Sunday, October 25, 2015

Rome - Bacau (Romania) - Rome

October 25, 2015 Peace and Good, Well, we finished our last visit to Romania in preparation for their provincial chapter. This was actually part two of one of the meetings we had a couple of weeks ago with the definitory and the guardians of the local communities. Like the others, this went quite well. I have been able to get caught up a bit on daily reflections and writing projects which is good because today I head out to Nairobi for a visitation. I don't know what the internet situation will be, so these blogs might be a bit irregular for the next few weeks. Don't worry - it is just that some of the places I visit will have good internet connection while others will almost definitely not. The Synod ends their meeting in Rome this morning. The overall reports in the newspapers seem positive. They are dealing with some very difficult questions, and we always have to remember that bishops in various parts of the world have very different priorities. I finished some books: Michaelangelo and the Pope’s Ceiling by Ross King Ross King is an incredible historian, especially in terms of Renaissance art. I have read a few of his books already, and this one about the painting of the Sistine Chapel in very, very good. His gives good insight to the political world and the various wars fought between the Papal States, Venice, Florence, Bologna as well as outside powers such as the French, the Holy Roman Empire and the Swiss. Michelangelo is not the nicest of people. This might have been due to some form of bipolar disease. Yet, he was an incredible genius. Never having painted in fresco, he managed to paint this masterpiece. It took him a long time (years) and it almost crushed him, but the end product was more than he could have ever hoped to produce. Death on the Nile by Agatha Christie This is an inspector Poirot book. A murder takes place on a cruise boat on the upper Nile. Poirot and a detective friend investigate. The woman was very rich and very beautiful, and she had stolen her best friend’s fiancee (who follow the couple to torment them). There are people who hated the victim’s family for financial reasons. There are a number of characters who are involved in no good but who were not involved in the murder (which by the end becomes multiple murders). There are more twists and turns that one would ever expect, but these volumes are always fun to read. Syria and the Assad Family by Charles River Editors Charles River Editors are a group of authors who graduated from MIT who have produced a series of informational books about various topics. This one deals with the rise and rule of the Assad family in Syria. It is not up to date with the ISIS situation, but it does give a good background to how this family came to power even though they belong to a religious and ethnic minority. And the Show Went On by Alan Riding This is the account of what happened to the French art scene during the Nazi occupation. It covers writers, painters, musicians, singers, newspaper writers and editors, film directors and actors, etc. It deals both with the classical art scene and the popular. One hears of artists (in the large sense of the word) who risked their lives by getting involved in the resistance (either through their art or physically taking up arms). One hears of those who just kept going as if nothing unusual had happened, or perhaps did what they had to do to survive. Then there were others who were active collaborators. The book covers the scene before, during and after the occupation. Of special interest is what was done to Jewish artists who were banned from any artistic scene and many of whom were persecuted and killed. Have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude

Monday, October 19, 2015

Chicago - Rome

October 19, 2015 Peace and Good, I spent all of this past week in Chicago for a meeting with the provincials and custodes of the conference. The meeting itself lasted three days, and we accomplished quite a bit. I like the honesty of the provincials who try not to cover over problems that would be bound to surface later with unfavorable consequences if they had not been dealt with at the proper time. I also had a lot of short meetings with each of the provincials there. We cover a lot of business in these meetings that could not be dealt with by e mail or on the phone. One of the days we met with fr. Mauro Gambetti, the custos of Assisi. He is a fine man, and it turned out to be an excellent meeting. There is a strong feeling that he is trying to address some of the problems that are bound to occur in international communities like Assisi. He also has a very good working relationship with the other Franciscans in the area. I got to visit my favorite Vietnamese restaurant twice while I was there. They make a soup called Pho which I really like. Saturday evening I flew back to Rome, arriving around noon yesterday. No problems in the trip. It is raining quite heavily in Rome in these days. I finished some books: Missing: Page Thirteen by Anna Katherine Green This is a short story (or rather two short stories) about a man who loses a page of the secret formula that he desperately needs for he will be meeting investors with a few short hours. They call in a woman detective who manages to find it. It had gone under a door in the mansion that was never opened (being sealed with concrete) for some unknown reason. After the formula is found, the owner explains to the detective why he dreaded entering that space (although we never really hear why it was shut up in the first place). It is clever story filled with misdirection. Jesus: A Pilgrimage by James Martin This is the journal of a trip to the Holy Land by James Martin, a famous Jesuit author, and his friend George. Martin speaks of the trip and the experience of the two pilgrims, but he also carefully examines the scripture passages that speak about the events that occurred at the various sites. His scripture work is very well done, and his insights into both scriptural revelation and human response to spiritual situations is very well done. I highly recommend this book. The Displaced Person by Flannery O’Connor This was the last of a series of short stories in a collection of Flannery O’Connor’s stories. This one is about a family of displaced Poles who end up on a farm run by a twice divorced, once widowed woman. She is always displeased with her white and black workers and complains about them unendingly. The Pole turns out to be better than her greatest dream, and yet she finds a way to be displeased with him and his family. He dies tragically, and her life and living fall apart. She had the chance to choose salvation, but preferred to live in his misery and complaining. A counter figure is an old Irish priest (many of the clergy in the rural south in years gone by were from Ireland) who sees beauty in the simplest things, especially in the beauty of a peacock’s feathers. He is the symbol of seeing the good and wonder in the world around us, something that the owners of the farm was incapable of doing. Hostage by Robert Crais The chief of police responds to a hostage situation. Three punks have invaded a home with a father and two children. He must try to save the hostages. In the meantime, it turns out that the father is the accountant of the mob and some important, incriminating records are on the grounds. The mob kidnaps the chief’s wife and daughter and threatens to kill them if the chief does not help them get the disks with the information back. This is an action filled book. One man’s Initiation – 1917 by John Dos Passos I have never read anything by Dos Passos before, so I was interested in this story. He is said to have described the war from the soldier’s point of view. This story deals with two men who are ambulance drivers, bringing the wounded from the battlefield to the care stations. They encounter so much during the fighting, so much that would wound them psychologically for the rest of their lives. He writes in short bursts of episodes which gradually build up to provide an overall impression. Hope you have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude

Monday, October 12, 2015

Bacau (Romania) - Roman (Romania) - Rome - Chicago

October 12, 2015 Peace and Good, This has been quite a full week with a series of meetings in Romania. The province there is preparing for their provincial chapter this coming February. They are a young province, refounded only 25 years ago after the fall of communism. There are a number of situations there that needed attention (as there always are with young jurisdictions). We formed a team from the general definitory to go there and meet with the friars to help them prepare for their chapter. We held three meetings there and one in Rome for members of their province who are stationed in Italy. We have one more meeting on Tuesday of next week. Saturday I flew out of Rome to go to Chicago. We have a meeting here starting tomorrow with the major superiors of our conference. That will conclude either Thursday evening or Friday morning. Then this Saturday I will fly out to return to Rome. It was good to be back in Romania this past week. I taught there for a number of years (going there a month at a time to offer scripture courses). In total I made 21 trips there. On Thursday morning (out flight out was in the afternoon) I was able to attend the funeral of the father of two of our friars whom I have knows for 23 years now. Yesterday I made my usual pilgrimage to the local Vietnamese restaurant. I like their soup which is called Pho. It is a mix of broth, noodles, some small slices of meat, and vegetables. It is very tasty. I finished some books: The Oysters of Locmariaquer by Eleanor Clark This is a travel book which takes place in Brittany, France. The premise of the book is the oysters that are raised in Locmariaquer which are different from most of the other oysters raised all throughout the region. The author tells of the lives and foibles of the people who live there. She tells of the hard, frustrating work that the people must do to prepare the oyster beds. I enjoyed the book overall, but it fell into too much description at times. Joy comes in the Morning by Jonathan Rosen This book begin with an old Jewish man, a holocaust survivor, having written his memoirs in a book called Joy comes in the morning, preparing to kill himself. He has already suffered from a stroke, and he knows that more are coming and he is afraid of losing control. This event proves to be the catalyst by which his son Lev meets a young female rabbi. They slowly fall in love, each sharing both in his/her gifts and brokenness. It is a very nice story. It also deals with some very important questions about faith and doubt. Petrostate: Putin, Power and the New Russia by Marshall Goldman This is an outline of the history of how Putin gained such great political power in Russia, based on the economic power that he and his friends have accrued as they have quasi-nationalized the oil and gas industries of the country. Many of the deals to privalize these industries were based on fraud and violence and the companies were acquired by quasi-Mafia figures. Putin wanted the country to have more say in its energy industry, but in the process he created what could be described as a kleptocracy (a rule by thieves). His control of the gas and gas pipelines bringing most of the natural gas supplies to Western Europe give him enormous power to blackmail those countries whenever it pleases him. Au Train de Vie: That Voice you hear when Traveling by Peter LaSalle The title of this story is the name of a small café in Paris that the writer visits frequently when he is staying in that city finishing up a book that he was writing. It is a sort of nostalgic site which provides him with an anchor while he is staying in a foreign environment. It is a place that he wanders to over and over again, without even realizing he is heading in that direction. Moon Over Soho by Ben Aaronovich This is the second volume in this series about a magician apprentice who is also a policeman in London in the magical division (which is composed of himself and his teacher). The apprentice is half English, half African, with all that this means. In this episode, he is searching for the murderer of a number of jazz players which is important to him for his father is a jazz player as well. The murderer turns out to be a group of jazz vampires, three women who accidentally kill others when they drain their life energy from the jazz players. There is also a sub-plot of an evil magician who is not stopped from what he is doing. There is a great amount of London humor mixed with African emigrant culture, all of which I can now identify with given my travels in these years. I hope you have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Rome - Assisi - Bacau - Roman (Romania)

October 4, 2015 The Feast of St. Francis Peace and Good, The week began with myself and the General Definitory meeting with representatives of ten different experimental communities from England, France, Belgium, Italy, Spain, Poland and Brazil. They are all trying to live our life as Franciscans with a bit more seriousness. We spoke with them for two days and it was an enlightening and encouraging experience. It is not that they are doing anything all that extraordinary, but rather they are simply trying to be more faithful to what we say we are. On Wednesday I traveled from Assisi to Bacau in Romania. I was there for a meeting on Thursday to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Theological Faculty at Roman (Romania). I had been part of the faculty right from the beginning, and I represented all of the professors who came from foreign countries to help out the newly refounded province. It was good to see a lot of the friars whom I had taught over the years. Friday I visited one of the towns where I friars serve: Burinesti. In the old days, this town was known as the baby factory of Romania. Families had nine and ten children. Nowadays you see only older people and very young. The others are all in foreign countries trying to earn a living. Saturday there were two events. We had a memorial Mass for a friar who died 50 years ago. He had been placed in prison for a few years and suffered terribly. He was famous for his singing voice. He would sing out religious hymns in prison on Sundays and Holy Days. His voice was so beautiful that the guards would let him finish. But then was he had finished, they would beat him into unconsciousness for breaking the rules. He was 90 pounds when released from prison and died a few months later. Then, later in the evening, we went to a celebration called the Transitus. This commemorates the death of St. Francis on the evening of October 3rd. Today we celebrated the Feast of St. Francis with an ordination to the diaconate. I have finished some books: Caveat Emptor by Ruth Downie This is the third or fourth book by Ruth Downie I have read in the Medicus series. They are about a Roman doctor and his native British wife in the 2nd century A.D. His true profession is being a doctor, but he is continuously called upon to do investigations. This one involves murder and coin counterfiting (a capital offense in Roman territories). It also deals with the policies of Rome which tend to be shaped for its own benefit, and the struggle of native Britains against other tribes and against Rome. The book is well written, and the relationship between the doctor and his wife Tulla is warm and humorous. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Locks by Rebecca Skloot One of the most difficult thing that early researchers sought to do was create a colony of human cells that would live in a petri dish. By accident, they found that some cancer cells taken from an African American named Henrietta Lacks refused to die. It became the cell culture that was used in almost all cell research for decades. Yet, her impoverished family knew nothing of it and never received any recompense from it. This book tells the story of how an author finds them and eventually enters into their trust. It asks some serious questions concerning the rights of a person over the cells of his/her own body when they are harvested in some operation or through other means. The Wisdom of the Torah by Dagobert D. Runes This is a collection of passages from the Old Testament. It is interesting what selections an editor will choose to make an anthology. This selection is quite interesting and gives one a lot to meditate upon. This was part of a collection of five sources of wisdom from the various holy books of religions throughout the world. The Biter Bit by Wilkie Collins This is the account of a young detective who is sent to investigate a robbery of 200 pounds sterling from a man who kept the money in a small box under his pillow while he slept. The man identifies his suspect and pursues him with unfailing energy. Even the fact that the man was preparing for a secret wedding does not forestall the man’s attention. It is only when he reports to his superior that his ideas are shown to be false. Rather than the identified suspect, it turns out that the culprit is the victim’s own wife who had stolen the money to pay a very large dress bill that she had hidden from her husband. A Late Encounter with the Enemy by Flannery O’Connor A 104 year old man is taken care of by his 60 some year old female relative. She has taught all her life, but before this time there was no requirement that she would have an advanced degree. Now she has been studying each summer for years and years. Finally, she is ready to receive her degree. She dresses up her grandfather in his Confederate general’s uniform (although he was never any higher than a Major, he was given the uniform when a film on the Civil War was showing in his town). Her dream was that he would live long enough to sit on stage when she graduated, a wish that is fulfilled (but in a very exact way, for he dies on stage). Have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude