Monday, September 23, 2013

Rome - Copertino - Bari

September 23, 2013 Peace and Good, This week has been a bit unusual. I arrived back from the States on Sunday evening. Monday I was able to recover a bit from tremendous jet lag. Then on Tuesday we had the funeral of one of our friars in Rome. Matteo Luo was around 85 years old. (Although his Passport gave that age, he was probably at least a few years older. One of our Chinese friars said that he was older than his aunt who was 85.) He had come to Rome to study to be a Franciscan priest, and was forbidden from returning to China by the communists. In fact, he only returned after some twenty years, and after that he was banned again from returning. He belonged to my province in the States, even though he only visited once. He was given the choice of joining any province he wanted, and he chose us. All these years, he has been begging for assistance for the return of the friars in China. When he died, he had collected a very good sum and that will be used for our new mission there. He also attracted a number of vocations for this cause. Right after the funeral, we drove down to Copertino. This was the birth place of St. Joseph of Cupertino. (The spelling difference is the difference between the Italian and the Latin/English spelling.) St. Joseph was a Conventual friar who is famous for two things: he was not all that bright (which is why he is the patron saint of students taking exams) and he was a mystic who became so enraptured with God's love that he floated into the air. He is thus the patron saint of those who fly, including astronauts. We had out retreat down here preached by a seminary professor on St. Joseph Cupertino and his mysticism. We also attended the official opening of the 350th anniversary of his death. The procession alone lasted about an hour an a half. During it, I noticed some of the vendors at the side of the street. One of them was selling T shirts that spoke of Duff Beer and had the image of Homer Simpson. I couldn't believe it. There were thousands of people along the route. This town is far south in Italy, in what they call the heel of the boot which is Italy. On Sunday, we visited our friars in Bari, about an hour and a half away. One runs a beautiful center for children from difficult families (both residential and day care). The courts assign these children to the center for care. It is run by a friar and his lay workers. They are all helped by a group of married couples. It was great. We then went to the Basilica of St. Nicholas of Bari. This is the St. Nicholas who has gone down in history as Santa Claus. He died in Asia Minor, but his body was brought to Italy during the crusades. We will be down here all week until Friday. Then it is back to Rome for a meeting on Saturday, and then a flight out to Los Angeles on Sunday. These are the books I finished this week: Iron Kingdom by Christopher Clark This is the story of the rise and fall of Prussia, a section of Germany which gave it its best (efficiency, an honest civil service, etc.) as well as its worse (militarism, dictatorship, etc.). It goes for the origin of this region in Germany all the way until it was officially dismantled after World War II. We see great characters such as Frederick the Great and Bismark, and tyrants such as the Nazi’s and others. It is really only the kind of book that someone who really, really likes history would enjoy. Fortunately, I do really, really like history.` Farewell: The Greatest Spy Story of the Twentieth Century by Eric Reaynaud This is the story of a Soviet KGB agent who became a traitor to his country and gave many, many secret documents to the French. This was right before the period when Ronald Reagan was president, and his revelations might have actually had an effect in how the Cold War ended. His documents showed the amount of information that was being stolen from the West by Eastern spies and double agents. The French, Americans and others were able to stop the loss of those documents, and they were then able to force the Soviets to try to keep up with their technological developments on their own, which bankrupted the system. The Soviet KGB agent did this as an act of revenge against the system of favoritism toward the children of the high bosses and petty corruption that he found in the KGB. He is not exactly that nice of a figure. He and his wife both had lovers. He tried to kill his lover and did kill an on-looker. It was only after that crime that he was caught and eventually executed. The book is good, but a little repetitive at times. It also makes conclusions that the stated evidence does not really warrant. Yet, it was a good read. The War Lovers: Roosevelt, Lodge, Hearst, and the Rush to Empire, 1898 by Evan Thomas At the end of the 19th century, the United States went through a period of expansion which involved the conquest of Cuba, the Philippines and other Spanish colonies. This movement was pushed by three men in particular: Theodore Roosevelt who as assistant secretary of the navy and then as the Colonel in charge of the Rough Riders in Cuba pushed a manly approach to war, Henry Cabot Lodge, a senator for Massachusetts who would eventually scuttle the US participation in the League of Nations and William Randolph Hearst, the owner of a much-racking newspaper in New York which pushed for US involvement in Cuba by publicizing true and not so true accounts of Spanish repression there. Many in the States questioned this move for it seemed to betray our protection of democracy throughout the world and also make us too much the imperialistic powers of Europe. This became especially true in the Philippines where our army savagely attacked a local independence movement (which in its turn used savage tactics against our soldiers). The book is good, and provides a good insight into the personalities of those involved in these machinations. The Messiah of Morris Avenue by Tony Hendra This is the story of how Jesus comes back to an America that was taken over by fundamentalist Christians. He comes back as Jose, a Hispanic American who tries to correct some of the misunderstandings about the Christian message. The story is really quite good. At times, it goes a little over the top in trying to attacking institutional religion. Part of it was certainly borrowed from Dostoevsky’s scene of the Grand Inquisitor in the Brothers Karamazov. Jose is put to death for preaching peace and refusing to kill. I do have to admit that the story was good to read. It led to some good meditations on who Jesus is and what he wants of us. I hope you have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude


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