Sunday, April 28, 2013

Sydney - Manila - Tagaytay

Peace and Good, This past Monday I finished my trip to Australia and headed off to the Philippines. We have an international novitiate here, and this is my second time offering to give workshops on Sacred Scripture to the novices. There are three Philippino novices and two Vietnamese. This is a way for our General Curia in Rome to show its support for this project. The topic of the workshop ono Wednesday, Thursday and Friday mornings was figures of faith in the Bible (given that this is the year of Faith). We had the five of our novices and a good 30 or so postulants and novices from communities in the area. There are over 60 houses of formation in the area. We are located on the side of an active vulcano (yes, I wrote active and not dormant, but it has not erupted in 150 years). In the afternoons I had another set of conferences on the Letters of St. Paul. Tomorrow I will have a class on the Book of Revelation with our novices. Then Tuesday will be a day of recollection. Wednesday I head down to Manila to fly out Thursday morning for England. It has been hot here (and we are not as bad as down in Manila). It approaches 100. The friars have been very solicitous to meet my needs. Yet, it is a little primitive at times. The area is really only one step away from jungle. There is a constant file of ants passing through my room. I don't bother them, and they don't bother me. We have water 4 hours a day, so most of our needs are met with barrels in each room. It really isn't too bad, and it certainly helps me appreciate what I have been gifted with. I have been doing a little editing work for my publisher in the off time, but it has been difficult to concentrate with the heat and humidity. I finished a few books: Crazy Horse and Custer: the Parallel Lives of Two American Warriors by Stephen E. Ambrose Stephen Ambrose has written mostly books about World War II. His is a very good history author. He takes on the question of the battle between white American and native Americans during the 1860’s and the 1870’s. He is remarkably balanced in his approach to the question. While one can see that he admires many of the virtues of the Sioux, he nevertheless sees their limitations. Furthermore, he asks a very politically incorrect question that must be asked: could America really cede the development of such large tracts of land that provide much of our grain and meat for the sake of what amounted to some tens of thousands of aboriginal inhabitants. Yet, he also point out the double dealing of the government in Washington (making treaty after treaty, all of which they broke without just cause). He also deals with the fact that no matter how many treaties were signed, the Sioux had no intention of ceasing their raiding upon wagon trains and forts. He also gives good biographies of both Custer and Crazy Horse. This, as is true of all of Ambrose’s books, is well worth reading. Finland’s War of Choice: The Untidy Coalition of a Democracy and a Dictatorship in World War II by Henrik Lunde During World War II, the country of Finland allied itself with Nazi Germany in an attack upon the Soviet Union. That was odd, for Finland was a vibrant democracy and Germany was a totalitarian regime (as was the Soviet Union). This book addresses the question of why Finland would have allied itself to such an evil entity. Finland had been attacked and defeated by the Soviet Union the year before. They had initially been able to defeat the soviet invasion (which was astounding given that the total population of Finland was only 4 million). Yet, eventually the weight of the soviet army overcame their opposition. The Soviet Union stole a large amount of territory from Finland (admittedly, to be better able to defend itself if it were attacked). The Finns attacked the Soviets to regain their lost territory. The Germans were attacking to defeat the Soviet Union and exterminate communism. These different goals eventually led to misunderstandings and difficulties throughout the war. Lunde has written that type of history book that includes way too much detail. One easily becomes lost in the names and numbers of various divisions, in the references to small villages spread all throughout the Arctic, in the movements here and there, etc. Furthermore, while the book is supposed to answer the why of the war, it spends much, much more time in chronicling what happened during the war. I would not recommend this book unless one really, really, really wanted to read about Finland and World War II. The Borgias and Their Enemies 1431-1519 by Christopher Hibbert This is a book that speaks about the Borgia family that produced two popes: Sixtus IV and Alexander VI, as well as a brood of powerful, grasping, and often decadent young people, including Caesare Borgia and Lucrezia Borgia. They were from a Spanish background. Sixtus IV gave rise to the dynasty by making his young nephew a cardinal. That man was eventually elected to be pope. He was a very bad man, living a life of grasping sensuality. He had several children by his courtesan lover. He and his son Caesare were accused of having committed incest with his daughter Lucrezia. He made his son a duke and allowed him to conquer much of what was then the papal states. Caesare was known for his cunning and cruelty (in fact, he was Machiavelli’s model in his famous book, The Prince). Alexander VI was so evil that even Catholics spoke of him being the anti-Christ, an accusation that was readily picked up by early Protestants and later applied to all popes. Of the whole family, Lucrezia turns out to be the best of the brood (although even she had various lovers while she was married to her last husband). She was a loving, caring mother to her children and seems to have gradually converted to a more and more religious life style. Hibbert is a good historian and a good author. The book is very interesting, filled with detail, without being overwhelming. Have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Melbourne - Sydney

April 20, 2013 Peace and Good, Hope you are all well. I am completing my visit to Australia. Tomorrow I head off to Manila for about ten days. The visit here went very well. There are four friaries. Two of them are in the Melbourne area (which is south of here) and two of them are in the Sydney area. I have spoken with all of the friars who were available. A couple are overseas right now so I e-mailed them. I am just trying to get a read on the situation here and offer some suggestions on how to make it a little better. The friars took me to the Sydney harbor on Thursday. I got to see the Sydney Opera House (which looks like a series of shells sticking up) and the Sydney Harbor Bridge (which you see every year on New Year's Day because it is one of the first places on dry land to celebrate the New Year). I received so many expressions of condolance from the Australians for what happened in Boston and Texas this past week. They readily identify with us. It has been easy to keep in touch with the e mail in these days. I don't know how the connection will be once I fly into the Philippines. Don't be surprised if next Sunday's blog is a little late. The friars here in Sydney (Kellyville) are building a small chapel which will be a shrine dedicated to the Holy Innocents (in memory of the unborn). It is just about finished, and I think it will look beautiful. It offers a lot of possibilities for expanding the friars' outreach, and I brainstormed with the friars involved in the project. I will be coming back here in October for my official visitation. I finished a few books: Hello Darkness by Sandra Brown This is the first book that I have read that was written by Sandra Brown. The plot begins with a late night romantic music program director receiving a call from a man who calls himself Valentino who claims to have kidnapped a woman whom he will kill in three days. The rest of the story is the attempt first to find and release the woman, and then to find Valentino. Brown presents a few different characters who could well be Valentino, and she does not solve the mystery until the end of the book. There is also a subplot of the love affair between the radio announcer and a psychologist who is a collaborator with the police department. The title comes from the Simon and Garfunkel song, “Hello Darkness, my old friend.” A symbol used throughout the book is the fact that the radio announcer wears dark sun glasses, even inside. While it supposedly is because of sensitivity in her eyes, it really is to hide away from the shame of what she and her psychologist did many years ago which resulted in the death of her then fiancĂ©e. The book is well written. I would read more of her novels in the future. The Secret Life of Houdini: the Making of America’s First Superhero by William Kalush and Larry Sloman This is a bit of a biography of Harry Houdini. It gives a decent account of how he became America’s greatest escape artist. Much of the book deals with his campaign against fraudulent spiritualists. This was a big fad in the 20’s, and Houdini was able to investigate the false claims and actions of many of the most famous mediums (including the wife of the author of the Sherlock Holmes books, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle). He did a strange death, having been hit in the side twice by two different men. This was a challenge he often accepted, but these men attacked him savagely, and some suspected that they were sent to try to kill him to stop his anti-spiritualist crusade. Ironically, he died on Haloween. The book is good and worth a read. The Blessed and the Damned by Michael Wallace This is the story of a war between two fundamentalist Mormon groups that are preparing for the end of the world. It is a whole different world of thought. Two figures both claim to be “the prophet” whom God has appointed to lead his people to salvation. This leads to a violent conflict with weapons of mass destruction. Even though this is not a pleasant book, it is well worth reading to see how people who consider themselves to be “prophets” and who are being opposed might act. It helps one to understand both religious and non-religious mania and paranoia. I hope you have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Ho Chi Mihn City - Hanoi - Van Mon - Hanoi - Melbourne

April 14, 2013 Peace and Good, I hope you are all well. This has been quite some week. I travelled from Ho Chi Mihn City (Saigon) to Hanoi and from there to our leprosy clinic in Van Mon. The north is quite a bit cooler than the south. While it was hovering around 100 degrees in Saigon, it was probably in the 70's in Hanoi. Yet, it is very, very humid up there. There was mold on all the buildings. Our leprosy clinic is about three hours from Hanoi by taxi. The friars knew a taxi driver (a brother of one of the friars) who arranged the trip. We have one friar there right now. This is not ideal for Franciscans. We live in community. But the mission is very young, and we are just getting things set up. In Hanoi, we met fr. Benedict Baek, the Assistant General for Asia. Together we travelled to the clinic. Right now, there are a few activities already going on. The sisters and friar working there bring food to the poor, older lepers. The friar, James, teaches English to the children of the lepers (so that they can find better jobs in the future). And there is Eastern medicine, especially acupuncture practiced there. Because the leprosy causes great pain in the joints, the acupuncture relieves a lot of the symptoms. We met with the director and the assistant director of the leprosy village and charted plans for the future. We hope to accept some handicapped children shortly to care for them. The families are too poor to do this, and they do not have the skills needed to help the children progress. From Hanoi, I flew to Bangkok, then Sydney, Australia, and finally to Melcbourne. I have been there since visiting the friars of the Australian delegation. There are around 15 of them, and we are trying to plan for the future. They have had some rought times in the recent past, but we are trying to figure out how to turn things around. I have already talked with the friars in the Melbourne area (two friaries) and I will be flying up to the Sydney area on Tuesday to meet with the friars there (another two friaries). There are no magic plans, but maybe we can make small adjustments that could help. I have finished a few books: Marius’ Mules: The Invasion of Gaul by S.J.A. Turney From the title of this book, I thought it was going to be a cute story of some Roman army officer. It turned out to be much better than that. It is the story of the beginning of the invasion of Gaul (France) under Julius Caesar. It is told from the point of the view of the army. One often hears about Caesar’s conquests, but a book like this makes the whole story much more real. It is filled with tons of good information on how wars were fought in those days, including a full description of much of the savagery of war fought man to man. It gives a good indication of the strategy and deviousness of Caesar. I really enjoyed reading this book, although it is probably too graphic for many readers. The Vikings by Robert Ferguson This is an overview of the history of the Vikings. It speaks of where they came from, where they went, how they developed their reputation for ferocity, etc. It is interesting to at times see the other side of the story. Ferguson claims that much of the destruction done to Christian shrines and churches was due to a type of revenge for the destruction that had already been done to pagan shrines throughout Germany and southern Scandinavia. He speaks about where information comes from (for it is not abundant). An interesting fact is that the division of time into the stone age, the bronze age and the iron age comes from a museum director who had boxes filled with artifacts of the Vikings and he did not have an idea of their antiquity or use. He first divided this material into three portions: stone, bronze and iron. Only after he had divided these materials did he realize that these divisions more or less represented the ages at which the materials were produced. This is a good book, but filled with too much detail for a casual reader. Incredible Victory: The Battle of Midway by Walter Lord In June of 1942, The US was still reeling from the loses it had suffered at Pearl Harbor and in the first months of 1942. We had one advantage, however, in that we had broken the codes for the Japanese navy and we knew that a big attack was coming at Midway Island. The odds were against us. The Japanese had a much larger force and their fliers had much more practice than our fliers did. Yet, by the end of the battle we had sunk four of the Japanese aircraft carriers while we had lost only one. This was the turning point in the war. After this defeat, the Japanese were never able to attack in order to expand their empire again. This was actually the beginning of the end. The book is well written with enough detail to know what is going on, and enough personal material about those involved to humanize what was going on. Lord does not tell the story only from one side. He tells what both the Americans and Japanese were doing and thinking. It is really a well written book. Hope you have a good week. I will be in Australia all this week, and then next week head up to Manila to give some conferences to the men in formation. God bless and Shalom fr. Jude

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Rome - Ho Chi Mihn City

April 7, 2013 Peace and Good, I hope you are all well. This has been quite some week for me. On Monday I flew out of Rome and arrived in Ho Chi Mihn City (Saigon) the following afternoon. This is my first time in Vietnam, and I really did not know what to expect. It was relatively easy to get the visa, and entrance into the country was a cinch. I was put up in a small hotel near two of the friaries (because there is no room in the inn). It is not fancy, but clean and well run. Ho Chi Mihn City is huge. It has a population of around 12,000,000 people. The whole population of Vietnam is around 80,000,000. What one sees immediately is the motor bikes. They are everywhere, and going in all directions at the same time. There are very few stop lights. Everyone just sort of drifts over where he wants to go and sooner or later arrives there. We have 23 friars now, most of whom are in initial formation. In fact, yesterday morning we have the simple profession of five of the friars who just finished novitiate in the Philippines. I was asked to preach (in English). I had to make sure to speak slowly, slowly, but a good number of people were able to understand me and I was quite pleased. The mission is run by friars from the California province. There are four friars here from the US, three of whom are Vietnamese in origin. They have a difficult task as they try to set up new institutions at the same time they are guiding the first vocations. From what I can see, they are doing a good job. Last year the general asked me whether I had ever been to Vietnam, and I told him that I had not. He told me to think about going. When the Minister General says, “think about it,” it means you might as well set the dates. The food is great. I love soup with noodles, and they have a dish called Pho (pronounced FA) which is just that. Not a lot of meat, but plenty of rice, noodles and vegetables. The weather is hot, hot, hot. I engage in activities in the morning and evening, and try to hide out in the afternoon in the air conditioned room. Later today I will fly up to Hanoi to visit a leprosarium that the friars are running. Then, on the 10th, I will head down to Melbourne in Australia. I finished a few books: Skin Trade by Laurel Hamilton This is one of those vampire, werewolf books which takes place in Los Vegas. The author spends a lot of time explaining the dynamics of how these creatures work. The premise is that a woman who is the lover of the head vampire in a certain city is also a marshal of a special unit of the federal government that hunts down and kills rogue paranormal creatures. She, herself, has been infected by the blood of several were-animals, including were-tigers. It turns out that her lineage gives her tremendous psychic powers over other creatures. She and her team must hunt down a group of vampires and were-animals that have massacred a swat team in Los Vegas. The book deals an awful lot with her strange relationships with other creatures like herself and her lovers. The sex is really described in too graphic a manner. The book was OK, but not much more than that. The End of the Line: Romney vs. Obama: the 34 days that decided the election by Glenn Thrush and Jonathan Martin. These are two authors for Politico, and they go through the dynamics of the last month of the campaign that led to the re-election of Obama. Their analysis is very good and the book is very informative. It is not a full sized book: more like an extended article. Nevertheless, it is well worth reading. It puts into perspective various strategies, the polls, the debates, the state by state strategy, etc. D Day: The Battle for Normandy by Antony Beevoir This is not the first book that I have read that was written by Beevoir. He is an excellent war historian. I have read his books on Stalingrad, the Fall of Berlin, and the Spanish Civil War. This one covered the preparation for the landing in Normandy, the landing itself, the fight to make a “break out”, and the fall of Paris. He knows just how much information to put into the story to make it interesting without overloading the reader. He tells many stories of what the individual soldiers or units experienced. He is not afraid to give credit or fault to either side. He never loses respect for the suffering of the soldiers and civilians involved. Hope you have a good week. Shalom Fr. Jude