Don Bosco Today Autumn 2000
Working with the young - Trust the Road
Don't organise my tears!
Lucy Goes to School
Reflecting on an African Journey
I HAVE A DREAM
Fr. Herbert Douglas RIP
Fr Edward Fogarty RIP
In this edition 'Don Bosco Today' we consider the theme of journeying with the young. For those inspired by the vision of Don Bosco it is important to be with young people. True education demands presence, it cannot work by distancing oneself from young people. Working with young people implies that education is a two-way process, a journeying with people to teach them and to learn from them. The gospel image of the journey of Christ with the disciples on the Emaus Road serves as our inspiration; we listen, we learn, we recognise, we celebrate together.
In the first article Fr David O'Malley looks at the way we can work with young people in groups. Fr Gerry O'Shaughnessy uses his experience of travelling in Liberia to reflect on what the young can do for us. He also reminds us to form our own opinions about them, instead of being conditioned by the way the media so often displays young people. Fr Tony Frain describes the way young people today can benefit from the experience of pilgrimage. Mrs Joan Rankin considers the need to accompany those who are in prison, reflecting on the great significance of Don Bosco's work with prisoners. Sister X describes how young people in Africa journey great distances to receive an education.
Let me challenge you to a little test. When you first look at the picture on page four, what is your immediate reaction? Do you notice the litter on the ground or the smile on the face? Journeying with the young is never a tidy business, as any parent of a teenager knows, but the smile makes the journey worthwhile.
Finally you will be delighted to know that Brother Michael Grix is recovering from the radiation treatment he received at Christies' Hospital in Manchester. He would like to express again his gratitude to all who remembered him in their prayers and expressed their concern through the many letters and cards he received.
Fr Tony Bailey SDB
Working with the young, trust the Road
A man went into his garden to plant a tree. He dug a hole, arranged the tree carefully in the hole, fed the roots and put the soil back, treading it down carefully. Finally he banged an old stake in beside the tree to support it and watered the tree for the next few weeks as instructed. Then he waited. The tree died and the old stake grew into a fabulous tree.
In travelling with the young surprises like that often come your way. You think you are going in one direction and suddenly realise that you have arrived somewhere completely different. For example: you might start a project to raise money for a school minibus. You decide to run a race-night where the young people organise and present the whole evening. The experience of leading the evening builds the confidence of the young people who ask you to help them form a drama group. The journey from a minibus fund-raising to a drama group could not have been predicted. The group journey has a logic and wisdom that emerges in the experience. Trusting the journey is part of the challenge of working with the young.
"Like a circle in a spiral, like a wheel within a wheel", words of an old song that capture something of the complexity of travelling with the young. As adults we need to be aware of the complexity of threads of life and spirit that weave their way through young journeys. Every young person makes a journey as an individual and as a member of a group. The experience may be the same for everyone in the group but it's significance could be very different. I remember sitting in a cinema with two other Salesians. I thought the film was good but not amazing. The Salesian next to me was in tears at the end of the film, and the other Salesian had fallen asleep with boredom! Same film but experienced differently. In planning projects with young people we need to realise that they will not all love what we have done. Some of the threads of life and spirit that emerge may well surprise us. One of the greatest gifts we can ask for is the ability to recognise the circles and spirals of God's spirit moving in young lives. So the journey goes from fund raising or drama groups to a deeper level that may surprise us..
From the beginning Don Bosco was keen to draw young people together and share his work them. He began with group sports or drama or music, things that drew young people into relationships that were safe and where a concerned adult could be involved. The presence of an adult was vital to "shepherd" the group towards life and away from danger: Towards using gifts for mutual support and away from teasing and destructive behaviour. The role of the leader is vital. Sometimes they can let the group move along and explore new experiences. At other times they need to give them a compass or offer them a chance to map where they are and where they have been. Reading the map of the group and it's journey is a skill we need to keep practising. It is in the group experience that we can help to uncover the presence of God in young lives.
Bringing young people together is essential to a Salesian approach to education and youth-work. It is in relationships where the mystery of God emerges most clearly. For young people the group is the place where they claim their gifts and have them tested. It is the place that forgives, accepts, and challenges them to be more than they are. It is the place that builds a sense of belonging, allowing them to see God's face in those around them. It is holy ground. Each group experience is therefore a pilgrimage journey in which the group come together and share some activity and the move on. They may get out of the minibus at precisely the same spot they got into it before the experience, but they have moved on. They are not the same people. They have changed and, we hope, changed for the good. The journey is not a circle but a spiral taking each person through an experience to new depths of knowledge, knowing themselves, knowing others, knowing God.
A Leader's map
The map for this group journey has been well plotted and is definitely spiral. It was known for many years before being written down by Bruce Tuckman in 1970. It helps us, as adult leaders, to stay focussed on the opportunities and dangers we might meet in travelling with the young. Tuckman simply said that each group spirals through a journey in five stages.
Forming Storming Norming Performing Ending
Each stage tends to unfold in the order he describes. For each stage there is a task. The mood will change and the unity of the group may be quite different at different times. This pattern will apply to young people, but all groups will tend to slip into this pattern. Senior management teams, parish youth teams, and religious communities cannot escape this spiral of growth and challenge.
People are together for the first time and there will be some uncertainty. a key question for each individual is "What am I getting into here?" Other questions may be. "Will people like me? Can I do what I may be asked? Will I be embarrassed?" Some will meet this stage by being pushy, others by withdrawing. Most will have some sort of hope that it will be good for them or they would not be there. The job of the leader at this stage is to build up the confidence of the group and include everyone, reassure and create a safe place for young people to be themselves. For some groups this is the longest and most important stage of the process and they look to the leader to guide the group clearly.
As the group settles in to what it is supposed to be doing the focus moves from uncertainty and reassurance to competition. As they share ideas and plans the underlying journey is more about needing their ideas to be heard, admired and accepted. The group is a place where they can try out their gifts and test them against others. A group member may feel they are good at table tennis or drama or music but until they have been tested and approved by the group they may be slow to claim that gift and use it for others. They may also battle for leadership in ideas, or plans or action. At this stage the leader may be totally ignored as the group argues or makes and breaks rules made earlier. The supposed purpose of the group goes out of the window and the leader may begin to give up hope of achieving anything. The good news is that this stage is the richest in learning and growth, especially if the leader can see beneath the surface and help to clarify the issues. The bad news is that this stage can last a long time.
Eventually the group gets to a stable point where they agree that things will work in a particular way. For instance a group may agree that one member needs to come up with the ideas. The rest will do the practical things to make some of those ideas work. Ideally they should get to the point where they can tell that person to shut up without having a major disagreement. They will recognise that some people need to be active. Others need to be invited to speak and some are happy being together and don't need to do anything. This kind of group will feel safe and will ask the leader's advice when they need it. The leader is now just part of the group. Each individual has been recognised as significant and the group is moving towards optimum activity.
Because relationships are now clearer the job of the group can be done more quickly, with more energy and unity. The school play, the parish disco or confirmation group will suddenly seem to click. Everyone is doing their part in a common plan. The leader is a vital resource in keeping the plans real and connecting them to others beyond the group. There is an air of affection and belonging, a growing sense of achievement and celebration. The group is tightly knit in doing what it set out to do.
Some groups have a specific life span and end with an event such as a play, a jumble-sale, or a confirmation. The ending is as important as any other stage. Some opportunity needs to be made to look back at the journey the group have made. They need to recognise the struggle, the fun, the learning and celebrate what has been achieved. The play may have been a flop or the fund-raiser may have been a fund loser. But there will have been some growth and change that is worth naming and celebrating. That event confirms the learning made on a common journey and allows the young people to explore new groups and journeys in the future.
Other groups may come to an end because the job has changed. The group that has moved into the ending stage can often feel it to be a sad experience. Pressures from outside start to undermine the group commitment. A sense of hostility can be directed towards the adult leader. The group becomes apathetic and nostalgic, "It's not like it was when we had Peter or Jane in the group" The group disintegrates into cliques and it is time to end. The leader at this stage needs to become the undertaker for the group and see it laid to rest with respect and gratitude for what it has done. The group is now free for new challenges. That is hard on the leader. They may have agreed to run a drama group or a youth group for two years and it may have come to a natural end after six weeks. The danger for us, as adults, is that we begin to pressurise young people into staying together because we want to say that we have succeeded in setting up a youth group or a drama group.
The truth is that in working with young people we are always beginning and ending. The purpose of a youth group can often be achieved in six to ten weeks after which a new group or challenge needs to be found. This does not necessarily fit well with the longer term planning of schools and parishes which look years ahead and may be accustomed to adult models of working with people. Young people's journeys are more urgent and more quickly completed. They need more variety and new challenges on their journey to maturity and faith.
As youth-workers we are called to journey with them through those dizzy spirals of experience and learning. We need to be both midwives and undertakers of the group experience. We need to be map-readers and compass holders as the group plots its course to deeper awareness. We need to be young with the young but mature enough to stand back from their journey and see where they are going.
On this journey there are no short cuts. No taxi to pick you up. Each twist and turn in the group journey has its reasons and an inner wisdom. The challenge for us, as leaders, is to read the road and help the young to grow through each stage. Then each young person will arrive at the end and be in a new place. They will feel more confident, wiser, aware of their strengths and weaknesses. They have met God in the relationships they have shared in the group. "Did not our hearts burn within us as we talked on the road" Those words from the Emmaus story could be said at the end of the group journey. Maybe their hearts burnt with embarrassment or anger or belonging or exhilaration. In all those cases Salesians believe they have been walking with God and therefore we can trust the road whatever surprises that road might hold.
Don't Organise My TearsDON'T ORGANISE MY TEARS is a collection of 24 reflections on bereavement. The title may not appear to be an invitation; but surprisingly enough it is an invitation to get involved in the grief of others. Not in any interfering way, but by sympathy and compassion.
The verses in this small book express my involvement in the grief I witnessed in the lives of others. All grief is unique, we cannot know what others suffer. However I found that when I attempted to express in verse my grief in seeing others grieve it helped me cope. It is in the hope that they may be of help to others that these verses are published.
Each reflection is matched by an illustration. Some are in colour, others in monochrome. All, I feel, help reflection. I am so grateful to Mavis Bates for agreeing to illustrate these pages. I feel her delicate and sensitive interpretations are so much more than illustrations. Her most original 'take' on each verse serves as an encouragement to the reader to explore the subtle body language of grief, and help us translate the words which so often awkwardly but painfully express need.
The final verse "Perceive new colours" is written in the hope that if we learn compassion for others we may help to bring new colour into their lives and our own.
Fr Anthony Bailey SDB, Author
I would see this small book serving many purposes,
As a help to those who would want to discuss bereavement with young people. These reflections were written when I was teaching. Eight of these reflections are concerned with the effect of grief on the lives of the young. I found that attending funerals of the parents, or pupils themselves, was always a very moving experience; writing verses seemed the only way I could cope with the weight of bereavement.
As a gift to someone who is feeling the loneliness of bereavement. These reflections explore the uncomfortable feelings of grief, which can frighten us.
As a help to all of us when we want to be with those who mourn.
Available from Don Bosco Publications
Price £ 9.25 + (p and p 75 pence inland only)
Don't Organise My Tears
Don't organise my tears for me.
Don't tell me when to cry.
Don't tell me how it's hurting me.
Don't orchestrate my sighs.
My grief is confidential,
A secret known to me.
Don't torture me with kindness
To prise this secret free.
You cannot see inside of me,
Can't measure me for pain
Stop telling me how hurt I'll be,
You diagnose in vain.
By all means stand the side of me,
I need someone who's near
Don't walk away, no words to say.
Your message is quite clear.
Be patient with this side of me,
Not gracious in my grief!
You've seen some better days with me,
Time now to grit your teeth.
Don't hesitate to smile with me,
All moments are not sad.
Revive a few fond memories
Of better times we've had.
You know grief makes a fool of me,
So humour me awhile.
Be patient with the fool you see,
I'll tolerate your smile.
And if you have to cry with me
You won't offend my tears
Our confluence of tears can be
The union of our fears.
Lucy Goes to School
It's first day at school for Lucy. She is a slight young girl, a bit nervous as she looks around this strange new place. Mum and Dad have come with her. They struggle to balance the tin trunk on their rusty old bike. I welcome them. They stop and look up at me shyly. They smile as they mop the sweat from their foreheads. The six-hour journey across country from the village is over. Finally they proudly push their daughter forward. She has arrived to start school at Don Bosco's Secondary School for Girls. She is their pride and joy. She is one of the lucky ones who have made it. Many girls, just as clever, do not continue studies after Primary School. The reasons are varied but the usual one is poverty. If a family has to choose between a girl and boy to continue schooling, it will be the boy, even if the girl has more brains and more desire to study. This is how it goes in Kenya and many other African countries.
As I look at Lucy's parents I can read on their lined weather-beaten faces the hard life they live. They work a piece of land, they tell me - their 'shamba' - with the produce from that and contributions from older brothers and sisters, they hope to be able to afford Lucy's education. They proudly tell me that she is the first in their family to go to secondary school, no wonder they are so very proud of her. I am amazed that these good people survive, let alone manage to educate their daughter. Many parents, like Lucy's, undertake great sacrifices to help their children, in spite of the failing economy in Kenya. The multinationals and local big-shots who monopolise the coffee and tea markets etc. are making it almost impossible for ordinary people to make an honest living.
Our secondary school is in a place called Embu. a beautiful village with a lovely view of Mount Kenya. The climate is pleasant - on the dry side but that suits me. However if the rains do not come on time or are not abundant enough, we face a year of poor crops and even drought. For us the rains have just begun and we are praying it will be a good year as so many people are dependent on what they can grow in their small patch of land. I never cease to wonder at their ability to survive with so little, and at the same time to be so happy!
Fortunately there are some projects which help needy students, like 'Plan International', but life gets tough for us when almost all the students are truly needy! A number of our girls are helped by the projects and others are sponsored by our families and friends. Education is the best means for helping the girls to have a better future, and to be able to help their families, and eventually contribute to raising the standard of living in the country. You can imagine how hard it is when we have to turn girls away because the money has run out. It is really heart-breaking!
Perhaps at this point I had better explain something of the educational system here in Kenya. There are 8 years of Primary School, followed by 4 years of Secondary. Good results can lead directly to a place in University - again if one has the means to pay for it. Most of the Secondary Schools in the country are Boarding Schools and this is very much favoured by the majority of the population. One reason for Boarding Schools is to mix up the tribes by spreading people all over the country. This does lead to greater national unity. Also the usual small houses or huts that people live in, are not conducive to study, they lack the basic facilities, such a slighting. Boarding School covers all these needs and encourages a serious attitude towards studies. Even we have problems with the lighting. At least twice a week the electricity supply is cut off and we use paraffin lamps and candles. You can imagine what it is like studying by paraffin lamps! A generator would be the answer but at 10,000 pounds it is out of the question at the moment.
Boarding School can be very demanding on us Sisters in the sense that we live and work together 24 hours a day - but the advantages far outweigh the disadvantages. In our Salesian tradition we love to be among the young people as much as possible, so that confidence and mutual trust grow and we are able to help the girls develop in every way. Just recently I met some past students and they were saying how much they appreciated our form of education. We do not over-stress the academic side of life only but encourage the girls to grow into mature young women. By respecting their dignity, their rights and responsibilities, they become more socially and politically aware. A deep Christian spirituality helps them keep to the right path.
As we Sisters consider education the best way to help the girls we do our best to keep the fees as low as possible. In this way we make quality education available to poorer young girls who are eager to study and have the intelligence but lack money. Our criteria for choosing new students may seem strange. We look first at the age (girls try to get to school even when they are over 20) because for our system to work well, it is better if the girls are still young enough to be helped to form their personality. Then we consider the family situation, favouring the poorer ones. They could not afford to go elsewhere but show initiative and want to progress, they are ready to make sacrifices. Only then do we consider the academic standard.
Our fees per year are 15.000 Kenya shillings (about £150). Other Boarding Schools charge much more! We undercut all the schools because we need to reach the poorest and we can do this only because we get help from other sources. There are often times when we do not know where the money will come from to pay the teachers at the end of the month. Then an unexpected gift arrives from some good friend. We say thank you to the generous friend, thank you to God and then live in hope to the next time! In a sense it is very like the early days when Don Bosco and Mary Mazzarello did not know where the next meal would come from, but something always turned up and they never went hungry and neither do we!
Of course working with so many girls we do have our disappointments, some girls, in spite of all they receive, waste their education, look for fast money and often turn to drink, prostitution, drugs. This can be very discouraging but shows how everyone can use her freedom well or badly - we can only provide the opportunity.
Many of our past students are doing well. Some are teaching, others are in business of various kinds, others are in University. Many are married and trying to bring up their children according to the spirit of Don Bosco. If a girl is fortunate to be offered a place in University she must find £2000 to pay her way. There are government grants but there is interest to pay and depending on the studies undertaken a young woman can find herself burdened with debt for 5 to 10 years!
We have a great community, wonderful, enthusiastic young girls - and plenty of them! We have a spirituality and method of Education, inherited from Don Bosco, which makes sense here, so what more could we want?
Will Lucy manage to complete her Secondary Schooling? We hope so.
Sister Geraldine Reakes FMA, MOTHER MAZZARELLO YOUTH CENTRE, EMBU, KENYA
Should you wish to help the work of the Salesian Sisters in Kenya please send your donations to
Sister Mary Louise Sister Mary Louise Ballard FMA, 281 Jamaica Road, Rotherhithe, London SE16 4RS
Tel: 020 7231 2931
Reflecting on an African Journey
Getting into Liberia is never easy, getting out of Liberia is always difficult. Since the Civil War, the only effective way to get into Liberia is to go through another West African gateway such as Freetown in Sierra Leon or Abidjan, the capital of Ivory Coast. Recently Freetown itself has been terrorised by the spectre of violence and so European airlines refuse to fly there. Therefore, Abidjan, with its mixture of West African and French cultures, is the only effective transit point. From there, it is a two-hour flight to Robertsfield International Airport in Liberia.
When I was leaving Liberia last January, a sudden change of plans found me travelling back to the Ivory Coast by car, instead of by plane. One of the young men from the Don Bosco Football Academy was going home to the Ivory Coast to see his family. Fr Joe Glackin asked me to take him. Would I mind not going by plane and going overland? A two-hour flight translated into a two-day drive over the most difficult, yet exciting, terrain I ever experienced. Even with two breakdowns and an unexpected stopover in Danane, I was so grateful to have experienced this journey and the opportunity it allowed me for reflection.
On our journey, we travelled for miles on ordinary roads that were nothing special. One might even say rather boring. Then our lives are like that, journeying down the predictable roads of daily tasks. However, it is in this very ordinariness, that we face the challenge of trying to come to terms with living as best we can.
Soon however the ordinary gave way to the exciting as we were driven through conditions that you might only dream about. And this was the dry season. Had it been raining, that would have been an entirely more exciting scenario! Wet or dry, I found the experience totally exhilarating: I was with friends, having a good time and seeing parts of West Africa in an entirely different light and from unusual angles. Though the going was tough, we were happy, the company was great. Then we broke down! The gears gave up. Not during the marathon journey through the Liberian bush, but on a beautifully tarred road in Cote D'Iviore. Friendly locals towed us into a garage. The young men with me were concerned that I had enough water, food and made sure that we had a safe place for the night. As the advert for insurance reminded us, "Why make a drama out of a crisis?" I am constantly amazed at the great patience of so many people that I come into contact with in Liberia. In Europe, we live in an age of "instant everything" from food to fun; time is the great god that must be obeyed. As I sat by the dusty road outside Danane, I realised that that no matter what I did, nothing was going to change: I could no more fix a Land Rover gear box than go to the moon. So I sat there reflecting on the difficult times in our own lives, when we have to realise that we cannot do everything despite how important we might feel we are. It is so often in these vulnerable moments that we need the support and help of others, to know that we are not alone. As I left the lads at Abidjan International Airport, I realised that I had to make of the rest of the journey home on my own. On the Sabena Airbus, flying thousands of feet above Africa, surrounded by hundreds of other passengers, I suddenly felt quite vulnerable and lonely.
As followers of Don Bosco we are invited to accompany young people on a journey through an exciting and challenging part of their lives. Our model is that of the Emmaus Road, where Jesus accompanies the distraught disciples away from Jerusalem; he listens carefully to their story and is prepared to share his own story. However, they invited him to sit down at table with them, Jesus does not push or bully his way into their lives. The work of Don Bosco Homes in Liberia follows a similar inspiration; young people are discovering adults who are interested and concerned enough to travel with them. These adults are not trying to use them, as so many were in the height of the war and the unsettled years that followed. Here are adults who genuinely care about these young people were innocent victims of a system of repression and hatred.
What is especially pleasing to see is that there is a reduction in the number of young people needing residential care. Fr Joe Glackin and his staff are keen to integrate them back into their own families. They do not feel that the artificial context of a "HOME", however caring and loving, can be a substitute for own family and village. However, for some, this is not possible, as their parents are refugees or have died. Bro David, a Social Worker for the Homes, is working with many of the young men who are now living on their own. I was privileged to be invited by one of these, Eddie, to see his room in the city centre. From there he took me to his school to meet his principal, teachers and friends. Like so many others, he has a feeling of worth and value.
As a keen student of the media, I am constantly amazed at the stereotyping that seems endemic in the world of TV soaps. This is especially obvious when we come to their presentation of young people. So many young people are presented as "teenagers from hell". We are given the impression that the average young person from London, Manchester or Liverpool is taking drugs, or planning a break-in, or at least having a row at home.
We can do so much for the young people at risk in our world today, much more than just supporting "Children in Need". As concerned and caring people we can stand up for the world of the young, we can perhaps journey with them a little and see what the problems really are and help them to face them.
Fr Gerry O'Shaughnessy.
I HAVE A DREAM
The loneliest journey a man can make is to his execution.
Don Bosco knew this and during the early part of his ministry, under guidance from Fr Cafasso, he was a weekly visitor to the local prison where he would hear Confessions. Some of the condemned men were so stunned at the sentence they had received they were unable to think of anything except their impending death. At these times Don Bosco would keep them company through the night, comfort and calm them, instilling confidence and trust in God. Although Don Bosco formed a great bond with these men he knew he could never stay with them on their final journey to the gallows. A bad experience left him in no doubt about his limitations. As a young priest he had promised a boy that he would accompany him to the gallows, Don Bosco was delayed and when he arrived he found the young man already hanging from the gallows. Don Bosco's eyes clouded over, he staggered and saw nothing more. Instantly Father Cafasso was at his side, and held him up. When Don Bosco recovered consciousness, it was all over. From that day on, Father Cafasso never again asked Don Bosco to be present at an execution.
This story from the life of Don Bosco is no heroic tale but has always been for me a source of consolation and challenge. Consolation since it shows Don Bosco to be a highly sensitive soul who felt deeply the pain of those condemned to death. Challenge because, although Don Bosco took the advice of his mentor, Father Cafasso, and avoided all executions, he continued his prison ministry for several more years. Father Cafasso spent most of his life in prison ministry so much so he was canonised and declared the patron saint of prisons. Don Bosco's life followed a different route, but it is clear from his writings that the experience of his early work in prisons left an indelible mark on his soul. The sight of so many wasted young lives rotting in prisons or being thrown away on the gallows became a compelling motive for his dedication to education. For him education was the only way out of the relentless cycle of petty crime, prison, serious crime, execution. For Don Bosco prison was a hell of man's invention, he wanted to offer young people heaven.
My first experience of prison was certainly hell. While living in Edinburgh I was approached by a work colleague who was a prison visitor. He asked if I would like to come with him on his next visit. Never one to miss a chance of a new experience I did. I was horrified! The smell, the loud clanging of locks, the dark corridors, the frightening claustrophobia, I felt I would never get out. And that was only visiting! I vowed I would never see the inside of a prison again. The memory of that day was a recurring nightmare.
Years later when I came to work with the Salesians I studied the life of Don Bosco. I was so inspired by his total commitment to youth that I began helping in the school youth club. But as I read more about Don Bosco I became aware of his prison ministry. I felt for the young and sensitive priest exposed to the horrors of 19th century prisons which must have been far worse than those that I had seen and been horrified by in Edinburgh. Providentially one Sunday at church someone made an appeal for Chris, a prisoner who had been given a life sentence and who was protesting his innocence. I felt, that with Don Bosco's help, maybe I could at least write to the man to say that my thoughts would be with him. That one contact led me into the murky world of prisons, and my visits to prisons and my from prisoners over the last ten years have led me to feel the sufferings and frustrations of men who have been locked away.
In the United States of America they still have the death penalty. The prisoners on death row really have no hope. I was approached by a reader of 'Don Bosco Today' to write to a prisoner on death row. Once again I thought about the example of Don Bosco and decided to write. Many death row prisoners are deserted by their families when they are sentenced. I do not know how I would bear it if my husband or son were on death row. So the prisoner has only fellow inmates to support him unless there are loyal supporters from outside. Let me tell you about my friend Tom. Our friendship began when I started writing to him in 1997 and now 72 letters later I feel like a sister to him. During that time Tom has told me his life story and about every day he spends on death row. In his letters I have shared his loneliness, his fear, and the institutionalised violence he suffers. I have journeyed with him through the suffering of his losing friends, Pete, John and many others who were executed. The time when a young boy, aged 16, in the next cage, didn't realise he was on death row, he thought he was going home the next day! Those were the boys that Don Bosco saved from the gallows in his day.
Tom has shared with me the sheer horror of his friend Les who was waiting to be killed and then was twice pulled back from the brink of death. The unbearable torture of saying goodbye to family and friends and entering a room to climb on a trolley with straps, needles and deadly fluids. The death row prisoners all have this as a recurring nightmare.
In the years that I have been writing to Tom I have come, in a strange way, to admire and respect him, not only for his amazing insights into humanity but for his unfailing courage and strength in adversity. The first paragraph of his most recent letter gives a taste of his appreciation,
" My dearest Joan,
It is always relieving to hear from you. What I share with you is one way of giving back what is expressed to me. You have been a real true friend to me since I have been here. There has been no other as sincere and loyal as you. Even in your bad times you have always had the time for me. You have shown me love when there is none from nowhere. I think it is important that the world knows about our suffering and neglect here on death row."
In Tom's prison there are 5000 prisoners, with an average educational age of an eight-year-old. Like Tom three quarters of them are African American. Sister Helen Prejan, who was the inspiration for the film 'Dead Men Walking' and with whom I have corresponded, described the death sentence as 'An issue for the poor. From the time you wake in the morning till you go to bed at night there are thousand of signals to show that you are disposable human waste'.
In the last six years nearly 300 death sentences handed out by local judges. Of these 90% were overturned by state judges. Reversals are due to incompetent defence lawyers, police and prosecutors who suppress evidence. 7% were found to be innocent. At the present time there are 3800 people waiting to be killed. This legalised killing has become commonplace in a so-called civilised country. The famous speech of Martin Luther King ("I have a dream") in which he dreamt of freedom now seems even further away especially for people like Tom. I still share that dream that one day our world, for people like Tom and his friends on death row, will be free. That our world will become a place where all people will be treated as human beings.
While I have found many new friends in prison I have lost the friendship of many 'respectable' people, who view my prison-visiting with suspicion. But Jesus, whose friendship I value, said, "When I was in prison you visited me." I often reflect on the wonderful variety of my life, working in 'Don Bosco Publications' one day, writing to prisoners the next. I feel privileged to be able to share in this amazing vision that Don Bosco left us.
An Organisation which works with death row prisoners
27 Old Gloucester London WC1N 3XX
Fr. Herbert Douglas
I knew Fr. Herbert Douglas [Bert to his friends and colleagues,] for 44 years. I knew him, from the lithe, athletic fast bowler who put fear into the First XI, to the frail priest who had to walk with the aid of a stick. I grew to like him, to respect him, to admire him and to revere him, as a man of shining integrity, kindness personified, consideration unbounded, and patience unlimited. Bert was a priest first, last and always, on the altar, in the confessional, in the classroom, in the playground, and in later years among his dear friends in the old folk's homes and the many lonely people he visited especially when his vocation in the classroom ended.
And he was not just a priest but a Salesian priest, and that was something that further defined him. Again I give you the thoughts of one of his past-pupils, "The teacher and priest I first met over 30 years ago was always a source of balanced, religious and hardworking dedication. So quietly insistent, fair, thorough, methodical; that light tone of voice, a Salesian optimism suggesting that we were always learning, that our French would improve. We were taught by a man of great virtue, a gentleman who always encouraged you to become a gentleman like him, a priest with an open ear, who listened to your conversation and shared a gentle and droll sense of humour."
Yet, in all my years of knowing him I cannot recall him speaking unkindly of any of his charges - or of anyone else for that matter. I must confess that I tried sometimes, even if only in a very mild way and half jokingly to try to entice him to say something unkind about someone, specifically or generally, but I never succeeded. He would just smile that quiet and knowing smile, rub the side of his face as he often did, and completely ignore me.
Bert was a man of prayer. Past pupils of the school would approach me on occasion to ask Fr. Douglas to pray for some intention, or for the solution to a problem. I don't think it is any coincidence that, when he was discovered after his death, Bert had his open breviary and rosary beside him on his bed. The spoken word of his sermons was also a joy to hear. And these words were prepared meticulously, just as all his work was. He was an accomplished wordsmith, having honed his skills over many years on the compulsory Daily Telegraph crossword. Delivered in a serene and gentle style, without histrionics, I remember them for their utter sincerity, depth of faith, charity and piety. They were prepared in a simple exercise book; no filofaxes or leather bound folders for Bert, he lived his poverty seriously.
Fr. Douglas was to have celebrated his Golden Jubilee of the Priesthood on July 16th of this year. I know that he was looking forward to the occasion with joy but also with a certain amount of trepidation. Those who knew him well know that he was never one for large gatherings. He found it difficult to attend school functions, and celebrations. He enjoyed the events in themselves but found it hard to handle praise or adulation. He would perform his duty and then slip quietly away, much as he did a few weeks before his jubilee. I am sure he enjoyed the celebrations of his colleagues from his now privileged position, he loved to see people enjoying themselves. But I'm equally sure that he also enjoying his own quieter celebration in heaven in the company of his Master who, recognising fifty years of faithful, generous and joyous service, will have said "Well done, good and faithful Herbert, come and take possession of the Kingdom prepared for you."
Brother Michael Delmer
Fr Edward Fogarty SDB 1918 - 2000
Why does a man, at the age of 19, leave his country and set off for South America to be a missionary? The mystery of vocation, of total commitment to an ideal. Edward Fogarty did precisely that, following in the footsteps of so many Salesian missionaries, he spent his entire life in the service of the poor in various Salesian missions in South America.
His life started in Northern Ireland, born in Ballycastle in 1918 - into a family of nine brothers and a sister. Teddy, as he was known, took his first steps as a missionary when, at the age of 14, he left for England where he entered the junior seminary of the Salesians. At 19 he was professed as a Salesian, and immediately volunteered for the missions of South America. However, his father was strongly opposed to the idea, telling him that going to England was far enough! However, over the months Teddy didn't give up on the idea and finally decided to make a Novena to Don Bosco. On the last day of the Novena he received a letter from his father telling him that if he wanted to be a missionary then he had his parents blessing. Teddy set off for Peru in 1937. It was a long journey in those days, it took a month by boat via the Panama Canal.
His first task was to master Spanish before starting his studies for the Priesthood. One of his companions was the future Rector Major of the Salesians, Fr Vigano. Most of the Missionaries were Italian and Spanish, and with the outbreak of war, the flow of incoming missionaries ceased and his ordination was delayed for two years till 1948.
Teddy began his priestly ministry as a teacher, 26 years in Peru, then 10 years in Ecuador, teaching in various Salesian Schools. Then for the next 27 years he worked in Bolivia, the poorest country in South America, where governments came and went with great frequency. By now he had become a Parish Priest and he threw in his lot with the poor people opposing the repressive regimes. He became their spokesman, so much so his parishioners had to keep watch over him day and night. They were fearful for his safety. He was finally forced into exile for a year returning when a new government took over. He continued his fight for people's rights and as drug-taking became a problem for young people he started his anti-drug campaign.
Four years ago he came to Glasgow to receive the medical care which was not available in Bolivia. It was during this time, when he stayed in our Salesian parish in Glasgow, that I got to know about his life and his work in Bolivia. He was proud tolive the life of the people he loved, accepting their poverty as his poverty. He used to remind me that many of his pupils could only pay for their education in kind, chickens and eggs. I often joked with him asking what a bursar's office in Bolivia might look like, how do you do book-keeping with chickens and eggs. One day I remarked that his suit was a bit tight on him. "That's because I bought it 28 years ago" he replied. While he was waiting for his operation in Glasgow he confided in me that his only worry was whether he would ever get back to Bolivia, "To lay these old bones with the Indians" After his operation he had a short spell in Ballycastle with his sister before returning to Bolivia. Although he had a robust constitution the rigours of a hard life took their toll and he died of a heart attack Saturday 1st July 2000 in Cochebemba, Bolivia, aged 82 years.
The generosity of this great Irish missionary Fr Edward Fogarty SDB will long be remembered by the Indians of Bolivia.