Friday, August 29, 2008

29th August ... How much does your footprint weigh?

Today is yet another special day in our lives. On this day when we recall the beheading of John the Baptist we also call to mind Blessed Edmund Rice and Br Paul Noonan whose death aniversaries it is today.

I found the following while reading 'Roots and Wings', a book by Margaret Silf.

A black South African woman who runs an orphanage for children whose parents had died of HIV/AIDS was asked, ‘What would you like to leave behind as your legacy when you die?” She thought about the question for a few moments. Her answer took the interviewer by surprise: “When I die,” she said, “I hope I will have spent everything I have. When I meet my maker, I want to be empty-handed, because I want to have used up completely every gift God has given me. When I die I want to leave nothing behind, except a little footprint that might help others find their way.”

What a light and slender footprint that would be.

Jesus left no obvious or permanent `prints’ behind. He wrote no books, achieved no academic status, created nothing of artistic value. He left us neither a philosophy nor a theology. He established no new form of earthly government, and there are many who would say he established no new religion, no church, no organisation, no hierarchy and no institution.

When he died he had spent everything he had, and he returned into the eternal now having used up completely every gift that God had given him. Leaving only his spirit and slender pointer in the direction of life, and women who had understood who he was and were willing to set out along the narrow path that leads to the future.

To follow his dream is to be awake and alive to the slightest stirrings of his living spirit, not to seek for mere monuments of his life on earth. To follow the dream is to tread lightly upon the earth, so lightly that we can almost fly.

How much does your footprint weigh?
Today I am reminded of the footprints left behind by the likes of John the Baptist, Blessed Edmund and Br Paul Noonan. Footprints in which we follow, feet that have walked before us charting a path for us. Today we remember these saints and humans. And in the words of Joyce Johnson Rouse,
"I am standing on the shoulders of the ones who came before me
I am stronger for their courage, I am wiser for their words
I am lifted by their longing for a fair and brighter future
I am grateful for their vision, for their toiling on this Earth.

They lift me higher than I could ever fly
Carrying my burdens away
I imagine our world if they hadn't tried
We wouldn't be here celebrating today"

Thursday, August 28, 2008

28th August - The Time is now! The place is here! You are the people!

Today as Barack Obama accepts the nomination of his Democratic party to be the President of the USA, I am reminded that 45 years ago today Martin Luther King made his famous "i have a dream" speech. It is a pity though that the first part of that speech is so often forgotten. Even today his rallying cry for the urgency of justice is so relevant.
He reminded the people gathered of the "fierce urgency of Now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God's children. It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment. "
"But there is something that I must say to my people, who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice: In the process of gaining our rightful place, we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again, we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force."
I believe the mesage is as much pertinent today as it was in 1963. Not only is there an urgency about seeking justice in so many parts of the world and for so many peoples of the world but also for seeking that same justice in ways that are non-violent and respectful of the dignity of all God's people.
Even our own chapter document cries out .... "The time is now! The place is here! You are the people!"

15th August 2008

On this day we celebrated the Feast of the Assumption, the Bicentenary of Blessed Edmund and his companions professing First Vows, the Independence day of India and we celebrated the Final Profession of Br Prince Bai Tarawalie. As you can see we had much to celebrate.
We gathered that evening in our chapel for a reflection on our vowed life. Using the Four elements of Earth, Air, Fire and Water we reflected on our call to Evangelical Poverty, Obedience and Chastity. We drew inspiration for our Eucharistic prayer from a recent reflection that Br Peter Dowling had sent to all Brothers, and from our recent Chapter document. It was a reflective prayer where we shared the Word, the bread and the wine with our fellow Presentation Brothers, the FIC Brothers, the FMM sisters, a Spiritan priest and other friends.
The bread broken and wine poured was surely a sign of our companionship and our community, our oneness with Jesus and with one another and this was further reflected and celebrated in the meal that followed.

Elmina Fishing Village

The day we went to Elmina we were greeted by huge hordes of colorfully clad people standing on every available space. As much as I wanted to believe that they were lining the roads to welcome these visitors from the north I knew there had to be another reason.
The sight and the crowds were quite overwhelming. Having parked the mini bus we got out to explore this rather awesome sight and it was now clear to see that it had something to do with the myriad fishing boats.
The loud music and the natter of people added to this rather peculiar festive atmosphere. The sight fascinated me. On asking a bystander I realized to my amazement that this was no annual festival but a daily occurrence. Every morning (except Tuesdays) the village gathered to welcome their menfolk who had spent the whole night out on the sea fishing…and what a welcome they got!

The canopy Walk at Kakum National Park

On the same day that we visited the Elmina Castle we also went to the Kakum National Park. Kakum is home to the only canopy walkway on the African Continent. The 350 meter long bridge 100 ft above the ground connects seven tree tops; it is constructed of wire rope, aluminium ladders, wooden planks and safety netting. In order to protect the trees, no nails or bolts pierce the bark. You don't even have to climb to get onto the walkway. It starts at ground level, and as you walk along, the land below you slopes into a valley, and you find yourself twelve stories up in the forest canopy. The horseshoe-like pattern of bridges are connected by tree platforms that serve as observation points for viewing the rainforest. You circle back to complete your tour on level ground.
As we got started our walk, I noticed that almost all of us were overwhelmed with fear. Each of us gained courage from one another. “The slight swaying is intimidating, but it's an incredible sensation to walk along it. The experience is pure adrenaline, and is definitely not for people with a fear of heights”
The famous Christian song, ‘I have decided to follow Jesus… No turning back no turning back....’ really depicted the tremendous journey of no return along the canopy walk. As long as one has made a choice to start the walk, there is no possibility of turning back!
My personal experience as everyone struggled to walk along the canopy was that the Community played a very vital role. For it generated the zeal and energy we needed to get rid of our fear and this enabled us to walk the whole length of the ropeway. All my attention was on the brother in front of me. I did not even venture a look down at the wonderful expanse of rain forest below me. I had mixed feelings as I began the walk: I was worried, afraid, anxious and tense. After the walk, I felt relieved thanks to the empowerment I got from the community.
I was left asking the question, How conscious am I about my Brothers and sisters in the Community? A tree cannot stand on its own without the branches, just like in the Community, an individual cannot achieve what he/she wants without the help of the others. Indeed, from my experience on the canopy walk, I realized how interconnected I was with my fellow Brothers and Sisters. It taught me anew what it means to live as a community.

Otieno Fredrick

Elmina Castle

While in Cape Coast we visited the neighbouring fishing town of Elmina. I was very eager to see the famous castle there. My own knowledge had led me to believe that a castle was a building or group of buildings that was the home of the king and his nobles. On entering this castle that perception changed quickly. Eagerness changed to surprise to sadness to anger. I discovered that this castle was used for the slave trade in West Africa.
Built in 1482 by Portuguese traders, Elmina Castle was the first European slave-trading post in all of sub-Saharan Africa. It was originally built to protect the gold trade but following its capture by the Dutch in 1637, it came to serve the Dutch slave trade.
Elmina housed luxury suites for the European masters on the upper levels. The male and female slave dungeons below were cramped and filthy, each cell often housing as many as 200 people at a time, without proper ventilation or light, without toilet facilities or even enough space to lie down. The floor of the dungeon, as result of centuries of impacted filth and human excrement, is now, we are told, several inches higher than it was when it was built. Outbreaks of malaria and yellow fever were common. Staircases led directly from the governor's chambers to the women's dungeons below, making it easy for him to select personal concubines from amongst the women. It was not uncommon for the slave masters to rape women.
One of the saddest moments for me was entering the church on the second floor of the castle. Under the church was the dark room with The Door of No Return, the infamous portal through which slaves boarded the ships that would take them on the treacherous journey across the Atlantic known as the Middle Passage. By the 18th century, 30,000 slaves on their way to North and South America passed through Elmina's Door of No Return each year.
On the wall of the Church are the words from Psalm 132 … “Here shall I rest for evermore, here shall I make my home as I have wished.”
I asked myself ‘where did God rest for evermore, where did he make his home, was it in the well lit and well ventilated church on the second floor of the castle or was it in the dark dingy room of no return?’ With strong conviction, I could sense god’s presence in the room of no return.
As I left the castle I prayed for all the Africans who died in the castle that god may give them eternal rest. I prayed for all the Europeans who perpetrated this horrible atrocity on our grandmothers and grandfathers. Even as prayed I was reminded that slavery exists even today albeit in very many different forms. And so I prayed for all of us living today in the words of Nelson Mandela, “Never, never and never again shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one by another.”

Paul S Yallah and Samuel M Ngumi

Our Experience of the Ocean

The recent trip to Cape Coast was enriching experience in more ways than one. One of them was the experience of the wide open sea… and for some of us it was our first time by the raging waters of the mighty sea.
We experienced the power of water as we swam against the current of rising tides. We also experienced what it meant to take a risk. The risk we took was to leave the shore…go forward and swim in the face of rising tides. Though the tides made it fearful, the waters would carry us back every time we moved further, as if they were warning us not to move an inch further… What a risk!
This gave rise to feelings of fear in some of us! But what kept us going forward from land was the courage and support we were getting from one another, and the confidence that the amazing grandeur of God was with us. The more we were advancing the more we would feel frail. The more we were running the risk of being carried away by the tides, which were becoming more and more powerful. But wisdom got the better of valour and we waded closer to the safety of the shore.
There it was easy to recall Peter’s courage when he wanted to walk on the water like Jesus. And our experience of God came that evening through our powerlessness, or rather, our limitations. Even here in the tossing waters it was clear to me that with the support of my brothers in community we can overcome fear.

Casimir Fran├žois E. N.

Moree Beach Resort

This is truly a beautiful little spot. The quiet secluded beach away from the bustle of the town or the fishing village was ideal for the much deserved break. The constant hum of the waves and the soothing hum of the sea breeze did much to calm the body and refresh the soul.
We occupied 8 of the 10 very comfortable rooms available. The place does not have electricity but a generator provides power from 6 in the evening to midnight and then again from 5 to 10 in the morning. I think the fact that it does not have a regular supply of electricity adds to the charm of the place.
I enjoyed the mornings as the sun rose over the sea. The quiet slow rhythm of the place reminded me a lot of my home in Goa!! It was truly 'sussegad'!! Any Goan reading this would know that word well!! It has no translation in any other language!!
The three days and three nights there were well spent and i am sure we will visit that place again.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Snapshots!!

The Twelve!!

Our men from the West Africa District.... John, Casimir, Paul, Sonny and Pascal


Our men from the East Africa District. ... Wycliffe, Samuel, Fred, Phelix and Julias




Our men from the Mater Dei District, Zambia.... Jackson and Belden

We are on our way to Cape Coast

This weekend (which starts on Thursday this time round!) we are heading down to Cape Coast for a well deserved and much anticipated break. We are driving down in our mini bus and pickup. The drive should take us 12 hours or so if all goes well, the traffic in Kumasi doesnt delay us unduely and the mini bus lasts the pace of a long journey!

We will be staying at the idyllic Moree Beach Resort. This little resort lies well off the main road and right on the beach hidden behind a little hill. Will tell you more about it when we get back. but here are two oictures just to whet your appetite!

We hope to also visit Kakum national park and at least one of the famous Castles in the town. More than anything else I am looking forward to the break, to feel the sea breeze in my face, the crunch of white sands under my feet and smell the salt in the air!!
The opening ceremony of the Olympics will have to wait!!!! And the air is a lot cleaner by the sea!

Friday, August 1, 2008

To Kintampo Falls!

Kintampo waterfalls was our destination for yesterday. We decided to take the day off and spend some leisure time at this beautiful place nestled in among the low hills. Having set out early we reached the falls after a two and half hour drive. the advantage of getting there early was that we had the whole place to ourselves for well near two hours. The quiet and the serenity of of the place was both refreshing and exhilarating.

We wandered around the area for a while until we got to the main falls. Once there some of us ventured in to the waterfalls and braved the force of the water, the rest were quite content to just sit on the rocks and take in the beauty and the awesome power from afar! For all the wonder of God's creation was evident.

In this place it was easy to join the psalmist in prayer ... "O Lord, our Lord, how awesome is your name through all the earth!
You have set your majesty above the heavens! When I see your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and stars that you set in place - What are humans that you are mindful of them, mere mortals that you care for them? Yet you have made them little less than a god, crowned them with glory and honor. You have given them rule over the works of your hands, put all things at their feet: All sheep and oxen, even the beasts of the field, The birds of the air, the fish of the sea, and whatever swims the paths of the seas. O Lord, our Lord, how awesome is your name through all the earth!"

It was not difficult in that place to reflect and rejoice in the transforming power of water, the steadfastness of the rock, the majesty of the trees standing tall, the whispering rush of the wind among the foliage, the plaintive chorus of insects and and birds, and the wonderful interplay between them all creating a place reminiscent of an Earth at peace and in perfect harmony.