Don Bosco Today - Autumn 2002


  • Editorial
  • Out of the mouths of babes and infants
  • Postscript to Kenya
  • New Books for Autumn 2002
  • Peter, Paul and Sean
  • The Marathon des Sables
  • Sisters pledge non-violence
  • Ivory Coast - Waiting for peace
  • Fr Louis O'Dea SDB 1920 - 2002
  • Fr Neil Murphy SDB 1920 - 2002


    In this edition of Don Bosco Today you will read that the Salesian Sisters, gathered in Rome, have made a strong and urgent statement of their support for peace. Most of the articles in this issue could be regarded as strong and urgent statements for peace. They stress the contribution each of us can make towards world peace, by our own commitment to justice. I am constantly amazed at the generosity of so many people. Let me give you an example. Fr Joe Brown, who is responsible for raising funds for the Salesian missions, told me this story:

    Last year I got a hurried note from the provincial office saying there was an offer from someone to give help to our children in Liberia. I found that a 27 year old German national, working in London, was keen on attempting the world's toughest footrace, across 152 miles of the Sahara, for charity. He had chosen to help the Salesians of Don Bosco in Liberia. When I met Phillip Schwalber, before the event, I asked him how he had come to the decision to help our mission. Was he a past pupil? Did he have a relative who knew of the Salesians in Germany? Had he read a book or magazine about us? None of these! He remembered when, at the age of 17 at school in Germany, he had seen a programme on German Television, describing the work of the Salesians in South America. He wondered if we were doing anything similar in Africa. He logged onto the web and searched for 'Don Bosco'. Up came our Salesian UK website, which describes what we do in Liberia. When he returned from the Sahara, I asked him what it all had meant to him. He replied that it was a 'stunning experience, relaxing, and I met some very nice people. I was at peace with myself. The beauty of the places visited was out of this world.' The total amount given from his sponsors to the Salesians of Don Bosco for Liberia was £15,223.90 (£17,882.48 with Gift Aid)

    Fr Joe Brown has met so many similar cases of generosity. Rather than be depressed at so much bad news in the world, let's rejoice in the good news that there are so many men and women prepared to make a strong and urgent statement of their support for peace by their generosity.

    Fr Anthony Bailey SDB

    Out of the mouths of babes and infants (Psalm 8: 2)

    Out of the mouths...As parents, teachers and youth workers we work hard to pass faith on to young people. We take them to church, teach them to pray, and develop schemes of work adapted to their educational needs. What would happen if the process were reversed? What would happen if we asked young people to teach us adults about their faith and religious experience? What might we learn from the early experience of children?

    Amazingly, religious experience begins very early in life. Researchers in 1977 were surprised to discover that some people were aware of God from their earliest years. One person said,

    My early idea of God, from around the age of three years, was that he was my Fathers' best friend.

    Another writes of an experience when he was five:

    In the heart of the child that I was, there suddenly seemed to well up a deep and overwhelming sense of gratitude, a sense of unending peace and security which seemed to be part of the beauty of the morning, the living presence which included all that I had ever loved and yet was something much more.

    These remembered spiritual experiences seem to be common place. They occur before any formal religious education happens. Many happen in families that have no faith, and even in decidedly atheistic homes. Until the research in the seventies, many people felt that spirituality was something children grew to appreciate very slowly. Today research confirms what many parents have recognised for years: that children know far more than they can say. Occasional flashes of wisdom and insight flicker through children's lives and language, suggesting an awareness that rarely gets into words. It is this awareness of mystery, wonder and symbols that can get buried under the undoubted importance of literacy and numeracy. In emphasising the importance of language and concepts, we might give young people the impression that their inner lives are less important. Evidence and explanation are so important in our present culture, that we have begun to doubt anything that cannot be measured, tested and compared. But who can measure something as real as pain, or love. Who can test sacrifice or compare one wonder or mystery with another?

    In one recent study, a child reported that he could hear the sun. This might be smiled at by us adults. But that child may be closer to God in saying so, closer than we who 'know' all about the sun and yet have lost the wonder of it. In analysing and explaining all our experiences we may be losing the spiritual and holistic sense of life. As Wordsworth reminds us, we sometimes murder to dissect. Listening, and becoming like children, may help us keep in touch with our own soul and spirit as adults, whilst we deal with the inevitable business of understanding and making our way in the world. Children can help us stay close to the mystical tradition in our Christian faith. Listen for example to this six-year-old mystic:

    I see God in my mind and with my eyes. Sometimes I feel that I am a plane with God in heaven, and I'm talking to him and um...there's room for us all in God... God, well He all of us... He's everything around us... He's that microphone, He's that book, He's even... He sticks...He's paint. He's everything...around us...inside our hearts...heaven. By the way have you seen Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom? (John, aged 6 years)

    John is trying to catch a vivid personal experience in a net of words. He eventually gives up and changes the subject. Behind the words is an experience of the spiritual that is both powerful and immediate. The spirit of this child flashes through the words, even though the net comes up empty of organised thinking. The shame is that such wonder and imagination are rarely recognised in our value-by-results culture. Spiritual reality will always escape measurement, but is indescribably simple. The danger is that, in our measurement culture, only teaching children to survive, we could be endangering their very souls. We give the impression that only what is concrete and measurable is real. Cut off from their own innate spiritual resources, children may drift on the surface of life with little depth or direction.

    Don Bosco took as his motto Give me souls, take the rest away. He was aware of the priority of bringing young people into contact with the presence of God in their own lives. He painted scripture passages around his houses, he peppered the day with short prayers, he changed Saints' Days into celebrations with food and games. Goodnight reflections helped young people raise their awareness of God's presence in ordinary moments. The sacraments opened up a way into God's presence through mystery and symbol, word and worship. Don Bosco surrounded young people with signs of this hidden world of spirit. He cared for their souls: that earthy part of people's lives that is forever in relationship with God.

    How do we save souls today? How do we, as parents, youth workers and teachers, help young people stay in touch with the spirit of the child, even as they grow into adults? How do we sit at the feet of young people and learn again? Some concrete suggestions may help:

    Stay in touch with your own spiritual depth.

    Reflect and pray about your own daily experience. Recognising the way God works in your own life can help you sense that reality in the lives of young people. In the middle of activity and conversation with young people, I often feel that a word or a joke or even a silence carry a sense of God's presence when I slow down enough to notice.

    Listen to what young people say and ask good questions.

    As adults, we naturally want to take a lead in the lives of young people. We know a lot and help young people deal with the world, but we may not know much about their inner world.
  • listening and not giving answers,
  • asking respectful questions,
  • letting silence speak,
  • asking how young people feel.
    All these may help the young person share more of themselves. Let them teach and explain their view on the world. Unless we become more like them we won't make it into the Kingdom. (Matthew 18: 3)

    Pay attention to wonder and fears in young lives.

    Scripture reminds us that we meet God with both fascination and fear. There are moments in life when we can be caught up in wonder at something; a sunset, a relationship or a work of art. When that happens it is as if the boundary between the ordinary and the spiritual has become transparent. Being quiet, and respectful of those moments, can help them to be valued rather than discarded by young people. Similarly, when fear breaks into life, and young people feel vulnerable and overawed, the challenge to trust and grow deeper into the spirit is there again.

    Live in the present moment.

    Much of our adult lives are spent anticipating the future or repairing the past. The image of a child at play challenges us to be rather than to do. As adults, we are often more interested in the wrapping paper than the present, more interested in the surface than the depth of the present moment. Young people have a deep and natural sense of the here and now. That is always the place where we are called to meet God. We need to re-learn that sense from them.

    As we help young people to grow into life we need to be ready to educate them, rather than train them in logic. We need to help them achieve more than good results. We need to help them connect their inner spiritual depth with their earthy and daily experience. They need to trust the spiritual, as well as the measurable, in their lives. They need to find their souls. Don Bosco's style of working aimed at helping young people find and value their souls, in the earthy and ordinary moments of each day. In working in his style we can help young people grow to maturity, without losing that link with soul and spirit that alone keeps us human. His motto is even more important today than ever,

    Give me souls - take the rest away.

    David O'Malley SDB

    Postscript to Kenya

    Fr Joe with PeterBefore I went to Kenya I had no interest at all in food. I was content with simple ordinary English fare, the sort provided by the average supermarket. Expensive restaurants were not for me. In the Don Bosco Community in Kenya I dreamed of the food I once took for granted in Battersea. For me food was simply stuff to keep me alive and active. It wasn't something I enjoyed or would ever look forward to. In this country we can have no idea what life is like for so many Africans. Our image of Africa is what is shown through the media, but good news is not news. The television cameras are insatiable beasts, feasting only on disasters, scandals, atrocities and wars. When I said to a Nigerian or a Tanzanian, "Here in Africa", he would stop me at once, to ask, "How many African countries have you visited?" There are more than 50 independent countries in Africa. It is a land mass whose area is greater than Europe, plus the USA, plus China, plus the Indian subcontinent, plus Argentina! The population of Africa is nearly 900 million people. In my year in Kenya I probably didn't meet more than 500 different people?

    There are good and bad people everywhere. I didn't like visiting Nairobi City. As I walked between its soaring, elegant, modern sky-scraper office blocks, often Government Ministries, there was often just hard soil under my feet. If there were a pavement, it would be very uneven, with unexpected holes and hazards every 20 metres. Nearly as frequent were the begging hands and voices. For the boy who asked for some chips I would go into a shop and pay the 30 shillings needed. The standard advice was "Don't give to beggars." But I had no money, no food, nowhere to sleep, what would I do?

    Why is there so much poverty in Africa? There are so many excuses, and no instant, universal solution. Changes for the better will only come slowly, as a result of the many efforts of numerous people tackling an infinity of issues. To do something is the responsibility both of Africans and also of countries and citizens throughout the rich world. We all have a role to play. (What's yours?) Around the year 1800 in Britain we had small children working 12-16 hours a day beside a factory machine. Children and women were hauling trucks in coal mines. At the same time the rich had fine houses with many servants, who were only paid a few pounds a year. The unemployed and the old were often left to starve. For them the indignity of the workhouse was an even worse fate. It was only at the beginning of the 20th century that the first social payments were made, the culmination of a century of hard-fought reforms. Africans, in countries which still have conditions similar to those we had in 1800, have a long hard struggle ahead. The people of each African country will have to develop their own society in their own way, at their own pace. Interference by outsiders often does more harm than good.

    But, and it is a very big 'but', they are having to develop against an external background we in Britain never knew in the 19th century. Britain's economy then was the strongest in the world. British goods were exported everywhere. We were unchallenged in most areas of trade. African countries are in a far weaker position.

    The rich countries of the world control trade and have the power through the World Trade Organisation (WTO) to see that the balance of trade is totally in their favour and against that of developing countries. It has been estimated that this imbalance is costing the developing countries 100 billion dollars every year.

    God loves everyone equally. Jesus lived and died so that every one may have life and have it to the full. (John 10: 10) As a British citizen, my standard of living is, in part, secured by those Government and international policies which continue to make many people richer in the rich countries and nearly everyone poorer in the poor countries. I do confess it, I had eagerly looked forward to returning to London and to all the freedoms I could enjoy there. In Africa, even among the very rich, few can enjoy what we all in Britain so often take for granted.

    In my year in Nairobi I tried to share my time and my knowledge with those I met. I was welcomed by many. Most Africans are warm, friendly, sociable people, and often I personally am not! If I could have spoken Swahili, I might have been able to get closer to many more. Even as an English speaker I was able to share a great deal as a teacher, with a variety of young people. Africa still has great need of skilled volunteers who are willing to share themselves, and their knowledge in the service of the poor people of Africa. They must not go out as highly paid Non-Governmental Organisation representatives, but as simple volunteers trying to help by bridging cultures and educational divides. On returning home, these volunteers will find they have learnt far more from their time in Africa than they were able to give. They can continue for the rest of their lives as ambassadors, speaking out for justice. They can look for help from their nation and government for those friends they made during their brief time in Africa.

    And how can everyone else at home assist in Christ's life-bringing mission? First of all, by prayer - for the world's poor and for all those working to help them. The good brought about by prayer is something we may only discover when we get to heaven. Regular donations are always needed to the missionary activity of religious orders, like the Salesians, or to support small organisations you know about who are using all their funds to do great work, like my sister's organisation Hospice Africa.

    Still more important is political pressure, to right the injustices in the world. Even President Bush had said that poverty is the greatest single cause of terrorism. Now here is something everyone can do to help, with very little effort and cost. Why not write to Oxfam Campaigners, Banbury Road, Oxford and ask to become a supporter. No need to send them any money or attend any meeting. About every six weeks they will send you a slim magazine full of the facts about some immediate pressing injustices or needs, in the developing world. They are always matters of the greatest concern to all the main relief charities. What you are invited to do each time is to send off, if you can, a couple of letters or postcards to your MP, to the Prime Minister, to the Managing Director of a multinational. One letter wouldn't make much difference, but when thousands of personal messages arrive together, powerful people do sit up and take notice. Thanks to you a significant step is taken to give the world's poor, and especially its children, a better chance in life.

    Joe Merriman SDB

    New Books for Autumn 2002

    The author of our bestselling 'Rosie goes to Church' makes the gospels accessible to children GOOD NEWS IN THE FAMILY by Kathleen Pearce
    This book is about the daily lives of Amy, James and Daniel. When Amy buys a book which tells the story of Jesus, from his birth to the coming of the Holy Spirit, the whole family enjoys hearing the Good News. This is more than just a story, it presents extracts from the life of Jesus, in an easy to understand way. Throughout the book the children's parents answer the children's questions, and offer explanations.
    The story has been written by Kathleen Pearce, the author of 'Rosie goes to Church', and beautifully illustrated by Sharon Hulme. It provides an imaginative and informative read, to be enjoyed by all primary school children.
    An ideal present to give children for Christmas, First Communion or birthday.
    Hardback fully illustrated in colour £4.99 + £1 packing & postage

    A book to help us recognize the guidance and leadership of the Risen Lord, through the events of our lives VIA LUCIS by Fr David O'Malley SDB
    In a fashion similar to the Way of the Cross, the Via Lucis reflects upon the final chapters of the gospels, which narrate the appearances of the Risen Lord from Easter to Pentecost. Fourteen Stations of Light have been identified. It is hoped that this book will help the Christian community, which has so passionately identified with the Crucified Lord on the way of the cross, move from the darkness of the Easter tomb towards the light of the Spirit at Pentecost. In looking at their own experience they may discover the spirit that gives them new reasons for living and hoping.
    This book would be ideal for prayer groups, parish liturgy, and personal reflection.
    Hardback-fully illustrated in colour £9.99 + £1 packing & postage

    This book is an attempt to explore some of the scriptural background which underpins Don Bosco's Gospel Way DON BOSCO'S GOSPEL WAY by Fr Michael T Winstanley SDB
    Michael Winstanley explores our understanding of God and its implications for our lives. He then looks at two aspects of the Gospel portrayal of Jesus, his compassion and his role as shepherd. Next he considers aspects of our response to Jesus: relationship, reverence and the call to be both contemplative and active. Finally, he examines the ways in which we can articulate our sharing in the mission of Jesus. He concludes with a study of the Emmaus story, a narrative which touches upon many facets of our life experience and our ministries.
    An ideal book for all who work with and for young people, and for meditation on the gospels.
    Paper back £6 + £1 packing & postage


    From the Don Bosco Calendar 2003
    Don't take yourself too seriously
    You'll find a little humour helps
    Friends bring us down to earth
    Lest we make fools of ourselves

    Peter, Paul and Sean

    Fr Joe with the miraculous catch of BaracudaI have always been keen on fishing! I remember, as a very young child, sitting quietly on the banks of a pond trying to catch minnows with a bent pin as a hook. When looking for a name at confirmation time, it was no surprise to my family that I chose Peter. He was my hero. I was a bit disappointed to read that he could leave even the fishing and became a follower of Jesus. Still it was his decision, hard though it must have been. To me, in those early days at school, leaving his wife and family didn't seem such a big deal!

    Thirty years later, I was hooked by Paul. What an adventurous life he had! Meeting people from other nations, shipwrecked at sea, imprisoned, standing up courageously to whatever was evil, the central figure of early Christianity, the pioneering apostle. Inspired by Paul, I volunteered for the missions and was sent to Liberia, my home for 20 years. What a difference to my life!

    I was convinced, from the outset, of the need to set up programmes which would help Liberians to be more self-sufficient. My aim was to help them use their own resources, to have their own trained nurses, doctors and teachers, to grow their own food, run their own businesses, banks etc. This, in time, developed into the Don Bosco Polytechnic in the capital city, Monrovia. The Catholic Church in Germany was our biggest benefactor. Irish lay volunteers were the first department heads, replaced later on by American and Scottish Brothers and laymen from Ghana. The Catholic Archbishop of Monrovia left no stone unturned in making sure the government was fully behind this venture. From the government, we obtained a charter to operate on August 15th 1988, as well as a 50 acre piece of land for a new campus. It was truly a multinational venture. It seemed like a dream. Then we were brought down to earth with a bang, like Paul from his horse. Liberia was torn apart with a civil war which lasted from 1990 to 1997.

    Sean DevereuxA war always has heroes. The hero of this war and my third hero was Sean Devereux. As a boy he had been school captain our Salesian College, Farnborough. He became an outstanding teacher at the Salesian College, Chertsey. Here was someone who could have furthered his career, made plenty of money, improved his position in life. Instead, the well-being of children was his focus, theirs is the kingdom of heaven. He came to work with the Salesians in Liberia, and his generosity was a constant source of inspiration to me and many others. I suppose he was too outspoken to remain safe in war-torn Liberia. He left us to work in the UNICEF mission to Somalia, where he was killed at the age of 29. He was a true missionary with a motto - While my heart beats, I have to do what I think I can do, and that is to help those who are less fortunate than myself. He was indignant at the injustices he witnessed in Somalia. He couldn't abide seeing children being used in war. He was distressed that food and supplies, meant for those who were starving, was going to those who didn't really need it.

    Six weeks before he was killed, he wrote in a letter home,

    Boys of 14 years live out their Rambo fantasies, believing they are fighting for freedom, while in our last consignment of 3,000 tons of wheat to Kismayo, less than 30% reached the target groups.

    It's significant though that he didn't make comments similar to those we might make... why don't the Africans get their act together, and sort out these dictators? Instead he says,

    Somalia was a country which, prior to the war, exported rice and sugar in abundance; where nomads wandered peacefully with their camels, goats and cattle, living a relatively healthy life. Everything was then turned upside down because of the greed and ego of certain men, the so-called warlords. But one must add to the list: The US Congress, the former Soviet Politburo, the Italian and British Parliaments.

    This apparently noble collection of men and women, have over the years approved the production and delivery of weapons of destruction to Somalia, for their own self interest of course. The greed starts here. We too have a lot to answer for, and you, at home, can do something by lobbying your MPs.

    A voice as honest and challenging as that was soon silenced by death.

    However the voice of Sean was not really silenced. The example of his life has been a constant source of energy for me, and many others. He had been with us in Liberia at the outbreak of the civil war, being involved in the setting up of the Don Bosco Technical School, which took children whose schools had closed and were looking for somewhere to go. He worked with the Salesians in starting up the Don Bosco Rehabilitation and Skills Training Programme. The programme director being a past pupil of the Polytechnic who had succeeded in obtaining a Master's Degree at Newcastle University.

    The Rehab, as it was known, was for former child soldiers and school drop-outs, with a good number of our past pupils as staff. To my mind, this was a programme which would give young marginalized people hope for the future, providing them with training in useful skills such as carpentry, building, plumbing, welding, auto-mechanics etc., enabling them to be productive citizens. In January 2001 there were 1,300 trainees. The Catholic Church of Sweden, with Government aid, was giving financial support to this programme. Unfortunately, for a number of reasons, support did not last, and we had to close the programme down last year. (Can I see Sean fishing for Salesian Past Pupils, or Teachers, to get in touch with this programme and get it on its feet again?)

    Two other programmes were established and are presently well known in Liberia, both of them having some input in their establishment from Sean. They are the Don Bosco Homes and the Sean Devereux/Don Bosco Youth Centre. Although Sean was killed in 1993 his memory lives on in these works.

    It would be a mistake to think that when Jesus asked us to pray the Lord of the harvest to send labourers into his vineyard, that he was fishing only for priests, brothers and sisters. Every disciple of Christ has been entrusted with a ministry, a task, a mission to accomplish. All Christians, whatever their state in life, are entrusted with this mission: to work for the liberation of their brothers and sisters everywhere in the world. Casting out devils and healing every kind of illness are images of the work that we all are called to do at all times: fighting against anything that ruins the spiritual and the physical life of human beings. All of us can be missionaries.

    We can understand why Jesus recommends prayer. The aim of prayer is not to convince God, but to transform human hearts from being selfish to becoming generous and ready to serve. This conversion is no simple matter. It entails a radical change of behaviour. Peter changed. Paul changed. Sean changed. Their example can change us.

    By the way my fishing did continue while I was in Liberia. How could I live there for 20 years without going fishing? I have the Liberian record for a sailfish. I can't remember the weight. I do remember the weight of the heaviest fish I caught, a blue marlin weighing 33 stone! Yes, 462 pounds! Wow! And yes, it did feed quite a lot of people.

    Joe Brown SDB

    The Marathon des Sables (140 MILES ACROSS THE SAHARA)

    Philip Schwalber in the SaharaAs my spring respite from working as a strategy analyst for Mercury Private Equity last year, I took part in the world's toughest footrace, a six-day ultra marathon, the famous Marathon des Sables. This enticing spring break requires normally sane people to run 140 miles in the blistering heat, over the rocky and sandy terrain of the Sahara desert, whilst carrying all their own food and gear.

    It was a great chance to raise money for charity. I elected to give all the funds I raised to help impoverished street children and former child soldiers in Liberia. I had chosen to donate all the monies to this cause for two reasons: firstly, because a race that takes place in Africa should benefit its people. Secondly, since it is the orphaned and abandoned children of war-ravaged countries who have the hardest of all struggles to fight, they deserve our support the most. I chose the Salesians of Don Bosco. They endeavour against many odds to empower these unfortunates not only by providing them with training, but also by treating them with so much-needed love and respect. Every pound donated is put to use for projects in Liberia.

    Location Southern Moroccan Sahara
    Total distance 243km
    Six stages 25km, 34km, 38km, 82km, 42km, 22km.
    Starters 612
    Finishers 525
    My result 45th
    Total Time 30h 36m 48s

    On the coach journey to the secret starting point I'm feeling slightly nervous, I opened the curtains a little and watched red-brown cracked earth, rocky plains glistening black in the sun, yellow-gold sand dunes. Every so often are little villages with lush green oases, where women toil in the fields, men smoke the shisha1 and children wave at the passing coach.

    The bumps in the road make the going harder and the coaches slower. We finally came to a halt in the middle of nowhere. We change mode of transport and clamber onto lorries. We reach the camp which consists of luxurious looking tents for the organisers, medical staff and press and about 90 open-sided Berber tents for the competitors. These tents are built with coffee bags stitched-together and a couple of sticks. They provide excellent cover against the sun, but have the irritating tendency of falling over when the wind picks up.

    The following day we spend with medical checks, equipment checks, and frantic attempts at pruning weight. Even after sacrificing lots of food, keeping just 2200 calories per day, my rucksack looks and feels unpleasantly heavy. Seeing a Japanese woman of probably half my size with an even larger rucksack, makes me smile - 'too heavy a bag' will not be an acceptable excuse. We finally set off at 9.25 am I follow my race plan of walking the first stage of 25 km, keen to know the desert a bit better before stepping up the pace. With a constant breeze, the temperature seems pleasant, and after a couple of hours I begin walking past slow runners as they struggle with a sandy stretch.

    Upon arrival at the camp, I settle into what will become my daily routine. The more tired one gets, the more important routine becomes. After collecting my water ration which never seems enough, I rest for a quarter of an hour, prepare a protein drink, stretch, and wash my feet with a soap-iodine mixture. My freeze-dried pasta tastes better every day.

    The stages get both longer and harder, especially with daytime temperatures now rising well above 50°C. The second day is dune day, leading straight through the highest dunes of Morocco, up to 1000 ft. Since I noticed on the previous day that sand that's been walked on is a lot softer and more difficult to walk/run on, I move faster than on the first day. Eventually a second set of dunes begins and I reach the camp, finishing 76th rather than 249th as on the first day.

    The third stage leads across dry river-beds, barren plains, through a village, and up a large sand dune. Two steps up, one step back. By now I fail to see the fun in it, I start feeling tired and sick. I take a brief rest in the shade at the final checkpoint before completing the final leg of that day.

    The fourth stage is long 82 km, and already at 11 am it seems hotter than on the previous days. I run out of water, start feeling sick from the intense heat, and find it difficult to regain my balance after stumbling on the very uneven and rocky ground. Walking quite slowly I make it to Checkpoint 4, and rest in the medical tent. A doctor gives me salt tablets, opens a couple of big blisters under my left foot, tapes them up, and feeds me a couple of painkillers. I grab my rucksack, and start moving uphill steadily and quickly. I feel fresher by the minute, start running once I'm over the pass and overtake one runner after another.

    Crossing a dried-out lake, I can only see very few runners in the late afternoon, and after passing the final checkpoint at 68 km I'm on my own. Running towards the quickly disappearing sun, I hope to get as close to the camp as possible before nightfall, but am quite a way off when darkness sets in. The sun goes down, and my body decides enough is enough. I start talking to the stars, asking them to take me home. I finally arrive at 8.20 pm. When the wind picks up and takes down our tent I am too tired to care.

    During the penultimate day, I run out of water again. Passing a village with a few clapping children, I'm just about to give up running when a girl of about six years smiles at me, shouting 'Allez, Allez'. Not impressed with the fact that I actually slow down, she grabs my left index finger and starts running. Get outrun by a child? I try to explain to her that it was never this hot in the Black Forest where I grew up. I reach the next checkpoint, running.

    After dinner, two competitors from our tent have yet to arrive. We begin to worry a little. They finally turn up, after 11 hours of struggling with severe heat exhaustion, vomiting and diarrhoea. As both start shivering and one turns delirious, we get medical help, and several IV drips do wonders for them. Both manage to finish the race.

    That evening I go to the finishing line for the last time to cheer the arrival of the Dunes d'Espoir team, a French team which includes two children suffering from cerebral palsy whom the rest push in specially designed wheelchairs. Their tenacity and strength are truly incredible, and many of us hope that our cheering and clapping help them a little.

    Finally the last day, a mere 22 km. As I reach the houses and palm trees of Tazzarine, I turn and marvel at where I've been, where 'boundless and bare the lone and level sands stretch far away'.

    Philipp Schwalber

    Sisters pledge non-violence

    200 Salesian Sisters of Don Bosco, gathered in Rome for a World Assembly, which has Gospel citizenship as its theme, have sent an open letter, translated into 25 languages, to their 15000 Sisters throughout the world, asking them to unite in a gesture for peace.

    Dear Sisters,

    Over the past few days, while we discussed practical ways of committing ourselves to the following of the Gospel in our lives, the Assembly proposed that we, as religious, should make a strong and urgent statement of our support for peace. We do not want just to make declarations or appeals, which are usually ignored. Rather, we unite ourselves to the cries of parents who stand by helplessly as their children are killed, and the cry of children and young people who have never known peace. In response to this cry, we take up the proposal of the international Catholic peace movement, Pax Christi, to pledge ourselves to non-violence. This is a personal commitment. It is a way of living, every day, what Christians have lived for centuries, as they recall the words of Jesus: 'Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called the children of God.' We also hope to involve all the women, men and young people of our communities in this choice of non violence. In this way we hope to become, as it were, new life for the world, so as to bring about a culture of peace.

    Stolen Land

    The earth belongs to everyone. This statement reaffirms the right of people to live a dignified life, free from control and exploitation by governments, business or power groups who claim to impose regulations for the survival of the whole planet. The Philippines, Bolivia, Venezuela, Brazil, Indonesia, Paraguay... The map of stolen land is vast, spread all over the globe, Indigenous peoples, peasants, labourers, are still today, evicted from the land, persecuted and imprisoned for voicing the hope of living in peace and solidarity on their own land.

    One story, many stories

    A young girl of the Pemon tribeThe Baniva, Kurripako and Piaroa ethnic groups inhabit the San Fernando de Atabapo region, in the Upper Orinoco area of Venezuela. A community of Salesian Sisters has been there since 1955. They have a school and a flourishing youth centre and dedicate themselves to catechesis, parish work and visiting the villages. Sister Maria Narisi, of Italian origin, has been a missionary in this country for 32 years. She has got to know the sunrises and sunsets that turn the Orinoco River to flame. She is a teacher and a nurse. Her activities also include visits to the indigenous villages, along the Atabapo and Orinoco rivers.

    In this corner of the world, as in other areas, there is a serious struggle on the part of those who have always lived here for the right to possess the land. It is a major problem to which the government is providing no solution. Sister Maria knows what she is talking about. For years now she has directed the Human Rights Commission at San Fernando de Atabapo. She knows the biblical and ecclesial teaching regarding the ownership of the land and has welcomed Pope John Paul's dramatic appeal at Oaxaca in Mexico, to follow the lines of the Encyclical Mater et Magistra. She takes to heart the respect due to the indigenous peoples' community property.

    The social teaching of the Church does not see private property as the only legitimate form of land ownership. It also takes special account of community ownership, which characterises the social structure of many indigenous peoples.

    The situation at present

    The government, even at local level, does not have any definite plan for establishing the boundaries of territorial property. The National Demarcation Commission, deciding the borders of the indigenous people's land in Venezuela, was only established this year. It is still relatively easy to claim territories belonging to the indigenous peoples. Those who come, especially foreigners, claim the support of the government, saying that they are aware of what is happening. The indigenous people are intimidated and do not fight for their constitutional rights. Sister Maria, along with the community, has decided to take their part and she is not a woman to give up easily. She feels the sufferings of the indigenous people personally. She is aware of their daily struggle to survive and to defend themselves from injustice. Sister Maria, the Sisters and the laity are sustained, in their decision to join in the struggle for the indigenous land, by the teaching of the Church. It states that the community property of the indigenous people is fundamental to their survival and well-being.

    There is also the question of preserving natural resources. The indigenous territories in Venezuela are often in areas of great natural resources, minerals, gold, petroleum, forests, water, etc. Besides the ownership of the land, there are questions of national, multinational and international economic interests. Industries can easily destroy the natural environment. The ecological question takes on a global dimension. In San Fernando, the indigenous people, who live by hunting and fishing, risk starvation, because the rivers are polluted.

    Committed to the bitter end

    Sister Maria and the Committee for Human Rights in San Fernando educate and guide the indigenous people in order to prepare them to defend their rights. This helps to avoid what has happened when fictitious associations have taken over great stretches of land to subdivide it or give it to others. The leaders of the indigenous communities have undertaken a series of surveys on the legality of many of the transactions, and found them to be illegal. "All during the research", Sister Maria tells us, "we noted the lack of juridical support from the competent authorities. After many battles, we won. Faced with the evidence of the facts and with the exhaustive struggle of the Committee for Human Rights, the land was given back to the indigenous people. This achievement laid the foundations for a new mentality, one which gives us hope that in the future we will be able to get further results for the poorest, the most unprotected, the most needy."

    In spite of the work involved, Sister Maria and her community have not lost their enthusiasm and their passion for remaining close to the poor. On the banks of the River Orinoco there is no lack of courage and audacity. "I am at the service of the indigenous people, body and soul," Sister Maria comments. "I speak for them and they know that they have the complete support of the whole community of our Sisters."

    Ivory Coast - Waiting for peace

    Eye witness account from a Salesian missionary on the situation.

    Map of AfricaSince 19th September there has been a delicate and difficult situation here, which just now has come to a head and divided the country into two parts: the south with those loyal to the President, and the north with the rebels. What began as a mutiny connected with pay and working conditions became a political issue, a coup d'etat, an invasion by rebels from neighbouring countries! We do not yet know precisely what is happening or who the rebels are and what they want. Nor, above all, who is behind them! The problem seems to be an internal national one, but for the official government spokesman it is about an invasion of the country on the part of terrorists and mercenaries coming from neighbouring countries.

    At the moment they do not want to negotiate even through outside intermediaries, and they have taken the path of violence and of open war, to take back by force the cities in rebel hands. The problem is that the official government spokesman is using more often xenophobic words against foreigners in general and against the French in particular, but especially against the immigrants from neighbouring Burkina-Faso. It is always easier to find a scape-goat for what is happening. In this case it is the immigrants, more than six million of them. In reality these are the ones who work and take the nation forward, but are being accused of disturbance by occupying their places of work at a time of lengthy economic recession. With the pretext of creating security zones within the quarters of the armed forces, they have burned and expelled at a stroke various quarters of barracks in the city of Abidjan. In a short space of time have left thousands of people on the streets. Recently an official government spokesman claimed that results had been achieved. The reality is very different as the national forces of law and order are not fully under control. We are afraid for some sections of our parish, poor and full of these immigrants who are the majority of our faithful in Koumassi.

    The curfew continues from 10 in the evening until 6 in the morning throughout the country. This provides a certain safety despite the fact that it is the time when the forces of law and order take the opportunity to check the shops and to look for certain people!

    Our brothers in Korhogo, have decided for the moment not to accept the offer of evacuation, recommended by the French to all foreigners. They have decided to stay with the people of the parish and the district.

    At present they are all well, and hoping to be able to do something. We speak with them every day, in the morning and evening, but for the last three days our telephone line has been down. The community at Duekoué, in the centre of the country, are in the middle of the conflict but things are quiet at present and they are living a normal life. In the mission there are more than 2500 refugees from Burkina-Faso and other foreigners. Some Ivory Coast people have taken advantage of the situation and attacked them and taken their land. We are also keeping well, calm, being prudent and united, trying to give the people some confidence, security and help, waiting like everyone else to see how things develop.

    Abijan, 11 October 2002

    Fr Louis O'Dea SDB 1920 - 2002

    Fr Louis O'Dea RIPLouis was born in Sheffield, on May 1st 1920. His two elder brothers became Vincentian priests. At the age of 18 Louis joined the Salesians. He was ordained priest at Blaisdon in 1950. After ordination Louis taught in the Salesian schools at Farnborough, Oxford and Burwash. He was Headmaster at Thornleigh Salesian College, Bolton, from 1953 - 1956. He then taught at Salesian College, Bootle. He was a gifted and lucid teacher of mathematics and science, as well as being a keen and accomplished sportsman. His tireless generosity was much appreciated in all these schools.

    After 19 years of priestly work in England, he went to Swaziland, where there was a rapidly developing Salesian Mission. With great enthusiasm Louis entered into the work of building up the maths and science sector of the Salesian High School. He continued for another 32 years to minister in a variety of ways to the people of Swaziland. Louis left on all with whom he came into missionary contact, an indelible impression of Christian kindness, goodness and selfless service. In 1984 Louis was freed from school work and went to minister full time in the Cathedral Parish. He devoted his entire life to the sick, the old, the poor, and the dying.

    Louis was, perhaps, the most selfless person I have ever known. If someone needed help he could not rest until he had done all he could to help. When this selfless giving to others was brought to an end by a fall that rendered him immobile. Not being able to care for himself must have been the greatest burden of his whole life. It was the beginning of a painful ending, endured with great patience and serenity. In his suffering, Louis truly became a man of God, more Christ like in his sufferings than he had been in his heroism.

    In his last illness I visited him at St Juliana's, where the sisters looked after him so well. We were not long together, when he suggested we say the Rosary. He prayed it devoutly. His devotion to Mary, Mother of God, like that of our Founder, St John Bosco, was an integral part of his spiritual life.

    Our good deeds live on. Louis inspired many lives. He lived a life of faith, hope and love, doing good wherever possible. Now he hears the words: "Come blessed of my Father...What you did to the least of my brothers and sisters you did to me".

    Eugene Hennessy SDB

    Fr Neil Murphy SDB 1920 - 2002

    Fr Neil Murphy RIPNeil was born in Motherwell, Scotland on 5th July 1920. Because of his mother's untimely death he was brought up from the age of two by his aunt and her husband who both gave shape and form to Neil's faith. Neil went to Shrigley to try out his vocation to the priesthood.

    He was professed in 1938 and ordained at Blaisdon in 1948. Neil had a great love for music, he took leading roles in many a musical production and, need I say this of a Celtic supporter, a great love of football.

    He spent nearly all his Salesian life as a teacher, in the traditional and still much valued Salesian apostolate of education. He taught in Chertsey, Burwash, Farnborough, where he was the headmaster from 1950-53, then back to Chertsey, and in 1967 he came to Merseyside to our Salesian School in Bootle where he was deputy head for many years until his retirement in 1986.

    These were challenging years as grammar schools were adapting to the comprehensive system. Neil helped provide a firm disciplinary framework without which no education can take place. Woe betide any pupil who dared to appear at school in trainers.

    In 1986 Neil retired from teaching, but continued his active ministry of priesthood by assisting in St Gregory's in Lydiate, St Thomas of Canterbury parish, and finally in 1992 he came to St Dominic's, Huyton. He was an excellent preacher, always well-prepared and he devoted many hours to parish visiting. He was loved and appreciated by so many parishioners.

    As his health deteriorated he came to join the Bolton Salesian community at St Joseph's and from there he was admitted into Nazareth House, Manchester, in March 2001, for additional nursing care. In both places he received very devoted care. In the final phase of his life he was asked to share in the Lord's passion through increasing disability and the complications of regular dialysis. After ministering to so many, he now had to learn how to be ministered to. This did not come easy to this strong-minded, shy and very independent man. He was being hollowed out in the way that only suffering can, gradually becoming more at ease and serene. All who saw him in those last months commented on this new-found peace and acceptance of whatever the Lord was asking from him. Neil collapsed and died of a heart attack on the afternoon of Friday 23rd August.

    He loved music throughout his life. We pray that this brave and courageous Salesian is now enjoying the harmonies of heaven in contemplation of the God he served so well.

    Michael Cunningham SDB