Saturday, December 29, 2007

We Three Volunteers, Aru VOICA

Fausto, Me, Luca

We had an odd (for me), but beautiful celebration of Christmas here in Aru. I wish you all joy and hope as we begin 2008!



Friday, December 21, 2007

Aru Nativity

Dear Family and Friends,

I hope that as we celebrate Jesus birth, you and all of your loved ones find yourselves in good health and good spirits. You are often in my thoughts and prayers.

As I sit down to compose this letter, I remember Colorado's beautiful Christmas blizzard last year that blanketed the world white and made roads nearly impassible. The forecast for Christmas this year is green with roads that are perpetually nearly impassible. Maybe we can decorate a banana tree ☺ since pines are scarce.

Since I wrote my last general letter at Easter time, I've passed through three stages:

The Grand Getting Ready
April and May were busy months as I made arrangements to leave the country, prepared my house to sell, packed for two years in mission and said goodbye to friends and family. I am grateful to the many people who helped me to prepare practically, emotionally and spiritually. My house sold just a few days before my departure from Denver on June 6. (Thank God!) I flew to Paris, spent a few days traveling in France and enjoying the kind hospitality of Therese and Paul in Annecy before making my way to Rome.

Reflecting in Rome
I began formation on June 13 at the Canossian Institute in the heart of Rome along with three other volunteers. During these three months we came to better understand the Canossian Charism "Above all, to make Jesus known so that he will be loved" with Mary at the foot of the cross as a model of discipleship. Living in community and lessons of culture and language also prepared us for mission. We also spent some time eating gelato, pasta, pizza, pesto and pinoli and exploring Rome, Assisi, Lorretto and other beautiful places nearby.

Adjusting in Aru
On September 1, I arrived in my new home: the town of Aru on the northeastern edge of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Aru is a world distinct from any place I've known before. In some ways it's like going back in time one hundred years. In some ways its like living in a National Geographic magazine. Life here is fascinating, challenging and full of opportunities to learn. I am grateful for the chance to experience life here.
I teach high school English, give English/music classes at the pre-school and work with the aspirants once a week on English and music. I also do a bit of accounting and secretarial work. This, along with language study (French, Lingala, and Italian) cooking and housekeeping, keep me quite busy
For my first three months here I lived at the convent and shared in the community life of the Canossian Sisters, as I was the first long-term lay missioner here. Two weeks ago two more volunteers arrived from Italy and we have begun our lay community, eating meals and praying together. Luca and Fausto are delightful company and I am grateful for their presence. I will continue to sleep at the convent until the new volunteer house is finished and we call all move in.
The pictures that I hope to post with this blog show a scene from the fifth-year English classe's nativity play and our new VOICA community (Fausto, me and Luca). I will try to post another blog in January. Internet access continues to be scarce.
Joyeux Noël et Bonne Année 2008! Rejoice, God is with us!

Love and prayers,


Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Two More Photos

Hello from Aru!

A zi mi chi! Edyo ngoni ya?

I've started Logbara Ti and Lingala lessons with Papa Jerome, so I thought I'd try out a little bit of Logbara Ti on you! My students break out in laughter whenever I try this with them. I'm not sure if the laughter comes from delight in a shared language, or amusement at my poor pronunciation. In any case, I am enjoying the attempt.

Logbara Ti is the language of the local Logbara tribe. Lingala is more widely spoken as one of the four national languages of Congo. Daily Mass and Sunday Mass are usually in Lingala, so I've had more exposure to Lingala and I've begun to get a feel for the flow of the language. Logbara is still quite foreign. I'll keep practicing. My French, also, needs work, but I am usually able to communicate effectively eventually, although not always correctly.

I hope you are all well. You remain in my thoughts and prayers.

Much of my time is spent developing curriculum, preparing lessons, grading papers and teaching at the girls' high school. I have some delightful students. On Saturday when I entered the classroom, my fifth form class greeted me with a welcome song in English accompanied by dancing and drumming. Today they adorned my desk with an embroidered cloth with crocheted fringe. These moments help balance out the frustrations that come with teaching and living in a sea of unfamiliarity

I have begun preparing Christmas pageants with my fifth and sixth form classes. Fifth form will enact the infancy narrative from St. Luke's Gospel and sixth form will follow the story line from Matthew's Gospel. Both classes will sing Christmas carols.

I am also beginning to prepare a Christmas program with the pre-school children. They will sing "Good Morning", "If You're Happy and You Know It", "Angels We Have Heard on High" and "Silent Night", if we can manage to have them ready by December. They are as cute as they are energetic.

I also have become an unofficial secretary, librarian and photographer. I use my laptop everyday. These high tech devices seem incongruent with our wood-burning stove, petal-powered sewing machine and charcoal-heated irons. We are still without internet at the convent, but I'm grateful that at least I can connect at the computer center.

The construction of the volunteer house is progressing well. Two Italian volunteers should arrive at the beginning of December and we hope to move into the house soon after that. I am looking forward to helping paint and furnish the house, and to starting the lay community there.

We also have begun making arrangements for the library, and the organization of books. I will keep you updated on the progress with these plans.

I am grateful for the many blessings God has given me in these first two months in Aru: a welcoming community, kind local people, energetic students, great natural beauty, a culture filled with music and color, exposure to many languages and many opportunities to learn. In the midst of the ups and downs, I feel I'm in a good place to grow and serve.

Thank you for your prayers and concern.



Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Phone Info Again

A zi mi chi!

I hope that you are well. I am fine. Next week I will post a proper post. For now I just wanted to let you know that the number might have 011 243 as a prefix or 00243. It's hard to tell.

Love and prayers,


Friday, October 12, 2007

New Phone Information

The Pre-school field trip to the mission

Hello Everybody!

I am learning a lot and enjoying life in Congo. I hope that you are well.

I just wanted to correct the phone information that I gave in a previous blog. From the States, my number should be: 00243 81 7477103 Text messages usually don't go through because VodaCom the carrier here does not have SMS connections with many carriers in the States. I have tried sending several messages and none of them have gone through. I have a voice mailbox now, and I also leave my phone on most of the time since it doesn't take much battery power when its sleeping. If you would like to call, 9:30 or 10 p.m. Congo time (1:30 to 2:00 p.m. Colorado time) is the best time to catch me.

There is no fax service in Aru. There is still no internet connection at the convent, but I can get e-mails at the computer center. I go about once a week.

Lots of love,


Friday, September 28, 2007

Photo from Aru

Settling Into Aru

Greetings from Aru!

I hope you are enjoying changing colors and falling leaves. You are in my thoughts and prayers.

Good news! All six boxes of books have arrived! I am delighted and somewhat surprised that they all made it here. From the postal tags, I can see that they had been sitting in Kampala since the beginning of June. In any case, I am glad that they're here! I'm still expecting a couple of boxes of educational magazines to show up eventually. Thank you again to all who helped with this project!

Sr. Daniella and I have been discussing the idea of beginning a library/reading room to give people access to books and to keep the books safe at the same time. There is some space available in an existing building where we could house the books and start a pilot project. If the people's response shows us that such a library fills a need, we may work to build a new structure to serve as a library. The lack of availability of reading materials here is striking. It seems that most houses and classrooms contain no books, magazines or newspapers.

I am adjusting to life here day by day. Most of the time I live in the fog of partial understanding due to language and cultural issues, new jobs, etc. There are plenty of opportunities to learn.

A typical day begins for me at 5:30 when I get up about the same time as the sun, tie up the mosquito net, take a cold sponge bath and prepare for the day. Mass in Lingala begins at 6:30 at the big parish church next to the mission. At 7:00, the sisters and I eat bread buns with jam and drink tea with milk for breakfast. By 7:30 most of us are on our way to the apostolate/work. For me, that means teaching English at the high school, teaching music and English at the nursery school or working on the VOICA projects.

At 1:00 we have lunch prepared by Papa Joseph on the wood stove. We eat rice, potatoes, beans, cabbage, squash, eggplant, polenta, pasta, and sometimes meat or fish. The conversation is mostly French and Italian with some Lingala and English mixed in. We have passion fruit, bananas, avocados and mandarin oranges for dessert. Try mixing lemon juice with mashed avocado, banana and sugar. You'll find it a bit like ice cream☺

After lunch, some of us take a short break before starting our afternoon work. For me the afternoons usually consist of preparing lessons, developing curriculum or working on VOICA projects. At about 6:00 it gets dark and the sisters have prayer. Sometimes I join them. At 7:15 we have soup, plus food similar to what we had for lunch, for dinner. We do the dishes and enjoy the electricity produced by the big generator by using our computers, watching satellite TV in French or videos in Italian. Sometimes, I get some guitar or flute playing in instead. The electricity goes out about 9:30 and it's time to let down the mosquito net and crawl under the covers.

Apparently, I have some learning to do as far as avoiding mosquitos goes. A week ago, I tested positive for malaria and started the treatment for it. My symptoms have been very mild, a bit of fever and headache. I'm glad we caught it early and hope that the treatment does the trick.

Last Saturday, September 15, the Aru community celebrated fifty years of Canossian missions in Congo. It was quite a party despite the pouring rain. Mass began at 9:30 a.m. and ended at 12:00 noon, but we just stayed in the church and sang and danced until 1:00p.m. to avoid getting soaked. It seems that singing and dancing are some of the highlights of Congolese culture. Drums are used a lot and the people often break into three and four-part harmony even at daily Mass. The high school students sing the Congolese national anthem in harmony, too. It's delightful.

I've had a couple of adventure-filled treks across the African countryside lately. In many places, the scenery is marvelously picturesque with green fields of rice, sweet potatoes, peanuts, corn and manioc, palm and banana trees, thatched-roof huts, goats, chickens . The roads range from well-graded and drained dirt roads (on the way to the gold mine) to slippery, pot-holed, flooded roads (on the way to the mission in Ariwara) to single track and grass cover "roads" (on the way to where to cows graze). I really admire our chauffeur. Everyone consistently prays together at the beginning of each journey. I think this is reflective of both the condition of the roads and the people's faith in God.

The internet connection at the convent has been down for about three weeks. I have been able to connect at the internet center across town. I'll try to check my e-mail about once a week.I have tried sending some text messages without much luck. I'll keep trying.

Thank you all for your prayers. I know that they have helped me be at peace as I begin my life here.

You remain in my prayers.


Saturday, September 8, 2007

More from Congo

Mbote Everyone!

You are in my thoughts and prayers.

One of the boxes of books I sent in May has arrived! We are hopeful that the others will show up soon. Many thanks to everyone who has helped with that project. Since the students don’t have text books or reference books for classes, it seems to be common practice for the teachers here to copy extracts of texts from tattered, often outdated books onto the board for the students to copy in their notebooks, thereby creating their own “textbooks”. Books are treasured here. Merci beaucoup!

I am beginning to settle in to my new surroundings, new relationships and new routines. The weather has been cool and wet. The scenery is hilly, lush and beautiful. Fruit trees and thatched-roof huts dot the landscape. When the night is clear, the stars are brilliant. The Sisters are taking good care of me, and I’ve started to meet some of the local people.

I started teaching on Wednesday. This school year I will be teaching fourth, fifth and sixth year English at the girls’ “lycee” for humanities and pedagogy. (This is the roughly the equivalent of Sophomore, Junior and Senior years of high school in the U.S.). I will probably have about forty students in fourth year and twenty each in fifth and sixth year. I am delighted at the “small” class sizes and by the students who are eager to learn. I will also probably spend some time doing music and a bit of English instruction at the preschool. Maybe I can send pictures of that. The three, four and five year olds there are precious!

We’ve decided to keep my teaching load light at the lycee, twelve class hours per week, so that I can assist in the development of some VOICA projects including the completion of construction and the furnishing of the volunteer house, establishing the bakery and coordinating plans for starting the “cyber café”. Another VOICA project in progress is a “modern” farm for the production of milk and eggs. We also hope to be able to build a library in conjunction with the computer center. I don’t think that I’ll be bored during my time here.

I will do my best to keep in touch with you via our slow, but existent internet connection during the hours we have electrical current from the big generator (6:00-9:30 p.m.). For now, I can read your e-mail, but can’t respond because pop up are blocked on the convent’s computer, and the computer sees my e-mail response window as a pop up. Sorry! I will respond when I’m able. I do appreciate your e-mails.

I also have a cell phone. The number is supposed to be (from the States): 011-243-081-7477103. I don’t have a voice mailbox, so the phone needs to be on for me to receive messages. For this next week or so I will try to leave my phone on from 6:00 to 9:00 in the evening here, which is 10:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. Colorado time. If you’d like to send a message, you could try then. We’ll see if it works. I think text messages are about 20 cents. I don’t know about calls from the States to Congo/Uganda. From me to you, it costs about 50 cents a minute. I will also give you the convent numbers, just in case you ever need them. Convent cell: 011-243-812006925 Convent fax: 011-871-762838949.

Some of you have asked for the mailing address. The Sisters mail goes to Arua, Uganda, and they pick it up there. Here’s the address:

Patricia Pipkin
c/o Canossian Sisters
P.O. Box 218
Arua, Uganda

They tell me the mail usually gets through eventually

Oh, another practical note: Since the internet connection is slow, please don’t send photo files for now. As much as I would like to see them, photos might take an eternity to download. I also would like to post some pictures here, but for now my words will have to suffice.

Thank you for all of your prayers and support!



Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Africa at Last

Bon Jour from Aru, Congo!

I hope that you are all well. I arrived in Aru on Saturday after a smooth, but very long trip from Rome via Nairobi and Kampala. I received a warm welcome including singing and drumming. The sisters have been very kind. Aru is very rural, immediately this side of the Congo-Uganda border. It is green and beautiful. The weather has been cool and wet.

On Sunday, I had the opportunity to go to the Ariwara for the fiftieth anniversary celebration of the Canossian Community their. They had a grand party after a Mass filled with singing and dancing.

I will start teaching English tomorrow at the girls high school. I will also be helping with the volunteer house and other projects. It is dinner time, so I must go. I try to send more information soon.

Thank you for your prayers.


Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Two-Day Delay

Hi again, everybody!

Thank you for your prayers and good wishes. I wanted to let you know that I'll be in Rome for two more days. After leaving for the airport at 4:30 this morning, we returned at 6:30 because our flight was indefinitely delayed and we would have missed our connection in Brussels. We thought it would be better to wait in Rome than in Brussels. The next flight to Kampala is on Friday, same time. Anyway, my bags are packed and I'm ready to go. I get to go to an audience with the Pope this morning.


Off to Africa

Our Favorite Ice Cream Place

The Street Market in Trastevere

Sending Off Mass

Sending Off Mass

Goodbye Rome!

Hello Everybody!

I hope that you are all well, looking forward to the Fall, the new school year and other new adventures.

This will be my last posting before I depart for Africa early tomorrow morning. We volunteers have been wrapping up formation in the last couple of weeks and making final preparations for our departures. Last night we had a “sending off” Mass with the Sisters followed by a celebration. We read our prayer of commitment (posted below), lead the music and receive our mission crosses from the Mother General of the Canossians. It was a meaningful way to bring closure to our summer of formation.

On Wednesday, Sr. Salomé and I will take the 6:30 flight from Rome to Brussels, and then fly from Brussels to Kampala, Uganda. We should arrive at 10:00 p.m. and be met by some Canossian Sister there who will host us for the night. The following day, or maybe the day after, we will fly to Arua, Uganda, by light plane where some Sisters from Aru will pick us up to cross the border into Congo by car. Madre Tina the provincial head will not be traveling with Salome and me as she had planned, but will arrive a couple of weeks after we do.

I will do my best to post a blog update soon after my arrival in Congo. There is internet/e-mail access at the mission site albeit intermittent and unreliable. I will also have a cell phone. The plan is to buy an African SIM card in Kampala. Then I can post the number on my blog. Former volunteers have told me that calling from Africa to the States is expensive, calling from the States to Africa is less so, and text messaging is relatively cheap. I’ll have to experiment a little bit when I get there. I will also post a mailing address on my blog after discussing with the Sisters the logistics and reliability of the mailing system.

The Canossians will celebrate fifty years of missionary service in Congo this September 15. I hear we’re in for a big party. Hopefully, I can post pictures.

Thank you all for you accompanying me in this journey of mission, for your encouragement and your prayers.

Hasta Africa,


Our Lord God, with great gratitude for your abundant gifts to us, we offer ourselves to You as we go to mission:

We promise to remain in You, through prayer, meditation and constant openness to your loving Presence in our lives.

Prayer of Promise

We promise to allow You to form us through reflection on Scripture, through spiritual direction and through reflecting on experiences in mission with spiritual eyes.

We promise to love one another in our communities, living out our vision for mission together, in simplicity and solidarity with the local people.

We promise to faithfully serve others following the example of St. Magdalene of Canossa and St. Josephine Bakhita using all the gifts of mind, body and spirit that You have given us.

We promise to be your friends by doing what you have commanded us to do.

That we may have the strength, courage, wisdom and faithfulness to fulfill these promises,

St. Magdalene of Canossia, pray for us.
St. Josephine Bakhita, pray for us.
St. Francis of Assisi, pray for us.
St. Anthony, pray for us.
St. Therese of the Little Flower, pray for us.
Our Mother at the Foot of the Cross, pray for us.
All Saints in heaven, pray for us.

And we ask all of you here present to pray for us today and throughout our time in mission.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

August Update

Harvesting Figs

Our Afternoon at Lake Albano

Mary and Ilaria Making Pesto

Ordering Food at the "Rustic" restaurant
Hello, Everybody!

I hope that you are enjoying these last days of summer. You are often in my thoughts and prayers.

August has brought a somewhat more relaxed formation schedule. The volunteers had a four-day break at the end of July/beginning of August. Mary and I took advantage of the time to go to Loreto and Ancona (on the Adriatic Coast). It was a delightful get away. Loreto, especially impressed me as a peaceful, spirit-filled place. This is where the house of the Blessed Virgin Mary was brought from Nazareth, by angels, as legend has it.

After our break, we restarted formation sessions with just the four VOICA volunteers and Sr. Pat. We have been focusing on spirituality, community living and some of the nitty gritty details of living at the mission sites. Sr. Pat usually leads the sessions, but the volunteers also make presentations to the group on mission-related topics of their own choice. I did one on promoting understanding in multi-lingual settings, and this week I will do another on leading singing in a group. Mary and Lucy have given presentations on first aid and how to stay healthy in mission.

Some VOICA volunteers have spent a few days with us this month as they return from mission, or just come to visit. It is good to talk with them about their experiences, joys and trials.

Last weekend Sr. Pat and the volunteer community took an afternoon trip to Lake Albano just outside Rome. This is where the Pope spends some of his summer. We spent some time at the lakeside and then went out to dinner at a restaurant that serves “rustic” Italian cuisine: fresh bread, smoked ham, salami, cheese, dried tomatoes, artichokes and olives. You order at the counter and then put everything in the middle of the table and dig in.

I’ve been savoring my last month in Italy by doing some especially Italian things. Ilaria has shown me how to properly cook pasta. (She couldn’t bear to see the way I had been mistreating it:-).) She also taught Mary and me how to make fresh pesto from the basil from the Sisters’ garden, pine nuts from the trees on our grounds and parmesan cheese from the cheese seller at the market. We also harvested figs from the trees on our grounds. Fresh figs are delicious! I don’t think I had ever had them before (just dried figs and fig newtons). And, of course, I have been relishing the fresh made gelato while I can.

If all goes as planned, I will be in Africa in ten days. I am eager to go in many ways, curious to know what awaits me and ready to begin my work. Sometimes I am nervous about how I will adjust to the new culture, languages, people and work. God knows. The other three volunteers leave September 3 for Togo and Timor. I will miss them. Please keep us all in your prayers.

Thank you for your presence in my life!



Friday, July 27, 2007

Getty Ready for Congo

Our Day in Assisi

Some of the Sisters at International Night

Sr. Pat and I in St. Peter's Basilica

Sr. Salome and I

Bon jour!

I hope that you are all enjoying the summer. You are often in my thoughts and prayers.

My life in Rome continues to be full. Missionary month ended on Tuesday with a Mass in the catacombs of St. Peter’s basilica in front of the tomb of St. Peter. Last Saturday we celebrated “international night” with singing and dancing from the home countries of many of the Canossian sisters. Mary and I put together a slide show of some beautiful places in the United States and sung and played “America the Beautiful” as we presented it. Sharing the last month with sisters from so many diverse places was a blessing.

Two weeks ago, we four volunteers spent a Sunday in Assisi. What a beautiful place! St. Francis has always inspired me, so visiting his hometown was especially meaningful.

Beginning tomorrow we have a four-day break from formation sessions. Mary and I plan to go to Ancona and Loreto for a couple of days. It will be about a four-hour trip by train to the Adriatic coast northeast of Rome. I’m looking forward to a change of pace and some beautiful scenery.

Today I found out that my plane ticket to Congo has been purchased. I will be traveling with Sister Salomé, the Congolese sister who has been tutoring me in French and Madre Tina, an Italian sister who is the superior of the community in Aru. We should depart August 29, to fly through Brussels to Kampala, Uganda, where we will spend the night with the Canossian community there. The following day we will take a small plane to Arua, Uganda. We will be picked up there to go by car across the border to Aru, Congo.

Salomé has been answering my cultural questions about Congo along with my French questions. She has told me about celebrations of Mass filled with songs in four different languages (Lingala, Ki-Swahili, French and the local tribal language) and much dancing. She has told me that many outsiders are shocked by the material poverty they encounter there, and that the war has left the educational system and infrastructure in disarray. Salomé is eager to see her family whom she hasn’t seen in seven years.

The plan is that I live in the convent with the community of Canossian sisters until December when at least one more volunteer should arrive. The construction of a house for volunteers just across the road from the convent will be started by a short-term VOICA group in August. When construction is finished, the volunteers will move in there. Yesterday, a shipping container was packed at a port in northern Italy to be sent to Congo. It contains an industrial-size oven to begin a bakery, about twenty used computers to start a computer lab/cyber café and the solar panels for the volunteer house, among other things. We hope that it arrives without problems. I’m still awaiting word about the books I sent to Congo in May with your help.

I am excited about my upcoming departure, and I am hopeful that VOICA’s presence in Aru, will be a light to the people there. I am beginning to realize how distant I will be from what is familiar to me, from my own culture, from conveniences, from all of you. I will be living with Italians and Africans and using languages I don’t know well. It should be a great opportunity for learning detachment, openness and simplicity.

Please pray that I be filled with the Holy Spirit as I make my way to mission, for wisdom to prepare well. Keep praying for my facility in learning French, too. Salomé will be on pilgrimage for four weeks in Poland, and the French institute doesn’t have classes available at my level, so I’ll be studying on my own and watching lots of movies.

Peace to all of you!


Monday, July 2, 2007

Formation So Far

Angel at St. Mary of the Angels Basilica

Dinner on the terrace with Sr. Pat and Maristella, long-term volunteer to Togo

Sisters waiting for the bus at the end of our street

Me at the Coliseum

My Vantage Point, Mass at St. Peter's

Buon giurno!

I’m settling into life in Rome as I relish all that I’m learning. A typical day begins with Mass at 7:00 a.m. followed by breakfast and sweeping and weeding the garden. About 9:00 or 9:30 we have a lecture or presentation that lasts two or three hours. At one o’clock we have lunch at the convent with the sisters followed by siesta time (when we do language study, update blogs, etc.). Around 4:00 in the afternoon another session begins and may go until dinner time at 7:00. The VOICA volunteers cook their own dinner to eat around 7:30. After dinner we have a group prayer and then we’re free until bedtime. Sundays are free.

“Missionary Month” began last Monday and will continue through July 24. About twenty Canossian Sisters from Italy, East Timor, Congo, India, Hong Kong, Singapore, Argentina, Poland, the United States, the Philipines, Brazil, Sao Tomè and Angola are participating along with the VOICA volunteers. Nearly all of us are soon bound for mission.

After an introduction to Missionary Month and an address given by the Mother General of the Canossians, we spent three days “Walking in the Footsteps of the Martyrs”. In the spirit of a pilgrimage, we visited sites in and around Rome as we remembered the early Christians who lived, struggled and died there. These sites included: The Basilica of St. Paul, St. Paul at the Three Fountains, the Catacombs of St. Callisto, the Basilica of St. Prassede, the Basilica of St. Clement, the Coliseum, the Mamertine Prison (where Peter was imprisoned and converted his fellow prisoners and the prison guards) and St. Peter’s Basilica.

The visit to St. Peter’s Basilica was especially memorable because we were able to attend Mass celebrated by the Pope on the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul. This feast is also the day when new cardinals are commissioned. St. Peter’s was full of people from all over the world. It was a joy to get a sense of unity in the world at least for a moment.

Now we are going to stay “home” for a while. The upcoming topics for formation sessions include: anthropology of mission, Marian anthropology, mission in Scripture, the theology of mission explored in the documents of the Church, paths of evangelization on different continents, new models of mission, Mary and the Canossian charism and personal sharing of mission experience. One thought that struck me from today's session was this: Perhaps the "poor" of the world are the only ones who can show us the way from competition to cooperation, from pride to humility, from death into life.

The Sisters impress me with their kindness, intelligence, openness, education and lightness of heart. Rome impresses me with its antiquity, art, great green parks and as a center of Christianity. I am learning a bit of Italian from listening at Mass and to others conversations. I try to study French in a more formal way. Please pray that I have open ears, a quick memory and an agile tongue as I learn language. Two months seems very short for becoming proficient even just in French.

I am delighted to be here and feel that the Canossian charism and the VOICA program are a good fit for me. I still miss you all, though, and keep you in my thoughts and prayers everyday.



Sunday, June 17, 2007

Greetings from Rome!

Taken on the terrace outside our room at the VOICA house

Picnic in Y'voire with Therese and Paul

Ilaria, Lucy, Diggy and Mary in St. Peter's Square

Convent of the Daughters of Charity of Canossa

Diggy, Sr. Lisa, Ilaria, Sr. Pat, Mary and Lucy after one of our sessions

Statue of St. Magdalene of Canossia, Foundress of the Daughters and Sons of Charity of Canossa

View near the Canossian Institute at night

Dear Family and Friends,

I am thrilled to be at this first stop of my mission journey: Rome. Overall, my trip here went smoothly after recovering my passport which was accidentally given to another passenger at check-in, and being bumped to a Lufthansa flight and routed through Frankfurt rather than an Air Canada flight via Montreal. I arrived in Paris June 7 (with my guitar, but minus my checked bag), and got on TGV train to Lyon where I spent two days resting and exploring.

The evening of June 9, I began my stay with Thérèse and Paul, wonderful models of French hospitality. The following day we picnicked on the shore of Lake Leman by the medieval village of Y’voire and went on to see Evian and other villages in the area. Not sure that they had shown me enough that day, they got up at 5:30 the following morning to show me the town of Chambéry before my bus left from there at 8:30. The bus took me through amazingly long tunnels (Fergus, the longest is 13 kilometers) to Milan where I took a train to Rome where I arrived about 8:30 in the evening. I was met in the train station by Sr. Lisa, the assistant director of VOICA.

Sr. Lisa drove us through the crazy traffic of Rome to what will be my “home” for the next couple months. The Canossian Institute is situated on a hill a couple of kilometers south of the Vatican in full view of the Dome of St. Peter. The walled grounds are filled with grass, parasol pines, walkways lined with tall hedges and birds constantly singing. Across the road is and immense park. It feels like we live in the country, but in the middle of Rome. It takes about twenty minutes to walk to the Vatican. The buildings and land of the institute were donated by a childless countess. What is now the convent used to be servants’ quarters. What used to be the barn is now volunteer housing for VOICA. The buildings are hundreds of years old. They tell us there is even a tunnel from the convent directly to the Vatican (now sealed). I feel like I’m living in a fairy tale . (My lost luggage even arrived by courier the day after I did.)

Three other volunteers will be participating in formation this summer along with me: Mary, a nurse from Minnesota who will spend a year in Togo, Lucy a pediatrician originally from Malaysia, but most recently from Louisiana who will serve for two years in West Timor, and Ilaria, a banker from the north of Italy who will spend a year serving in Togo. Diggy also lives in the VOICA house. She is from the Philippines and served in Papua New Guinea and Togo. She also helps in formation. We began formation sessions on Thursday with Sr. Pat, the director of VOICA who spent sixteen years in Hong Kong teaching before becoming the director of VOICA ten years ago. The language of the formation sessions and the house is English.

In formation sessions we’ve begun to learn about the history and spirituality of the Canossians. June 25 through July 24 is missionary month when sisters and priests from all over the world come to share their mission experiences. In August we will learn more about theology, mission spirituality, culture and working in mission. September 1 is the planned departure date.

I will be going to Aru, Congo, near the Ugandan border where there is a great need for teachers. The Canossian community was established in Congo fifty years ago, but I will be the pioneering lay volunteer going there through VOICA. Sr. Pat says I will be working mostly with Italians, so I may want to learn some Italian along with my French. Mama mia;-0. I plan to spend a lot of time studying.

Today Mary and I attended mass in French at St. Louis church where the French Catholic community of Rome is centered. It happened to be their parish party/concert/gathering for beginning of summer break. I stayed for several hours and met quite a few people who speak French including a man from Acapulco, Mexico, who teaches biblical studies courses in New York and used to live in the St. Louis community in Rome. He introduced my to several other people there.

I love the international and Catholic flavor of Rome. The day after my arrival I attended a Mass and party in honor of Filipino Independence Day! Half of the church was filled with priests and sisters and the other half with diplomats.

My time in Europe so far has been filled with delight, surprises and excitement for what is to come. There are many, many opportunities to learn, grow and prepare here and I am thrilled to have begun.

A bien tôt, hasta pronto, ciao!

Love and prayers,


Thank you!

Dear Family and Friends,

Greetings from Rome! All is well here with me. You are often in my thoughts and prayers.

I am eager to share my experiences of the last ten days with you, but first I want to thank you all for your generous and multi-faceted support as I prepared to depart from Denver. Thank you Ben, Kathy and Kristi for planning and hosting a delightful going away party with my Denver friends (and thank you Kathy for my song). Thank you Uncle John and Aunt Madelyn for hosting my wonderful Grand Junction goodbye party with our family. Thank you St. Dominic Parish for your blessings and financial support. Thank you Tony for letting me store my stuff in your garage and for giving me flowers each time I brought a load. It made my move much more pleasant. Thank you Lydia, José and Doris for your hard work and efficiency in moving my furniture and other stuff in you trucks the Saturday before my departure. Thank you Chuck Murphy and David for making the sale of my house possible. Thank you John for recording my song on short notice. Thank you Mom and Dad agreeing to receive my mail and take care of my affairs while I’m away, for assisting me with my last minute errands, for helping me keep my sanity the day before leaving Denver and for seeing me off at the airport. Thank you Paul and Thérèse for welcoming me to Europe with your wonderful French hospitality.

Thank you all for the many ways you have blessed me with your spiritual, emotional, practical and financial support of my plans and desire for mission. I couldn’t have made it here without you!

It’s amazing how God provided everyone and everything I needed for me to leave. I received an offer on my house June 1, the last day of my novena to St. Joseph, five days before my departure. The inspection was done June 3, and the closing is set for June 28!

Grazie, merci, gracias, thank you!


Thursday, May 31, 2007

Update and Note About Donations to VOICA

Hi Everybody!

I returned Tuesday night from a delightful, four-day stay on the Western Slope. It was wonderful to be with family and enjoy Colorado's beauty.

I've been busy with goodbyes, packing and the many details of making arrangements for my departure. Thank you to everyone who has helped me in doing this. I plan to leave next Wednesday, June 6. My flight will go to Paris via Montreal, Canada. From Paris, I will travel by train to visit the city of Lyon and then spend a couple days with my friends Thérèse and Paul in Annecy before taking the train to Rome on June 11. VOICA formation will begin June 13.

I wanted to let all of you who wrote checks to VOICA, that I am going to carry the checks with me to Rome where they will be deposited. This was what Sr. Pat, the VOICA director, recommended. I'm sorry for the delay and hope it won't upset the balance of your checkbooks. Thank you again for your generosity. Much good can come from your contributions.

I got news yesterday of an offer on my house which should be given to me in writing this afternoon. I pray that all goes smoothly and the house will sell, God willing.

I hope to be in Rome the next time I write.

Peace to all of you,


Monday, May 21, 2007

Books for Kids in Congo

Thanks to all of you who supported the Books for Congo Kids Fund.
We've raised over $2000 to buy and ship books in French to the schools in Aru, Congo. So far, 192 pounds of new and donated books have been shipped to Congo. Thanks especially to the Denver International School and the Alliance Française de Denver for their contributions of books. In June, sixty pounds of educational magazines in French will be sent and over $1000 that I hope can be used to buy books directly in Congo to avoid shipping costs. Merci beaucoup! Here's a picture of some of the new books.

Sunday, May 20, 2007


Here are some pictures from goodbye get togethers. Thank you all for your presence, encouragement and support.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007


I'm trying out this blog format to see how it works.