Wednesday, June 30, 2010

"Priests in the Image of Jesus and Mary"

June 21-26: The National Gathering of Priests of the Solomon Islands marked an historic moment in the history of the Church in the Solomon Islands. This is the first time that priests from all over the many islands and communities that make up the three dioceses of the country came together to pray and reflect on their mission as priests and to share fraternity with their fellow priests along with deacons and religious brothers. Dominicans, Marists, a Salesian, a Vincentian and two foreign Marianists joined the diocesan priests for the retreat, each group adding to the prayer and liturgy of the week.

When Bishop Chris invited us to preach the retreat, he asked us to develop a program that would help the men to be happy, holy priests. We built our talks around the theme "Priests in the Image of Jesus and Mary," using a quote from Blessed Columba Marmion (who was beatified with fr. Chaminade in September 2000): "Priestly life consists in reproducing in our personal life the image of Jesus . . . In order to imitate Christ fully, we must be, like him sons of God and sons of Mary. Jesus wishes to share with us without reserve all his most precious possessions, all that he is."

To illustrate and develop these ideas we used a variety of images of Jesus and Mary taken from both classical and contemporary sources ranging from the earliest known statue of the Good Shepherd to Byzantine icons to modern watercolors of Mary, Our Lady of Light. Each priest received a copy of "Mary and the Priestly Ministry" written by a Marianist priest, Fr. Emile Neubert for meditation. DVD's about the Shroud of Turin, the apparitions at Fatima, and the lives of Pope John XXIII and Archbishop Oscar Romero offered more viewpoints on the quote from Henri Nouwen we used to open the retreat: "My deepest vocation is to be a witness to the glimpses of God I have been allowed to catch."

Signs with themes for each day's reflections were posted around the chapel where we met. By Friday they filled the sanctuary:
June 21: "My deepest vocation is to be a witness to the glimpses of God I have been allowed to catch." Henri Nouwen
June 22: "The priest is a gift from the heart of Christ, a gift for the Church and for the whole world. Pope Benedict XVI
June 23: "Mary's pure capacity for Christ: in her humility she existed for God, for her Son and for the redemption of sinners." Fr. Emile Neubert SM
June 24: (Feast of the Birthday of John the Baptist) "The voice is John, but Christ is the Word." St. Augustine
June 25: "The priest gives joy to Jesus. The priest gives joy to Mary. The priest gives joy to souls." Fr. Emile Neubert SM

Fr. Moses, who spent several weeks at Kellenberg a few years ago reads Fr. Neubert's book.

Fr. David Galvin SM, a Marist priest from Boston, arrived in the Solomons in 1966 after a 45 day journey on a freighter that took him from the Brooklyn Navy Yard through the Panama Canal and across the Pacific via Tahiti. In his almost five decades as a missionary, Fr. David has been a teacher, the local Marist Superior, and a parish priest. Many of the priests on the retreat were his former students, and all of them have benefited from his example of quiet presence, devotion to prayer, and priestly fidelity. These days in his "retirement," Fr. David serves as chaplain at a school for the handicapped located on a remote part of the island of Makira (site of the very first Marist missionary effort in 1844). The school at Nana has no electricity and is a three hour walk from the nearest medical clinic. When Fr. David arrived in the Solomon Islands there were no native priests. At the retreat he was surrounded by dozens of them, the fruits of the seeds planted by courageous and generous missionaries over the past century.

Small World Note #2: In discussing our Irish ancestry, I discovered that David's grandfather and my great-grandfather came from the same small town of Caherciveen on the Cork-Kerry border. In the extensive kinship relations of the Solomon Islands, this makes us "wontoks," cousin-brothers who share the same land and language. -- Bro. Tim

Fr. Pius, another visitor to Kellenberg. A week of prayer and reflection can take its toll,
even in a tropical paradise. Bro. Tim took all the photos, so guess who was talking.
Maybe it was one of the bishops!

The priests of the Solomon Islands concluded their retreat by offering an "Act of Consecration of Priests to the Immaculate Heart of Mary." Pope Benedict wrote this prayer in the name of all priests and prayed it when he visited Fatima in May:
Through the same power of the Holy Spirit that overshadowed you,
making you the Mother of the Savior,
help us to bring Christ your Son to birth in ourselves too.Check Spelling
May the Church be thus renewed by priests who are holy,
priests transfigured by the grace of him who makes all things new.
Let your presence cause new blooms to burst forth in the desert of our loneliness,
let it cause the sun to shine in our darkness,
let it restore calm after the tempest,
so that all people shall see the salvation of the Lord,
who has the name and the face of Jesus,
who is reflected in our hearts forever united yours,
O Mary our Mother and Mother of the Church!

This Day You Will Be with Me in Paradise

The road from the wharf up to St. Dominic's Rural Training Centre, viewed from the veranda of the Marist Brothers' House.

June 21: St. Dominic's Rural Training Centre at Vanga Point on the island of Kolumbangara was the beautiful setting for our retreat. Imagine if Fr. Philip had designed and constructed a vocational school on a volcanic island in the South Pacific, and you'll have some concept of this remarkable place. Founded by Marist Brothers (FMS) from Australia forty years ago, St. Dominic's pioneered a method of education that the Brothers called "education for life." The two year course at Vanga focuses on the skills and ideas necessary for the life lived by the typical man of the Solomon Islands who wants to support his family and build up his community. Vanga students study agriculture, carpentry, and mechanics along with developing literacy, basic bookkeeping, and business principles. The courses are entirely practical and the school is self-supporting. Not only do the students grow all the food that they eat, the surplus is sent to market in Gizo to support other projects. During our stay we met and slept in buildings designed and constructed by the students from timber that they had cut down and milled themselves. While some students are harvesting trees, others are planting new ones. At dinner, we sat at tables and chairs made by the students and dined on the 100% organic fruits, vegetables, eggs and poultry raised by the boys of Vanga-- a kind of Trader Joe's fantasy come to life. The school has become a model for similar programs throughout the Pacific, and the Vanga "campus" also includes a Teachers' College where men and women are trained to teach in rural training centers throughout the Solomon Islands.

Mr. Ian Millet and the volunteer students from St. Gregory's College, Campbelltown, a Marist Brothers school outside Sydney with Bishop Chris.

Marist education at St. Dominic's mirrors Marianist education in other ways, as well. Many of the teachers are graduates of the program who have stayed on to pass on the tradition to new generations of young men. The principal, Philimon Ruia came to Vanga as a student in 1991 and has never left. Hospitality is central to the spirit of St. Dominic's. Philimon and his family moved out their house to make room for the Americans among the group, while the Brothers gave up their rooms for the bishops. Most of the students were off on holiday, but those who remained to assist with retreat and look after the animals and fields showed a wonderful spirit of friendship and cooperation that made Fr. Tom and I feel like we were back at home in Mineola or Uniondale.

Although there are no longer any Australian Marists at Vanga, the Brothers' high schools in Australia maintain a close bond with St. Dominic's. During the week a group arrived from St. Gregory's outside Sydney. The boys were spending their "winter" break as volunteers at Vanga, and they had come with all the supplies needed to repair boats and build a green house. Another link in a chain between the Marists and the Marianists that goes all the way back to the days when Fr. Chaminade and Fr. Champagnat, the founder of the Marist Brothers were both working in post-revolutionary France.
Vanga Point. Your heart would have to be very hard indeed if you did not find peace and prayer here amidst this panorama of sky and water: "How wonderful are your works, O Lord, in wisdom you have made them all."

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Semper Fidelis

More than 10 years ago, when he was a priest in Gizo, Bishop Chris trained 2 young men to drive his aluminum "canoe", the John Paul II with its outboard motor. Today Fidelis (left) and Peter (next to +Chris) are still manning the diocesan boats, including the Camillo, a sturdy wooden ship that can carry up to 25 passengers and a full hold of cargo.

June 21: After Mass and a hearty breakfast, all the priests and retreat personnel boarded a small flotilla of boats for the trip to Vanga Point, the setting for our retreat. Blue skies and smooth seas made the one and one half hour journey a peaceful and pleasant start to this historic retreat. More than one priest commented on how fitting it was for the priests and their bishops to be traveling by boat, given all the Gospel stories where Jesus and his disciples get into a boat and set off for an out-of-the-way place to rest and pray. Travelling by boat also brought to mind the first missionaries who sailed bravely into these waters over a century ago to bring the first seeds of the Catholic faith to these islands. How happy those holy and hardy men and women who left Europe and America for these scattered islands must be in heaven to witness the fruits of those seeds: more than 50 native diocesan priests and dozens of seminarians, along with Brothers and Sisters in many religious orders.

Brothers and Fathers

Fr. Tom Cardone and Bishop Chris Cardone, crowned with flowers and beaming to see each other after almost 2 years. It took Bishop Chris and his brother priests 14 hours to travel on the Pelican ship from Honiara to Gizo, longer than it took Fr. Tom and me to fly from Los Angeles to Sydney, Australia-- and their journey had no in-flight entertainment other than passing sea gulls.

June 20: Just before 8:30 pm, the boatload of priests arrived along with scores of other passengers and the countless bags, boxes, parcels, bundles, mats, mattresses and produce that are standard baggage on any Solomon vessel. After sorting the luggage, a band of pan pipers escorted the entourage of bishops, priests, deacons, seminarians and brothers from the wharf to the street that leads to the cathedral. The waiting warriors, flower girls, torch dancers, and just about everyone else in the town erupted into cheers, chants and dance. The enormous warmth of the welcome made up for the fact that darkness masked much of the colorful band of young greeters (of course, the torches helped!) and their brilliant enthusiasm rallied the tired travellers as they were officially welcomed with floral crowns, betel nuts, a round of speeches, and, at last, a desperately needed dinner, a much welcomed shower, and, finally, a long anticipated place to rest.

The Natives Are Restless

Note: We've been unconnected and without power for quite some time, so these posts are not at all in real time. I'll date them so you get a sense of how the events of the past ten days unfolded.

Sunday, June 20: Excitement rose higher and higher as the time grew near for the arrival of our visitors, more than 50 priests and two bishops. All the young folk of Gizo were busy all afternoon preparing for the welcoming ceremonies. The boys spent hours practicing their warrior dance and then squealed with delight as they painted their bodies and festooned themselves in the natural camouflage of the tropics. The girls stripped just about every hibiscus flower from the town as they fashioned floral arches and crowns for every visitor. By dusk everything was decorated, every youth was giddily in place, and all we had to do was wait for the boat to arrive with as much nervous energy as the arrival of Santa Claus gets in the US.

Waiting is one of the national pastimes in the Solomons, which is a good thing because everyone does quite a lot of it. This evening, everyone was in place by 6pm. The boat did not arrive until after 8. Imagine 150 children waiting in line, in costumes, some with spears and others with burning torches for over 2 hours and you have some sense of the excitement.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

"Rebuild My Church"

As some of you will recall, in April 2007, a strong earthquake and tsunami hit the western part of the Solomon Islands. Gizo bore the brunt of the tumult. Hundreds of homes along the coast were washed away and many of the more substantial buildings in town were damaged or destroyed. It was a blessing that only two lives were lost. St. Peter's Cathedral was among the casualties. For over a year, the church of Gizo gathered in amakeshift tent alongside the ruins of their cathedral.

The Church, of course, is not a building but a body. When Luciano Capelli, SDB was ordained as the new bishop of Gizo, he set about rebuilding both the people of God and the structurre where they worshipped. Spiritual renewal and physical construction began immediately. Thanks to the vision of Bishop Capelli, the efforts of dozens of Italian volunteers who designed and supervised the construction, and the untiring efforts of the people of the diocese, a splendid new cathedral now stands in the center of town, a fitting home for the worship of God by the vibrant faith community of Gizo.

The new cathedral is not completely finished. It awaits the arrival of stained glass from the Phillipines, mosaics from China and, crowning the whole edifice, church bells from Italy. Nevertheless, the church was filled to capacity on this Sunday morning as hundreds of worshippers gathered for the Eucharist with their bishop and all the priests of the diocese. In his homily, Bishop Luciano made reference to the struggles of the parish over the past years as he preached on Christ's challenge: "If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me." "There is no Christ without the Cross, there is no Church without the Cross," the bishop urged. "No one comes to heaven without tears."

The choir for Mass was composed of the young Dominican Brothers and Sisters whose novitiate is located on a small island across from Gizo. Several dozen young children served as an auxiliary choir. They sang in English, in the pigin dialect commonly used in the Solomons, and in the Lauru language used by the local people. The offertory procession was accompanied by dancing women of the parish. As I prayed with them, I could not help but thank God that the Church is young, the Church is alive, and the Church is strong. Eartquakes may shake buildings to the ground, but on the Rock of the Church we can always stand strong.
"Jesus yu kam kisim ofa / Mipela I like bringim long yu."
The offertory song in pigin: Jesus come and take this offering
that your people are pleased to bring to you.

The priests and deacon of the Diocese of Gizo with their Bishop and Fr. Tom after Mass.

Mary, Mother of the Church, help us to rebuild your Church where it is weak, and to encourage and support it where it is strong. Teach us to imitate your Son more perfectly and so build up the Body Christ. May young men and women willingly echo your "yes" to God's call to serve Christ and His Church all around the world.

Sign of Blessing

A rainbow -- sign of God's blessing over Gizo harbor. Our time here has certainly been blessed by meeting many old friends and new. The priests and people of Gizo have gone beyond themselves to make us feel welcome and to prepare for the arrival of over 60 priests from the rest of the country on Sunday evening.

We have been fed so many times each day that we have taken up what we call the "apostolate of feasting," a special ministry of the Diocese of Gizo.

Fr. Tom with Fr. Edmond, a Filipino missionary priest who arrived in Gizo just as we did to begin three years of service in the diocese.

A view of Gizo harbor from the top of the island. The town of Gizo, with 7,000 people is the 2nd largest town in the Solomons. Although it looks quite tranquil from this vantage point the island is undergoing something of a building boom. Even though it was Saturday, there was heavy machinery working all over the island repairing roads, building a new hospital, repairing the soccer stadium. Many fine new houses have also been built in town and on the hills surrounding the harbor. Most of this development has been the result of the aid and infrastructure assistance that came to Gizo after the earthquake and tsunami of 2007. Besides new buildings, new jobs in construction have brought more prosperity to the island as well.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Arrival in Gizo

Welcome at the Gizo Wharf with Bishop Luciano Cappelli (center)
and other priests of the Diocese of Gizo.
After passing through Brisbane and Honiara, the capital of the Solomon Islands, over the past few days, we arrived in Gizo this morning to a splendid welcome from the always-friendly people of Gizo town.
The airport is on a small island in Gizo harbor, and the bishop's boat, the Bark of Peter, sailed out to fetch us bedecked with flags from the US, Italy and the Vatican and filled with a welcoming committee of friends from our many previous visits to Gizo.
Many things have changed in Gizo over the years since Bishop Chris was ordained here in 2000. We'll share some of them in the future, but let two things signify the rapid development in this rural corner of the Solomons: the house where we are staying has a wireless connection and a big screen tv will be showing the World Cup games later this afternoon and evening! It took the Gospel 1900 years to reach Gizo. Sports have arrived in less than ten! Amen.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Sydney Sojourn

We enjoyed our brief spell of Sydney's delightful "winter" before the tropic heat. Our days were spent exploring the graceful city's many sights and sounds, and we learned two remarkable stories.

Sunday morning we set off for Mass at Sydney's St. Mary's Cathedral. The lofty Gothic towers of the cathedral, built of Sydney's distinctive golden sandstone, stand guard at the top of Sydney's ceremonial center, Macquarie Street.

The liturgy at St. Mary's is as lofty and Gothcs as its towers, with a men's choir singing most of the Mass in Latin chant and polyphony. Cardinal Pell presided, looking much more haggard and stooped than he did two years ago at World Youth Day.

This statue of Mary, Help of Christians, was carved by one of the early Benedictine monks of the cathedral. When the first church was destroyed by fire in the 1850s, it found its way to a private garden and has only recently returned home.

After Mass we took the train across the Harbour Bridge to the shrine of Australia's first and only saint, Mary MacKillop. She will be canonized in October, and her story is at once uniquely Australian and universal in the best Catholic tradition. Mary was born to a poor but pious immigrant family in Melbourne in 1842. As a young teenager she was sent to serve first as a governess and then as a teacher to support her family. Mary felt the call of religious life, desiring to devote herself to God and the service of the poor. After several religious orders rejected her because of her poverty and lack of education, her confessor suggested that they form a new religious congregation. In 1866, at the age of 24 Mary became Mother Mary of the Cross, the foundress and superior of the Sisters of St. Joseph of the Sacred Heart. Many young women joined her, and the sisters in their coarse brown habits were soon setting out to the roughest edges of the rough-and-tumble colony. Like the disciples, the sisters set out with just the shoes on their feet and their faith in God. "Never see a need without doing something about it" was Mary's motto, and the sisters organized schools, orphangages, job training centers, clinics, shelters and every sort of good work. A woman of strong will as well as strong faith, Mary soon ran into trouble with local pastors and bishops. Impatient to serve the poor, Mary and the sisters often neglected to seek appropriate ecclesiatical permissions or to wait for "proper" convents to be built. The Sisters often arrived in a new settlement months or even years before a parish priest would arrive. Their charity and energy are still legendary in Australia, and Mary's "roll up your sleeves and get to work attitude," influenced a generations of Australia's newly arriving immigrants.

Blessed Mary MacKillop, Mother Mary of the Cross, will be canonized in October 2010, the first Australian-born saint.

In 1871 Mary and her sisiters were excommunicated, but after a short while the bishop regretted his action and reversed the decision on his death-bed. Mary had to make three separate journeys to Rome (45 days aboard a ship each way!) before she obtained the approval of Pope Pius for her order and its governance. Still the Sisters were expelled from two dioceses before they were welcomed in North Sydney where Mary died in 1909 and the sisters' motherhouse is still located.

In 1891 on thge 25th anniversary of their foundation the Sisters numbered almost 500 and their work extended to the furthest reaches of Australia and new Zealand. It can truly be said that Mary's vision and charism laid the groundwork for both the church and school system in Australia.

Bro. Tim and Fr. Tom with Sister Lucy and her nephew Damien at the Mary MacKillop shrine.
Mary died in 1909 after a long illness, and the chapel that was built around her tomb soon became a place of pilgrimage for people from all over Australia. Three popes-- Paul VI, John Paul II and Benedict XVI have come to pray at her tomb. On the afternoon that we visited a steady stream of pilgrims of all ages and nationalities came to "visit Mary," as the Sisters say.
In the museum that adjoins the chapel we met two of the Sisters of St. Joseph who told us many stories of Mary and the work of the Sisters over the years. They even gave us each a relic to take with us on our mission to the Solomons. We left both inspired by Mary's story and marvelling over the way that the Holy Spirit can work through just one person.
When Pope John Paul II beatified Mary in 1995 (at Randwick Raceway where the Closing Mass of Sydney's 2008 World Youth Day was held) he summarized her virtues:
Genuine openness to others,
Hospitality to strangers
Generosity to the needy,
Justice to those unfairly treated,
Perseverance in the face of adversity,
Kindness and support to the suffering.
Virtues for all of us to cultivate at any time and in any hemisphere!

St. Mary's Cathedral illuminated as part of the MacquarieVisions celebration.
We learned the second story when we came out of the cathedral again after solemn vespers in the evening. The whole facade of the cathedral was vividly illuminated as part of a celebration of the 200th anniversary of the arrival of Governor Lachlan Macquarie as the fifth governor of Australia. Macquarie was ent to serve as warden to the convicts transported to the furthest reach of the British empire and to help wring as much profit from the apparnetly dismal continent as he could for the Crown and its investors. Macquarie and his wife had other plans. He was the first to imagine the possibility of Australia as something more than a dumping place for imperial riffraff and of Sydney as a great city that would rival a European capital.
In his ten years as governor from 1810 to 1820 Lachlan and Elizabeth Macquarie transformed the city and the colony. They sponsored 268 visionary projects from building roads and establishing towns to laying out the Botanical Gardens and organizing a conservatory of music. The basic plan of Sydney as a city opening itself to its incomprable harbor came from Macquarie's imagination. The town he entered was hunkered down around the heavily fortified Government House.
Most enlightened was Macquarie's attitude his "citizens," the transported convicts of England and Ireland and the native people of Australia. Macquarie believed in a "fair go" for all. He ordered that soldiers respect the rights of the native peoples and that as much as possible their names be used for to name rivers and landforms (hence the mouthful Sydney suburb of Wooloomooloo). Convict showing exceptional talent and enterprise were emancipated. Macquarie appointed ex-convicts as the chief architect and poet laureate of the colony. A dozen of the buildings erected by the talented Francis Greenway still line Macquarie Street in Sydney. A staunch Scots Presbyterian, Macqurie nevertheless laid the cornerstone for the first Catholic chapel (where St. Mary's now stands) so that the Irish could enjoy the benefits and encouragements of their faith. When he had Greenway build a substantial barracks for the convicts so that "decent living might make decent men," some of his fellow Englishmen could take no more and complained to the King. Macqurie was recalled to England to be investigated. He died a broken man in 1824. His wife died in poverty two years later.
200 years later the Sydney they could never have imagined in their wildest dreams but which is actually the fulfillment of their vision is celebrating the MacquarieVision. From St. Mary's all the way down to the harbor, the buildings Macquarie built or inspired are illuminated with light and sound projections that tell the story of this remarkable pioneer couple. Walking along Macquarie Street with us as we watched and listened to this story unfold were hundreds of families speaking what seemed like a dozen languages, proof that Sydney has indeed become the welcoming, elegant multicultural city that Macquarie imagined so long ago.
Not bad for one day!
Small World Note #1: When we were having breakfast on Monday morning at the Circular Quay overlooking the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge, we got into a conversation with our waitress about how people who live in a city never visit "attractions" that draw tourists. When we mentioned NYC, she asked where we lived. We said "Long Island," and she asked where.When I answered "Mineola," she broke into a great laugh. She had served as an au-pair for a year in Garden City ten years ago. One of her charges, Tom Bruno CHS class of 2005 0r 6!

Project MAST -- Eighth Edition

The seeds of Project MAST were planted in 2000 when Fr. Christopher Cardone, a Domincan missionary and a 1976 Chaminade graduate, was ordained as the auxiliary bishop of the Diocese of Gizo in the Solomon Islands. Along with many other family and friends, Chris’s brother, Marianist Fr. Tom Cardone, and Bro. Kenneth Hoagland made the long trek to the remote archipelago in the South Pacific. After the ceremonies, the Marianists and the new bishop discussed ways in which the Brothers in New York could help the young church of the Solomons, a country where most people have only been Christian for two or three generations. Bishop Chris described the tremendous need for the development of committed Catholic teachers and a strong corps of youth . Fr. Tom committed the Marianists of Long Island to the task, and Bro. Ken provided the acronym: Marianist Apostolic And Spiritual Training. In June of 2003, the first pair of Brothers set off to the Solomons uncertain of what they would find. They returned full of enthusiasm and possibilities, andsince then 10 Marianists have spent their summers in the Solomons, traveling to almost every parish in the country and bringing education and encouragement to over 3,000 paricipants in the MAST workshops.

A unique feature of this year’s MAST program will be a retreat that Fr. Tom and I will give to all of the priests of the Solomon Islands. This first-ever national gathering of priests is part of the celebration of the Year of the Priest, and will provide a rare opportunity for the priests of the Solomon Islands, mostly young native men who are spread out over the many far-flung islands and isolated villages of the Solomons, to gather in community for prayer, reflection, and fraternity.