Thursday, March 15, 2012

Rome - Saltpond, Ghana

ObedMarch 13, 2012

Peace and Good,

This past Sunday I travelled from Rome to Saltpond in Ghana. I am here to preach two retreats to the friars of this custody. There are 24 friars here, about a third of them ex-patriots. They are getting an increasing number of vocations here. This year, alone, there are 8 novices. Three friars will also be taking solemn vows (their vows taken for the rest of the lives).

I am preaching on different aspects of the vow of obedience. In the old days, a provincial would simply tell friars where they were to go and what they were to do. Now there is a lot more discussion involved. If there were problems before because at times friars were sent to places simply to fill in the gaps in the program, now there might be too much individualism. Some friars have decided exactly what they want to do and where and when, and that goes against the spirit of our Franciscan calling.

As always, I am preaching the retreat by drawing lessons from the Bible. I am speaking about the obedience of Adam and Eve, Abraham, Moses, Ruth, Amos and Hosea, Jeremiah, Jesus, Mary and Paul.

The weather here is always very humid (even more than 90%) and hot (over 90). Last week was not too bad. There were a lot of cloudy days, and it was bearable. This weeks seems to be getting hotter.

The Ghanaians are surprised that I am eating many of their local foods. There is one type of dough called Fu Fu. It is mashed plaintain and cassava. It is very dense, and is usually eaten with soup. I like it. I had it with snail soup yesterday. They also often serve it with peanut soup. The food tends to be spicy, but not as much as Korean food.

I will be heading out to my next assignment this coming Friday evening, to Ndola in Zambia. This will be the first time that I am down there. Then back to Rome from there.

My reading has been:

Quo Vadis: a narrative of the time of Nero by Henryk Sienkiewicz

This was one of those books about which I have heard forever, but which I had never before read. It is the account of a Roman official who falls in love with a foreign Christian. It deals with the madness and strangeness of Nero’s court. Last year I had read a book by Henry Cardinal Newman called Callista. It was the story of a martyrdom at the end of the 3rd century AD. I found the book tedius, with long explanatory speeches that just did not sound very authentic. This book falls into the same category, but it is much better written. It is still a bit long winded, but one does get the feeling that one can know the characters and sympathize with them, which was not the case with Newman’s attempt. It is well worth a read.

Dead Souls by Nikolai Vasilievich Gogol

This is another of those Russian authors of the 19th century. What an incredibly fruitful era this was for Russian literature. Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Gogol, Turgenev, etc.
The premise of this book is a journey made by a man who wants to buy serfs from land owners. Serfs were all but treated as slaves until they were liberated by the Czar around the same time as slaves were freed in the US. They could be bought and sold, at first as individuals, and then after a reform, along with one’s property. A census of male serfs was taken each ten years, and the property owner had to pay taxes on all his serfs, even if they had died in the meantime. This man goes around buying up dead serfs from landowners because, technically, they still count as one’s possessions. He is going to accrue a large number and then use them as collateral when he takes out a loan. On the journey, he meets all sorts of characters whom Gogol amusingly describes, poking fun at the higher levels of Russian society. Even though the book was written during a time of severe censorship in Russia, it was so funny that the Czar allowed it to be published. Of course, the book closes with a moral lesson that the renewal of Russia could only occur by a commitment of its people to honesty and industry.

The Spies of Warsaw by Alan Furst

I have become a big fan of this author. I have already read two other books written by him, and this one deals with a French spy in Poland just before the beginning of World War II. This is his favorite era, just before and during the war. The previous books I read dealt with a spy in Salonica, Greece, at the beginning of the war and a Dutch sea captain during that same era. He has a way of describing the scene that makes the characters and the times jump out at you. I really believe he is one of the better modern authors. Since we know the end of the story (the Nazi’s eventually lose), we can sometimes forget how confusing everything was for the people living through the events. Furst helps one bridge that gap.

Have a good week.

Fr. Jude


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