Rabat (40,000) in the center of the island. Right alongside is a fortress and the Arab city of Mdina (notice how close the name is to the city of Medina in Saudi Arabia).

The good is very similar to that in Italy. There are a lot of tourists from England and Germany. They use the euro like they do in much of Europe.

I have finished a couple of books. The first is the Queen's Necklace by Alexandre Dumas. He is the author of the count of Monte Cristo. This is the complex story of the intrigues in the court of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. There was an episode of fraud and intrigue that became a scandal so serious that some say it was one of the reasons for the French Revolution.

The second book was the volume on Augustus Caesar by Gaius Seutonius. This is volume two of a long work on the emperors of Rome. I also finished volume three on the emperor Tiberius. Augustus is presented as a basically decent person, while Tiberias comes across as a miserable cus of a man who takes out his anger on the people of Rome. He even showed how much he disliked people by making sure that Caligula would succeed him.

God bless and
fr. Jude