Monday, August 31, 2015

Accra - Rome - London - Newark - Brooklyn - Ellicott City - Brooklyn - Newark - Rome

August 31, 2015 I finished my journey to Accra on a peaceful note. I visited the mission church of our parish there and preached for the Mass which was quite enjoyable. The flight out of Accra and into London and then the flight from there to Rome were uneventful. As soon as I landed, I washed two weeks of Africa out of my dirty clothes. Wherever I stayed was quite comfortable, but there was always dust and sweat and bugs. I wanted to freshen all of the clothes that I had carried over there as soon as I could. I flew out from Rome to Newark that Wednesday. This trip was a bit more eventful. The flight out of Rome was postponed because of thunder storms that morning. When we finally got out, there was a loud noise on the right side of the plane. An hour into the flight, the pilot informed us that we might have sucked some birds into the engine and that it would not be prudent to fly over the ocean without a check up. We landed in London (where United has a maintenance site) and the engineer informed us that birds had gone through the engine. They put all of us up at a hotel near the airport and rebooked us for the continuance of the journey. Some did not get out til Friday, although most of us flew out on Thursday. I tried to help some of the Italians on board who did not speak English with their rebookings. I landed in Newark and the next day one of the friars drove me to our parish in Brooklyn. I can't believe how much the tolls for tunnels and bridges cost in the New York area. I was in Brooklyn to go through some 20 boxes of archives and sort them out. The office of Franciscans International, the lobbying group for Franciscans at the UN and on whose Board of Directors I am a member, had closed its office in New York and I had to decide which materials to ship over to the main office in Geneva. After a lot of work, I ended up with 2/3's of one box of things to keep. They had slips that dated to 1988 for a donation of $10. They had never sorted through any of it when the office closes - they only boxed up the materials. During the week, I drove down to Baltimore to visit an oral surgeon to have a tooth extracted. The process went well, but a week after I still feel the pain in my jaw. It always takes me a long time to heal from dental work, so it is not problem. While in Brooklyn, I visited a mission that our friars have toward the Hipsters of New York (a type of modern beatnik). Br. Nick who is the director of the mission did a great job of fixing up the previously closed church building and creating an invited atmosphere to welcome this community. I arrived back in Rome yesterday and will be here for the week. This coming Sunday I head back down to Malta for the provincial chapter at which I must give my report on my visitation. These are some of the things I have finished reading: The Men who United the States by Simon Winchester Simon Winchester has written a number of memorable books, including A Crack at the End of the World about the San Francisco Earthquake and Krakatoa about the volcano which exploded with incredible force in Indonesia. This book is an overview of a number of men who made the United States what it is today. He did not center the story on politicians as much as explorers and inventors and innovators. The stories are well told, and the overall effect of a collage of individuals who built this nation. Mossad: The Greatest Missions of the Israeli Secret Service Michael Bar-Zohar and Nissim Mishal This is an account of the Mossad’s (Israeli Secret Service) most ingenious successes and even failures. This includes the arrest of Adolph Eichmann, the raid at Entebbe in Uganda to liberate hostages, the project to bring Ethiopian Jews to Israel, etc. There are also a number of stories about assassinations conducted against terrorist targets and also against scientists who were working on weapons of mass destruction in Sudan and Iran. Some of the stories left me very unsettled, as if Israel decided that it was the arbiter of morality and could do anything that it saw fit to protect itself. The Purloined Letter by Edgar Allen Poe This is the story of an important, incriminating letter which is stolen by someone visiting an famous grand dame. A detective searches every nook and cranny of the thief’s house (for his identity is well known). He finds nothing. Another man then accepts the challenge and finds it in the most unlikely of places, right in the open. The story is good, but like a number of 19th century American works that I have read, the dialog goes on and on. Dambusters: A Landmark Oral History by Max Arthur This is the story of the plan to bomb three major German dams in the Ruhr Valley. It is a series of first hand eye witness accounts and it is an interesting way to present history. A new bomb had to be invented in order allow the bombers to destroy the very powerful structure that was these dams. These dams were essential as a water source for the people in that area and also for the hydropower produced there. The Secret Servant by Daniel Silva This is another of the stories of Gabriel Alon, an agent of the Mossad, the Israeli secret service. In this one he fights an Islamist group from Egypt which has kidnapped the daughter of the US ambassador to Great Britain, a millionaire friend of the president. Typically, there are twists and turns which are well written. Silva has a tendency to bring the action to a point of crisis and then has the hero miraculously survive. He also has a tendency to end the main line of the plot, tell some personal details of the life of Gabriel and his wife Chiara, and then end a secondary plot. Yet, in spite of this predictability, there are always surprises. These volumes contain a considerable amount of violence (due to the terrorism and the counter-terrorism). Have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Accra - Saltpond - Takoradi - Accra - Rome

August 18, 2015 I am a bit late this week because the last few days in Ghana were not good for wifi connections. They have daily blackouts because of a shortage in power generation facilities, and this can wreck havoc on routers. This past week I was with the friars. I preached at two different churches in Accra, St. Francis and St. Clare. The first is a parish and the second is an outstation (but within the city limits). Both masses were great. My heart really is in Africa in the way that they celebrate their liturgies. If it weren't for the heat of equatorial Africa, I would volunteer in a minute. During the week, I stayed at novitiate at Saltpond to give some talks to the incoming class of novices. That went very well. Then on Saturday they asked me to preach at the solemn profession of friars in Takoradi. This is a city on the far west of the country along the coast. This is where we have a printing press which is very successful. Saltpond in in the center on the country on the coast. It is named after the saltponds along the coast which were used for salt production. Accra is in the far eastern part of the country along the coast. I very much enjoyed my time in Ghana. The weather was not bad at all because it is rainy season right now. Yet, I could feel the wear and tear physically after three weeks in the country. It was good to get back to Rome yesterday. Today I am catching up on various things, and tomorrow I head to New York City for a project for Franciscans International. This is what I have been reading: Killing Patton by Bill O’Reilly This is the story of the last year of life of General Patton and his strange death at the end of the war. There is the possibility that he died because of a plot inaugurated by either the KGB or the OSS (the predecesor of the CIA) or both. O’Reilly’s analysis is at times very good, but at times it is calously foolish. One good example of the latter is O’Reilly’s attack on the fact that the Americans at the end of the war did not continue on and try to conquer Berlin before the Soviets reached it. First of all, the Soviets were already there. Second, over one half of a million Soviet troops were killed in conquering it. Would O”Reilly have had that many Americans die to conquer a city that the leaders of the big three powers had already decided would be in the section of Germany controlled by the Soviets? Overall, this is a good book. The War at Sea: Volume 1 The Defensive by S.W. Roskill This first volume is a good analysis of how Great Britain responded to the threat of the Nazi attack at the beginning of the war. This includes questions of how to slow down the Nazi juggernaut, how to combat submarine depredations against merchant shipping, how to mine the waters around Nazi ports and defeat the mines in their own waters, etc. Of particular note is the war in the Mediterranean and what happened against the French and Italian navies, what happened in the siege of Malta, and what happened to the navy during the invasion of Greece. The Year that Changed the World: 1989 by Michael Meyer This is the story of the call of the communist world in Eastern Europe in 1989. The auhor was a correspondent for Newsweek magazine and he was stationed in this part of the world almost by accident in 1989. He travelled from crisis site to crisis site, documenting the almost accidental fall of the communist world. The fall began with an economic crisis in Hungary and the decision to place the government into the hands of a reformer (in order to have someone to blame when the inevitable fall would come). He and his friends consciously conspired with the West German government to bring down communism. The book is well written and quite exciting. He also gives an insightful analysis of the reaction of the Western world to the fall and how it led to our present difficulties. The Blackmailer of Park Lane by E.F. Benson This is the story of a rich man who is bored with life. The bring an little excitement into his dull existence, he decides to blackmail a man who is about to become a peer of the empire with a vague accusation. The man who is blackmailed responds by paying up, but then blackmails in turn his blackmailer for he catches him spending some of the gold coins which had been the money that he had used to pay the blackmail. Hunting Eichmann by Neal Bascomb This is the true story of how operatives of the state of Israel first discovered and then kidnapped and carried to Jerusalem Adolph Eichmann, one of the main architects of the final solution to kill all of the Jews under the rule of Nazi Germany. He is brought to Germany and put under trial, condemned to death, and executed (the only person that has ever been legally executed by the Israeli government). The Mossad, which was in charge of this operation, was a relatively new organization and this was at the other end of the world in a country with a large German minority, many of whom were sypathetic to the Nazi movement. One of the things that strike one is that even after everything this man did was brought out into the open, he continued to deny responsibility, saying he was just following orders. Good Country People by Flannery O’Connor This story is another of the Flannery O’Connor short stories. It tells of a woman and her daughter who had lost a leg in a hunting accident. The daughter is named Joy, but changes her name to the most ugly name she can find, Hulga, to get back at her mother. They meet an innocent Bible salesman who describes himself as good country folk. He and the daughter, who is a confirmed atheist, take a long walk by themselves. The daughter, with her dispeptic personality, turns out to be a better person than the faker Bible salesman. Have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Bolgatanga - Congo - Bolgatanga - Navrongo - Accra

August 9, 2015 Peace and Good, I have now finished the second retreat for the priests of the Navrongo-Bolgatanga diocese in the north of Ghana. It was a good experience. Coming from Rome and the States, I found I had to be constantly listening carefully to see if I could understand the culture of the priests up here. I want to share an experience that happened at the end of last week. I didn't want to write it until I had left the region so that you would not worry about my safety. A week ago I was a witness to an attack of killer bees. The bees had become agitated because someone had sprayed his car to kill mosquitoes. The smell attracted the bees and they attacked everyone who was in the area. A poor man was on crutches and he could not run away. He was stung into unconsciousness. Some people from the kitchen were able to scare the bees away with fire and smoke, but the man had to be taken to the hospital and he was unconscious for quite a while. The priests and bishop of the diocese where I preached was great. I always find that hospitality is even greater in areas where the people are poor, and the north is quite poor. There had been a lack of rain, but these past two weeks there has been a great amount of rain which should really help the crops. I am now down in Accra, the capital, with the friars. I am not yet sure of what the week holds, but I will be with the friars for the next week and head back to Rome this coming Sunday. I finished the following: Churchill and America by Martin Gilbert Gilbert is a famous British historian and this book speaks of the relationship between Winston Churchill and the U.S. This was an especially close relationship from the start for Churchill’s mother was American, something which he spoke about until the day of his death. He was also especially close to Franklin D. Roosevelt, sometimes sending each other cables more than once a day. He came to the States several times to visit or for lecture tours, and then during the War met with Roosevelt quite frequently (especially considering that the means of travel were not as developed as they are today). He was eventually named a citizen of the US by the Congress (while remaining a British citizen), an honor for which he was very grateful. Cannato, Vincent American Passage: The History of Ellis Island This is the very long and very well written history of Ellis Island as a center for the incoming immigrants from Europe from the 1890’s until the 1950’s. The book tells the stories of the immigrants and also of the people who ran the center and those who were their supervisors in Washington. It covers the ups and downs of immigration policy, including the nativist arguments which favored closing off immigration to those who wanted an almost open policy of immigration. Cannato doesn’t look for villains, and he explains why one or another of the characters took this or that position on immigration. This is both a story of incredible generosity by this country and of occasional tragedy when an immigrant was ordered deported after he or she has sold everything and pulled up roots head over here. I strongly recommend this volume. Deeply Odd by Dean Koontz I believe that this is the sixth volume in this series that I have read. It is one of the few series in which I am never disappointed. Odd is a young fry cook who has been given the gift of communicating with spirits who linger here on earth because they are not ready to pass on. In previous volumes, much of what he did was help them to leave this existence for their future life. Yet, each one also involved some sort of battle with evil. The second dimension is emphasized in this volume which is the next to the last of this series. He must battle for the lives of 17 young children who have been kidnapped by a Satanist cult. He is helped by and elderly and wise and supernaturally in the older woman. As always the book leaves one wanting for more. Revolutionaries: A New History by Jack Rokove This is a very good account of the people who participated in the American Revolution from its first tenuous moments until the ratification of the Constitution and the beginning of political parties in the country (in the rancorous debate between Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson). The characters involved do not always come out looking all that good. We see their strength and their weaknesses. We see how they interacted with each other to produce a movement that went far beyond the individual strengths of any of them. The Dawn’s Early Light by Walter Lord Walter Lord has made a cottage industry of writing short, readable history books. This one is about the War of 1812, and especially the burning of Washington and the failure of the British to conquer Baltimore. The title obviously comes from the Star Spangled Banner which was written during the siege of that city by Francis Scott Key. Lord has the ability to give a great amount of detail without overwhelming one with needless facts. It is a good read. Have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Bolgatanga - Congo - Bolgatanga (all in Northern Ghana)

August 2, 2015 Peace and Good, I hope you are all well. I finished preaching my first week of retreats to the priests of the Navrongo-Bolgatanga diocese in northern Ghana. The bishop of the diocese and about 15 of his priests were on retreat this week. The topic was the Gospel of John and how we are all called to become the Beloved Disciple (who is a major character in this Gospel). I enjoy preaching to priests for we can apply many of the insights both to ourselves and our ministry. I was very impressed by the goodness and the challenges of the priests. We began Monday morning and finished at lunch on Friday. The weather here has been much more pleasant than the last time I was up here in northern Ghana. I remember it being near 100 each day when I preached a retreat in the seminary not far from here (St. Victor's at Tamale). It is now rainy season and the temperature, while a bit hot and humid, is really not all that bad. They badly need rain for the crops, and we have had a couple of good rains this week which is very, very good. The people in many of the villages do not really have all that much, and some could face very difficult times if the crop were to fail. I will be preaching another week of retreats to the priests of this diocese at the retreat house in Congo (not the country, it is a village not all that far from Bolgatanga). The retreat house is run by three Capuchin Franciscan friars from India, and it was good to share some time with Franciscan brothers. Yesterday we visited the original cathedral and now a Minor Basilica in Navrongo. (The seat of the diocese was moved from there to Bolgatanga some time ago). This is an internationally recognized landmark for the church is built with mud brick. I had seen it in 2008 the last time I was here, and it is quite an impressive structure. I finished some books: America the Marvelous by A.A. Gill This is a funny essay which defends America from efite Europeans who look down their nose at anything American. The author argues that most of what is in America came originally from Europe, but it was free to develop in its own way. He rightly notes that while Europeans put down America, they buy American clothes, electronics, etc. At the end he speaks of how only 35% of Americans even have a passport and this supposedly something bad. His answer is that it is incredible that so many have a passport when there is so much to see and do in America itself, and besides, the European youth who all get passports are only getting them so they can travel to New York themselves. The author is quite witty. The Countss of Lowndes Square by E.F. Benson The countess has an alter ego, she is a blackmailer. This is the way that she survived for her husband and father both left her pennyless. She carefully chooses only those who can afford to pay her requests, and she only asks what she knows that they can afford. But the day comes when she, herself, if blackmailed. She must discover who is doing this to her and respond appropriately. Lincoln and Chief Justice Taney by James F. Simon This book describes the debate and the sometimes nasty relationship between Abraham Lincoln before and after he became president and Chief Justice Taney, the author of the Dred Scott case in which he declared not only that slavery was legal, but also that black people could never aspire to citizenship in this country. Taney’s decision gave rise to the political movement which gave Lincoln the presidency. Once he was president and he fought to preserve the union, Taney threw roadblocks in his way. Some of what he decided as chief justice was to uphold the rule of law, but some of it was obviously because he had Southern sympathies. The author treats the strengths and weaknesses of both of these famous characters, not ignoring who each succeeded and failed in what he was attempting to do. The book continues to carry weight because it deals with the question of how far a president can go during war The Prayers of Agnes Sparrow by Joyce Magnin This is the story of a woman who prays for anyone who asks her, and her prayers seem to be answered with miracles. She is unusual in that she weighs somewhere between 600 and 700 pounds and is homebound. Her sister who is part time librarian for their small town in the Pochinoes takes care of her. Their town is filled with small town figures with all the blessings and curses of everyone knowing everyone. The story is not all positive, for a mysterious figure comes to town and a horrible thing occurs. This raises small town prejudices and angers that threaten to destroy the idealic situation. Furthermore, there is a secret from the past that poisons the prayerful spirit of Agnes. This is a good book. The Hitler Book by Henrik Eberle and Matthias Uhl This is an account of the Hitler years written by agents of the KGB specifically for Stalin so that he might better understand his arch-enemy. The material comes from the eye-witness accounts of German officers who had been captured by the Soviets (and tortured). It is interesting because it mirrors the Soviet account of the war in which the Germans were never really afraid of and possibly were accomplices of the Anglo-American alliance. Have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude