Sunday, January 29, 2012

Rome - Ellicott City

January 29, 2012

Peace and Good,

This has been a somewhat restful week. I flew to Baltimore last Sunday after the completion of our General Definitory meeting.

This past week I have been taking care of medical and dental check ups. Being on the road so much, this can be a chore. I went to the dermatologist and had my routine colonoscopy. All looks good inside and out. I went to the center for tropical diseases to update my inoculations and get a refill of anti-malarial medicine for my next trip to Africa. I also went to the dentist.

Friday I took the train up to New York for a meeting with fr. Michael Lasky, the director of the New York office of Franciscans International, the Franciscan lobbying organization at the United Nations. Since I am now on the Board of Directors, I wanted to talk with him to get a sense of what is going on.

Today I head down to Atlanta for a meeting of the provincials of the United States, Canada, Great Britain and Ireland.

I have finished some books.

A History of Russia: From Peter the Great to Gorbachev by Mark Steinberg

This is a long (36 lectures) and well written description of the history of Russia from the time of its opening to the West under Peter the Great (1672-1725) until the days of Gorbachev. Steinberg gives a number of lectures for cultural and societal background. Each of the major rulers is described. One gets a very good sense of seeing where thing were coming from and where they were headed. I found this series very informative.

The Tavernier Stones by Stephen Parrish

This is the story of a treasure hunt (with murders and thefts thrown in). The topic involves trying to find a cache of gems that were stolen during the days of King Louis XIV (the Sun King) of France and hidden somewhere in Germany. There are cartographers, cryptographers, gemologists, detectives, etc. all looking for the treasure. The hero is an Amish young man who has left his way of life to work making maps. The story turns out to be a purifying journey through the muck for him. The book is well written, although once in a while it gets a bit bogged down in trying to explain the codes found on the treasure map.

The Torment of Others by Val McDermid

This is the story of a serial killer who was institutionalized and is still in a prison hospital, and the fact that his murders has recommenced. It takes place in England, and the hero is a woman detective who heads a task group establish to study the difficult cases. A sub plot is looking for the murderer and bodies of two young boys. It is a very good who done it. The tension of the stories is palpable. Certainly, a topic like this has quite a bit of violence (especially because the serial crimes are sexual in nature). But the book is quite good.

I hope you have a good week.

fr. Jude

Monday, January 23, 2012

Rome - Ellicott City

January 23, 2012

Peace and Good,

I have been in Rome all of this week for our monthly definitory (gathering of the minister general and his council). As usual, we discussed the situation of friars and friaries all throughout the world.

During the week, we also took a field trip to a community called the Community of St. Egidio (Giles). This community was founded by Catholic young lay people as a reaction to the upheavals of 1968 (which tended to be very violent in Europe - remember, they brought down the presidency of Charles de Galle). These young people decided that there had to be a way that they could live their lives in a more authentic manner, but remaining lay people. This community had long been dedicated to the service of the poor and emarginated in society. They have spread all throughout the world. There are now around 70,000 to 80,000 of them. They have even been involved in diplomacy. Their most famous intervention was in Mozambique, Africa, when they helped to broker a cease fire and peace treaty to end a civil war raging there.

Since 1986, they have been committed to inter-religious dialog under the title of the Spirit of Assisi. This was the name given to a gathering sponsored by Pope John Paul II of religious figures all throughout the world in Assisi. This community has continued this initiative with gatherings of various religious figures each year to commemorate and continue the work.

We met with them to see where we could work together, and what we could learn from each other.

I continued my visitation of Korea in Italy, meeting with a number of Korean friars who are in Rome for their studies. I will be able to finish up the visitation when I get back to Rome in February.

I flew to the States yesterday and will be here for the next three weeks. These week I am getting caught up on medical tests (the normal ones). Next week I have a meeting with the American provincials, and then the week after I will be giving a retreat to our friars at a retreat house in Jacksonville, FL.

These are some books that I have finished.

Lectures on Russian Literature by Ivan Panin

I have really taken a liking to Russian literature, and this is a long lecture on four different authors who represent various tendencies in authorship: Pushkin, Gogol, Turgenef and Tolstoy. Pushkin is seen as someone who can only sing the glories of what he sees. Gogol can see and describe the negative. Turgenef attack that which he understands to be unjust. Tolstoy sees the good and bad and transcends them. The lecture certainly shows certain prejudices on how Panin reads these authors, but his evaluation is a good read.

The Mountains of California by John Muir

John Muir is largely responsible for the movement to protect the beauties of nature in the US. I have already read a couple of his books describing the Grand Canon and the glaciers of Alaska. This book covers the mountain ranges in California. His writing is pure poetry, but this one gets a bit too bogged down in description. Sometimes one feels as if one is ready a botany textbook. It is still worth reading, but it is not Muir’s best attempt.

Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky

Nemirovsky was a Catholic French author (of Russian Jewish heritage) who wrote just before and during World War II. She was eventually arrested and died in Auschwitz. This book was written at the begging of the war (up to the first anniversary of the conquest of Paris by the Nazi’s, which coincided with the German invasion of the Soviet Union). It describes first the panicked response of people as the Nazi’s were arriving, and then their attempt to live under the control of the Nazi’s. There is also a good amount of polemic about the attitude of the various factions in French politics that had torn the country apart before the war and how those divisions continued well into the occupation. There are not a lot of heroes in the story, even as that period was terribly messy in actuality.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Seoul - Ganghwa - Tongjin - Incheon - Yahgpyeong - Seoul - Rome

January 16, 2012

Peace and Good,

Well, I completed my visitation of the Korean Province and returned to Rome for a week of meetings.

On Monday, I visited Ganghwa, our house of formation, and Tongjin, a center where the friars live with mentally challenged adults. The friars have a tremendous commitment to work with the poor and broken of any form. I have been very impressed with their generosity of spirit.

These two houses are not all that far from the border with North Korea. There are army bases all over the place in this area, and along the highway one starts to notice the barbed wire which is to keep spies from crossing the border at night. Likewise, there is anti-submarine netting hanging from the bridges. In most of South Korea it is easy to forget how close one is to a very treatening country, but in these towns it is very clear.

The next day we went to Incheon. This is a large parish with a ministry to poor elderly people who live at one of their centers. There is also a kitchen there to prepare what amounts to meals on wheels. Finally, one of the friars serves as an undertaker. In Korea, they used to hold wakes in the homes. Now that most people live in appartments in the city, the wakes were held in the hospitals where the people died. They have set up a funeral parlor under the parish church so that people can hold their wakes in an atmosphere of faith. This friar is even called to help out when there are accidents or mass deaths, and he wears his habit to those events.

The last friary to visit was Yahgpyeong. This is a beautiful area around one hour outside of Seoul. It is at confluence of two rivers, and our friary is in the hills. There is a retreat house, a large friary and chapel, and a center where they manifacture a non-alcoholic herbal drink that is very popular in Korea.

Friday I flew back to Rome. With the stop over in Milan on the way, the trip took 15hours. Some of these trips seem as if they will never end, but it makes the transatlantic trip seem short in comparison.

I finished some books.

Gone by Jonathan Kellerman

This is part of a series of detective novels in which a forensic psychologists teams up with a detective (Milo) to solve crimes in California. This novel involves a series of disappearances of actors (and others) over a several year period. The action is well described, at times amusing. The books are well written and a good read.

Discomfort Zone by Jonathan Franzen

I listened to this abridged autobiography of the author Franzen. It deals especially with his teen age years and then with his fascination with bird watching when he was an adult. I have to admit I was thrilled that it was an abridged edition, because I don’t know how much of the author selfish sniveling I could have taken. It is not a book I would ever recommend, and I am not sure that I want to read any of his other books either.

Ralph Waldo Emerson by Oliver Wendell Holmes

This is a biography of the founder of the transcendentalist movement in America (1803-1882). The author is an obvious fan, and he is almost breathless in his description of Emerson’s thought and writings. He posits any mistakes to disciples who misunderstood his teaching. He commends every attack on organized religion as a hallmark of freedom and defense of the rights of the individual. While I agree that Emerson had much to offer, Holmes is not objective enough to help one evaluate Emerson’s worth and contributions to thought.

Please keep one of our ex-friars in your prayers: Mark Thomas Booth. He passed away last week. I studied with him in Rome.

Hope you have a good week.

fr. Jude

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Seoul - Busan - Taegu - Seoul

January 8, 2012

Peace and Good,

I have been in South Korea all this week doing my visitation of the Korean province. When I do this visitation, I talk with each friar in each community to find out how he is doing, how his community is doing and how the province is doing. Obviously, I am doing this through an interpreter this week. The two friars who are offering this service are Italian friars who arrived here in Korea over 40 years ago. The message goes from an American speaking Italian to an Italian who then translates it into Korean and back.

I visited our big community here in Seoul. The main apostolates here are the international parish (weekly masses in French, Korean, English, German and Italian). They also have a kindergarten for foreigners (over 100 students). There is a retreat house which is used almost every weekend. There are friars who run the province here (the provincial, the secretary, and the treasurer). There are also friars who works as a spiritual assistants with the Secular Franciscans (a group of lay people who vow themselves to live the ideals of St. Francis).

On Monday I travelled south to Busan. This is a port city in the south of the country, the number two city in South Korea (c. 3,000,000 people). We have a friary there and one down the road a bit in a city called Ilgwan. The friars in Pusan run a center for handicapped children (physically and/or mentally). They do great work with this. They also have a center where they refurbish donated goods and sell them. The profits go for a soup kitchen and other works of charity. There is the parish, as well as work among the Secular Franciscans.

Ilgwan has the parish, the seculars, and there is one friar whose apostolate is art, and another who is a brother who makes Seseme seed oil (which sells for around $10 a pint) for sale for the benefit of the friars. They have also built a new friary, and after having refurbished the old friary, they are looking for a good use for it. On the grounds are a few buildings that house lepers. The disease is easily treated nowaday, but some of the older patients suffer from horrible disfigurement from their disease. They live there in peace and worship in the friary chapel.

On Thursday we travelled to Taegu. There we have another parish with a newly built social center. There is also a very active apostolate among the Secular Franciscans. In fact, they and the friars built a center where they can hold meetings, seminars, retreats, etc. It is a beautiful building. As a welcoming center, they established a coffee house on the ground floor.

Friday afternoon we travelled back to Seoul. Yesterday and today are rest days to catch up a bit, and then the next few days will be a series of other visits.

It is very, very cold here. A lady at the train station yelled at me and pointed at my feet when she saw that I was wearing sandals with no socks. The Italian friars said that people think that I am crazy going around like that. My theory is that if you are going to be eccentric, do one thing that is so obvious that everyone will focus on that and miss all of the other smaller eccentricities.

The food is also challenging. I like it a lot, but it is all heavily spiced. If you know what Kimchi is (fermented cabbage heavily seasoned with peppers), it is odd when that is the least spicy thing on the table.

I have finished some books this week. I will change the way I write up this account a bit starting with this week. In the past, I have written what I remember of the book from the backlog of what I have read over these months. Sometimes, though, I do not write it until a couple of months after I finished it. The report was a bit vague. Now, I will write the reports as soon as I finish them and include them as I get time and space.

Mysterious Island by Jules Verne

I never realized that Verne wrote a follow up to his book 20,000 Leagues under the Sea. This is the story of a group of men who flee prison in Richmond, Virginia toward the end of the Civil War and who end up on an unexplored island somewhere in the Pacific when their balloon is carried aloft by a hurricane. They struggle to survive (e.g. the Swiss Family Robinson, Robinson Crusoe, etc.). An engineer serves as an almost godlike figure who helps his companions overcome every obstacle (obviously showing Verne’s immense appreciation for technology). They are assisted by a mysterious figure who serves as a deus ex machine when they are most in difficulty.

The Rose Killer by Pat Gregg

This is a who done it when a series of killings occur in a mid-western town. The main character is mourning the death of her policeman husband and must delve into the fact that he was probably not faithful to her nor was he always honest. The killer turns out to be a surprise, which probably shouldn’t come as a surprise. Unfortunately, not all of the characters are well developed, and it is easy to loose oneself as the drama shifts from one character to another.

Richard I by Jacob Abbott

This is a biography by the prolific 19th century British author who produced a series of hero stories for young people growing up in his era. This deals with King Richard the Lion Hearted. While most of us grew up thinking of him as a hero who defended the rights of the simple folk (a message portrayed in the Robin Hood legend) as opposed to his evil brother King John, he turns out to be a more complex character. He spent almost all of his time in France, the other part of his reign. He considered himself to be first a king of that realm, and then only later a king of England. He almost bankrupted England with all his wars. Yet, with a name like “lion hearted,” how could he not look good. He was a great warrior, but more brave than clever. When compared to Saladin, his rival during the crusades, he comes across looking more like a brute than a noble, chivalric warrior.

Have a good week.
fr. Jude