Don Bosco Today - Summer 2003
Editorial - Saints 'R'Us
Shopping for Salvation
Child Soldiers - Our Responsibility
Living the Dream
Extracts from Hunter's Journey - It's Another World!
Last Days of the War
God of Many Faces
Michael McGovern SDB
This edition of Don Bosco Today has a slightly different format. In place of photographs on the front and in the centre pages we have included illustrations from our latest book 101 Saints and Special People. The decision to make these changes was taken for a variety of reasons. We are approaching the feast of All Saints, a significant feast for the Salesian Family. Don Bosco, following the example of his patron, Saint Francis de Sales, felt that we, like the saints, are all special people, and that sanctity was to be found in the ordinary things of life. He proved his point most powerfully in the lives of the saints who graced his Salesian Family, Saint Dominic Savio, Saint Mary Mazzarello and the many other special people who followed in his footsteps.
We also feel that the publication of the book 101 Saints and Special People represents a landmark in European Salesian collaboration. Twenty seven thousand copies of this book have been published, in seven languages in ten countries. Imagine the number of children who will benefit from this initiative, it is real missionary work in the European mission field. So many children will have the opportunity to meet, for the first time, these special people and discover the origin of their own their names. In the wonder-filled pictures and in the simple but clear text it celebrates so many of the people responsible for the rich cultural heritage of Europe and provides young people with an insight into lives well worth imitating. The preface, written by our Rector Major, recognises this Salesian achievement.
We have been able, in this edition, to draw on the experience of a past-pupil, Peter Hunter. He had the unique opportunity of travelling round the world to see for himself what members of the Salesian Family are doing for disadvantaged young people.
By now, you should have received your Don Bosco Calendar. In this year's calendar we celebrate the new Europe, a world which has been so powerfully enriched by other cultures. The first copy of the calendar has been sent free to our readers, however we have to ask you to pay for further copies. I think you will agree that it is not overpriced at £1.85.
May I take this opportunity to thank all who continue to support our work with their donations. We really do appreciate such spontaneous generosity.
Anthony Bailey SDB
Paula is frozen with uncertainty. What's right for her? Should she buy the Nike trainers with the purple design, or the Reebok with a simple jade line? She turns to her friend in desperation and asks her what she should do. Eventually they both decide to have a coffee and think about it. It's all getting too intense. A few shops away Paula's older brother, Andrew is also undecided, as he circles a rack of jeans. Andrew can't second-guess what his friends will say if he goes for the blue. If he goes for the black jeans which he quite likes, well, they'd be the same as Barry's jeans, and he doesn't like Barry at all.
Back at home Andrew's Dad is waiting for the football results. Flicking through a weekend magazine his eye falls on an offer for the kind of car he'd always wanted before the family came along. Showing the picture to his partner Sandra, prompts squeals of laughter. She tells him that it is an obvious sign of his mid-life crisis to even think about buying a car like that. After the laughter had died down, Sandra reminded him that they had agreed to spend money not on a car but on the garden decking and landscaping they had seen on TV. Since Jackie and Clive, who live next door, had their garden done, their own looked so shabby.
It would be easy to see these choices simply as shallow materialism; empty activity based on buying more unnecessary possessions. But it is worth looking again, because shopping, even window-shopping, can become a window into the soul of the shopper. Paula is uncertain about what is right for her. Behind her choice of trainers lies a deeper question about herself. For Andrew, the question is one of relationship: is he going to risk looking like someone who is disliked? Are his relationships strong enough to take the teasing of his friends? For Dad the lure of a sporty car unmasks his reluctance to accept his stage in life. For Sandra the garden development may represent a continuing need to be in touch with life, and be creative, as the family grows towards independence.
Shopping certainly absorbs the free time of many people in developed countries. Last year in the UK the average person spent 18 hours Christmas shopping. They walked an average of twenty miles searching for the right gift, and spent two hours queuing to pay. Whenever people invest so much energy in an activity, it is worth reflecting on what is happening to those involved. It is easy for religious people to condemn such activity as mindless materialism, but such a judgement may miss the treasure buried in the experience of choice that shopping offers. Salesian Spirituality is always optimistic about human experience as a way to meet God.
So how can God be encountered on a shopping trip?
Paula, unable to choose between a purple and a jade trainer, might ask herself why it seems so important. She feels that the purple looks more grown up, but the jade seems more fun. She is not sure about herself. Do people see her as childish or mature? She needs to know she is appreciated for who she is. Over coffee with her friend, she shares her concerns. It is a conversation that could change her life and it is the doorstep of prayer. If amidst the anxiety of the choice she can hear the words of the Gospel, "You are my beloved child in whom I am well pleased," then her reflections have moved into contemplation. Shopping has led her to God. Whether she goes back to the shop to buy the purple or the jade trainers is now unimportant.
Andrew, like many men shopping alone, faces a different dilemma. For him the challenge is one of relationships. Who does he want to belong to? He needs the approval of his friends. If he buys the black jeans he might attract derision from these same friends. Circling the rack of jeans, Andrew has to decide if he really has good friends who allow him to be himself, or is he just a victim of peer pressure? Andrew steps into a circle of prayer around the rack of jeans, when he realises that some of his friends won't worry about his choice, because they care about him unconditionally. When he realises that, he is already caught up into God's unconditional love, the choice becomes easier and perhaps unnecessary. God has invaded his shopping.
Sandra and her partner have a similar dilemma between a sporty car or a better garden. As they grow older as a couple, are they going to do the things they had always wanted to do when they were younger? Or are they going to settle down and focus on the kind of home they always wanted as the children move away? Their conversation, after the football results of course, might lead them to reflect on their relationship in the future. How do they want to be together, as more freedom creeps into their lives? What is their shared dream for this stage of their relationship? When they realise that the answer lies in compromise and sacrifice, they too arrive at the doorstep of prayer. Their willingness to sacrifice something of themselves, in order to maintain their intimacy, reflects the same gospel love of God who became vulnerable in order to be close to us. They too are caught up in God's love.
The Shop Window
Recent thinking about shopping suggests that in our choices we focus more on dreams and meanings than the actual products. The toilet cleaner advertised on television that seems to send someone into rapture, dancing round the bathroom, is really selling the dream of a bright and happy home. The coffee that is shared with a neighbour in another advert is really selling the dream of love. One writer has observed:
most things, in and of themselves do not mean enough for us. In fact what we crave may not be the objects themselves, but their meanings. (Consumer Culture and Post Modernism M Featherstone)
What advertisers do is add meaning to things that of themselves have little lasting value. When we buy the product we are really buying into a dream. As Christians, we need to be able to detach the dream from the product, and ask why that particular dream or meaning has caught our attention. The shop window can then become a place of reflection on God's presence in a person's life.
Beneath all the gloss and glitter of the advertising industry lies a deeper human need to find meaning, to find a dream and to belong. The consumer society has taken our need for meaning, dreams and belonging, and attached them to products. That link needs to be undone if we are to live the freedom of God's children. As Christians, we are challenged to hold onto both meaning and dreams, and keep them rooted in the human heart and relationships, rather than in possessions and advertised products. The experience of shopping can reveal some of our deepest hungers, dreams and meaning in our life, but it can never satisfy them. It is when we become aware of the hunger for meaning and dreams, triggered by advertising and choice, that we can become contemplatives in the market place. Salesian Spirituality encourages us to find God in the ordinary experience of daily life. There is no reason why we should not find God in the shopping centre and the market place, even in our consumer society.
David O'Malley SDB
It is 7 pm on an October evening. You are walking alone along a quiet road on an estate in an unfamiliar part of the town. From a street on the left, a group of half a dozen teenage boys emerge. They are walking towards you, noisily filling the pavement. What are your feelings?
Suppose instead there were just two boys, in ragged clothes and trainers. Would that make a difference to your reactions? But if you then saw the boys were each carrying an AK47, what thoughts and questions would spring into your mind? Where can I turn? What will they ask? What will they do? How is this possible? Where are the police? Who gave them the guns? How did the guns get into the country?
Thank God, in the UK, you are unlikely to meet boys or girls with real guns, but if you were in Liberia, or the Congo, or Northern Kenya, or the Sudan, or Columbia or many other of the world's conflict zones, you certainly could meet them. One hardened war correspondent has admitted, "My most terrifying experience was at a check-point. We were held up by ragged teenagers with guns held at the ready. I didn't know what might happen next."
In Liberia alone, 20% of the soldiers involved in the fighting are children, some as young as nine years old. Dr Peter Coleman, the Liberian Minister of Health and Social Welfare in the Taylor Government, said of the child soldiers: "In some areas, they are 40% to 50% of the fighting force. Young people with arms have become a way of life."
For a War Lord, children are useful. They eat less, are easier to manipulate, and carry out orders without question. Some are sent into battle high on drugs to give them courage. Many children are kidnapped and forced to join an armed group. As an initiation, some are ordered to kill another child or be killed themselves. Many are orphans never knowing when or where the next meal would come from. Many of the adult soldiers of today were yesterday's child soldiers in a previous conflict. Today, there are about 350,000 child soldiers around the world.
What post-war hope is there for a society containing so many such ex-combatants? They are still poor. They have known what it is like to wield power of life and death over adults, to be involved in gang-raping at the point of a gun. Yet each of these children is unique and deserves a chance to leave behind their traumatic, brutalising experiences. Not all can be helped, but the Don Bosco Homes in Liberia are only one of the many organisations trying to equip these children for a more normal life. They need security, to feel cared for not threatened, to be able to have fun, to learn a useful trade. They need the care of patient, dedicated adults with very big hearts.
Without such care now, these children are never going to be able to leave behind the traumas they have been through. Each child has a personal horror story to tell, only some are still too deeply traumatised to tell it. On 23rd Dec 1998, Kadiatu Kanu was 13 years old when rebels captured her from Makeni, her home-town in Sierra Leone. She lived with the rebels for the next three years, losing contact with her family and any chance of education. She became pregnant and gave birth to her son, Mohammed. The war over, she came under the protection of the charity Caritas Makeni. Kadiatu has been re-united with her family and is now being trained by Caritas Makeni, so that she will be able to start her own business soon.
Dukuly, a Liberian boy, was only 10 when he saw his home shot up. He was captured by LURD.( Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy) and learnt to fire an AK47. Eventually he became the deputy commander of the Small Boys Unit under General Iron Jacket. Dukuly used cocaine to make him brave. He needed it especially when he saw friends, he had played and wrestled with, being killed. In the chaos of the Liberian civil war, Dukuly found himself now fighting on one side, then forced to fight for an opposing army against his brothers. Eventually he ran for his life and found shelter with Don Bosco Homes. Asked what the fighting was all about, Dukuly said, "I don't know, I just used to take the drug. I know the government troops are my enemies, so any time I see them, I fire." He added, "Now I want to fight no more. I'm thinking about my family. I want to go to school. When I go to school, I want to be a teacher. I want to go back home."
The War Lords could not operate at all if they had no guns, no small arms. Most African countries do not produce them. Where do they come from? Who is paying for them? Why can't this trade in death be stopped? These are questions to which people in Britain should be demanding answers. For Britain is the world's second largest supplier of arms of all kinds. Each year the UK exports to Africa alone more than £200m worth of arms. The UN estimates that, in the 1990's, conventional weapons killed more than 5 million people and forced 50 million to flee their homes. These guns were also involved in so many other human rights violations: starvation, abduction, rape, torture.... It's these small arms that are the weapons of mass destruction.
This year in London, a massive world-wide campaign was launched. Amnesty International and Oxfam are only two of the hundreds of international organisations behind the Control Arms Campaign. The world must make people everywhere safer, by stopping the flow of all conventional arms to those who would use them for atrocities and murders. This campaign will last several years and aims to mobilise not only National Governments but also the UN, to obtain an Arms Trade Treaty, by 2006.
This is a campaign in which every one of us can get involved. The problem is enormous. Alone we can make little impact on it, but a million activists world-wide can influence public opinion and make politicians respond. Every one of us can write letters against an arms trade subsidised by British taxpayers, which is now out of control, across the world. We must all be on the alert for any opportunity to back the campaign. Internet sources of information include:
We have here a scandal about which every Christian, all women and men of good will, should protest.
Joe Merriman SDB
Mary and Joseph, and Jesus within,
Joyful in their journeying
To Bethlehem, let's go with them,
To find our Christmas joy again.
We all DREAM. The dictionary defines dream as a distant ambition. My ambition was simple. I wanted to travel the world. I sought a journey that would take me on a global adventure, non-stop and predominantly by land. I did not want to backpack nor did I want pre-booked tickets that would take me on a round the world holiday. I wanted to try and capture the whole world, to get a feel of the world as one planet. I knew that there would be so many differences in people, culture and landscape, for me to experience.
As a past-pupil of a Salesian School, I had begun to recognise that I was part of a worldwide network of former-pupils from schools associated with the Salesians of Don Bosco, a religious order whose raison d'etre is to educate young people around the world to be good citizens, and to provide aid and assistance to the world's poorer communities. So, I began planning a journey that would not only see me exploring the world's physical terrain, but would also see me discovering real people in communities both large and small, rich and poor, with differing cultures and colours.
As a child, I was adopted into a family of twelve and brought up as a Roman Catholic. After attending a Salesian boarding school in Cheshire I undertook a social care course at my local college in Wakefield. I then spent a number of years working, mainly in residential homes. I'm a charismatic person and I have achieved a level of success since 1998 in my work with communities in Wakefield. Part of this work has been for a Community Development Project, facilitating community initiatives. This European-funded project involved rebuilding community spirit to improve people's quality of life in a disaffected inner-city estate. The success of this regeneration project led to a newly built centre owned and managed by the local community.
The events of September 11th 2001 shocked the world. That day I was with some friends in my local pub when one of them spoke out and said, "You won't be going round the world now Pete?" I knew that national security was going to close the door for so many travellers, but I believed that terrorist activities should not stop people from exploring. I was now more determined than ever to see the world.
I had spent over two years researching and building up a database of contacts throughout the world, and saving up all the money needed to fund the trip. Many of the contacts I made were through the Salesian network. A great advantage for me in wanting to meet real people was having invitations to visit schools established throughout the world through the work of Don Bosco. I was able to cut through red tape that would otherwise have obstructed any chance of visiting a school or college to meet local young people from that country. They were the people I wanted to talk with; they could tell me about where they lived, how they lived and what global issues concerned them.
There were some places I really wanted to visit and for special reasons. I wanted to see where my father had been fighting during the Second World War in Europe and walk in his footsteps when he travelled across India. I wanted to see the changes that have been made in South Africa since Apartheid, which dominated world news during my time at College. I wanted to take a journey across Canada and experience this vast country with its huge diversity in landscape.
So, with contacts and specific places I wanted to visit, I mapped out a route that I could work from. I was not sure which countries would allow me through, what kind of transport I would be using or where I would be sleeping, but I was ready to go!
I had a new passport with no visas issued for any country and no pre-booked tickets at all, but with determination I was going to leave England and travel East around the world. I would avoid using aircraft unless it was absolutely necessary, and work out my mode of transport country by country. This was certainly a challenge.
A web-site was established to allow people to follow my journey around the world. It could pinpoint daily where I was and allow others to be a part of Hunter's Journey. A guest book was also set up for people to leave messages from all over the world. In addition, I carried with me a video camera to record three things: the travel from one country to another, a person to interview from each country, and my own video diary.
My journal is a story of accidents, emotions, friendships and fun. It is a story of danger, empathy, tragedy and terror. It is a story of calamity, companionship, people and poverty. I am just an ordinary person from an ordinary background who found himself in some extraordinary situations and places with other ordinary people from their ordinary backgrounds. Strangers became friends and the strangest of places became my home! Awe-inspiring views left me speechless as I travelled around the globe, and provided some amazing backdrops to people's daily life. Border security was at its highest and my appearance and purpose of travelling meant a frustrating and constant battle through many countries.
Finally, my experience of the world was certainly the envy of many, but it left me with one simple conclusion. The world may be a beautiful landscape but so many people around the world are living in horrible and dreadful surroundings. In reading my book1 you will encounter with me what poverty really is! From famine and lack of water in Africa, to disease and lack of sanitation in India, to tyranny and lack of education in Cambodia, my journey is reality.
This was an expedition; an organised journey with a purpose. Now I can share my experiences of people and culture with so many, but it was also a challenge as I did not know where it would take me! One thing is certain; it was a chance for me to fulfil my ambition - to live my dream!
Peter Hunter (Salesian Past Pupil)
Day 61 (31st October) Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Today I went to Mekanisa to visit the Salesian school. This was great, I loved talking with the children, they were all so friendly with lovely happy smiling faces and followed me around trying to hold onto my hand! It was to turn into one of the saddest days of my life!
After lunch Fr Mario took me just 200 metres from the school into a world of absolute poverty. Hundreds of people living in tents crammed next to each other, no running water or sanitation. I felt absolutely sick! Many of the people from the drought stricken areas in the north have walked for days to come here to the city and they have nothing!
Adjacent to this shantytown is a small convent home run by the Salesian Sisters. Here, they look after some of the poorest individuals who are so weak that they would have no chance of survival. I had tears in my eyes; I have never seen anything or imagined anything like what I was witnessing in front of me. I was absolutely shocked and did not know what to do or say! There were also children with Leprosy and Aids and since the hospital was struggling to find beds for them they were rescued and brought here. The three buildings were made from converted shipping containers, insulated with wooden panels, and turned into living accommodation for the sick.
I met a boy who had been brought to them wrapped in a blanket. He had been wrapped in this blanket so long that his whole body was covered in pus. Every day for a year they had bathed him and his wounds were now healing well! He had asked the Sisters why he needed to wash with water everyday and he was twelve years old! The Sisters told me that even after they help some of the people there is nowhere for them to go. As they had to leave the Sisters they turned to begging or prostitution.
I was in complete shock, I just wanted to come home! Even as I write this I have tears in my eyes. What kind of life did these people have with so little food, no work, no education and a home where the floor is the bare ground of dirt, dust and disease? I kept asking myself what hope is there? But I would say this, every child I saw would smile, and that smile was their hope!
Day 66 (5th November) Bombo, Uganda
The Salesian Missionary project had established a church, school and small hospital for the people here and I was amazed at what they provided. Since 1998 the work of providing an education for young people has been going on and it was great to see what was here, including a technical school training both boys and girls in such skills as carpentry, bricklaying and sewing. All of which is important to the empowerment and development of the local community.
The children (over 1500) all come from poor families; many are orphans and so stay in boarding accommodation at the school. It cost only $150 per year to fund the education of a youngster and Fr John, from Poland, works tirelessly getting funds to pay for their education. This amount pays for books, clothes and shoes for each child. I spoke in the class with some of the older pupils and it was very hard for me to stand there when these people have so little. Not one of the 60 pupils had a television and when I asked about a fridge - they just laughed at me.
In the afternoon I went to see where many of the children live. I have never seen living conditions like it! Most lived in small huts with no electricity and no running water. Sanitation was basic and as it was now the rainy season, the dirt tracks and areas around the houses were just muddy rivers. I was helpless as I witnessed many very young children just standing around, nowhere to go and nothing to play with. It was another depressing sight for me. Malaria was common and health was not even a word that people would talk about!
The whole way of life is different to the west. I was fortunate to witness again the real life of a community here in Uganda - a tourist would not see this, but thanks to my association with the Salesians I was able to do so! The work done by the Salesian Missions brings some hope and healing to the innocent and abandoned.
Day 73 (12th November) Utume, Kenya
Today I visited the work of Bosco Boys. It is a project for street children in Nairobi and provides accommodation, food and education. It is also about empowering these youngsters to help themselves and encouraging them to give up bad habits like glue sniffing and taking drugs, which is the way they survive!
Fr Henri, who runs the Bosco Boys, took me to where many of the street children come from. The shantytown of Nairobi occupies a piece of land to the side of the city; here 1.5 million people live in an area known as the 'slum'. I was absolutely disgusted at what I saw and felt physically sick. The stench of rotting garbage, the dust, the heat, the people! It was an awful sight. Each house was made from pieces of metal. Just one room for many people who live, cook, eat and sleep there! I was appalled; a narrow path ran through the slum area that was also used for disposing of waste and sewage!
What kind of life do these people have! The sight was 'hell' and yet just over the wall was 'heaven'! This was where the rich people lived in high-walled homes with security on their gates! I spoke with some of the people living in the slum, a young mother with five children who was pregnant again. To feed her children she had to go out to work, and this meant selling her body! I spoke with a 17 year old boy who spent his time selling drugs to pay for food to share with his friends! There are no welfare benefits, they lived a life that they had not chosen.
On returning to the college I was keen to shower and change my clothes. I had spent my day walking through a most depressing place and yet I had wanted to experience the reality of people who lived in one of the biggest slum areas of Africa. This was another sad day for me.
Day 91 (30th November) Johannesburg, South Africa
Today a Salesian of Don Bosco who works in the townships surrounding the city met us. Fr Chris McMahon, a native from Lancashire recognized my accent immediately! He took us to Ennerdale, a "Coloured" township near to Jo'burg - it was one of the growth points in this new South Africa, with many squatter camps on its borders.
You may have heard of the tragic death of a Salesian priest from Ireland only a week earlier. When we arrived at the church, flowers marked the spot where Fr Declan was found dead. We were told that he had been struck over the head with a brick and stabbed twice in the chest. A brick and kitchen knife, believed to be the murder weapons, were later found in the house. A local parishioner devastated by what had happened told me that a 'bloody struggle' had taken place in the lounge with a still unknown person who robbed him of his wallet!
We were both stunned by what we were being told and I wanted to share this tragic event with you because it is the reality of what is happening in Jo'burg. It is a sad thought that communities here need help in taking ownership of their 'new' country and becoming interactive with their neighbours. Yet robbery and murder have become an everyday occurrence here and anyone can be a victim!
Still numb from our experiences we were then taken around this community and we saw for ourselves the shantytown life of thousands of people. Compared to Nairobi - this was a more structured and organized layout but it still shocked me that people have to live in such conditions. No electricity, no running water and primitive toilet facilities.
Day 101 (10th December) Calcutta, India
I went back to Howrah Train Station today to see the work of the 'Don Bosco Ashalayam' a railway children project. Asha means hope and layam means home; the project offers a 'home of hope' for street children, but in particular to those found at the railway station. Every single day, up to seven children were found in this huge central station wandering completely lost and bewildered amongst the crowds of up to 10,000 passengers. These children, so young and helpless were abandoned - usually by poor or sick parents who literally just put them on a train anywhere in India and dumped them. As I was sat with the workers, they had found a three-year-old boy with hardly any clothes on him who had been found by a guard on a train. I was absolutely speechless as I looked at this innocent child; he spoke very little as the staff tried to communicate with him!
The project had started back in 1985 when a priest passing through Howrah Station noticed many children on the platforms. They had made the Station their home - a helpless and lost tribe! The project now has some 30 homes for over 500 children at any one time. They provide an education and training skills for them and support them to grow up and become members of society.
I then went on to visit Pilkhana and the home of 60 young boys who have been rescued. Many are now in their late teens and even go out to work. The project helps them to manage their salaries and move on to their own homes! It was a marvellous opportunity to see such needy work having a positive end. Many of the staff are Salesian volunteers from Europe who devote a year of their life to the hopeless, rootless and roofless children in and around Calcutta.
Salesian Past Pupil
Click here to visit Peter's web-site
So often we hear of Civilians caught up in war situations. We see disturbing pictures on our television screens or read about the terrible sufferings of people in our newspapers. To be there oneself is quite a different matter.
During the last days of the recent war I had to contend with my own fears, without allowing them to spill over and add to the fears of younger colleagues, to be sensitive to their 'low periods' by just being with them, almost without comment. During the early rumblings of war and in the heat of it, when I was able to speak to people at Mass, I had to try to say something to keep them going. To offer hope when all seemed hopeless, to point to the light at the end of the tunnel, when in reality there seemed to be no light, when days seemed endless and nights like weeks. In periods free from rain and during lulls in fighting, I had to meet hungry people desperate for food which I could not supply. But yet desperately wanting to be able to do something and if unable to help, wanting to hide from their hungry faces.
In early June, an intervention force was being discussed. Up to the end of July there was still no force on the ground. With all the media coverage, which was excellent, I began to wonder if the outside world, so well informed, really understood the desperate plight of the Liberian people. The war situation in the country and the needs of the displaced were being assessed and reassessed, while masses of frightened hungry people struggled to live just from one day to the next. Deep down I had to search for some hope and also try to engender some kind of hope in others.
During the 'third war', after two broken ceasefires, we were confined to our compound for about seven days. I decided, one Sunday morning, to visit two of our Churches for Mass. This was done more out of frustration than out of any heroics. At first I wanted to turn back, and I almost did turn back, but the sight of some people on the streets gave me courage. They scurried about in search of food and drinking water. For many of our people to see us still here in this turmoil was some kind of reassuring gesture, even if small, that we by choice were with them in their struggle.
As I reached the Cathedral Church, and just before Mass was due to begin, the rain came down in buckets and the rapid firing of AK-47's resumed. There were a mere 23 people able to attend out of a congregation of thousands. Later I set out with two courageous, but very careful young men, to a small church in a slum area. My guides shepherded me along steep narrow rocky paths between the houses, where we met many of the armed militia sheltering from the tropical rains. The houses in close proximity gave us protection from the stray bullets wh(ch occasionally hissed overhead. On arriving at the church, we were delighted to find 50 to 60 parishioners singing enthusiastically. With them we shared our news and experiences. I reminded them in the words of St Francis de Sales, that the God who had taken us safely through the previous day would be with us in the day and days ahead.
On returning to the safety of our compound around 5pm, having sheltered in the Cathedral Parish House during a renewed battle from 2 to 4:30 pm, I suddenly felt very elated. I felt very elated despite the anxiety of my colleagues. The real cause of my elation I found hard to analyse. Was it due to my little bit of heroics which had gone right? Was it seeing the joy of the people I met on my adventure? Or was it just a warm feeling like I used to experience many years ago after taking boys from our school in Aberdour out on a rainy windswept cross-country run, followed by a warm shower? Perhaps it was elements of all of these, Reflecting on the whole situation now that it has passed, I feel that it was a grace to have been here and to be able to stay through the nightmare of each day with its crazy, dangerous, frightening and seemingly endless period of our 'three wars' packed into about two weeks, at least here in Liberia's capital city of Monrovia.
Harry O'Brien SDB
For Sister Margaret Renshaw, living in the Lake District is a never-ending source of joy. Here, in its beauty, no matter what the season, she feels the sense of God, of something infinitely great. She delights in the majesty of the mountains, in the ever-changing colour of the sky and water, in the peace and mystery of the lakes, in the patchwork of green fields dotted with sheep and cattle. She cherishes the wild flowers which grow in profusion, painting the meadows with every shade of colour.
Like the psalmist who said exultantly, I marvel at the wonder of my being, she too is convinced that we are beautiful, we are made by God and are precious in His sight. In the beauty of ourselves we are drawn into the beauty of God.
Is it beauty that entrances us?
Or could it be -
The One who made the beauty
Tugging at our heart,
In the loveliness we see?
Aware that all beauty should bring us nearer to God, should bring us back to the Divine within us, she has penned her simple reflections. They speak of you and me, about God's creation in all its forms, about the beauty and maiesty of God Himself.
God of Many Faces helps us to appreciate what Sister sees in thebeauty of her home in the Lake District, helps us reflect on the many faces of God in our lives.
Sister Margaret's book 'God of Many Faces' can be obtained from Don Bosco publications (see home page) or from Brettargh Holt, Levens, Kendal, Cumbria LA8 8EA
Michael was born into this benevolent universe on 28th September 1920 in Glasgow. From the security and love of a good Catholic home and family he entered the Salesian novitiate at Beckford in 1938. Professed a year later, he studied philosophy in Shrigley before beginning his practical training as a teacher in Chertsey from 1942-1945. He began his theological studies again at Shrigley before moving to Blaisdon where he was ordained a Salesian Priest in 1949.
His years of active priestly ministry fall into two main phases. From 1949-1983 he taught music in Thornleigh College, Bolton. And maybe not all of you know that he was a reluctant music teacher. He didn't think he would be good enough!
Upon his 'retirement' from teaching he studied in both California and Ushaw College, Durham, before beginning his final phase of parish priestly ministry from 1985 until his death, 18 years of very dedicated service to the people of St Joseph's, Durham. In Fr Michael Corbett, his Parish Priest, he met a genuine priestly brother and companion, who gave him such remarkable love and care during the last long months of his illness. Fr McGovern's sister, Mona, and her husband, Pat, also shared this burden with great love and attention in the last difficult weeks.
During his 34 years teaching music in Thornleigh, Michael's love and passion for music created something really special. Our Salesian Rector Major said that the Thornleigh Brass Band was the best boys' band he had heard, anywhere in the world. Many will recall those wonderful concerts in the Victoria Hall, the May processions, and so many performances in Thornleigh and all over the North West of England.
His school choir was made up of boys who, despite their own wonderful Lancashire accent, managed, under his direction to sing with a distinctive Scottish accent. 'Lord have meerrcy, Lord have meerrcy'....they would sing, as they became Lancastrian Glaswegians. The power of an inspirational and passionate teacher! Fr Michael was an enthusiastic and loving man. He made friends easily and kept them. His loyalty to Celtic Football Club was legendary.
Just a few weeks before he died, Michael came to Thornleigh for the last time. He was, by this stage, a dying man, plagued by frequent bouts of vomiting as the cancer continued to spread throughout his system. He came to our house for our elderly, in St Joseph's, to take part in the last retreat of his life with his brother Salesians. For the first three days Michael was so sick that I offered to take him back up to Durham, but in typical fashion he was determined to stay. At the end of the week, he said, 'My body is breaking up, but this retreat has done my soul and my spirit a power of good.' His Salesian community, all of us, were deeply impressed with his presence. He was so brave, uncomplaining and serene.
His bravery was matched by his enthusiasm. He was passionate about so many things, fiercely loyal, a proud son of Scotland. In fact as we were carrying his coffin out of St Joseph's Church in Durham to the swirl of bagpipes playing 'Flower of Scotland', I felt a very nervous Englishman.
So much of Michael's life can be summed up as a symphony. Our lives are unfinished symphonies. So too is Michael's, because in dying he has passed beyond the limitations of our earthy hearing of God's melodies to the clarity and the perfection of direct experience of the vision of God, to hear the music of eternity.
Michael was a warrior, and you don't argue with a warrior! He could be very impatient, stubborn and determined to get his way, and woe betide anyone who blocked him. But it was all part of his determination to get the best out of his pupils. In my last conversation with him, when I said that David Whitehead, who was preparing the music for his funeral Mass, was hoping to get some of his band members to play. He looked up, smiled and said, 'They had better be good!' During Michael's final battle with cancer I know how many past pupils wrote to him to tell him how much his teaching had impacted on them and enriched their lives.
To bless others is one of the greatest gifts and responsibilities of an educator and a priest. To bless the young, to confer on them approval, encouragement, acceptance. This is the key to St John Bosco's educational system. In his priestly ministry in the North East, Michael continued to bless so many people through the sacraments, his wonderful sermons, full of great stories, his care of the sick and simply his cheerful presence among people on so many social occasions.
Our search for God is always a response to his search for us, and as life unfolds we experience this search in different ways. The search in youth and the search in middle and later adulthood are well chronicled in wisdom tales and myths around the world. In our youthful years we take the initiative, we seek new challenges and are more interested in overcoming than accepting. We are more interested in seeking than finding. In later years we discover that, alongside passion and enthusiasm, we need wisdom and patience.
On the last day of his final retreat last month we were having a celebration meal and a singing a few songs, as we often do in our house for the elderly in St Joseph's. Throughout the week Michael's once powerful voice had been growing weaker. But as we sang The Battle Hymn of the Republic he suddenly recovered all his strength and thundered out the words, 'Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord'. It was as if the warrior recognised his old song. Our prayer is that Michael is now receiving the reward of a true and faithful warrior in the service of the Lord, one who is now listening to the music of eternity, the music that echoes the name of God.
May his great soul rest in peace.
Fr Michael Cunningham SDB