Monday, June 20, 2016

Bangkok - Nairobi

June 21, 2016 Peace and Good, I am coming to the end of my long journey. Last week I was in Bangkok to close up the office of Franciscans International there. It only took one day of work, but it was the kind of work that you had to be present to do. The day after I finished the work, one of the friars took me and some others to see the local Catholic Church (there are about 700,000 Catholics in Thailand) which has the walls and ceiling covered with the art work from the Sistine Chapel, and the local Buddhist temple which is called the Path to Heaven (which is narrow and difficult) and the Path to Hell (which is wide and easy). Thursday evening I flew from there to Nairobi, arriving the next morning. The flights were good - I was on Qatar Airlines. I am here in Nairobi to present the report of the visitation that I did of the custody back in October and November. I was very impressed with what the friars are doing here. I gave the report yesterday, as well as preaching at Mass and then giving a one hour talk to begin the chapter. Now I am free for the rest of the week to sit and listen to the various reports and discussions. I will be flying to Rome on Friday evening and next week we have a definitory there. I hope to finish writing and translating my visitation report to Korea in the next few days. I finished some books: The Edge by Jeffrey Deever This has to be one of the best written books that I have read in a long while. Deever manages to give so many twists and turns that one does not know until the end who is responsible for various crimes. His hero is a “shepherd,” the one who cares for people in federal protection who are in danger of being killed or kidnapped by a professional murderer with whom he has been battling for a decade (for the murderer killed his mentor). He plays his role based on what he has learned from game theory playing board and other games over the years. I highly recommend this volume. The Siege of Mecca: The Forgotten Uprising in Islam’s Holiest Shrine and the Birth of Al Qaeda by Yaroslav Trofimov Back in 1979, a large group of Saudi rebels took over the grand mosque in Mecca and successfully defended it against the attempts of the Saudi government to retake it for a long time. They wanted the overthrow of the Saudi kings and a return to a fundamentalistic interpretation of Islam. They proved to be the ancestors of many of the Muslim terrorist movements in later days. The book explores the incompetence of the government in dealing with this crisis, and then the long term consequences both of the rebellion and the attempts of the Saudi government to placate the more traditionalistic element in their society. The Pirattes Laffite by William Davis This tells the story of the pirates Jean and Pierre Lafitte. Born in France, they traveled to the New World where they took up a career as privateers/pirates. The former means that they had received letters of marque from some government that permitted them to prey upon ships of some foreign power. They were never too particular in which letters they used. Their claim to fame came when they aided General Andrew Jackson defend New Orleans from the British. After the war, they spent another decade in one plot after another, both dying within a relatively short time of each other. Bucholz, Robert London: A Short History of the Greatest City of the Western World This is one of the teaching company courses. This one covers the history of London, dealing both with its successes and failures. Bucholz is an excellent professor, giving enough material to make the presentation very lively without over-burdening the listener to details that would just bore him/her. London is a fascinating history for its long history and its ties with the British government. The White Queen: A Novel by Philippa Gregory This is the story of one of the York queen, Elizabeth, towards the end of the war of the roses. She was a widow when she secretly married Edward IV. He was in the process of overthrowing Henry VI, a king who had inherited the mental disability of some of his French ancestors. When Edward died, his brother captured and probably killed the two sons of Edward and Elizabeth (the princes in the tower). It is believed that Richard III killed the princes, but Philippa Gregory lays the blame at the feet of Henry VII and his mother. Elizabeth shamelessly promoted the cause of her family, infuriating many of their opponents and those overlooked for honors in their favor. She is portrayed favorably in this book, but from history she seems to be a much more ambiguous character. The Thin Man by Dashiel Hammett This is one of the first big detective novels of the 20th century. It was written by the partner of Lillian Hellman who is famous for her testimony before the McCarthy hearings in the Senate. I wanted to read this because I had never read any of his works. This will probably be the only one I end up reading. The dialog is forced and it is often not quite clear who is saying what. Everyone in the story seems to be one drink away from drunk. It is just not a very pleasant read. Have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Seoul - Bangkok

June 16, 2016 Peace and Good, I finished my visitation in Korea with a meeting with the provincial and his definitory to present the preliminary results. I must reflect upon it a bit and then write it down to be presented to all of the friars in the province. On Monday I flew down to Bangkok to do a few days of work for Franciscans International. For five years there was an office down here, but it closed in 2012 and there were six boxes of records and about two meters of binders to sort through to see what was worth carrying to the archives in Geneva. There was really very, very little. Most of the records were for travel and lunches, etc. Although one normally keeps the records for a full five years, these results had already been audited and there was no reason to carry worthless documents all the way to Switzerland. So the big job turned out to be to sort out those documents that were to be thrown away, and those which had to be burned. The friars here have been very hospitable. They run a retreat house and also an AIDS hospice. I visited the hospice yesterday. There are about 25 patients here, and the staff does a great job taking care of them. We also visited the local Catholic church and the local Buddhist temple. The Catholic Church has a reproduction of the paintings of Michaelangelo at the Sistine Chapel on its walls. It is quite impressive. The Buddhist temple has a structure that is called the path to heaven and hell. It reminds me of those Halloween productions by the evangelicals to show the wages of sin, but with much, much more detail. The climate here is very, very hot and humid. It is over 90 each day, and I am very grateful that there is air conditioning in my bedroom. There is also a Gecko, but he does not bother me and I don't bother him. He is busy eating the insects, and so far there have been none to bother me in the night. I am just worried that at sometime he will decide to try to sell me some insurance. I head out to Nairobi this evening and will arrive at 8 AM tomorrow morning. Then I will be there for a week for the custodial chapter (for I did the visitation there last November). I finished some books: Relic by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child I have read several of these authors books and have enjoyed every one of them. They are about a detective from New Orleans, Pendergast, who is an FBI agent. In this story, he comes to New York to investigate a series of gruesome murders at the Museum of Natural History. His investigation is inhibited by the museum director who is worried about the effect of the publicity on the grand opening of a huge show on superstition. The culprit turns out to be not quite human and is tied to an expedition done by one of the scholars at the museum some years back in the Amazon. Jewish Humor: What the Best Jewish Jokes say about the Jews by Joseph Telushkin The author has written a series of books about Jewish culture. This one is more light hearted than many of the others, but nevertheless valuable for the insights it gives to Jewish culture (or rather, its cultures, for a Reform, Orthodox or Conservative Jews are all different). He speaks of the persecution that the Jews have suffered throughout the centuries and how their response was often an ironic humor. One of my favorites was the discussion of three Jewish mothers. The first one speaks of how much her son loves her; on her 80th he gave her a trip around the world. The second says that her son gave her a big party in a fancy hotel and invited all her friends. The third says that her son goes to the psychiatrist three times a week, at $150 every visit, and all he speaks about is her. Rome’s Last Citizen: The Life and Legacy of Cato, Mortal Enemy of Caesar by Rob Goodman and Jimmy Soni This is the story of the great Stoic philosopher and politician Cato who was the sworn enemy of Julius Caesar. He so hated him that when his forces were finally defeated, he committed suicide rather than surrender to Caesar to receive what would probably have been a pardon. He became a hero of those who fought for freedom in the British empire and the US, in spite of the fact that he was a very conservative aristocrat who fought against the rights of the poor. He is not all that nice of a person, but he had enormous influence in his teachings and even more in his life. His greatest problem is that he just could not compromise in anything. His attitude, more than anything else, probably led to the beginning of the Roman Civil War. Nine Dragons by Michael Connelly Harry Bosch, the detective, investigates a murder that seems to have been caused by the Chinese mafia. In the meantime, his daughter is kidnapped in Hong Kong. He knows that she is being held to insure his cooperation in the investigation. There are any number of twists and turns in the story. Like all of Connelly’s stories, this one is well worth reading. The name comes from the English meaning of Kowloon, a part of Hong Kong, where Bosch searches for his daughter. Trotsky by Robert Service This is an exhaustive treatment of one of the founders of the Soviet system in the Soviet Union. He does not come across as that nice of a person, ready to commit what we would call atrocities in order to establish revolutionary terror during the Russian Civil War right after the communist revolution. He hides his Jewish background for he considered it to be unimportant in comparison with his revolutionary credentials. The Cortes Enigma by John Paul David This is one of a series of mysteries in a collection which deals with the gold that was brought back from the New World and shipwrecked off the coast of some of the islands in the south of England. A man is murdered at the beginning of the 20th century, and then his relatives come looking for the reason why he was killed and possibly to find the hidden treasure. It is not too bad of a story. Have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Seoul - Incheon - Gangwha - Tongin - Yahgpyeong - Daeyeon - Ilgwang - Daegu (all in South Korea)

June 8, 2016 Peace and Good, As you can see by the blog title, I have been travelling all throughout the Republic of South Korea, visiting our friars in their various friaries. In Incheon, we have a parish and a small home for the elderly. In Gangwha there is the house of formation. In Tongin we have a house for the mentally challenged. In Yahgpyeong there is a center for the Militia of Mary Immaculate, a retreat house, an internet apostolate, and a production facility for a tradition herbal drink. In Daeyeon, which is a district of Pusan, there is a parish and another house for the mentally and physically challenged. In Ilgwang, there is a chapel (originally for the local lepers) and a ministry in ceramics and the pressing of sesame seed oil. In Daegu we have a large parish and a ministry to the Secular Franciscans and the Militia of Mary Immaculate. The friars are involved in many different apostolates. They live a simple life style, and I especially admire their outreach to the poor and marginalized. Korea seems to be one big construction project. Most people live in large apartment buildings. They are building more and more every day. Next to Ilgwang they are putting in a project that will house 30,000 people. The transportation system is top notch. The internet is the fastest in the world. It is an incredibly technologically advanced nation. The Catholic here are fervent. At 6 AM Mass this morning in our chapel we had 80 lay people with us, a good number of whom stayed to pray the Divine Office with us. Today I head back to Seoul. On Saturday I meet with the provincial and his definitory to give my preliminary report, and then I head out to Bangkok on Monday to do some work for Franciscans International. I finished some books: Calypso by Ed McBain I have read a number of Ed McBain’s books. They are all quite good. This one is about a musician who is gunned down in the street for no apparent reason. The detectives follow the lead, but a few other people are killed in the meantime. It turns out that the murders are tied to the disappearance of the musician’s brother a number of years ago and the rantings of a woman who is severely unbalanced. Edgar Allan Poe: The Fever Called Life by Paul Collins This is a short biography of the brief life of the tragic author Edgar Allen Poe. While he was brilliant in his writing which influenced many authors after him, he was incapable of living a normal life. He barely survived on what little he earned from his writings and from his work as an editor at various newspapers and magazines (almost always being fired for his drunkenness). He married a very young cousin who died early of tuberculosis. He died after briefly achieving sobriety and planning to marry his high school sweetheart. Rising ’44 by Norman Davies Norman Davies is probably the most informed British author on the history of Poland. He is widely respected there. This book speaks about the rebellion of the home army of Poland against the Germans in 1944. The Soviets had encouraged the rebellion over their radio, but then when it broke out, they stood in place so that the leaders of the Poles might be killed, making their takeover of the country easier. Davies also deals with the malicious lies told by the Soviets about the leaders of the rebellion whom they imprisoned and killed after the war. The book is well written, but a bit exhaustive. The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory The author has made a cottage industry of writing historical fiction about the Tudors and the period of time right before their reign. This is the story of Mary Boleyn. She was Henry VIII’s lover before her sister married Henry and became queen. The author is not all that kind to Henry (which is fair) nor to Anne, Mary’s sister. We see the sister rivalry, and the eventual flight from the court of Mary to escape the intrigues of her sister and her uncle. As always, the author gives a good portrait of this troubled woman. The Persian Empire by John W. Lee This is one of the Great Courses from the Teaching Company. This course presents the history and culture of Persia from the time of Cyrus the Great to the end of the empire after the conquest of Alexander the Great. It tries to be fair to the Persians, especially considering that the majority of histories of the empire were written by the Greeks, the enemies of the Persians. The professor does a great job of presenting new information from archaeology and other sources that balance his approach. Rather than presenting the Persians as some kind of barbarians, it shows that they had a very developed culture, religion, and government. Have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude