Sunday, July 26, 2015

Rome - Chicago - Bolgatanga (Ghana)

July 27, 2015 Peace and Good, I headed over to Chicago last Sunday for an assembly of formators from all over the States. We have agreed to consolidate our formation programs, and this was a meeting to put together a directory for the programs. There were 25 participants, and the meeting went much, much better than I had expected. The first day, every single friar around the table participated in the discussions. There was a feeling of wanting to do what is best for the friars in formation. The meeting went all day on Tuesday and Wednesday. In the off times, I finished my report for the visitation of the Maltese province. I find it is always best to do these things as quickly as possible or they do not get done. On Thursday I flew out from Chicago to Rome and then from Rome to Accra, Ghana. I am here to give three retreats over the next few weeks. The first two will be in the far north of the country, in a diocese called Navrongo-Bolgatanga. Then the last one will be down south, probably in a town called Saltpond. I was invited here because I had given a retreat in a regional seminary a few years back, and one of the teachers there had become the bishop of this diocese - a very fine man named Fr. Alfred Agyenta. I arrived in Accra around 8 PM and slept at the regional bishops' house in the capital. The next morning I left the house at 4:30 to go to the airport for a one and a half hour flight up north. Then there was a two hour drive to the diocese. I arrived 15 minutes before the beginning of an ordination. This was a truly African liturgy, lasting around four and one-half hours, with more singing and dancing than I had ever seen. The strange thing is that time flew in the liturgy. Everyone (probably over 1,000 people) was so engaged that time flew. Today I am getting ready for the retreat which begin this evening. I finished some books: The Swan Thief by Elizabeth Kostova This book is by the author of the Historian, a book about vampires. I did not know what to expect when I began reading this particular work. It is about an artist who is arrested as he tries to deface a painting in a museum. He is non-communicative, so he is commited to an asylum. There he is cared for by a doctor who is also an artist. The doctor slowly uncovers the story of the man as well as a second layer of the story about the object of the man’s obsession. It is very well written. I did not know the end until the end, which is quite an accomplishment for an author. The Gardener of Baghdad by Ahman Ardafan A man who runs a book shop in Bagdad during the difficulties decides he must sell and move out. While he is cleaning up, he discovers a manuscript that speaks about a love story between an Iraqi man who owns a garden shop and the daughter of a British general. This most unlikely match comes to fruition, but only with much pain and sacrifice. The style of description of the author is wonderful. One feels that one has entered this other reality. I highly recommend this particular volume. The Great Sea: A Human History of the Mediterranean by David Abulafia This is a very long and detailed study of the various eras and civilizations that existed in the Mediterranean basin from pre-historic times to the present. Abulafia is a good author who gives a good picture of what happened and why. He does not get lost in detail as some historians do. Life During Wartime by Janine di Giovanni This is part of a travel collection. This particular story is about a journalist who spends time in Sarejevo during the Bosnian war and the horrors of what she saw, as well as a trip that she and her fellow correspondents made a few years later for a type of reunion. As she describes the fate of her fellow correspondents, one realizes the cost of doing this type of reporting. The Nameless Man by Rodrigues Ottolengui A man walks into a detective’s office and tells him that he has lost his memory. The detective promises to discover who he is within 48 hours. There are a few instant clues, and as the story unravels, he picks up more information that allows him to complete his task. The story is not all that well laid out, jumping to conclusions without describing how they are reached while the action is going on. Have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude

Monday, July 20, 2015

Valletta (Malta) - Birkirkara - Rome - Chicago

July 20, 2015 Peace and Good, I have finished off my visitation to the Maltese Province. It was quite a good experience for me, meeting many of the friars again after four years (for I had done their previous visitation). We had a meeting in Birkirkara with all the friars who could attend from the entire province and I was able to share many of my observation concerning what I saw in these weeks. I have written the first draft of the report and am giving myself a couple of days before I correct it one more time and then send it to the Maltese provincial for his input before we publish it to the province. On Saturday I flew back to Rome where it was very, very hot. I arrived at Santi Apostoli, my home, around 4 PM and spent the rest of the afternoon unpacking and repacking for on Sunday morning early I was off to the airport for a flight to Chicago. I will be here until Thursday attending a meeting of the friars involved in formation throughout the country, and then I am off to Ghana in West Africa for a few weeks giving retreats. (This country was not involved in the Ebola outbreak, although it is not that far from the involved countries. The advantage of Ghana is it is one of the best run countries in all of Africa.) I have finished some books: The Amateur by Richard Harding Davis This is a short story about a newspaper reported who pictures himself a bit of a detective. He meets a young woman on a boat over to London who is searching for her run away husband. The man finds out that the husband is fleeing some charges which will shortly run out due to the statute of limitation. The mystery, though, is who is the young woman. The Artificial Nigger by Flannery O’Connor The title of this story is troubling, but one has to remember that it was written decades ago. It is the story of a young man and his grandfather who travel by train from the countryside to the city of Atlanta. They become lost there and the grandfather plays a cruel joke on the boy. The boy runs away and knocks over a woman who is a bit hurt. The grandfather denies that he even knows his grandson. The rest of the story is one of repentance and mercy. It is quite good. Argo by Tony Mendez This is the story of how the CIA developed a plan to rescue six Americans from Iran after the residents of the US embassy were captured by the Revolutionary Guard. They were hidden by Canadians in their residences. Mendez, an expert in helping people exfiltrate from dangerous locations, goes into Iran and they all pretend that they are part of a filming agency examining possible filming locations. The story is very good and true besides. The Invention of Air: A Story of Science, Faith, Revolution, and the birth of America by Steven Johnson This is a biography of Joseph Priestly, the scientist who discovered oxygen. He lived in the 18th century, and was born in England but died in Pennsylvania. He was a friend of Benjamin Franklin as well as John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. He trained as a non-conformist minister and was one of the founders of the Unitarian Church. His religious and political views got him in serious trouble in England and he and his family had to flee to the States after a serious riot broke out in Birmingham, England where he was living. He was incredibly insightful, but at times not especially prudent in what he said and printed. The Dark Side of the Island by Jack Higgins I have now read a number of Higgins’ books, and they are all well written and exciting. This is about a former British intelligence agent who returns to a Greek island where he organized an attack on a Nazi facility. He does not know that he is blamed for a betrayal of the people of the island to the Nazi’s and they horrible punishment thereafter. Some of the people try to kill him, and he must find out who really betrayed the mission and the people to the German authorities. Have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Rabat - Bummarad - Birkikawra - Qawra - St. Paul's Bay - Vittoria - Valletta

July 13, 2015 Peace and Good, This has been a busy week with the visitation to the friaries in Malta. The first friary outside of Valletta, the capital, was Rabat. This is our oldest friary on the island. It is right next door to the city of M'dina, which is an Arab name (for Malta was under the Arabs for a century and a half, and their language is a form of 9th century Arabic). Rabat also has some remains from the original Phoenician inhabitants. (Phoenicia was the country in what we today call Lebanon. They were the founders of Carthage, the enemy of Rome.) The next friary was Bummarad. This is a very small parish, 1,100 families. It is in a farming region, so the second Mass of the day which I attended was at 6:15 AM. I didn't even ask when the first Mass was. This is one of three parishes on the north coast of the island. The third friary was Birkikawra. This is both a shrine church and the location of a printing apostolate run by the friars calls CAK. This apostolate is doing great work in bringing products out in Maltese which obviously has a very limited audience since there are only 400,000 Maltese on the island (although there are many, many more settled throughout the world). They had the Pope's latest encyclical translated and printed only four days after it was issued. Then I went to Qawra. This is a big parish near the sea. It has a very diverse population, probably the most diverse of any community on the island. There are many immigrants from Arab countries and Africa. There are many people who are unchurched and who are sometimes rejected by traditional parishes. The pastoral team is doing a great job reaching out to them. The pastor has an incredible mind. He is always thinking of new things. His friary was the first one of the friars to be powered by solar panels. He is now thinking of mag-lev power generation. He is 69 years old, but has the energy of a 30 year old. St. Paul's Bay is a coast side parish. Their grammar school has representatives of 31 nations. It too has an outreach to the poor. Finally, I visited Vittoria (also called Rabat) on the island of Gozo. This is an island much smaller than Malta with a population of 23,000. It is much more traditional than the "mainland." There is a beautiful shrine there with a group of mostly older friars (who are still very active). Yesterday, Sunday, I came back to Valletta to do some reports and a talk at a gathering of the friars tomorrow. Then on Saturday I head to Rome and Sunday on to the States (Chicago). I finished the following: The Scratch of a Pen: 1763 and the Transformation of North America by Richard Grimes This is a book about the Treaty of Paris of 1763 which ended the French and Indian War and its consequences. Canada and all of New France with the exception of Louisiana were given to the English, who then forbid colonists to settle in territory over the Appalachian (one of the causes of the Revolution of 1775). The native American were not consulted and they were asked to change allegiance to the English whom they tended not to trust. Spain took over Louisiana territory until around 1801 when Napoleon took it back. The book goes into depth concerning the unintended consequences of this peace treaty which changed so much on the North American continent. Amigos by Julia Cooke This is a strange travel story about a woman who befriends a prostitute who works the tourist trade in Cuba. This woman becomes pregnant and is trying to figure out how to survive. It gives a good sense of the despair of some of the people in Cuba at their poverty and helplessness. Stalina by Emily Rubin This is the story of a woman who is named after Stalin by her parents who are Russian Jews as a way of protecting her from persecution. Her father dies after being arrested, and her mother carries on. Stalina eventually leaves Russia, leaving her mother in an institution where she can be cared for in her dementia. Stalina finds a job in a motel where rooms rent by the hour. The rest of the book deals with her experiences there and with other Russian emigres. The book is quite funny, but also gives an insight into the Russian spirit in the years of persecution and those that followed. Salvation in Death by J.D. Robb This is the first of Robb’s books that I have read. This one, at least, is about a female detective named Eve who is married to a multi-millionaire Irishman named Rourke. She investigates the murder of a priest during Mass and discovers that there are many secrets behind his life and death. Although Eve is not Catholic, the book treats Catholic themes somewhat favorably. One of two heroes of the story ends up being a priest. The book is set in the mid 21st century, which is an odd choice because the author does not really deal with this other than positing some ultra modern gadgets. Also, especially at the beginning of the book, some of the details around the Mass and the Church are all messed up. You only wish that the editor had sought the opinion of someone who knew what he/she was talking about. Otherwise, the book is clever and entertaining. Have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude

Friday, July 3, 2015

Assisi - Rome - Valletta (Malta) - Rabat (Malta) - Bumarrat (Malta)

July 4, 2015 Happy Independence Day, As you can see from the cities mentioned above, I am in Malta. This is a small island south of Sicily, an independent country. It is a limestone island with a little vegetation, 30 by 40 miles. There are around 400,000 people on the island, with the vast majority Catholic. I am doing the visitation of the province here, which is relatively small, around 40 friars. Even though it is a small province, they have a tremendous history of mission work. They worked in England, Australia, Zambia and they founded the province of India Right now they have recently opened a new friary in Calcutta as a joint venture with the Indian Province. They have their chapter in September, and I am producing the report on how things are going in the province. Many of the structures on the island date back to the 1500's. The island suffered from three serious sieges during its history: the Turks, the French under Napoleon, and the Nazi's. During World War II, they suffered terribly from bombardment. Churchill called it the unsinkable aircraft carrier. It played a significant role in intercepting the supplies that were being shipped to Rommel, and thus insured his defeat. The weather is very hot right now. I am finally over my cold/bronchitis, but the heat is getting to me a bit. Oh well, as Rosanna Danna said, it's always something. The cathedral in Valletta is magnificent. It was built by the Knights of Malta which is divided into national groups. Each group took a part of the cathedral and tried to outdo its rivals. It also has two Caravaggio paintings for he spent the last two years of his life here. I am travelling from one friary to another. The internet contact is a bit tenuous, so I am writing this while I have good internet coverage. Hope you have a good celebration today and a good week. I have finished the following books: The Moghul by Thomas Hoover This is a saga about an English sea captain who travels to India during the 17th century to try to establish trading relations with that country. He encounters many strange and exotic situations. He falls in love with a beautiful Persian woman who had been the wife to the moghul. He is part of a battle of one of the moghul’s sons to take over the empire. There is a lot of reflection on the sharing of cultures and learning from one another. Overall, the book is quite good. The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid This is a very interesting book. The action takes place at a restaurant in Pakistan, and it consists of a dialog (although we never hear one side of it) between an American and a Pakistani professor. The Pakistani had been educated in the States and worked there for a major company, but he lost heart over a love interest who drifted away from him into a psychological breakdown and also through the fact that he was collaborating in the oppression of people for profit. (His company evaluated the success of companies and recommended ways to save money which often led to the loss of jobs for employees.) Furthermore, he saw his homeland drifting into an almost inevitable war with India that would probably have resulted in disaster. While the professor is always extravagantly polite, there is a current of tension just below the surface. One is never quite clear whether the American is there to assassinate him, or he is plotting to have the American killed. April 4, 1968: Martin Luther King Jr.’s Death and How it Changed America by Michael Eric Dyson Dyson presents the story of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination, and also of the aftermath in the civil rights movement. He speaks of two dangers in speaking of King. There are those who would like to demonize him for bigoted reasons, and there are his followers who have a tendency to canonize him, ignoring his very real humanity. He speaks of his successors, especially Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton. He deals with the question of how much has really been accomplished in the battle for equality, stating that the upper and middle class blacks have benefited most from the civil rights movement, but the poor have been left behind in many ways. The presentation is a bit polemic, but it is good to hear certain things from a different point of view. Conspirata by Robert Harris A couple of years ago I read a book by Harris called Imperium. That was the story of how Cicero rose to power in Rome. This is the book of his rule and his difficulties both during his year long reign and especially in the period immediately afterward. The book is very, very well written. The presenter is Tiro, who was a slave and secretary to Cicero. One gets a very good picture of the terrible machinations and very flawed people at the end of the Republic period, just before everything fell apart and Julius Caesar ended up as dictator of Rome. Those Angry Days by Lynne Olson This is the story of the period of time right before the entrance of the United States into World War II. Great Britain was lobbying for the US to assist it, whether by arms or possibly even by joining the battle. There was a huge movement of isolationists in the States who wanted nothing to do with the war. Charles Lindbergh was one of the main proponents of this point of view. The book covers the personality and actions of Lindbergh and his wife Anne. It deals with Franklin Roosevelt’s tendency to equivocate and procrastinate as much as he could. The book gives a good portrait of this very vocal, very contentious debate. Shalom fr. Jude