24 July 2009

How hot was it?

Guess how hot it is in Rome today:
A. Hot
B. Very hot
C. #!@+&%£ hot

If you guessed "hotter than C", you are correct.

The offending device. It works whenever its picture is being taken.Only a few offices in the Generalate have A/C so most of us have to make do with a fan. I have a nice, black fan that was left by my predecessor in office. It is very nice to look at. It works well, except, that is, when it is hot. A couple of weeks ago on what was the hottest, most humid night of the year so far, I took the fan into my bedroom, plugged it in, turned it on and ... nothing. The extreme heat must have affected my brain because something made me think I could fix it on the spot. Fixing it involved first removing the six small screws holding the fan guard in place. The only screwdrivers I had available were the kind you use for eyeglasses and small appliances, but I was undeterred. For such small screws, they sure were tenacious! By the time I had unscrewed/cursed/yanked (pick one) the sixth one, I was drenched in perspiration. Now all I had to do was unscrew another dilly-dally, take off the whatchamacallit and finally remove the thingamabob. Now the important part—I put my hands on my hips, stared at the pieces and said, "Hmmm". Next, I tapped a few pieces with my finger, then started to put it all back together. When it came time to put the fan guard back on, I could see those six small screws defiantly mocking me so I decided to deal with them the next day. I plugged it in, turned it on, gave the blades a few whirls with my finger (DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME, BOYS AND GIRLS!) and it finally began to work on its own. It did, however, voice its displeasure about having to work in such miserable conditions by emitting various shrieks and groans throughout the night.

Since that night, the fan has continued to operate admirably. Until last night, the second hottest night of the year. I was awakened several times during the night by its plaintive cries. Tonight promises to be even hotter. Will this be the night of the definitive sciopero?

19 July 2009

The Big Apple and Beyond

It has been almost two months since I finished the visitation of the St. Mary's Province (New York/New England) Province, but I am only now getting around to writing about it. I could use the usual excuse of being busy, which would, after all, be partially true. In this case, however, it is probably more true to say that I needed the time to reflect—to step away from the trees in order to see the forest.

The visitation started in White Plains, moved to Patchoque, then Brooklyn, then Manhattan. After visiting the three friaries in Manhattan, I moved slowly northward into upstate New York then through New England until reaching Portland, Maine. From there, I traveled southward again, stopping at the friaries I missed on the northward journey, until arriving back in White Plains. The travel itself was an education for me. I'd been in the St. Mary's Province many times before, but only in New York City or its environs. As such, I associated the Province with New York City and big city ministry. The reality, I learned, is much more multi-faceted. The Province is present not only in the megalopolis of New York, but in the small town of Rutland, Vermont, and even in the beautiful, pastoral setting of Interlaken, New Interlaken FriaryYork. Parishes form the cornerstone of the Province's ministry, but this doesn't mean there is no ministerial variety. First of all, each parish has its own character and presents its own challenges. Secondly, the Province's friars are involved in many ministries outside the parish—as hospital chaplains, prison chaplains, campus ministers, adoption agencies, and ministry to immigrants, to name a few.

I do not think I was alone in associating the Province with New York City; about half the world's Capuchins have passed through St. John's Friary in Manhattan at one time or another, and those who haven't visited yet want to New York City may be the most frequented Capuchin pilgrimage site after Rome and Assisi! I was struck during the visitation of the service that the Province provides to the international Order. The Province not only provides hospitality to friars who are visiting or studying in New York, but its provincial offices provides many services for the General Curia, for Capuchin Friars International, and for various provinces in other parts of the world that need a point of reference in the United States. The Province provides important support for Franciscans International. It was a driving force behind the NAPCC's support for our African jurisdictions, and it has continued to support projects in Africa and Latin America. The Province does all this despite having to support two missions of its own: the Vice Province of Marianna Islands-Hawaii and the Custody of Japan.

Another thing that struck me as I traveled around the Province was the positive attitude of the friars. The vast majority of the friars are working hard—even those who have longed surpassed "retirement" age&mash;and they are joyfully trying to live according the form of life they professed. Many of them attributed the positive atmosphere in the Province to the quality and quantity of vocations it has received in recent years. Bro. Tim Jones has done such an excellent job at promoting vocations that some friars openly wondered if he was producing them in a lab in his basement (I call dibs on the movie rights for The Boys from Brooklyn). Seriously, however, Bro. Tim rightly pointed out that vocation promotion cannot be the work of one person, and if the Province has been successful in its promotion it is because of the involvement of all the friars.

The problem with blogging about visitations is knowing where to stop. There were many other revelations for me during my time in the St. Mary's Province, but, like its patron, I will "meditate on them in [my] heart."

13 July 2009

Meeting with ASMEN

The meeting with the Capuchin Conference of the Near East (ASMEN)concluded the General Definitory's meetings with each of the Order's thirteen conferences. The meeting took place in the General Curia on June 15-16. The name of the Conference is a little misleading because it comprises jurisdictions that are not, strictly speaking, in the Near East. Currently, the Conference comprises the Domus Praesentiae of Jerusalem, the Provincial Delegation of Greece, the Custody of Turkey, the Vice Province of Pakistan, the General Vice Province of Arabia and the General Vice Province of the Near East (Lebanon and Syria). There are a little over 300 friars in the Conference.

As in the case of CECOC, it is not easy to summarize the situation of this Conference. Some of these jurisdictions, most notably Jerusalem and Arabia, are purely missionary, in the sense that there are no expectations for local vocations. The possibility to operate freely and openly differs substantially among jurisdictions in this Conference. The one thing they all have in common, however, is that they live on the "fringe" of Catholicism. They are minorities in societies that are majority Muslim, Jewish or Orthodox. While that makes life challenging for the friars, it also offers opportunities to evangelize truly as minors. Our brothers in this Conference are, in a sense, living Francis' dream to preach the Gospel among the Saracens. Far from shrinking from the challenge or being discouraged by the apparent lack of results, the ministers of this area exhibited real enthusiasm. Listening to their experiences, I wondered how one could measure his success in such an environment, or if he could at all. I then wondered if I could live in a place where the only measure of success was one's faithfulness to the Gospel and the Rule. I have not been able to answer that question, but I do know that I am edified by my brothers who have accepted the challenge.

Meeting with CECOC

Loreto Shrine and friaryFrom June 9 to 11, the General Definitory met with the members of the Capuchin Conference of Central and Eastern Europe (CECOC). The meeting took place in the beautiful city of Prague, in the Czech Republic.

In contrast to the situations in CIMPCap and CIC, with whom we met immediately prior to this meeting, it is difficult find a synoptic way to characterize the Conference since the situations in its various jurisdictions vary greatly. For instance, some jurisdictions have many vocations while others have very few. The pace of societal change is also different from country to country. Nonetheless, it is possible to find a few common elements that link many, if not all of the Conference's jurisdictions.

First, many of the jurisdictions share a history of suppression and oppression, having lived under more or less hostile Communist regimes. Many of these regimes maintained control by effectively using its citizens to spy on one another, which bred a certain form of innate mistrust among members of the society that has not completely disappeared. As a result, the basic sense of trust that is so important to fraternal relationships is difficult to establish. The problem often manifests itself in the inability to live serenely in a community or to accept authority.

The crumbling of the Communist regimes across central and eastern Europe allowed the Capuchin Order to operate freely and openly, but it also brought with it a new set of challenges. While many rejoiced in their new-found liberty, that liberty was not slow to degenerate in license. Thus, many jurisdictions that experienced a burst of vocations in the immediate aftermath of freedom, are now seeing vocations fall as young people become more materialistic and disinterested in the Church. In addition, the young men who ask to join the Order come with widely varying degrees of faith background, which creates an additional challenge for the jurisdictions' formation personnel.

Another result of the fall of Communism was the restitution of many of the friaries that had been taken away from the religious congregations. This was only right and just, but it has also been a mixed blessing. Some jurisdictions now find themselves saddled with structures that are much larger than present needs dictate, and which are financially difficult to maintain. This, at least, is one issue that they have in common with the Capuchins in the rest of Europe. The challenge everywhere is to find the correct balance between the preservation of meaningful connections with our past and the wise use of our limited financial resources.

I would be remiss if I did not say a word about the excellent hospitality of our Czech hosts. The meeting was held at the recently-restored friary adjacent to the Loreto Shrine in Prague, which was the first friary to be given back to the Capuchins of that jurisdiction. The picture above was taken from the front of the Loreto Shrine with the friary in the background. It is a beautiful friary in a beautiful city. [In the interest of full disclosure: my great grandparents emigrated from Moravia, then part of the Austrian Empire. If you wish to split hairs, Prague is in Bohemia, but that is close enough for me.]

P.S. Someone suggested that the building pictured below may have been at one time used as a novitiate (enlarge the photo by clicking on it, then find the clues for this assertion).
A former Capuchin novitiate?