Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Redeeming The Air Miles

Monday and Tuesday of this week a group of us brothers in the Solomon Islands cleared ground in preparation for planting new mahogany tree seedlings. Of course it isn’t as straightforward as it sounds. We had to clear thick underbrush from old cassava gardens, cut down scrub trees, then plant stakes in a meticulous grid pattern over a hectare of steep hillside. The ground was hard and slippery, and it was really hot!

The tree planting exercise was part of a week-long workshop the Province put on for the 30 First Professed Brothers. I opened the week with two workshops, one on the role of religious orders in Melanesia and then (later that same day) a workshop on leadership. My leadership workshop was the first of three the brothers had that week on leadership. I think we looked at the issue from every conceivable angle. It is obviously a high priority for the current leadership of the Province. By Monday we were itching to lead somebody somewhere. The workshop that day was about care for the environment. It was my turn again to facilitate and I decided to look at the issue of logging in the Solomon Islands. It is an issue which is front and center for most of the brothers and the workshop was really lively, especially when we discussed the two questions: “How have you suffered from logging? How has logging benefitted you?” Br. Lent is a dedicated environmentalist and advocate of the rainforest, and he helped the brothers recognize some of the less obvious costs to logging: depletion of oxygen, erratic rainfall, crop failure.

As part of my effort to offset the carbon foot print created by my travel, last year I sent some money to Br. Lent to plant trees; I was really happy to be around for the actual work! I am always attracted to big projects, and love hard physical work—I rarely get a chance since I spend so much time flying around.

Other eco-friendly efforts in the Solomon Islands Province include solar power panels in some of the remoter friaries. I trekked to one just to see what the panel looks like as I had been at the meeting in Australia when we approved the funds for them. Surprisingly small, but the brothers are delighted as they now have a light bulb in each room, making it bright enough to read

Not to forget about eating food locally grown in a sustainable way: nearly 7 weeks of eating sweet potatoes, Chinese cabbage, and fish caught in local waters by spear wielding brothers. Yesterday we celebrated the conclusion of the conference for the First Professed Brothers. First we had to pluck the chickens and cut up vegetables, then build a table of sticks and a fireplace of large stones. After 4 hours we were ready!
Grace at dinner is perhaps one of the most heartfelt prayers: “We thank you God for the rain which fills our tank and gives us water to drink, for our gardens and the food they provide us and for the creatures of the sea; for these and all your many blessings we thank you Lord.”

July 9 to 25 was the Formator’s Conference, also held here in the Solomon Islands. Representatives from all of the brothers’ provinces attended plus Sr. Joyce, Minister General of the Community of St. Francis. Our theme was Francis and Peacemaking. A side benefit was experiencing life in a developing nation and being exposed to some incredibly creative teaching techniques by the Anti-Violence Project. Next week is my last commitment in the Solomons, the Provincial Chapter.

And then I’m off August 30 to Sri Lanka and a visit with Br. Lionel.