Sunday, November 29, 2015

Geneva, Switzerland - Gdansk, Poland - Rome, Italy

November 29, 2015 Peace and Good, I began the week in Switzerland finishing up the meeting with Franciscans International, an NGO which lobbies at the United Nations. We had to register as officers of the local association (sort of like a corporation board) at the canton government office. They were very nice, but there was also a lot of official things to go through. Tuesday I flew up to Gdansk, Poland, to visit with one of the Polish provincials. Gdansk was previously known as Danzig, and it was part of the Hanse League (a group of trading cities in the Renaissance period). It is a beautiful small city. They have completely rebuilt the center city which is a large piazza with interesting buildings. One of the days the friars took me to see two sites. One of them was the place where the German invasion of Poland began with a bombardment of coastal defenses outside of Danzig. It was a very moving site. The other is a site that the city government has given us to set up a peace and reconciliation center to find peace between the German and Polish people. On this property was the summer building of Gautleiter Foster, the head of the German government in northern Poland during the war. I happened to mention that my family would eat Keishka and Charnina (duck's blood soup). The next day, guess what was on the menu. The Poles show an incredible hospitality. Friday I flew back to Rome and tomorrow we begin one of our definitory meetings. I finished some books: Love in the Time of Coca by Stephanie Pearson This short story is about a trip to Columbia, an area which was formerly a drug lord’s center, to stay at a spa resort and go mountain biking through the rough landscape around Medillin. It speaks of how even the drug lords in that territory want to protect tourists, and how everything on the main route is safe (although it counseled against taking some of the off routes). The descriptions are quite good, although I would still avoid the areas where the author travelled. Caesar by Adrian Goldsworthy This is the second biography that Goldsworthy produced which I have listened to in these months. The first one was about Augustus Caesar, and this one about Julius Caesar. This is a very thorough treatment, very fair and based upon the best scholarly research. The author does not present Julius Caesar as a tyrant nor as a great unmitigated hero. The civil war that followed the crossing of the Rubicon is presented as an attempt for Caesar to protect his reputation. Caesar is shown to be much more merciful than many of the generals of his era. He is also shown as a great organizer, one of the best leaders of Rome for over a century. His greatest sin to the members of the Senate who killed him is that he shut them out of power. I highly recommend these two works for anyone interested in this period. The Duplicate Harlequin by Rodrigues Ottolengui In a previous story, Ottolengui speaks of how a rich collector comes to possess a very valuable opal. In this story we find out that it is one of two identical opals that served as the eyes of a pagan god. A thief wishes to obtain them so that he might barter them for control over the opal mine from the priests who control the shrine from which the opals were stolen. Ottolengui is not the best of authors, but it is worth reading nevertheless. The Valhalla Exchange by Jack Higgins Higgins is one of my favorite spy authors. This story deals with the end of World War II and the attempt by some Nazi leaders to flee and continue the battle. This is centered on Martin Bormann, one of Hitler’s close assistants. It involves a complicated plot to trade his safety for some very important allied prisoners. The plot gets foiled by a small number of American soldiers who arrive at the castle where the VIP’s are being held. They and the Germans in the castle must battle against a contingent of SS troops. Although the characters are great and talented, they are most of all believable. This Must be Paris by Michael Paterniti This is a quite enjoyable travel short story. A man finds a small town in the plateau of Spain. There he discovers the manufacturer of a special cheese which he had encountered in the deli where he had worked. The place, which is normal enough, becomes magical to him. It reminds him of the beach his family went to when he was young. It is a place where one forgets schedules and unwinds. One listens to long stories of many things that are not all that important, but which help one enter into another reality. This is one of the best travel stories I have ever read. I hope you have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude

Monday, November 23, 2015

Rome - Geneva

November 23, 2015 Peace and Good, I hope you are all well. I began this week in Rome, resting up a bit from my trip to Kenya and also visiting with some of the Kenyan friars who are studying in Rome for their masters and doctorate degrees. When I get back this Friday I have still a few more friars to visit, and then I will be able to write my report. On Monday evening I was invited back to the Bishops' TV network for another interview. This one was part of a program called Pope Francis' diary. It is a half hour program. There were three topics that we covered: the massacre in Paris, one dimension of Pope Francis' teaching at my choice (and I chose his emphasis on mercy) and then what I had seen in Kenya where Pope Francis is visiting this coming week. On Thursday I flew up to Geneva for a meeting from Friday until this morning, Monday, of Franciscans International. This is a NGO of the Franciscans throughout the world which lobbies for human rights at the United Nations. The staff here in Geneva and that in New York is doing a fine job. It is thankless work because you rarely see a big victory in one's lobbying, but one makes contacts and plants seeds of thought and slowly it has an effect. One example is how they lobbied to have the right to drinkable water to be seen as a human right. That is essential lest companies control the distribution of water and monopolize water in a particular country (which would weigh very heavy on the poor). This morning we had to register some of us at the cantonal office of the canton of Geneva as part of the registering of the organization as a legal entity in Switzerland. The country is very, very well run, but also very heavy on requirements (which especially makes sense given the number of terrorist funding agencies that have arisen). Tomorrow I fly out to Gdansk for a meeting with one of the provincials there. Then Friday I head back to Rome. I have finished some books: Fade to Black by Steven Bannister A light arises out of an ancient mound near the city of Glastonbury. This light represents the arrival of an evil force that is set on murder. A young police detective who is a descendant of an ancient family which has fought this evil force in each generation must team up with the archangel Michael to combat both this force and its human accomplices. The Aztec Opal by Rodrigues Ottolengui This is the story of a very expensive opal which disappears during a dinner held on a boat trip. The boat strikes a sand bar and the lights go out. When they are turned back on, the opal around the neck of one of the women is gone. The detective must figure out who has stolen it from among the guests around the table. Scavenger by David Marrell Unfortunately, I have picked up a couple of not so good books in the past couple of weeks, and this is certainly one of them. The premise is that a very rich person kidnaps a number of people so that he might use them in a real video game in which the object is to find a time capsule hidden in 1900 by an insane preacher. People are killed in this game. The problem with the book is that the characterization is weak, the premise improbable and the reader (I listened to this one) not all that good. Dallas 1963 by Bill Minutaglio and Steven Davis This is an account of the opposition to the Kennedy administration in Dallas from the time of his election as president to his assassination. The author does not propose that the far right killed Kennedy. He seems to think that it was Lee Harvey Oswald. However, he does speak of the atmosphere of violence that was established in Dallas in those years by people like the billionaire Hunt and General Walker. These men fought for the continuation of segregation, the exit of the US from the UN, and other favorite positions of the John Birch Society. They orchestrated violence against LBJ and his wife and against Adlai Stevenson. This book gives a good outlook of what was going on when Kennedy visited the city where he was killed. Where the West Ends: Stories from the Middle East, the Black Sea and the Caucasus by Michael Totten This is a travel story of a newspaper correspondent who travels through areas of the world where Western culture is mixed or collides with eastern. He travels to Kurdistan in Iraq, Georgia during the Russian invasion, Serbia, Kosovo (which turns out to be more Western than not even though the majority of its population is Muslim), Montenegro (where the Muslim population is being proselytized by missionaries from Saudi Arabia), Romania and Ukraine. He encounters adventures and near disasters. He recognizes his foolishness at times (e.g. travelling in Ukraine without knowing either Russian or Ukrainian). He finds very friendly people (especially in Kosovo) and people who would cut his throat if they had a chance (e.g. some Serbs). It is well written and an easy read. I hope you have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude

Monday, November 16, 2015

Nairobi - Rome

November 17, 2015 Feast of St. Elizabeth of Hungary, the Patron Saint of the Secular Franciscans Peace and Good, I completed the canonical visitation to Kenya. The friars there are doing very well. They show a spirit of enthusiasm that is encouraging. I just have to contact a number of friars now who are living outside of Kenya to finish off my report. I flew back to Rome on Friday night. I was at the airport and in flight when the terrible events at Paris unfolded. I did not know anything about it until one of the friars picked me up at the airport early Saturday morning and told me. It seemed as if security was a bit more stringent than usual, but nothing that one could really say was extraordinary. I have to admit that I have decided to be careful here in Rome and try not to go to many public events for the next couple of months. Rome is a target city, as if New York and Washington. We have so many migrants passing through that anyone could sneak in anything. I was on TV again last night. It is a regular show called "The diary of Pope Francis" on a network run by the Italian bishops. The staff is very kind, and I enjoy the experience. I have been catching up on a number of writing projects in these days. One of the friars who is the general editor of the Polish version of the Messenger of St. Anthony asked me to write a six article series for him. I have now finished five, and just one to go. I took Air Ethiopia on the way to and from Kenya. The flights were very good and the service was exemplary. The only problem is that the airport at Addis Ababa in Ethiopia is chaotic. There is very little notice for gates and boarding. The security is hit and miss. I am going to ask my travel agent never to put me through Addis Ababa again. I have finished some books: A Singular Abduction by Rodrigues Ottolengui A young girl who appears to be in a fugue state is kidnapped and the kidnapper demans a certain ransom. A detective is able to figure out how to rescue the girl and find the kidnapper, all without losing the ransom of $20,000 which her distraught father has been forced to pay. Lives of the Trees by Diana Wells This is a curious book that goes through any number of species of trees and gives an explanation of where they occur, how they grow, how they were spread by various explorers, some verses in which they appear and other interesting facts. I wouldn’t exactly call it a scientific study, but more like a folklore version of various trees and their importance to us. Sullivan’s Justice by Nancy Taylor Rosenberg It is not often that I have read a book so badly written. The characters are quite unbelievable and do things which are strange. The coincidences are just too great. The entire premise of the book is unbelievable. I don’t know if this was Rosenberg’s first or last book, but I have intention of reading anything else that she wrote. The Montezuma Emerald by Rodrigues Ottolengui A butler comes to a detective to report that his master is missing. The detective follows up the account for it seems as if a very valuable emerald has also gone missing. A dead body shows up in the morgue, but that does not guarantee that everything is as it seems, especially when the man he assumes to be the assassin is followed by someone he thought to be a beggar. This story goes into the topic of trying to trick the detective, something that seems to be very popular in mystery stories of a certain era. Clear Eyes in Calcutta by Andrew McCarthy This short account speaks of the author’s trip to Calcutta and especially to the sacrifice of a goat in a Hindu ceremony. The author seems to be fascinated with the blood and the reaction of the crowd. He also visited Mother Theresa and was left with mixed feelings, especially from what seemed to be her self-promotion, something that many viewers have questioned. Have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Limuru - Sabukia - Ruiri - Nairobi (all in Kenya)

November 9, 2015 Peace and Good, I am finishing up my canonical visitation to Kenya. All has gone well all the way along the trip. The trips between the various friaries has not always been easy because the roads are so bad in certain portions of the country (usually in those zones which do not have a deputy in the ruling government). This past week I have been "up-country", in an area where there was really not internet coverage. Also, the last couple of days, the water went out in the friary where I was staying. I asked the friars what had happened, and they said that the pipes for the water run down to the village from up in the hills, and the elephants often either step on the pipes which run overground, or they want water and they smell the moisture in the pipes and actually pull them apart to get at the water. When he told me that, I realized that "I was not in Kansas anymore." Sabukia is the national shrine to Mary in Kenya, and the bishops of Kenya have entrusted it into our care. The friars are doing a great job. The shrine is being paid with funds collected in Kenya itself, but the friars often have to go out into the parish to preach appeals for funding there. The shrine church will hold 4,000. They recently had a Eucharistic Congress there, and there were between 20,000 and 30,000 people. People are coming all the time to the shrine. The friars have also put up a carpenter's shop and school (funded by the Polish government) and are building a retreat house. It has a great future. Ruiri is a poorer area. The friars oversee the parish, an infirmary (which is run by Felician sisters), a grammar school (also run by the Felicians), a retreat house, the postulancy and twenty out stations. There are not enough friars in this friary, Sabukia and one other friary, but there are going to be a couple of good sized ordination classes so that should be resolved. The custody has actually been most prudent in accepting new assignments so that they do not overtax the friars. I am very hopeful for this jurisdiction. There is a lot of hope and enthusiasm. The friars speak very well of each other. It was interesting that when I told them of my next destination in the visitation, they inevitably spoke of how good the friars where in that friary. That is a very good sign. This mission was founded by the Polish friars from Gdansk. They did a fine job. They did not have all that much money, so the Kenyans never became dependent on outside sources of money. They built institutions that are sustainable. They put locals in charge as soon as possible. I will head back to Rome on Friday evening for about a week My readings have been: Citadel: The Battle of Kursk by Robin Cross This is the account of the last great offensive by the Germans against the Soviet forces during the Second World War. It was an all in bet that Hitler made and lost. The Soviets had excellent intelligence and knew that the Germans were coming. They had prepared an incredible defense against the tanks of the Wermacht, and no matter how much the Germans pushed, they only pounded themselves against impenetrable barriers. After this battle, it was only a matter of time before the Germans would be defeated by the allies. Darius the Great by Jacob Abbott Over the years, I have read a whole series of books by Abbott about various important figures in history. I believe that they were written at the turn of the 20th century for young people to show them moral values. Abbott presents this figure, Darius, as a great emperor who was also an oriental despot. He was not of royal lineage, but inherited the throne almost by accident in a coup d’etat that unthroned a false successor to the throne. He is the Persian emperor whose army was defeated by the forces of Athens at Marathon. Abbott’s picture of this personage is not all that positive, even is occasionally he does state something more positive about him. Roadwork by Stephen King Over the years, Stephen King has published a number of works under the pseudonym Stephen Bachman. This character is supposed to be a New Hampshire farmer who presents a more negative picture of the world than King would (believe it or not). This book is about the decompensation of a man who is losing his work place and his family home to a road development. In the back of the story is the loss of his son to a brain tumor. This unhinges the man and he more or less drives out his wife and tries to first stop the road project through sabotage and then tries to defeat them in a spectacular way. Between Cross and Crescent: Jewish Civilization from Mohammed to Spinoza by David Ruderman This is a thorough outline of various movements and important figures in the Jewish world from around 600 AD until around 1700 AD. Like all of the Teaching Company Courses, this is well told and well documented. He covers the Jewish centers in Babylon, in Spain (during the period known as the convivenza), in Israel and Turkey, in Amsterdam and in Poland. He describes cultural changes and challenges, especially during the years of the Crusades and the rebellion in 1648 in Poland under the Cossacks. This course is well done. Hitler’s Rockets by Norman Longmate During World War II, the Germans invented two remote flying devices to bomb London. The first one, the VI rocket, was more of a drone bomb that flew relatively slow and was highly inaccurate. The second was a much more sophisticated rocket, the V2. It devastated London during the closing months of the war. Once it was above a certain height, it flew at such a tremendous velocity that it could not be shot down or even detected until one heard the familiar double blast that marked the crashing of the rocket into the ground. There were many casualties, and the rockets especially crushed the spirit of the citizens who could do little to protect themselves. The only thing that stopped the rockets was the conquest of the sites where it was manufactured and launched. Hope you have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Rome - Nairobi - Limuru

November 2, 2015 Peace and Good, I am now in Kenya for the canonical visitation of the friars here in preparation for their custodial chapter. There are around 38 friars in all, five communities. They are growing very nicely. They are in charge of the national Marian Shrine in Sabukia where I am headed this morning. The friars are very welcoming. I have enjoyed my visit so far. Mass yesterday went about 2 hours and 20 minutes, but as always in Africa, there is a spirit of energy and joy. The young men in formation are filled with energy and dreams, which is a very good sign. I have to remind them to go at a slow pace to make sure they don't make any big mistakes, but so far they are doing everything right. They are taking a new site in Mombassa near the coast to establish a retreat house, which will be the first in the diocese. The bishops have been begging for our presence, largely because of the good work the friars are doing in Sabukia. This custody was founded by the Polish friars from the Gdansk Province. They have done just about everything right. They did not build large structures that would be impossible for the local friars to continue. They did not shower them with money. They put locals in charge as soon as possible. I have to congratulate them for their good work. I will be in Kenya until the 13th of this month, and then on to Rome for a few days. I have finished some reading: 460 Days by Amanda Lindhout with Sara Borbett This is the story of a young man and a young woman who are kidnapped by Somali rebels. They are held hostage until their ransom is collected from their families. At one point, they concoct an escape, but they are captured even before they can get out of the town where they are being kept. When I read stories like this, I just have to ask myself why people would travel to lands where there are so many people kidnapped regularly. Is it for the thrill? Do they have a right to put their families to so much pain? The Rope of Fear by Thomas Hanshew This is a simple British story about a bank theft and the murder of one of the guards. A brilliant detective manages to put all the clues together and name to perpetrator and recover the money. It is typical of those stories that attempt to duplicate the mystique of the Arthur Conan Doyle stories, but it is more a wannabe than a success. The Collectors by David Baldacci Over the years, I have occasionally bought a book that I had already read or listened to years ago. This was the case of the collectors. Unlike most of the others, though, the second time through was just as enjoyable as the first time. A group of unusual misfits in Washington DC who call themselves the camel club solve mysteries such as the murder of the friend of one of them at the Library of Congress. What was first thought to be a simple heart attack turns out to be a murder perpetrated by a spy ring. There is a side story about the wife of the murdered man who turns out to be a con artist. The book is very, very good. Havana Nocturne: How the Mob Owned Cuba … and then lost it to the Revolution by Ronald English When prohibition ended, the mob in the United States was looking for another way to cash in on the vices of Americans. They came up with the idea of coopting the president of Cuba (Battista) and owning a series of casinos that would provide opportunities of gambling, sex and booze. Lucky Luciano and Meyer Lansky were the first to see the potential. They saw Cuba as a base of expanding to an international crime empire. The only fly in the ointment was the revolution led by Fidel Castro. In spite of the repressive techniques used by Battista, Castro, almost by accident, managed to take over and expel the mob from Cuba. Detroit an American Autopsy by Charlie LeDuff This is the story of a newspaper journalist who travels back to his home town to work for one of the big Detroit papers. He finds a city in a terminal stage of degredation. He speaks about the corrrupt system in which those who lead the city always take huge cuts, even if it means that critical services are not offered. He speaks about arrogant politicians who would rather fight and argue than solve problems. He speaks about a a fire fighter department and police department which cannot receive even the simplest equipment that could have saved lives. He also speaks about the loss of jobs due to the implosion of the car industry and how the mistakes and leadership and unions caused this disaster. It is a sad story, but one that must be told as a warning to many big cities of what could happen to them. Have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude