Friday, July 27, 2007
Our Day in Assisi
Some of the Sisters at International Night
Sr. Pat and I in St. Peter's Basilica
Sr. Salome and I
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
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
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.