Wednesday, December 5, 2007

The importance of prayer: Northern Ireland and Worcester

Traveling to Belfast I met up with Br. David Jardine, SSF. He is founder and director of Divine Healing Ministries. Founded at the height of the Troubles in Northern Ireland, this healing ministry takes a holistic approach to healing. Through prayer, laying on of hands, anointing with oil, people are healed physically, mentally and spiritually. But early on, Br. David understood the need for healing for the people of Ireland, healing of attitudes and old wounds which contributed to the internecine conflict in Northern Ireland. He began to pray and to call together an ecumenical group of people to pray for the healing of Ireland. Pictured above, David Jardine is in the back on the left. The others in the photo are part of his local Team who gather each week for prayer. Hundreds of people have joined in this effort, and many give explicit credit to the contribution of Divine Healing Ministries in an ending of the Troubles. recently (December 2) David was made Canon of St. Anne's Cathedral in Belfast, the first Religious to hold such a post in the Cathedral since the Reformation. Normally such a position is given to a parish priest.

Worcester and Glasshampton Monastery

From Belfast I returned to England to visit the brothers at Glasshampton Monastery. This somewhat daunting inscription is under the clock tower. And we kept busy praying and gardening, welcoming guests. Glasshampton was founded by Br. William Sirr who was a great social activist and worked on the London docks and was involved in the major social movements of the Twentieth Century. Yet he also was a great contemplative, and worked for the establishment of this house of prayer. The novices in the European province of SSF spend sometime during their formation at Glasshampton. All of the brothers have stories to tell of their time there. I was very grateful for the chance to see the place and be reminded of the centrality of contemplative prayer to the work of Society of St. Francis. Pictured below is Br. Jason Robert, formerly of the Province of the Americas, working on a project in the garden. Br. Amos and I spent a couple afternoon work periods trimming the beech hedge which surrounds the house.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

London soup kitchen and peace activist

This past week in London has been full of different activities: visiting brothers and friends, seeing the sights and trying to catch the rhythm of life on the road. Fortunately Friary life is remarkably the same wherever you go.

Monday night the brothers were volunteering at the Choral Shelter, a homeless shelter in the East End of London. (Pictured at right: Hugh, Philip Bartholomew, Clark) I went along, and helped check in the guests with Br. Hugh and then went to the tiny little kitchen where Brother Philip Bartholomew had produced a steak and kidney pie "but no kidneys and precious little steak" for dinner. It was tasty vegetables in a rich gravy with heaps of potatoes and rice with the odd piece of beef. I thought it was a miracle given the kitchen and the awkward tools he had to use. The guest liked the meal, and I found them to be an interesting and lively lot. They were cold and looking for hot food, a shower and a place to sleep, and that was what we were giving them.

Br. Hugh said I seemed pretty much at ease there, and I told him I've been working with homeless for 25 years. I actually lived in a shelter as a Director for a year and a half in Times Square, New York City, when I worked at Church of St. Mary the Virgin. My Franciscan life has been about welcoming people, serving food, cleaning up: in shelters, conferences centers, retreat houses. It is all the same.These are the ways to let people know they are important and cared for: a way to show God's love for them.

Tuesday I had a chance to meet a real hero. (Pictured here, Benjamin Kunu on the left, Richard Carter on the right) His name is Benjamin Kunu, and he is one of the surviving men who were kidnapped in the Solomon Islands several years ago by Harold Keke. Seven of Benjamin's brothers in the Melanesian Brotherhood died, and are properly accounted martyrs. Benjamin survived beating and torture. He has publicly forgiven Keke and has come to the United Kingdom to study at Lee Abbey. He wishes to give his life to peace and reconciliation work. On a mission to the UK with the Melanesian Brothers, Sisters and Franciscan Brothers, Benjamin told a group of prisoners,
after telling his story, "we must learn to see Christ in each other." None of the men would go back to his cell until he'd first shaken Benjamin's hand.

My friend Richard Carter was the chaplain to the Melanesian Brotherhood, and a member of that community. I got to know him when I lived in the Solomon Islands in 1995-1996. He now works at St. Martin's in the Field in London, Trafalgar Square.

I am very proud of my Franciscan brothers who live on Guadalcanal in the Solomons. Several of them have received medals of honor for their work for peace during the ethnic tension. They did a very simple thing: they set up a camp between the warring parties and went and prayed with each side, alternating teams. They made friends with both sides and earned their trust and eventually the religious orders were able to disarm the militants.

To learn more about the ethnic tension in the Solomon Islands and the involvement of the Melanesian Brotherhood, the Franciscans and other religious order in the Solomon Islands, read Richard Carter's marvelous book: In Search of the Lost Canterbury Press, 2006. It is a very powerful book

Monday, November 19, 2007

Cyclone Hits Papua New Guinea

November 16 a cyclone hit Papua New Guinea, where we have a large number of members of the Society of St. Francis. The Brothers live in Port Moresby and throughout the Oro Province and the Morobe Province. Hardest hit was Popondetta, where we have a large friary, St. Mary of the Angels Friary. Over 70 people have been reported dead and all bridges have been wiped out. No brothers were harmed, but their gardens were completely destroyed. Calling Br. Lucas in Port Moresby from London this morning I learned that the brothers are planning a meeting tomorrow to discuss their response to their predicament and how best to help their neighbors who are suffering very much.

We are planning to send help to the brothers, and to continue to hold them in our prayers. Please pray for them, others suffering in Papua New Guinea and in Bangladesh from the impact of this storm.