Thursday, July 28, 2011

Nairobi - Rome - Ellicott City

July 28, 2011

Peace and Good,

Well, I finished off the second week of meetings in Nairobi. If you remember, the first week waa a congress with about 60 friars from all over the world speaking about interculturality and solidarity. The second week was a series of meetings at different levels.

The first meeting which went from Monday to Wednesday was with the presidents of the various conferences. The order is divided up into seven geographic divisions. Each area or conference has a president who serves as a representative to the central government and a coordinator in his own area in collaboration with the assistant general of that area. We met to discuss plans for the next few years, especially getting ready for our next general chapter which will take place in January of 2013.

The second meeting was with all of the major superiors of the conference that is situated in Africa. We are present in seven countries right now: Zambia, Ghana, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Burkino Faso and Malawi. A big challenge right now it to provide for the education of the students. The vocations are coming in so fast now that we can barely keep up with additions to the houses of study. It is exciting to see the Church growing and vibrant.

The third meeting was with the general definitory. We had to take care of urgent business because the next time we will be meeting is September.

The friars of Kenya took us out to dinner to a restaurant called the Carnevoir. Need I say what they served. There were the usuals: pork, chicken, beef and turkey. We also had camel, ostrich and crocadile. I liked everything but the crocadile which tasted very, very fishy.

Our flight back from Nairobi was interesting. About ten minutes after take off we must have hit an air pocket because the plane jolted and there was a booming noise. Everybody in the plane sat up very straight and alert for the next ten minutes or so.

I just stayed in Rome for a day, and then I flew back to the States. Saturday I will fly up to Halifax to give a retreat to a new religious community of Franciscans. I have been getting many, many requests to give retreats lately. Next year I will be flying all over the world to do this, and it fits in very well with my job description of helping in the initial and continuing formation of the friars. I think that will be my gift to the order. I am not all that great at writing documents, but I have a gift for preaching.

I finished a number of books.

A first was the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain. This is one of those books that one always hears about, but until now, I had never read it. There was a controversy about a new edition in which, instead of using the "n" work for African-Americans, they softened the text. It really is jarring to listen to it and hear a very, very frequent use of that word. I am not sure I really liked it, but it was good to have listened to it.

A second work was Louisa of Prussia and her times by Louisa Muhlbach. This is a typical historical romance from the 19th century. It is a little overblown in terms of rhetoric, although the author goes out of her way to quote from the letters of the characters involved. Louisa was a key figure in the Prussian resistance to Napoleon. I was a bit disappointed because I thought it would be a biography of her. She is said to have been an incredibly heroic woman. It was more an overview of the era, but worth reading nevertheless.

A third work was a long series of lectures from the Teaching Company on Religion in the Ancient Mediterranean World by Glenn Holland. There were 72 lectures, and he goes through the religions of Mesopotamia, Egypt, Israel, Greece, Rome and Christianity. There were some very good insights, although the style of the professor was not all that engaging.

Hope you have a good week. By the way, this past week I had my 30th anniversary of the priesthood.

God bless and
fr. Jude

Monday, July 18, 2011

Rome - Nairobi

July 18, 2011

Peace and Good,

As you can see in the title, I am now in Kenya. I was supposed to travel here on Saturday morning, but at the last minute the flight was rescheduled to the evening. With flights to Africa, you always have to watch out because this often happens.

I am going to be here for two weeks. The first week we had a congress to speak about the fact that our order is changing rapidly. We are about the same size we were at the Second Vatican Council, but now many more vocations are coming from the southern hemisphere (Latin America, Africa and Asia). We talked about interculturality. How different cultures can learn to live with each other and respect their gifts. We also talked about the sharing of finances. The jurisdictions that are older tend to have more finances but fewer vocations, while those that are young have many vocations but little money to finance their education. As friars, we always have to remember that what we have was given to us by God, and if we have in excess, it is to be shared with those who don’t have enough.

I was asked to give a homily each morning to explain the readings and apply them to the themes of each day. This was in Italian and English. Each was only a few minutes long, but preaching in front of one’s confreres is challenging. The response, though, was very affirming.

We ended up with a nice document that is very practical (which isn’t always the case with international meetings). We had about 57 friars from 25 countries. What an incredible mix of ideas. The official languages of the congress were Italian and English. Because I know both, I found myself going back and forth to help with translations and by the end of the week I was not quite sure what language I was using at any particular time.

We spent one afternoon visiting two animal centers. One was a giraffe center. They are incredibly beautiful animals. Then we visited a conservancy center where animal orphans are displayed to help the various conservation projects in the land.

We finished the congress with a Mass at one of our local parishes with the cardinal of Nairobi. It was a truly intercultural experience. Mass lasted a little over three hours. Part of it was that there were 25 young people being confirmed, but also the cardinal more or less preached seven different homilies during the course of the Mass. He was an incredibly engaging speaker, though, and he had the people in the palm of his hand. We were very impressed.

This morning we moved from the retreat center where we held the congress to our seminary which was just down the road. We have another series of meetings this week to program activities for the next few years.

I finished a couple of books. The first is EM Forster's book A Room with a View. It was an excellent story of different understandings of the meaning of life and how they collide. One of my favorite sayings in it is "Life is like playing a violen in front of an audience and learning how to play it as one goes along." People make choices, mistakes, and yet they seem to muddle on.

A second book was A Sicilian Romance. This was by Ann Radcliffe. She was a novelist from the 18th century, and this was the beginning of actual novel writing in English literature. The chacterizations were not all that good, and the novel was packed with very improbably coincidences, but it was worth reading to see what was written in the generation before Charles Dickens.

fr. Jude

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Ellicott City - Rome - Nairobi

July 10, 2011

Peace and Good,

I returned to Rome on Wednesday, arriving on Thursday. That gave me a day to rest before I set out on the next trip. Saturday, I and a number of the friars flew to Nairobi, Kenya, for an international congress on interculturality and solidarity.

My order is about the same size as it was 30 years ago. What has changed is where you find the friars. Whereas the majority of the friars used to be in the northern hemisphere (Europe and North America), now, by far, the most of the vocations are coming from the southern hemisphere (South America, Africa and Asia). What does mean for how we live our Franciscan life?

Furthermore, the friars of the northern hemisphere have quite a bit of resources that have accumulated over the centuries, but they have very few vocations. The friars of the southern hemisphere have many, many vocations, but not enough money to feed and train them. How can we share the resources.

We will be here a week for the congress. Next week we have another series of meetings: with the presidents of the conferences (the groupings of provinces arranged geographically), the friars serving in Africa, and then our own general definitory.

I finished a few books. The first was a long podcast on the Religious Roots of America: The Politics of Faith in America by Ray Suarez. It points out that far from being greatly religious men, most of the founding fathers, and especially Jefferson, were at best deists (believing that there was a God who had little to do with out everyday lives).

The second book was a biography of King Richard III by Jacob Abbott. Shakespeare portrays this king as some kind of monster. He was not the nicest man, probably having killed his two young nephews in the Tower of London so that he could become king. But this presentation is more balanced, showing that, given the rough politics of the day, he wasn't the worst person who ever lived.

Finally, there was A Life of General Robert E Lee by John Esten Cooke. Unfortunately, this biography was written by a southener shortly after the civil war, so Lee is presented as a secular saint. Cooke loves General McClellan, a disaster of a general, but one whom the southerners liked because he wasn't concerning with the freedom of the slaves and didn't want to fight the south. At the very least, it's good once in a while to read an unbalanced biography to see how it should not be done.

Hope you have a good week.
Fr. Jude

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Ellicott City - Cincinnati - Buffalo - Pittsburgh - Ellicott City

July 5, 2011

Peace and Good,

I hope you all had a good 4th of July weekend.

This past week I was in Cincinnati, at Xavier University, for our Chapter of Mats. This title comes from a meeting of the friars in 1221 when Francis asked all of the friars to gather in Assisi for a chapter. There were between 3,000 of them and 5,000. In fact, there were so many that there was no room in the homes and the friars had to sleep outdoors upon mats (hence, the chapter of mats).

This gathering was of 260 friars from the States, Canada, England, Ireland, and representatives from Mexico, Costa Rica, India, Honduras, Russia, etc. We gathered for a week of talks and discussion on how to be friars in today's world. The gathering was very fraternal, and the weather cooperated enormously (low hunidity, which is a bit of a miracle in southern Ohio in late June). We spoke about trends in the world and the Church over these coming years, and also how we can look back at our tradition in order to find ways to respond to these trends.

On Friday I traveled to Buffalo for the funeral of the oldest friar in my province. Fr. Aurelian was 93 years old. He was a bit of a character, but also a humble, obedient friar. He taught Latin for many decades in the high schools of the province, and he was also novice master for a time.

On Saturday I traveled down to Pittsburgh to baptize my great nephew and great niece. Much of the extended family gathered for the weekend, and it was great seeing all the in-laws.

On Monday I came back to Ellicott City for a series of dentist appointments, and then tomorrow it is off to Rome.

I finished a few books.

The first is the Life of St. Francis by Paul Sabatier. He is a Protestant who loved St. Francis and wrote about him during the 19th century. He has many insights as an outsider, although at times he pushes the image of Francis as rebel a bit too much (given his non-Catholic background). Still, today, his biography is considered to be a classic.

The second was a short work called Creatures that once were Men by Maxim Gorky. I have written about Gorky before. He has an incredible ability to present a whole picture, especially of the poor in Russia around the time of the revolution. He turned out to be a communist stooge in later years, but his earlier writings are incredibly good, including this story which tells of a group of men who live in a poor men's hostle (more of a hovel than a true building).

The third book is the Memoirs of Shirlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle. Talk about classics. Yet, for all that I have seen in movies about Shirlock Holmes, I had never read the original. He is a bit darker of a figure than one sees in some of the movies. It is well worth reading.

Hope you have a good week. I will be in Kenya for the next couple of weeks, so I don't know how much acccess I will have to the internet, so you might not hear from me for a couple of weeks.

Take care and
fr. Jude