Don Bosco Today - Spring 2005
27th December 2004
29th December 2004
30th December 2004
31st December 2004
3rd January 2005
6th January 2005
6th January 2005
7th January 2005
23rd January 2005
Fr John Thomson SDB
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In view of the devastating effects of the tsunami, which affected so many members of our Salesian Family, it seemed appropriate to devote this issue to that subject. Articles that were to appear in this issue have been kept for the next edition. The tsunami affected all of us, still affects us, and will remain, for many years, in our memories. This issue records the immediate reaction of our Salesian Family. It is a record of suffering, of concern and of so many acts of outstanding generosity.
There are many possible ways of reporting the tsunami of late December 2004 and early January 2005. As far as possible I have attempted to use the words of those who were there, as they reported to our superiors in Rome the events of those days. These day-by-day reports, prepared in very difficult circumstances, catch the urgency of the situation and chronicle the alacrity of the reaction of the Salesian Family. I have relied heavily on the reports of AustraLasia, an email service for the Salesian Family of Asia Pacific, and on the English version of our international Salesian news agency ANS, which is based in Rome. ANS is to be found on our central Salesian Website, www.sdb.org. Undoubtedly the efficiency of communication meant that those who were suffering became immediately aware of the concern of the whole Salesian Family. The rest of us were privileged to be able to read, each day, all that was being done by our Salesian brothers and sisters in the disaster-hit areas, and where possible, to respond with generosity.
How should we react to this disaster? It is the very people of these troubled places who teach us how to cope. We learn from their unselfish concern for strangers and foreigners, in the way they welcomed them into their homes; poor people who were rich in generosity. While we may have something to give them, we have so much more to learn from them.
Anthony Bailey SDB
The Salesian Family in the East Asia-Oceania region anxiously await the news of the events following the devastating undersea quake and resulting tsunami, since they directly affect the areas where Salesian communities are located:
Timor, Thailand, India-Chennai, India-Tiruchy, Sri Lanka, and Myanmar
The event that began north of Aceh, Indonesia, has not affected Salesian communities in Timor, since the tsunami effects did not cause damage on Java or east thereof where these Salesians are concentrated.
In Thailand we have various communities of the Salesian Family. We already know the Salesian Sisters at Haad Yai on the East Coast, are unaffected. Also the Salesian Family in what people would generally think of as the Phuket region, were not directly affected. The event in that area seems largely to have affected the tourist locations. We could recall, though, that it is in the Diocese of Surat Thani where all this has occurred. The Salesian Bishop Joseph Prathan was only recently consecrated for that diocese.
We have very little news from Myanmar. The Superior of the Vice Province is currently in Rome. He indicates that Salesian communities are more concentrated inland and to the north of the country, not down along the southern and eastern fringe, which would have borne the brunt of the tsunami.
We have two email reports from the South Asia Salesian provinces, one from Chennai, the other from Tiruchy (North and South Tamil Nadu, respectively) and a phone report from Sri Lanka. We also have a presence in the South Andamans, where news reports indicate wide devastation and loss of life. Most of our own reports indicate that Salesian communities and works have been spared major damage and injury, but that Salesians are now involved directly in relief work.
The Bosco Information Services report tells us that the houses Koothamkuzhy and St. Bede's, Chennai, have been opened to the many now rendered homeless. Similar efforts are going on in Sri Lanka, though the Salesian communities are not located along the eastern and southern beachfronts that saw most of the loss of life and destruction on that island.
As reports trickle in from various areas around South East Asia where the undersea quake and tsunami have caused such devastation, it is clear that relatives, and in some instances past-pupils of the Salesians and the Salesian Sisters have lost their lives, while others have lost all that they possess.
One of the areas most seriously affected by the underwater quake that struck South East Asia was the Indian State of Tamil Nadu. From the south of Tamil Nadu we have received an eye-witness account by the Salesian Provincial of Tiruchy, Fr James Theophilus:
It was a sudden shock. The people were not expecting it and were unprepared. Most of the people affected were fishermen. Their only wealth are their huts, their nets and their boats. Most of the villages on the coast have lost everything. Early on Sunday morning many people were about, buying fish, and the children were playing on the sands. At 6.45 am, the earth shook. Then a tidal wave struck the whole coastline. No one knows yet how many died. Many are children who did not manage to escape. Many people, who were still in their huts, when the wave struck, were then trapped. Some, mainly young clerics, had gone home for the Christmas holidays to their families who live on the coast. We are still trying to get news about them, but communication is not easy. Some Salesians have lost their families: may they rest in peace. The Salesian houses near the coast are very busy with rescue work. They are providing food, clothing and accommodation for the homeless. In our Province I have set up a committee to look after the needs of the people affected, and it is working. We don't know the number who have died. It is going up all the time. The material damage is also considerable. Most of the fishermen have lost their boats and nets, their only means of livelihood.
What seems likely, for Tiruchy and for all other affected nations around the Bay of Bengal, is that members of the Salesian Family will have lost possessions or their life.
Fr Anthony Pinto, Salesian Superior of the newly created Sri Lanka Vice-Province, says that most of his communities are close to the coast, but on the west coast of the island, this did not bear the full force of the tidal wave. His concern and that of his communities, is for the people they serve, just about all of whom have suffered loss one way or another, and especially for the children who have lost parents and the many more parents who have lost children.
Fr John Lissandrin, Provincial Secretary in Thailand, tells us that the Stigmatin Fathers and the Sisters, Servants of the Sacred Heart of Mary Immaculate, who are part of the Salesian Family, are providing what help they can in the affected areas of South-West Thailand. At Krab, the Stigmatins have placed the Church and other buildings at the disposition of the homeless, and are providing food, drinking water and clothing, as well as coffins to bury the dead. He quotes local figures of 896 dead and nearly 8,000 injured along the coast including towns such as Phuket, Phang Nga, Krabi, Trang, Ranon and Satun.
It is such a widespread disaster. It will touch the lives of millions, especially the young. The little stories will undoubtedly be lost in the broader tragedy, and the Salesian presence is a scattered one throughout the affected region.
The situation as seen by Fr Thepharat Pitisant, the new Provincial.
At present, the casualty toll from Sunday's catastrophe in the six southern provinces of Thailand has shot up to 1,543 deaths and 8,950 injuries. The toll is going up every day, as more bodies are found. All the stricken provinces are in the Salesian diocese of Surathani where 19 Salesians are working. However, no Salesians are among the casualties.
The newly appointed Salesian Bishop of Surathani, Joseph Prathan, has set up a relief centre to help the victims. The centre works in close cooperation with the government and other private agencies. Fr Tito Pedron, the Rector of the Salesian House of Studies, and the students from there, are now in the stricken area to provide assistance to injured victims. The Salesians, and the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, a Congregation founded by a Salesian, work hand-in-hand at the relief centre. They go out everyday to different affected areas to provide relief aid.
The goods donated by the public are sufficient and even exceed the local demand. What people need now is cash or construction materials. Another urgent need is for interpreters, since many victims are foreign nationals. Few local people can communicate with them.
The Salesian province of Thailand has donated an amount of money to Bishop Prathan, for the relief operations. All the Salesian institutions are being asked to raise funds amongst the students and parents to help restore the devastated provinces. Bishop Prathan, through his inspection of the areas, found one village ravaged by the massive tidal waves that seemed to be overlooked by the state agencies. He has taken up the responsibility to help restore this village through reconstruction of the school and the houses.
Fr James Theophilus, the Salesian Provincial, covering some of the worst hit areas along the South Indian coastline, has written to the Salesians of his province supporting them in the difficult and delicate task ahead, as they respond to the most urgent needs of their people. He writes:
Together with other Salesians, I paid a visit on 28th and 29th to the devastated area. I visited the Salesian houses, which are on the eastern seacoast, I also paid a visit to all the villages of the coastal area, where the families of so many of our Salesians live. I made this visit to show our solidarity with their families at this moment and also to see the relief work done by our Salesians. Some of our Salesians have lost relatives to these waves.
Fr Theophilus then gives details of the relief activities he has put in place. In Kuthenkuly the community went immediately to the village and have remained there with the people. Five hundred people have been accommodated in the College premises where they will be looked after and fed for the coming weeks, until other arrangements can be made for their return.
In Threspuram, the Salesians are taking care of nearly the whole village and providing meals for 3,500 people. It seems this work will have to continue for many weeks. The Director of Salem, together with the confreres and the social workers have rushed to Nagapattinam, one of the worst hit areas, and are providing them with water, food, clothes and medicine. The Director of Coimbatore, together with the Salesians and the social workers, have involved themselves in attending to the needs of the affected people in the northern coastal area of Tamil Nadu. The Rector and the community of Don Bosco Tanjore are providing food and other necessities to the people of Nagapattinam. The Youth of Madhakottai, together with the Salesians are helping to clear the area and providing support for the people affected.
Fr Theophilus goes on to say:
The province also has provided financial assistance to some of our centres so that they can continue the relief work until the people are able to stand on their own. The promptness with which the Major superiors expressed their oneness with us and their readiness to assist us, is to be admired and imitated. I would like to record the immediate assistance given by the Provincial and the Economer of Mumbai Province.
"For us, the saddest thing is the orphaned children", said Fr Thepharat, the Thai Provincial, in a brief communiqué. The Salesians in Thailand are closely monitoring the situation in conjunction with Bishop Prathan, given that the greatest loss of life and property has occurred in his diocese in Southern Thailand.
The Salesians' first response was to provide the Bishop with cash and consumer goods to help meet the immediate needs of the people. But on 2nd January, the Provincial and his council will meet at Surat Thani to discuss how best to proceed with the long-term needs in mind. The current thinking is a sustainable and lasting project to help orphans and other children affected by the disaster. One possible project is to build a home, to shelter and educate destitute children, giving a particular Salesian slant to the witness of solidarity.
Fr Thepharat notes that the people along the coast are living in constant fear that the killer waves will return. It is the ordinary folk who are suffering from lack of drinking water since all of their usual sources, mostly underground, are contaminated now by sea water.
Fr Miguel writes from Lahore:
News of the Asian tsunami devastation has naturally reached all corners of the globe. Lahore is not so distant, geographically, from the affected areas along the South Indian coastline, but they have had enough troubles of their own in recent years. Nevertheless, the response from the boys at the Don Bosco Technical School and Youth Centre in Lahore, is typical of the generosity of youth, who put their own troubles aside and think of others.
Last night I spoke to some of the boys. I asked them what our contribution could be for the victims of the disaster. Prayer was the first reaction from the boys. Then we agreed to participate in a Relief Fund, organized by the diocese, setting aside part of the money from their School Fees this month. It will be something symbolic because our own economy is not very strong. But Don Bosco participated in the collections of his time, because he knew the great value of encouraging the generosity of youth. What was more touching was when, that evening a group of older boys came to volunteer to be sent to the stricken areas so that, with their technical skills, they could help in the work of rebuilding. I mentioned to them that we had already offered our place to host orphans, and they were very happy. They immediately calculated that we had room for about 50 boys. While these boys do realise that it is not practical, nor advisable, to send children from the stricken areas abroad there is no doubting their generosity and sincerity.
Just over a week later, and the Salesians, as a worldwide organisation, are closely involved in the relief operation around Indian Ocean.
There are some 600 Salesians from 93 communities on the ground, helping directly in terms of immediate assistance, amongst their own people. They have the advantage of knowing the language and knowing the needs, and are obviously well placed for the most immediate help, as well as thinking of longer-term responses. Their most immediate response, however, has been to offer shelter to thousands of temporary refugees.
From Rome, the decision has been made to coordinate funds that have been pouring in, either directly from Salesian sources, or from many other people, especially throughout Europe, and to encourage people to work via this coordination. The Don Bosco Network is an umbrella organisation recognised by the EU, comprising seven European Salesian-based NGO's, and as such has the possibility of coordinating very large efforts, and transferring funds with the least delay. Both the Rector Major and the Missions Councillor in Rome are kept well-informed of each situation in countries where Salesians are, and consequently they are in a good position to determine funding allocations according to need.
The very first response from Rome was an amount of 50,000 Euros to the most severely affected areas, where Salesians are close to the tragedy, Thailand, Sri Lanka and India. This was before funds began to come in. Now that additional funds are available, the coordination of further funding through the Salesians is being managed by Fr Ferdinand Colombo of VIS, the Italian based Salesian Volunteer Organisation. VIS already has volunteers in most of the affected areas and has been asked to help coordinate the worldwide Salesian relief effort.
VIS has adopted a five-point set of criteria with which to make funding recommendations to the Rector Major:
- Water, food and medicine to those immediately in need.
- Offer of shelter to those who have lost homes, especially for orphans.
- Beginning the process of rebuilding homes, provision of sanitation and rebuilding schools.
- Providing tools for work, nets, boats, and agricultural implements.
- Looking to the longer-term support, especially of children.
The Mother General of the Salesian Sisters, Sister Antonia Colombo, was immediately in touch with the Provinces in the area and learned from the Sisters of the terrible situation of grief and suffering, experienced by so many people. The Mother held a meeting of the General Council to consider a swift and coordinated response. All the communities of the Sisters were informed of bank account numbers for the collecting of funds and the channelling of resources and help. In addition some Sisters have gone to the area with a large number of volunteers to help with the work of interpreting for the injured and others in need. Through VIDES International, an NGO which works closely with the Salesian Sisters, many people are acting as long-distance adoptive parents of babies.
Tsunami, waves of terrible destruction!
Affects us all, for we are family.
Weak though we be, we feel their need.
Our strength is in our solidarity.
NEGOMBO - Sri Lanka
Understandably, in the aftermath of the events of a little over a week ago, it has been difficult to maintain contact with the Salesian Vice Province in Sri Lanka, either because the lines are down, or busy, but more so because our confreres are not sitting around waiting for contacts of this kind, they are simply on the job helping where they can.
Despite all this, Fr Pinto has been in touch, and offers the following information about the situation as he sees it.
Now the government has estimated 9000 children are dead and over 3000 children have become orphans. These figures are still increasing because hundreds of people washed out to sea have not yet been accounted for.
We are trying our best to assist the people in our immediate surroundings. The Don Bosco community in the South is giving shelter to 200 families who have completely lost their homes. Along the Western coast particularly in Negombo, the Don Bosco Community is sheltering 350 families who are Catholic fisherman. There is another Don Bosco community, close to Colombo, offering assistance to another 300 families by providing food and health-care. There are many other centres in the area, but the people in the Salesian Centres are very well looked after.
What we are planning now is, to give long-term assistance, providing houses for those who have lost their homes and education of the children orphaned by this natural disaster. These days everyone is offering everything to the victims, but we know after a week when the emotions run low, there won't be any help.
We know lots of people are offering immediate needs with food and clothing, but we need to plan something on a long-term basis, such as building houses, and looking after orphaned children. The National Child Protection Authority has asked us to take the children who are orphaned.
We Salesians are working toward providing shelter for at least 12% of these children who are orphaned by the tsunami in the Western and Southern Region and also for 10% from the Tamil Speaking area of North and East. We are also working towards building at least 350 houses for the homeless and resettling them in life.
The students at the Salesian Technical School, Negombo, have already begun this work, making soil blocks to make 350,000 bricks, for the construction of low-cost houses for those who lost everything in the tidal wave a week ago. The students have just finished their training course. The youngsters were taught how to produce bricks and the techniques for building low cost housing. This experience can be put to immediate use to build small homes for the fisher folk and their families who have lost homes, boats and nets. They began working yesterday and the Minister of Commerce in the Singalese Government, himself from Negombo, was there to see the start of this first reconstruction project. The biggest problem at the moment in Negombo comes from those who want to take advantage of the situation: there are many people who are very fortunate with their own houses but want to steal the free food and other assistance, preventing those in real need from getting it. It is a serious problem but the local police are looking into it. There is still a great emergency situation with displaced people, and the rains have also started. The people are afraid as well, because the Government has said that there could be further tremors in January and this has led to panic.
Our main problem is looking for land; we cannot put them back on the beach. Land prices away from sea are very high. The other major problem we are facing in Sri Lanka is clearing the debris and transporting water. Clear water is available in the country, but transportation is the problem. We are thinking of acquiring necessary equipment to supply water and to build and resettle people.
As we Salesians have this long term dream in our minds to assist these unfortunate people, may I once again appeal to you to help us in this regard to make this beautiful dream come true, and bring the lives of the people back to normal.
SURAT THANI Thailand
The BBC and other media outlets using similar material, has been showing scenes of children returning to school in southern Thailand. Heartening news, and true for many children, but not for all. We hear regularly through the media that half of those who lost their lives in Thailand were foreign tourists. Also accurate but it means the other half were Thai, probably poor, and have left further impoverished families behind. What follows is part of that story.
Bishop Joseph Prathan is the bishop of Surat Thani on the East coast. His diocese extends to the West and South and includes Phuket, he visited the coastal stretch off which lies the island of Phuket. There, along the coast he found seven or eight villages, and the destruction of local schools which served them. The school in the village of Ban Muang, part of the township of Ta-kua-pa in the Province of Phang Nga is one school in question. Another is Yu Lak, 15 km from there, with 120 children from infants to 6th Grade. Unfortunately nothing at all remains of this school but rubble. It's difficult to get the children back to school when the school has gone!
150 families lived around the school in Ban Maung, their main source of income being fishing. Seventy of those families have been relocated in one area; others are either unaccounted for, or have gone to pagodas, and a local national park area, for shelter. Those who are cleaning up the area are still finding bodies even today, in most cases buried beneath the sand.
After surveying all of this, Bishop Prathan has noted the relief is now in full-flow from many international organisations and donors. But he has also noted those places and persons who will be overlooked if the Diocese does not take them into account. He has told the people there:
Although many have been injured and possessions lost, the Lord is still with us, and doing things for us. There are many organisations helping, regardless of nationality, or religion. Our Diocese is working with them in a network. We are currently providing communications and information to Catholics elsewhere, who wish to help, and we are bringing actual help at two levels: diocesan representatives are bringing basic materials, food and medicine, to those most in need of them. At another level, we are setting up programmes to provide for the rebuilding of schools, provision of work-tools, especially for those, who up till now, have received none of this help.
He then names the different religious congregations, including member groups of the Salesian Family, who are helping, along with the Parish priests of the area.
Fr Lissandrin writes:
On the 4th January the schools in Thailand were opened again. It was an important occasion on which the children and youngsters had the chance to reflect on the recent events. If the coastline had been hit by the tsunami on a school day, some people are saying, the affects of the tragedy would have been even worse. In the southwestern area, hit by the tidal wave, some schools have been totally destroyed. In one school only the flagpole is left. Others are being used by emergency relief teams. In others, the number of pupils is sadly reduced. The re-opening of the schools was one way of returning to normal life. Many of those going to school were wearing casual clothes since they have lost their school uniforms in the huge flood, and at school they have spoken to the teachers about what happened to them and their families. These students have lived through terrifying times and need to be helped psychologically to deal with the new family situation that has been sprung on them without warning.
The country is coping with the tragedy with great dignity and admirable solidarity, and with the desire to move on from this frightful situation as soon as possible. As in every situation like this there are those who want to exploit it, but these are rare cases condemned by the people. Yesterday the Prime Minister on television encouraged the people to look to the future with a certain optimism, suggesting that within a few months some of the tourist areas could be operating again, while for other areas it might take a little longer. From a religious point of view they don't so much ask the question, How can God allow such a catastrophe, but rather they pray and make offerings to the monks and the pagodas for the repose of the souls of their dear ones. There are positive signs amidst all this suffering. The wave of death has given rise to another wonderful wave of 'nam-ciai' (as the Thai people say) which corresponds to a sense of generosity and solidarity that flows spontaneously from the heart and is uniting the country making it more concerned about the poorest people.
The Australian Association, Youth Off the Streets, directed by the Salesian Fr Christopher Riley, and the Indonesian Islamic organisation Muhammadiya, which looks after abandoned children, have signed an agreement to build an orphanage in Banda Aceh, for children who lost their parents in the catastrophe. Banda Aceh is in the north of the island of Sumatra, the one most devastated by the tsunami of 26 December. Fr Riley, with some volunteers from the Association, had visited Aceh on 7th January but were threatened by a group of local fundamentalists, in particular by the Islamic Defenders Front, who accused them of wanting to convert the Muslim children to Christianity.
Fr Riley is now very happy to be working side-by-side with members of Muhammadiya, on a project to build an orphanage quickly. The partnership they have created ensures that the children will grow up retaining their own culture, religion and spirituality. Youth Off the Streets has committed itself to ensuring financial support for the orphanage, also sending specialised personnel, food and materials that will be useful in running the reception centre. Volunteers from Muhammadiya will have direct care of the children.
Thailand: from sorrow to joy.
After all the tsunami-wrought sorrow of the past month, and with reminders still of the rehabilitation work ahead, the Salesian Province of Thailand gathered at Banpong, Sarasit School, to celebrate Province Day, the bringing together of the Salesian Family from all over, including from Cambodia. This was a farewell to a Provincial, made Bishop, and a welcome to a Provincial whose proclaimed program is serve the Lord with joy.
Why Banpong Sarasit School and not Bangkok? This year the Salesian school celebrates its 75th anniversary. Some 250 members of the Salesian Family gathered there on 7th February for Province Day celebrations, which began, with a Mass at 10 am. It was an occasion too for Bishop Joseph Prathan to remind the gathered members of the ongoing and long-term work following the tsunami devastation in his diocese. The sorrow of those moments cannot be so easily forgotten. Sixteen different Catholic congregations, along with Catholic Scouts, headed by Salesian Fr John Baptist Suthep remain in the affected area with the local population. Despite some lack of clarity at the level of international intervention, and that of the Thai Government, the Bishop is working calmly at long-term plans, which include his priority for an orphanage managed by the Salesians, and already with an established budget.
One grand feature of the Province Day was the presence of so many young people, preparing to become Salesians, about 80 in all. In the latter part of the day a football match took place between the Salesians and these young men.
The new Provincial, Fr Thepharat, spoke humbly of the lessons that a new responsibility and a new set of life's circumstances bring. He would be using these lessons to benefit the Salesians and the life of the province. He could see that Salesian spirituality, in the end, is always a spirituality of joy
1914 - 2005
John was born in Hammersmith, London in 1914, the youngest of three boys. His father was a pharmacist, and after his time as a boarder at Salesian College, Battersea, John went on to spend a year as a medical student at Guy' s Hospital. At this point, he decided that the Lord was calling him to a different ministry, the Religious life and the Priesthood.
He went to Salesian House at Cowley, Oxford, where he took his first vows in September 1934. As a cleric, he taught at Salesian College, Chertsey, for three years then went to Blaisdon Hall, Gloucester, where he was ordained a priest on July 25th 1943. He taught Biology at Thornleigh College for 21 years and went to Farnborough in 1966. There he opened a Biology Laboratory, which became a significant department for the College. He retired from teaching in 1981, but continued to help in the laboratories and assist in many ways.
Over the years much of his spare time was taken up collecting and despatching medical supplies for the clinics and hospitals in Liberia. He also sent out crates of books, football kits and other items for the children. He continued this work until he was unable to move about unaided.
In his seventy years as a Salesian his youthful optimism and apostolic impetus never left him. He spent his life looking for things that needed doing and he did them. He was ever a man in a hurry. The many families that invited him to be part of their family celebrations and holidays were a testimony to his generosity and willingness to oblige and they had great affection for him.
He did not become a doctor himself but laid the foundations for future generations in many pupils who entered the medical profession as doctors, dentists and chemists.
Brendan McGuiness SDB
So far from our own province we have been able to send, as a result of the generosity of so many people, a cheque for £30,000.
If you would like to make a donation towards Salesian work for the victims of the Tsunami, please click here to download a form (PDF Format 23k) which you can print out.
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The Vatican Council reminded us that, Morning and Evening Prayer are the two hinges on which the Prayer of the Church turns. The reflection on life, alongside the words of scripture, has been a daily practice in the Church since earliest times. This book continues that tradition, offering a simple form of prayer for individual or communal use at the start of the day.
This book is presented as a partner volume to Prayers to Close the Day. It is offered as a way of prayer for busy people. It is also offered as a resource to Christian communities who would like to start their day with a simple form of prayer. It can also serve as an occasional alternative to the full Office of the Church for religious communities and parishes.
So where is the good of being caught up into God's loving prayer,
when our activities are trapped in the love of earthly and shallow concerns?
St Francis de Sales
David O'Malley is a Salesian priest with great experience of youth work. For nine years he was responsible for the coordination of youth work in the Salesian Province. He is presently chaplain to the staff and students of Thornleigh Salesian College, Bolton, England, with over 1500 students.
He is a well-known author of books for youth and those who work with the young. His best selling book, Trust the Road has been used by many schools as a parting gift for older students, and has been translated into German. David O'Malley was also responsible for the publication of Moving On, a course in citizenship which is used in school, college and parish contexts. The success of his Prayers to Close the Day encouraged him to write this present publication.
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