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

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