23 December 2008
19 December 2008
On Thursday afternoon, December 11, Mauro, Robert and I were invited to visit the parish in Ekari (also known as Upper Mendi), where Br. Colman has ministered for years. We received a grand welcome from the members of the parish, complete with gifts of bilum hats and bags.
18 December 2008
What especially struck me about the Chapter was the willingness of the brothers to look forward in faith. As I mentioned in my post-visitation blog entry, the Province has been working for many years to redefine the image of Capuchins in Australia, from that of an Italian Order that works principally with Italians to a multi-cultural Order working in a wide variety of ministries, but with a special emphasis on youth ministry.
The positive, forward-looking spirit was undoubtably helped by the fact that the Province has been experiencing a good influx of new vocations. In fact, the Province's six postulants paid a visit to the Chapter one day. Br. Robert Stewart gave a very interesting presentation on the Province's efforts in the area of vocation promotion and the mentality of "Generation Y".
01 December 2008
First of all, as one article pointed out, there is no magic involved in predicting future demographic trends. Someone born today will, barring an untimely death, be fifty years old in fifty years. Demographers can know with great precision the current birth and death rates of most countries. These trends change, but at a relatively slow pace. It is, therefore, relatively easy to predict the population and age distribution of a country for a fifty year period.
The articles focused on the economic impact of demographics, with which I will deal in a later post. These populations studies alone, however, have interesting implications to ponder. Consider for instance the fact of Europe’s negative population growth. By 2050, one article stated, Europe will have lost the equivalent of the current populations of France and Italy combined. In addition, the average age of Europe’s population will continue to increase. This has tremendous implications for the future of the Order in Europe. Even if one ignores the effect of secularization, there will be far fewer young men in Europe available to enter religious life. Barring a massive change in attitudes regarding immigration and family size in the next few years, the Order’s jurisdictions in Europe will certainly continue to become smaller.
The situation in North America is somewhat different because of its higher birth rate and greater openness to immigration (at present, anyway). The population of the U.S. is expected to continue growing, but at a smaller pace than in the past. The “baby boom echo” of the 80’s and early 90’s resulted in an increase in America’s birth rate, which may partially explain the recent increase in vocations there. Youth at the “peak” of this boom are just entering their university years, which indicates that the next ten to fifteen years have the possibility of providing the greatest number of candidates to religious life since the 1960’s. Once the peak has passed, the number of vocations to religious life will slowly, but surely decline. The provinces and congregations that will profit most from this increased pool of possible candidates are those that appeal to the ever-changing sensibilities of young people and who have invested the resources to get their name in front of them.
Probably to no one’s surprise, the areas of the world that will have the greatest growth among youth, and thus the greatest potential for providing vocations to the Order, are India and parts of Africa. What some might find surprising is that China will soon enter a period of negative growth because of its “one child” policy in the past. The number of males significantly outnumbers females among China’s youth, which will add to the country’s low birth rate in the future. Asia, as a whole, will experience only slight growth in the next forty years. Vietnam has a relatively low birth rate. The population of Japan already entered a period of negative growth several years ago, and there are no signs of change for the near future. These trends have implications for our current presences in Asia and for the missions that are planned for China and Vietnam. On the other hand, there are good prospects for the continued growth of the Order in India. Strong population growth is also projected for Nigeria and the Congo, which bodes well for the future of the small, but vibrant Capuchin jurisdictions in those countries.
Overall, these figures indicate that the Order’s center of gravity will continue to move south for at least the next forty years. In many cases, the Order’s growth will be in the developing world and its greatest declines will be in the developed world. This will have important consequences for the Order’s economic solidarity, which will be the focus of my next post.
30 August 2008
Three of the friars currently serve as pastors or sacramental ministers on the reservation of the Crow tribe, and another works on the Northern Cheyenne reservation. The other four, although not ministering on a reservation, have a significant number of Native Americans in their parishes. Most of them care for more than one parish, since there are more parishes than priests in the diocese. I was impressed and edified with the ministry of all the friars here, but especially with the ministry on the reservations. From art and architecture to the style of their ministry, the respect of the brothers for the cultures of the Crow and Cheyenne was evident. They are very much “friars of the people” here. For example, if their health permits it, the friars regularly take part in “sweats”, a ceremony that is used to create and maintain a sense of community. More than just respecting the local culture, the friars have tried to improve the life of the communities they serve, especially through education. Thanks to the efforts of the friars, there are three elementary schools and one high school on the Crow and Cheyenne reservations that students can attend free of charge. Many graduates of those schools are now employed as teachers and staff members of those same schools. Although unemployment on the reservations is still very high, the situation would clearly be worse if not for the help provided by the Capuchins.
In the week I spent in Montana, I was able to spend a day or two each in Crow Agency, the St. Labre Mission near Ashland, the St. Charles Mission in Pryor, and Billings. I learned something about the history of the Crow tribe and its present circumstances while chatting with parishioners in Crow Agency after Sunday Mass and by visiting the site of the Battle of the Little Bighorn, in which a group of Sioux and Cheyenne warriors defeated the forces of Gen. Custer and the 7th Cavalry in 1876. That battle and the resulting reaction of the U.S. Army still has repercussions today. I even participated twice in a "sweat" (imagine a prayer meeting held in a sauna). At St. Labre Mission, I toured the fundraising operations (including mailing, receiving and printing departments) that supports its own schools as well as those of the other Capuchin missions in Montana.
What is clear to me after my visit is that the friars have poured their hearts and souls into this mission. Here, as elsewhere, they have become "friars of the people", even among people who have every reason to be wary of white men. While material poverty on the reservations in Montana is probably no worse than it is in sections of any large American city, it is tinged with a particular kind of despair among the Native Americans—a fear that any gains they make might once again be stolen from them. Because of this poverty and because of the fact that the Native Americans are so often found on the fringes of society I feel that this is a ministry where Capuchins belong. Like everywhere else in the United States, however, the friars in Montana are getting older, and there are few younger friars to replace them. While I will be the first to say that, as they become smaller, provinces will need to withdraw from some of their ministry commitments in order to use their manpower more effectively, I would hope that this ministry to the Native Americans is not one of the ministries that is lost. In my humble opinion, the fate of these missions should be a matter of concern for the whole North American-Pacific Capuchin Conference, not just for the Calvary Province. Saving them, may require looking beyond the borders of the Calvary Province, and perhaps even beyond the borders of North America.
20 August 2008
The Custody of Japan has a unique history. Since Okinawa came under the administration of the United States of America after World War II, it was effectively cut off from the rest of the Catholic Church in Japan. The Holy See sent 2 friars from the Province of St. Mary to begin missionary work there. On the island of Okinawa, they began with no Catholics and eventually, with the help of additional friars over the early years, managed to establish a small but growing Catholic Church. The first Bishop, Felix Ley, was an administrator for the territory, but after the island was returned to Japan in 1972, it was established as a diocese. Bp. Ley passed on just at that time and a local vocation friar (Peter-Baptist Ishigami) was to become its first official bishop.
Today, there are 16 friars in the Custody—3 Japanese, 6 Indians (from the Province of Karnataka) and 7 Americans. They live in 3 friaries—two on Okinawa and one about an hour from Tokyo—they serve in nine parishes (3 in Okinawa and 6 in the mainland diocese of Saitama), one also helps as an auxiliary chaplain to the large American military presence on Okinawa and numerous other services to local Catholics. Although the number of Catholics on Okinawa has grown considerably since the beginnings of the Custody, it is still estimated to be only about 6000. That number is growing slowly as many Latin Americans of Japanese origin begin to return to Japan to find work. There is also a significant Filipino population on the island.
Since we had to meet only 16 friars in the 10 days we had allotted for the visitation, John Antony and I could work at a much more leisurely pace than in Indonesia, which was welcome news. We felt justified, in fact, in joining the brothers of Okinawa for their annual fraternal gathering on the first full day of our arrival. It gave us a chance to meet them in an informal setting, and to learn about their history with the Japanese Custody. Among other activities, we visited a natural cave used as a Shinto holy place, and toured Ryukyu Village—a park that re-creates the houses and lifestyles of an Okinawan village as it was over a century ago.
On Wednesday morning, 13 August, John Antony and I traveled about 45 minutes north from Naha to Futemna to interview Brothers Paul, Dennis and Patrick. Paul, one of the Custody’s Japanese brothers, maintains the buildings and grounds; Dennis is Pastor of the parish; Patrick is in charge of the Diocese’s Hispanic ministry.
In the afternoon, we returned to the curia of the Custody in Naha. There we spoke to:
- Bishop Peter-Baptist Ishigami, retired bishop of Okinawa;
- Brother Alex, pastor of the parish;
- Brother Louis, retired, but helping as part-time chaplain for various Catholic groups;
- Brother Martin, retired, but helping as friary bursar for the Custody;
- Brother LaSalle, pastor of Yonabaru near Naha, JPE coordinator for the Custody and the Diocese, and Diocesan representative for ecumenical and interreligious dialogues.
Originally, both John Antony and I had been scheduled to fly to Tokyo and meet with the brothers on the mainland. I had to change my plans, however, in order to attend the Episcopal ordination of Brother Joseph Nacua in the Philippines. On Friday, therefore, John went to Tokyo while I stayed behind in Okinawa until my flight to Manila on Sunday. On Saturday afternoon, I was honored to join Bishop Ishigami and Brother Roland Daigle, Minister of the Custody, for a traditional Japanese tea ceremony. In a tea ceremony, the very simple act of serving tea to one’s guests becomes a ritual in which every detail is given deliberate and appreciative attention. One is invited to admire the beauty of the room, of the cup and of the tea itself. The act of drinking tea becomes an invitation to learn patience and to pay deliberate attention to the world around us. It occurred to me that the tea ceremony could be a metaphor for the Capuchin presence in Japan. While the Custody is small and simple, compared to most of the Order’s jurisdictions, it has been built up patiently over the past fifty years, with deliberate attention to both enculturation and evangelization. While the Custody may never grow large enough to be a Province or have enough vocations to become self-sufficient, it is a beautiful presence nonetheless.
16 August 2008
The Pontianak Province was formed when the Indonesian Province, founded by Dutch missionaries, was divided into three provinces about 20 years ago. It currently counts about 140 friars, of which about 35 are in temporary vows. Other than the friary in Jakarta and a small presence in Central Kalimantan, the friars minister mainly in the Diocese of Pontianak, in the western part of Borneo (or Kalimantan, as it is knows by the Indonesians).
Brother John Antony arrived in Jakarta on 2 August, and the next day we both flew to Pontianak, located near the western tip of the island of Kalimantan. On the morning of 4 August, John and I were privileged to participate in the profession ceremony for three brothers making perpetual vows and three others making temporary vows. The Church of St. Augustine was filled to overflowing for the beautiful ceremony, which included elements from the local Dayak culture. At the end of the ceremony, the Provincial Minister, Brother Petrus Rostandy, called John Antony and I up to the sanctuary and introduced us to the assembly. Since he spoke in Indonesian, I'm not sure what he said, but everyone wanted to have a photograph with us after the ceremony!
In the afternoon, John Antony and I went our separate ways to continue our visitation. I traveled north to Singawang, where two brothers minister in a parish, then on to the novitiate in Poteng. The province currently has seven novices.
On Tuesday, 5 August, I traveled three hours by car to Sambas. Brother Yosnianto was both my driver and my interpreter on this trip and for the next two days. In Sambas, two friars of the province serve in the parish. Sambas is home to the Sultan for this area of Kalimantan. While he no longer holds much political power, the Sultan still maintains a palace here. The Muslim presence was much more evident here than in the other places I had visited in Kalimantan, but relations between the various religions is usually good, I was told.
The next morning, we basically retraced our steps from the day before to go to Nyarumkop, which is only a few kilometers from the novitiate. Here, six brothers work in a parish, in boarding facilities for the boys attending the diocesan elementary and secondary schools and in the diocesan minor seminary. In the afternoon, I made a short visit to the Capuchin Poor Clare monastery in Singawang. To my surprise, I met Sr. Paula there, a Capuchin sister I had driven from Mercatello to Rome many years ago, when she was studying in Italy. She was equally surprised to discover that I was now a General Definitor!
Leaving the coastal area behind, I moved further inland on Thursday morning. With Brother Yosnianto at the wheel, and accompanied by Brother Joseph, our three hour trip took us to Sanggau Ledo. There are two friaries in Sangau Ledo: one is attached to a parish, the other was built for the friars caring for the province’s extensive farm. At present, there are three friars at the parish friary and only one at the farm friary. The latter friary is built in the form of a traditional Dayak longhouse. The farm, which produces a modest income for the province, grows corn (maize), bananas, papaya, durian, and several other varieties of fruits. The friars are in the process of planting hundreds of rubber trees since the latex they provide is very profitable.
The next morning provided the most interesting drive of the visitation for me. We drove over a narrow road, badly in need of maintenance, through the thick forests of Borneo. At times, it felt like the forest would swallow the road completely. Along the way, however, we also saw large areas along the side of the road that had been clear-cut and burned to allow for planting rice (notice the empty land to the right of the road in the video).
I was saddened to see pristine forest land destroyed, but at the same time I knew that the growing population of Indonesia (and the world) combined with increased food consumption meant that additional land was needed to grow crops. I realized that balancing concerns about the environment and protecting habitats with the need to grow more food was not easy to do. The friars are also keenly aware of the dilemma, and many mentioned a desire to see more involvement within the Province in farms that model sound environmental practices. In Menjalin, I met with the three friars who work in the local parish and school. This is not your ordinary parish, however, The pastor estimated there are roughly 41,000 Catholics in his parish, scattered among more than 180 outstations. Several of these outstations see a priest only once a year.
After lunch, I went to a Marian shrine not far from Menjalin that belongs to the diocese, but is cared for by the friars. There, I met the Provincial Minister, Brother Petrus Rostandy, who had come to inspect the installation of statues for the Via Crucis, which winds its way through the dense growths of trees, bamboo and tropical plants. During the months of May and October, he told me, thousands of people will come to the shrine each Sunday for Mass and other prayers. Near the shrine’s entrance, there is a large, grassy area where pilgrims can eat their lunches after Mass. There are also four small ponds there stocked with fish. One of the workers at the shrine netted a few fish that Petrus intended to serve to John Antony and I as our last meal in the Province. He also spotted three bamboo shoots that he took to serve us. (Unfortunately, our plans changed, and we were unable to enjoy either the fish or the bamboo shoots.)
After visiting the shrine, I went with Petrus to the Provincialate in Pontianak, where I met with the three brothers living there. On the morning of Saturday, 9 August, I was taken a short way down the road to the friary of St. Augustine, where I met with the three brothers of that friary. Two of the three work in the parish of St. Augustine, and the other is the provincial secretary/bursar. Like the other parishes in the province, St. Augustine not only has a sizeable local community to serve, but has many outstations that need to be served, as well. In the afternoon, I visited the friary of St. Yusuf, which is also quite near the Provincialate. The friars here administer a carpentry school. When the province was young, the carpentry school not only provided the furnishings for the friaries, schools and churches that the Capuchins were building, but it also trained friars to carry on the work in the future and provided job training for the local men. Although it still provides some occasional furnishings for the churches and schools of the diocese, it is mainly a training center for local men today.
Having completed our visitation of all the friars of the province, John Antony and I met with the Provincial Definitory on the morning of 10 August to review our recommendations. Later that morning, we were taken to the airport where we departed for Jakarta and ultimately our next destination—Japan.
The overriding impression I had while visiting the Province is that the friars are very hardworking. The size of the parishes and the number of outstations they serve are staggering. Because the number of local clergy is still very small, the Diocese is almost totally dependent upon the Capuchins (although in recent years, a few other religious congregations have begun working in the Diocese). Although most friars expressed a wish that the Province would have more vocations, they receive a fair number of candidates each year. While it suffers from some of the problems that are common among young jurisdictions, it seems to me that the Province has a bright future.
24 July 2008
22 July 2008
All week long, pilgrims had been speculating about where the next WYD would be held. The prevailing rumor was that it would be in Spain. That rumor turned out to be true, as the Holy Father announced that WYD 2011 would be held in Madrid. It is an interesting choice given the current tensions between the bishops and the government of Spain. It became crystal clear to me during this week in Sydney that a World Youth Day needs the cooperation and support of the local government in order to succeed. Here in Sydney, for instance, streets were closed to traffic, extra bus and train services were added, bus routes were changed, public structures, such as the Opera House and the Exhibition Centre, were given over exclusively to WYD and the normal rhythms of the city were disrupted for the week. None of that could have happened without the support of the local government. So how will this work in Spain? If the government refuses to cooperate, it could score a moral victory against the Church, but it might also negatively affect the image of Spain in the eyes of the world. If, on the other hand, the government works together with the Church to make WYD a success, it could increase tourism to Spain, but at the risk of alienating some of the stauncher members of the Socialist Party. It will be interesting to see what happens.
Upon reaching Randwick, every pilgrim received a bag containing that evening's dinner plus tomorrow's breakfast and lunch. By 3:00 p.m., when those who opted for the long walk reached Randwick, the place looked like a refugee camp. Tents had been set up and sleeping bags rolled out on every square inch of ground for as the eye could see. The area allotted to the Capuchin pilgrims was not particularly near the altar, but it was near the adoration chapel.
The evening vigil service with the Pope did not start until 7:30 p.m. so the pilgrims spent the time eating, praying before the blessed sacrament, napping, and talking with the other pilgrims. Various musical performances, shown on large video screens set up around the area, also helped to fill the time. The vigil service consisted of song, testimony from several pilgrims, an address by the Holy Father, and Benediction. In his address, Pope Benedict spoke about Saint Augustine's understanding of the Holy Spirit. It was quite challenging intellectually, which shows, I suppose, that he wants WYD to be more than just a Catholic Woodstock.
When the Pope left around 9:30, the pilgrims prayed an "international rosary" and sang the Salve Regina. Fortunately, the rain that had been forecast for Saturday night never materialized. Some high, thin clouds partially obscured the full moon, but otherwise, the night was dry and relatively mild. The tired pilgrims eventually crawled into their sleeping bags for a good night's rest. [In the interest of full disclosure, I must admit that I returned to the friary after the vigil service, and slept in the warmth and comfort of my bedroom there. And no, I do not feel guilty at all about it!]
21 July 2008
Participation in the Via Crucis was hampered for us by the difficulty of seeing the video screens and of hearing the audio. At least by the time the group acting out the Way of the Cross reached Barangaroo, the audio problems had been solved. There were constant references throughout WYD to the fact that it was being celebrated on land that once belonged to the Aborigines. In addition, Aboriginal dance and music was worked into all the liturgies. Even the Via Crucis acknowledged the importance of the Aborigines in Australia's history and culture by having Simon the Cyrene played by an Aborigine.
Catechesis was followed by the Eucharist, celebrated by Bishop Oudeman. Then after a quick lunch provided by the parishioners, the participants set out for Barangaroo, where the Pope was scheduled to arrive by boat. Getting to Barangaroo, or to any of the other event sites in Sydney, was no small ordeal. Our group had to first catch a city bus into the city. After exiting the bus, we had to walk about 2 km (a little over a mile) to get to our assigned position at Barangaroo. Other groups of pilgrims converged from all directions so that for the last several hundred meters we were squeezed into one flowing mass of humanity. We had been assigned an area next to the path that the Popemobile would take upon leaving the area, and we arrived early enough to get positions along the barricades.
There was great excitement in the air when the Holy Father finally arrived around 3:00 p.m. The event was somewhat marred for us, however, because the loudspeakers nearest our section stopped working just before the Pope began the prayer service. As a result, we missed the entire first five minutes of his homily. The speakers then began working intermittently for the rest of the homily, which was maddening. What I could hear of his homily was very inspirational so I eventually went here to get the complete text online.
After the prayer service, the Holy Father boarded the Popemobile to leave the area, passing within about two meters of us on the way.
Dinner was served to all the pilgrims after the Pope's departure. The fare was not exactly gourmet, and the ambience left something to be desired—sitting on the asphalt as thousands of people kicked up dust and sand as they walked by. On the other hand, no one was expecting four star treatment, and the food was actually quite good considering the number of people they had to feed in such a short time.
Each evening during the week various concerts, exhibits and lectures were offered around the city. This particular evening, most of our group attended the two performances offered at Saint Stephen's Uniting Church. The first was the world premier of Brother John Russo's "Holy Rosary". Brother John, a member of the Capuchin Province of the Stigmata (New Jersey), took on the challenge of setting the rosary to music while he was a postulant several years ago, but never had the opportunity to have it performed. For the occasion of World Youth Day, he rearranged the music for string orchestra and chorus. While the rosary was sung, images of famous paintings illustrating each of the mysteries were projected on the screens positioned at the front of the church. Despite the fact that the performance was inadvertently omitted from the list of WYD events, there was a large audience on hand for it. The reaction to the performance was overwhelmingly positive. Afterwards, most of the audience remained for a performance of Oliver Messiaen's "Quartet for the end of time," which was beautifully performed. The composition itself, however, is an acquired taste that many of the audience have yet to acquire.
Here is a short video of the Papal arrival. We could not see it very well from our vantage point.
16 July 2008
After Mass, the participants were treated to an Australian barbecue for lunch. They then walked a short distance to the Italian Forum for an afternoon of song provided by various artists. Brother Dean Mathieson and his band performed once again. Gary Pinto, who co-wrote the official theme song for WYD 2008, performed with his band. The closing act was provided by "Pellisintetiche", led by Brother Lucio Saggioro, a Capuchin of the Venice Province. The humorous and energetic performance had the WYD participants on their feet dancing in no time.
The friars of the Australian Province have been working feverishly for the past six months arranging lodging for the friars, venues for various activities, speakers for catechesis and hundreds of other details. Bush hats off to them for their excellent (dare I say, uncharacteristic) organization!
Although the opening Mass of WYD was celebrated Tuesday afternoon, some events began already that morning. One of them was the abovementioned vocations exhibit. Various musicians entertained the crowds of young people at the exhibit, including the Australian Province's own Brother Dean Mathieson. At the vocation booth, the friars had several kinds of literature about the Capuchin Order, as well as label pins with the Province's website listed on it. The booth was well visited, both by prospective candidates and by people who wanted to let us know how much they appreciate the Capuchins friars working in their home countries. It was an uplifting and humbling experience to hear their appreciation.
The opening Mass began at 4:30 in the afternoon, with Cardinal George Pell of the Sydney Archdiocese presiding. The venue of the Mass was an area along Darling Harbor officially known as Barangaroo, but known to the locals as "The Hungry Mile". Getting there and finding one's place was predictably chaotic, but spirits were high nonetheless. Before the liturgy, the pilgrims were greeting by Australia's Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, who praised the role of religion, and Christianity in particular, in the history of society. The liturgy itself was very beautiful, incorporating music inspired by the cultures of the Aborigines, the Maori and some of the nearby islands. While the friars were somewhat scattered among the crowd, there was a visible reminder of their presence at WYD in the person of Cardinal Sean O'Malley, who was near the main celebrant during the Mass and frequently shown on the Jumbotron.
03 July 2008
Besides the triennial report of the outgoing Provincial Minister, Br Tony Marti, the brothers also heard a report from Br David Beaumont on the Province’s mission in northern Mexico and one from Jesus Vela on the efforts of the Vocation Office. The newly-elected Provincial Council consists of (left to right in photo above): Jesus Vela (Vicar), Peter Banks, Matthew Elshoff (Provincial Minister), Robert Barbato and Michael Mahoney.
Five resolutions were passed with large majorities at the Chapter:
- to ratify the Guiding Principles;
- to ratify the Action Steps;
- to consent to the establishment of a new friary in northern Mexico;
- to use the help of outside expertise to improve the results of the Vocation Office;
- to authorize the creation of a Strategic Planning committee, composed of both friars and lay people, to help the Province focus on its mission and to determine the resources needed to accomplish that mission.
06 June 2008
The Chapter, like those I have attended in other provinces, was a wonderful fraternal experience. The Province of Saint Joseph is the largest of the NAPCC in terms of friars, and is also quite large geographically so for many chapters provide the only opportunity to see brothers from other areas of the Province. Its chapters are held with universal suffrage, which can be quite a challenge for such a large province—there were 129 delegates, plus many observers—but everything was well organized.
Besides the election of the new provincial council, the Chapter focused on the topic of Capuchin Community and Identity. Using a tool called, "Appreciative Inquiry," the brothers split up into groups of four to six to first tell stories about the times they were happiest or most proud about being a member of the Province. Based on those stories, they tried to identify the values and qualities that contributed to those experiences. Each group reported the results of its discussion to the whole chapter body. Later, the small groups dreamed about what the Province could be like in ten years, and discussed values that could make those dreams come true. These discussions were also reported back at a plenary session. All the comments I heard about the process were very positive. It was interesting for me to hear how the Province perceives itself and what its dreams for the future are.
In my closing talk to the Chapter, I recalled that St. Francis was also a dreamer, and that dreams can be that "foolishness" that God uses to confound the wise of this world, as St. Paul said in his first letter to the Corinthians. I then reflected back to them some of the dreams they had mentioned during the week:
- to recover the passion for justice, peace and respect for creation that was once a hallmark of the Province;
- to have stronger, more vital fraternities;
- to increase collaboration with other jurisdictions in the NAPCC and in the world;
- to recover the pioneering spirit of the province's founders, to be more willing to take risks, and to focus on growth and vitality, rather than diminishment;
- to have a renewed sense of prayer and comtemplation.
And now that I've put their dreams in writing for the whole world to see, I hope they feel that their feet are to the fire!The new definitory (left to right) are: Mark Carrico, Robert Smith, John Celichowski (Provincial), Francis Voris and Mark Joseph Costello.
01 June 2008
18 March 2008
Port Moresby looks many other large cities in less developed countries, with the possible exception that the traffic is not quite as bad. It isn't until you get out of the capital that you begin to notice real differences. As I flew to Mendi, capital of the Southern Highlands Province and location of the Vice Provincialate, I was impressed with the pristine beauty of the forests below. Occasionally I could spot a narrow road snaking through the trees or the huts of a small village, but otherwise the endless expanse of forest seemed untouched by human hand. Apparently, this is not exactly the case, as I was told that large areas of forest are being bought very cheaply by Chinese and Japanese companies, who then clear-cut them and take the wood to their respective countries.
The first permanent presence of the Capuchins in Papua New Guinea was begun a little more than fifty years ago when, at the request of Propaganda Fide, friars from the Pennsylvania Province went to evangelize the Southern Highlands Province. The focus of the mission has now changed from first evangelization to implantatio Ordinis, although the friars are still very involved in parochial work in the Mendi Diocese. The Mendi Diocese has had only two bishops in its history, both of them Capuchins. The ministry of the Vice Province is now shared by friars from the Mid-America Province and the Province of St. Joseph-Kerala. At various times in the past, there have also been friars from Great Britain, the Philippines, the Western America Province and the Holy Trinity Province in India.
Although the people of PNG lack many of the modern technologies that people in developed countries take for granted, they seldom lack basic necessities. The friars share this simplicity of life to a great extent. Their houses are simple wooden structures built by the friars themselves with mostly local materials. Although many of the houses are forty or more years old, they are comfortable and well-maintained by the friars. Since the Diocese has had a policy from its very beginning that the people are financially responsible for building their own churches, the churches also tend to be built from local materials and are easily maintained. Even the Mendi Cathedral (pictured) was largely built and financed by the people of the diocese. Despite, or perhaps because of the simple materials used in the churches, I found them very beautiful and prayerful.
Moving about the Vice Province is very challenging since the roads are quite rough. As we drove together from Mendi to Tari in his seventeen year-old car, Br. Bill Fey, the recently-elected Vice Provincial, remarked on how nice the road was, to which I responded, "You are easily impressed." Somewhat like Jesus, I could "count all my bones" at the end of the journey! Two days later, when we drove to Pureni, I understood why Br. Bill thought the Mendi-Tari road was good. Parts of the "road" to Pureni were what I would call a muddy path. Many of the outstations are not even accessible by road so the friars have to walk several hours to reach them.
The friars take all the physical challenges of the country into stride. They love their work and the people to whom they minister, a love that is obviously returned. Only a seriously illness could convince the American missionaries with whom I spoke to return to their native provinces. Br. John Antony expressed on several occasions that seeing the simple life of the friars made him feel that he was seeing Capuchin life as it was lived by the earliest friars. One might say it felt a bit like Paradise.
05 March 2008
The actual recognition process began a few days previously, when five eyewitnesses of Pio's burial were called to examine the tomb for any signs of tampering. All agreed that the tomb was in essentially the same condition as on the day of the burial. After that, the blocks of green and red marble (altogether weighing over 3000 lbs. or 1500 kg.) and the white sand that covered the tomb were removed, leaving only four concrete slabs covering it.
The second phase of the ceremony, which began at 10 o'clock p.m. with the reading of documents authorizing the exhumation and the Recognition Process: a Rescript from the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints, the Decree of His Excellency Domenico Umberto D'Ambrosio, Archbishop of Manfredonia-Vieste-San Giovanni Rotondo, and the Authorization of the civil authorities. This was followed by a reading of the transcript from the first phase of the recognition process. It seems that, even after death, you still have to follow the rules!
With the formalities out of the way, Archbishop Domenico Umberto D'Ambrosio led the assembly in a celebration of the Office of Readings, taken from the Common of Pastors. The second reading of the Office was from the letter of Pio, written at the request of his superiors, in which he described the beginnings of his stigmata. After the Liturgy of the Hours, the Archbishop gave a brief reflection on the meaning of the evening's events, calling it an act of "affectionate, gentle, respectful devotion." The underlying reason for the exhumation, explained the Archbishop, was the "responsibility of guaranteeing, by means of appropriate procedures, the lasting preservation of our saint's body in order to allow future generations to venerate and safeguard his relics."
Next, the Notary read the official account by the city officials of San Giovanni Rotondo regarding the burial of Pio of Pietralcina on September 26, 1968. Then the concrete slabs covering the tomb were removed, and the casket was lifted out. Before opening the casket, the Archbishop along with the Promoter of Justice and the Notary inspected the seals that had been applied to the tomb when it was closed almost forty years ago, making sure that they had not been broken. Satisfied that the seals were intact, they were removed with a small hammer and chisel, and the outer cover of the casket was removed. Next, the inner cover, make of zinc, was cut away, exposing a glass plate covering the body of the saint. There was a buzz of anticipation as the zinc cover was removed, and the assembly strained to get a glimpse inside the casket. This was followed by palpable disappointment since condensation on the glass covering made it impossible to see inside the casket.
At this point, the casket was moved to a specially-equipped room where a team of specialists will spend the next forty days working to preserve the mortal remains of St. Pio. Inside the room, a four-member tribunal and a team of doctors inspected the body after the glass covering was removed. The Archbishop later informed the assembly that the upper portion of St. Pio's body was partially skeletonized, but that the lower portion was relatively well preserved. Excessive humidity inside the casket, possibly caused by the fresh plaster on the walls of the tomb, had unfortunately contributed to the decomposition of his remains.
The ceremony concluded with an address by the General Minister, Mauro Jöhri, and a reading of the transcript of the evening's events. Around April 24, after the specialists have finished treating the remains, the body of St. Pio will be exhibited for public devotion for a few months.
Many of you are probably questioning the need for such an elaborate ceremony, and maybe even question the reasons for the exhumation itself. Those questions certainly occurred to me. I think, however, that the historical experience of the Church with regard to its saints can provide at least a partial explanation. Centuries ago, it was not uncommon for cities to fight over the bodies of saintly people. St. Francis of Assisi, for instance, was buried in a secret location for fear that his body would be stolen by the people of Perugia. While most of the remains of St. Catherine of Siena are buried in her hometown, her head somehow found its way to Rome. The list of such "separations" is quite long. It would have been natural for the Vatican to develop procedures for handling the relics of saints in order to prevent disagreements over them or desecrations of their graves.
The Church has also struggled with determining the authenticity of certain saints. Not long ago, for instance, researchers determined that St. Christopher, whose statue once adorned the dashboard of every Catholic-owned car in America, was only a pious legend. Today, it is hard to imagine how the transformation from legend to real person could have happened. Then again, try looking through your parents' photographs and see how many of the people in them you can name! Now imagine someone looking at those photographs 200 years from now. In its 2000-year history—wracked with wars, earthquakes, fires, plagues, etc.—it is understandable that accurate records for all the Church's saints are hard to find. Perhaps to prevent future generations from having similar doubts about the authenticity of today's saints, the Church has developed a "recognition" process. Because the tomb and the remains of St. Pio were inspected by people who were present at the time of his death, and a signed document attesting to the inspection now resides in the Vatican's files, future generations will have the assurance that the relics are authentic. Thus our brother Pio can continue to inspire people for many years to come with the example of his faithfulness and devotion.
11 February 2008
This last fact especially colored my perceptions about the three provinces of Indonesia. I assumed that the Catholic population of the country would be relatively small, and therefore well served by the more than 300 Capuchin friars in the country. What I found surprised me. The Province of Medan covers the northern part of the island of Sumatra. The Christian population of the area is actually quite large, and about 60% of those Christians are Catholic. Add to that the fact that there are only about 20 diocesan priests in the area, and that other religious congregations have only recently begun to enter the area. As a result, most parishes are still staffed by Capuchins. More surprising to me was the size of the parishes. The smallest parish that I encountered during my visit had about 9,000 parishioners, with about 6 outstations. The largest parish had 35,000 parishioners and 63 outstations! Even the largest parishes had at most two full-time priests to serve it, although friars in other ministries often covered some of the Sunday masses. Because of the number of outstations, the main parish church might be able to have a Sunday mass twice a month. The people in the outstations might have to wait three months between masses.
Obviously, given the great need, most Capuchins in the Province have until recently been parish priests. Recently, however, the Province has been turning some of the parishes over to the diocese and to other congregations, leaving friars available to serve in other ministries or in missions.
Another surprising discovery during my visit to Medan was the way the friars have tried to inculturate the Catholic faith. The predominant cultural group of northern Sumatra is the Batak, whose homes have a very distinctive architectural style. The friars have incorporated many of these architectural elements into their churches, to beautiful effect. They also use Batak musical instruments in their liturgies. Such attempts at inculturation have lead to the large scale acceptance of the Catholic faith among the Batak. The friars of the Medan Province, most of whom are Batak, are now enriching the Church and the Order with their friendliness and strong work ethic.
03 February 2008
The ordaining prelate was Archbishop Luigi Ventura, Apostolic Delegate for Canada. His homily drew extensively from the writings and biographies of St Francis, and at one point he urged John to bring his Franciscan joy to the pastoral care of the people of his diocese.
About 30 Capuchins from around the world braved the frigid Canadian winter to attend the ordination. Among them were 4 Capuchin bishops: Charles Chaput, Archbishop of Denver (USA), Joseph Oudeman, Auxiliary Bishop of Brisbane (Australia), Luis Pepeu, Bishop of Afogados da Ingazeira (Brazil) and Andrés Stanovnik, Archbishop of Corrientes (Argentina). Also present were the provincial ministers of all the provinces of the United States and Canada, friars from Great Britain, Poland, Italy and, of course, many from his own Province of Central Canada. Four Friars Minor who minister in British Columbia were also in attendance, happy to welcome a bishop from the Franciscan family.
John's ordination was a bittersweet moment for me. Of course, I was happy that John's abilities were recognized by the Holy See. He will be a great bishop for the Diocese of Nelson. On the other hand, I was sad that the Order is losing John's energy, enthusiasm and creativity. The title of this post reflects my frustration that we have lost so much leadership in the Order to the episcopate. I don't want to be selfish, but, hey, we need strong leadership, too! I am reminded of the comment made by a friar of my province when our then-Provincial Minister, Charles Chaput, was named a bishop and shortly afterward I was assigned to work in the General Curia. He complained about Rome "reaching in" and taking the good friars, then added, "And what are we left with? Excrement!" (not the actual word he used). I'm sure it's not as bad as that, but you get the point. As an Order that emphasizes its obedience to the Holy Father, clearly John could not have refused the Holy See's request.
In case you are interested, Nelson is a town of about 10,000 people. It has a small airport nearby and few hotels, but was until recently one of the more historical and important towns in the area due to mining for gold and other metals in the area. As the importance of mining wained, Kelowna overtook Nelson in terms of population and importance, with people being drawn there by viticulture and tourism. Kelowna is a 350 kilometer (215 mile) drive from Nelson.