Monday, October 26, 2009

G'day from Darwin

I flew up to Darwin to visit Br. James Andrew who is a doctor working in the hospital here. It has been a very pleasant time of getting acquainted with each other and for me to explore a new part of the world. Saturday James took time off from the hospital and we went exploring Litchfield Park, a national wilderness park.

Here you can see James standing next to one of the great curiosities of Australia, a termite mound. Termites build these enormous structures, all carefully placed for air conditioning! Apparently they maintain a comfortable temperature inside all year round--a challenge in the blazing heat. Termites fill the ecological niche of grass eaters. There are not naturally many ruminants, so the termites eat the grass.

After several hours of driving around the park, we took a short hike to this amazing water hole--crocodile free! Had a great swim, then lazed in the shallows watching the turtles and fish swim over my feet.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Long awaited photos!

Sunday July 26 hundreds of people gathered at St. Mary of the Angels Friary at Haruro, Popondetta, PNG to celebrate Society of St. Francis' 50 years ministry in the Pacific. The men and women of Hauro village welcomed the brothers with a traditional ceremony. They also danced during the liturgy and the feasting afterwards.

The Brothers' procession on the day of our celebration.

SSF Companions and young friends in PNG.

Celebrating St. Clare's Day in Siomoromoro Village, in the Papua New Guinea highlands.

Come and join our happy crew! During my visit to the Solomon Islands, we're off to visit a volcanoe in Temotu Province, about a two hour canoe ride.

Tinakula volcano, our destination for a day trip during my stay in Temotu with the brothers at Holy Martyr's Friary. The summit is obscured by steam and clouds. It is a VERY active volcano!

Fiery hot rocks cascading off the flanks of Tinakula volcano.

The brothers take me on a Sunday "stroll"--which means everybody climbing into the truck and going on visits to friends: we visited the Sisters of the Church and the Sisters of Melanesia

Br. George, Minister Provincial of Solomon Islands addresses the brothers after Mass on St. Francis Day.

The brothers meet with Archbishop David Vunagi on his first official visit to the Society of St. Francis.

Br. Sam Siho, new Guardian of Hautambu La Verna Friary enjoying his role as Master of Ceremonies for the St. Francis Day Feast. Nothing is quite so gratifying as a bullhorn!

Br. Polycarp enjoying his food at the farewell dinner at Patteson House in Honiara my last night in the Solomon Islands.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

So long, Solomons!

I arrived in Australia last Saturday. My last few weeks in the Solomons were busy. We celebrated St. Francis Day at Hautambu with the Archbishop of Melanesia who was very encouraging to us. He was especially impressed by the leadership SSF has shown
in opting for a "no alcohol" policy; one of his major complaints about the Church of Melanesia which he leads is the widespread alcohol abuse among clergy and religious. I was happy that we had addressed the issue on our own, without an intervention from the larger church. Apart from these sober discussions, St. Francis day was very high spirited (!). We picnicked on the beach (about 200 of us), and then danced and sang all afternoon. We'd just cleaned up and gone to our rooms to rest when the heavens opened and a heavy rain came pelting down. There is no joy greater than showering under a downspout! Everybody grabbed soap: almost as convenient as indoor plumbing.

The week after St. Francis Day I visited the brothers on Malaita Island. We had several tsunami scares. In Honiara, they evacuated the Central Hospital. Later I was talking with a nurse about that experience, and she told me that if it had been a
real emergency they'd have been able to save only half the patients. We seemed to have several close calls; the best part of the experience was that government officials had opportunity to put evacuation plans into practice, test early warning
schemes and then reflect on the experiences without having to cope with real damage. I was visiting a small friary in the bush in the hills in the interior of Malaita during all of this, and as we had no electricity, we knew nothing of the scare
until it was over. Interestingly enough the theme of my visit with the brothers there was "communication," but on a homely dimension, as we tried to sort out some of the real life issues of community life.

I find these visits to be so reassuring. It seems we all struggle with the same kinds of issues, and that men living together in Melanesia face the same daily challenges as their brothers in America or anywhere else. And we all think we are the only ones with such difficulties and that our troubles disqualify us in some basic way as brothers. I told them the opposite was the truth: our troubles and how we face them are our qualification for Franciscan life and ministry.

My last few days were spent saying thanks and farewell. I'd been in the province over two months. We had large meals which of course took days to prepare: brothers went diving for fish, teams dug cassava and collected coconuts. Land and sea provided for us a great feast. Of course there were speeches. I got a bit long winded Friday night October 16 at the last such meal, recalling for the brothers that it was my profession anniversary--16 years of profession, and 20 years in SSF. I was reminded of the time I tried to run away in 1992 only to be accosted by old Brother Leo who invited me to sit and talk, and he asked me to "wait one more day." We all have our ups and downs, but thank God there are brothers around to help us put our troubles into perspective.

Tomorrow I fly to Darwin to visit Brother James.

Friday, October 2, 2009

St. Francis Day in Asia Pacific

Happy St. Francis Day!

I post these greetings while news of tsunamis, storms and earthquakes dominate the world headlines. All The Solomon Islands have escaped these storms, but we are watching the news and keeping our Pacific neighbors in our prayers. It is sobering to watch these terrible events, and know how fragile is our own safety. There are several places in the Solomon Islands where people have begun to move away from them permanently because of rising sea levels due to global warming. Weather patterns have changed such that formerly dry seasons are wet, and at other times we wonder where our water will come from (most of the friaries depend on rain water for drinking water). And changing weather means the crops are affected. So this weekend my prayers are for a deeper awareness of the earth and nature, and the demands for justice and healing which are laid upon us all. It is hard to watch my brothers grapple with these events, telling stories of dislocation, crop failures.

For too long we have not taken care of our Mother Earth. So let us dedicate ourselves anew as we celebrate the life and example of St. Francis to his radical understanding that every creature and the whole earth share the same source and we are all kin.

Last week I was in Kira Kira, and spent a week with the brothers there. I preached at the Cathedral, we had a party for some friends. But it wasn't all roses. A brother who no longer lives at that friary once tore up a floor board in order to spit betel nut juice. He chose for some reason to tear up a piece of flooring from the hallway! And the other brothers, though dismayed, did not fix the hole. I stepped in it and nearly broke my left leg. So I am black and blue from the knee down! But not so impaired I couldn't grab a piece of wood and fix the damn hole!!

I have had to follow my own advice about letting go, praying for others and trying not to carry burning resentments. The struggle continues...