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.

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