Thursday 29 December 2011


And this is a cyclamen. They come in various colours, red, pink, yellow perhaps, and are often available potted, expensive though.

Absolutely beautiful, though: like a snowdrop. The purity of the colour and line.

Fr Stephen tells me that this came as a potted plant. There are others planted near it, gathered probably from the Carmel hill. Not yet in flower. 


These are probably jonquils - narcissus jonquilla, a type of daffodil. They are tiny. I thought daffodils were bigger. At any rate, these are autumn - winter flowering.  

Tuesday 27 December 2011

Of sheep and shepherds

Sheep and perhaps a shepherd at Bet Gemal.

Salesian house at Bet Gemal

The lovely Salesian house at Bet Gemal (= House of Gamaliel), where St Stephen's body was buried after his martyrdom in Jerusalem. Note also the ancient olive tree, still bearing fruit, reputed to be more than 2000 years old (estimated by the girth of the trunk).  

Monday 26 December 2011

Children of God

We know that in our cribs there is Jesus, and Mary, and Joseph. We also know that there are shepherds, and some sheep, and the three kings, and an angel or two. But why  the ox and the ass? Where do they come from? Search the gospels, and you will not find them. Instead, read Isaiah 1:3: "The ox knows its owner, and the ass his master's crib, but Israel does not know, my people do not understand." The ox and the ass: mute invitations to recognize our master - to whom we belong, who gives us our food (manger, see the Italian mangiare, for instance), who gives us himself: Bread of Life!

John puts it in a different way in the Prologue to his gospel: "He came unto his own, and his own received him not." God comes, but his own do not receive him. There is no place for them in the inn, or the katalyma, or just simply in our hearts. But to those who do receive him, he gives power to become children of God, born not of blood, nor of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. To us who receive him. To you who receive him. You have been transformed into children of God. Born not of flesh or of blood or of the will of man, but of God. 

This is the mission of Jesus: Jesus who died, to gather into one the scattered children of God. Jesus who broke down the dividing wall of hostility between Jew and Greek. Jesus in whom Paul says there is neither Jew nor Greek, neither male nor female, neither slave nor free, but we are all one. 

Here then is the call of Christmas: to become children of God. Children of one Father. The new family of God. So today we shall pray for the needs of our broken world. We shall pray for peace, in the Holy Land, in all lands, on the earth. But we shall pray also for ourselves. Today we are called not to be neither Jew nor Greek, but both Jew and Greek. We are called to celebrate differences, not to drown them. We are called to love and to grow together into the one family of God. 

There are not only cultural and national differences, but also personal differences stemming from our histories and our geographies. Each of us has our own own shopping lists of things we want and things we don't, things we like and things we can't hear. One wants everything perfect, another cannot tolerate too much perfection. One rejoices in noise, another would like blessed silence. We are different. But we all all called nonetheless to love. 

But what is love? This is a large question. But I was thinking: to love you means to have a positive attitude towards you, to esteem you, even if we are different. It means being willing to spend time with you and eventually even to begin liking it and you. It means being ready to be of help when I am needed. 

All this is central to our formation. And the power to do it comes from love. Only he who is loved is able to love. So let us realize that God dances over us. "See how he comes, leaping over the mountains." (Song of Songs 2:8) "He will exult over you with joy, he will renew you with his love, he will dance over you with shouts of joy, as on a day of festival." (Zephaniah 3:17-18) For it is not we who love God, but he who has first loved us. So let me hear these words as addressed to me today: "Come then my love, my lovely one come, my dove, hiding in the clefts of the rock, in the coverts of the cliff, show me your face, let me hear your voice, for you voice is sweet, and your face beautiful." (Song of Songs 2:13-14) All this Benedict XVI has in mind when he says that God begs for our love, thirsts for our love, longs for our love. (Message for Lent 2007)

I wish you much Joy, overflowing Joy, Joy that flows down like oil on the beard of Aaron and on the collar of his robes. "How good it is when brothers dwell as one. It is like oil flowing down upon the beard of Aaron, upon his beard and upon the collar of his robes."  (Ps 133:2)

Sunday 25 December 2011

Mass at the manger grotto

Just back from Bethlehem, where we celebrated mass in the manger grotto... 8 or 9 salesian priests, and about 20 of our brothers, plus some lay people... Wonderful. And after that, sitting in St Catherine's church, which is just adjacent to the Nativity Basilica and belongs to the Franciscans, the powerful experience of a church full of people from some French speaking African country. What a choir, what lively participation. Wonderful. Even the long wait - interminably long - at the checkpoint has not dampened our spirits.

Years ago, in my first visit to Bethlehem, we read the same Prologue of St John's gospel, and I was powerfully moved at the concluding words: From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the Law was given to Moses, but grace and truth - hesed and emeth - have been given to us through Christ Jesus.

Photos: (1) the large crib outside St Catherine's; (2) A Palestinian family that runs a souvenir shop; (3) the overcast skies over Bethlehem at Christmas. 

Wet Christmas

One of our priests here has Hebrew class in the afternoon. It is quite usual to have Hebrew class on Sunday afternoon. The problem is that today is Christmas. I said this was not sensitive. They were anti-Semitic: they were not respecting Jesus. Till I came to know that the teacher had consulted the class: how many of you would have a problem having class on 25 December, seeing it is Christmas? The problem was that a large part of the class is Orthodox Christian - they celebrate Christmas much later, perhaps at Epiphany. No problem they said. So much for flash judgments!

A real rainy Christmas anyway. "I'm dreaming of a wet Christmas..." But I find it quite... novel and fascinating.

Lunch is just over. And now off to the manger grotto in the Basilica of the Nativity at Bethlehem, for a mass...

The ox and the ass

Someone wanted my homily for the midnight mass, so here it is, more or less.
Have you ever asked yourself: the ox and the ass in our cribs: why are they there? Where do they come from? Search the gospels, and you will not find them. Instead, read Isaiah 1:3: "The ox knows its owner, and the ass his master's crib, but Israel does not know, my people do not understand."
The ox and the ass: mute invitations to recognize our master - to whom we belong, who gives us our food (manger, see the Italian mangiare, for instance), who gives us himself: Bread of Life!

Our response: Joy!
"I give you good tidings of great joy." "When they found the child they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy."

and more: Dance!
Two people who danced in the Bible: David who danced before the Ark of the Covenant, and danced with all his might.
And the babe John the Baptist dancing in the womb of his mother, recognizing the new Ark of the Covenant, Mary, bearing within her the Glory of the Lord, coming over those same hills on which David danced.
The word 'LEAP' is the same as the word dance: SKIRTAN, in Greek.

So: dance at the coming of the Lord! rejoice in his incarnation!

But there is more: God dances over us!

"See how he comes, leaping over the mountains!" (Song of Songs 2:8)
"He will exult over you with joy, he will renew you by his love, he will dance with shouts of joy for you, as on a day of festival." (Zephaniah 3:17-18)

The Good News is that it is not we who first long for God, but it is God who first longs for us.
"Come then my love, my lovely one come, my dove, hiding in the clefts of the rock, in the coverts of the cliff. Show me your face, let me hear your voice, for your voice is sweet, and your face beautiful."

Benedict XVI: God longs for our love. Before the human heart, God is a beggar. He thirsts for our love, he longs for our love.

So on this Christmas night: let's hear these words as addressed to us, to me, to you. Words of endearment: come then my love, let me hear your voice, for it is sweet, let me see your face, for it is beautiful. This is the reality of Christmas.
Let us respond, let us open our hearts to him.
"Give up everything that does not lead to God, all worldly ambition. Have no ambition except to do good."
Rejoice over God, over his incarnation, over this helpless baby. Dance. Know you are loved. And Love, with all your heart. 

Saturday 24 December 2011

Hilary Mantel's 'Wolf Hall'

I've been reading Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall, a fictional depiction of Thomas Cromwell and his role in helping Henry VIII set aside his marriage to Catherine of Aragon, get married to Anne Boelyn, and separate from the Catholic Church. The novel paints a very favourable picture of Cromwell, and is particularly bent on demonizing Thomas More. The card that is played, both in upholding Henry's acts, and the ideas of the Reformation, and against More, is religious persecution: More is depicted as a viciously cruel persecutor of heretics. Casual dipping about for information reveals contrasting pictures: several, and not all of them Catholics, have the highest regard for More. But More was accused by some of being the type of person Mantel makes him out to be. More himself denied cruelty. It would seem, however, that at least 6 persons were burned at the stake for heresy during More's three years of Chancellorship. Whatever the truth of the matter, two things: (1) Mantel goes out of her way to blacken More, just as she probably goes out of her way to paint a favourable picture ultimately of Cromwell; (2) there is absolutely no justification for the Church's use of violence in the service of the truth. To set things in a balance, perhaps I must say here that Protestants themselves did not hesitate to use the worst possible methods in defending the truth. But two wrongs do not make a right.  

Friday 23 December 2011

Christopher Hitchens

The famous atheist and antitheist Christopher Hitchens died a few days ago. There is some notice about him in the Israeli papers here. It seems he discovered he was a Jew at the age of 38. That did not change his pro-Palestinian stance, it would seem, nor his anitheism. But perhaps it did modify it somewhat. About his discovery of his Jewishness, he said: I am pleased to find that I am pleased.

Dancing for Christmas

The four leaps: David leaping before the ark; the lover leaping over the hills in the Song of Songs 2,8; God leaping over his people in Zephaniah 3,18; and the babe leaping in Elizabeth's womb in Luke. The first and the last certainly are the same word: SKIRTAN in Greek. Dancing.
The human being dancing before the Lord, before the Ark of the Covenant: David in the Book of Samuel, and the babe in Elizabeth's womb before the new Ark of the Covenant in Luke.
But also God himself dancing over his people, over us, over me, in the Song of Songs, in Zephaniah.
Human longing and waiting for the Lord, but also, and perhaps more truly, and first, God waiting for us, for me. Coming bounding over the hills to see his beloved. Dancing with joy over his people.  

Tuesday 20 December 2011

William Russell on Scotus and consensus

Bill Russell is working on a book on Duns Scotus (Bill is Scottish; I had no idea that the Don was a Scot, despite the name). He told me he came across a little book in a Franciscan library in Zambia, which spoke about Scotus’ proposal that the right to rule is based on consensus. He had been earlier familiar with certain writings of about the same time in Scotland, arguing that Bruce had the right to rule because he had the consent of the people. He made the connection between the two. Scotus’ work predates these writings; it is from 1302 or so. Bill proposes that the writers, mostly Scottish clergy, came over to Paris where Scotus was teaching at the time. that they came over is recorded. That they met Scotus is not. So Bill is making a proposal, a suggestion, a hypothesis. His book proposal has been accepted by Brill, he told me, but the book is long, and long in getting ready. But once Brill publishes, the book remains in print. And despite the terrible prices, the scholarly world gets to know about the book.
The idea is that the notion of consensus arose within the Catholic Church. It is not something that the church has to learn to accept in a sort of rearguard action.
Bill says we have demonized Scotus too much, and set him up unnecessarily in opposition to Aquinas.
I remembered Hauerwas putting a huge accusation against Scotus, that I need to look up. He blames the univocity of being proposed by Scotus for all the ills of capitalism and consumerism and even certain forms of postmodernism, and finds salvation in Aquinas’ analogy. (See my paper for ACPI Faridabad)
Then of course Scotus is a bête noire for Lonergan.
And Scotus seems to be behind Wolff, and so Kant, and ultimately Hegel and Heidegger too. And therefore behind much of the contemporary philosophical cultural scene, if not also theological.
But all this is my conjecture. 

Saturday 17 December 2011

The Lord does not stay in an inn

"Yahweh, hope of Israel, its Saviour in time of distress, why are you like a stranger in this country, like a traveller staying only for one night?" (Jer 14:8)
Some commentaries make the inn explicit: "that turns into an inn to lodge there for a night, and that only; and so is unconcerned what becomes of it, or the people in it; he is only there for a night, and is gone in the morning." (See Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible, at
The Lord is not a stranger who stays in an inn. 

Swaddling clothes

Solomon says in the Book of Wisdom:
"I was nurtured in swaddling clothes, with every care.
No king has known any other beginning of existence;
for there is only one way into life, and one way out of it." (Wis 7:5-6)

Ox and ass

Why the ox and the ass in our cribs?
 "I have reared children and brought them up, but they have rebelled against me. The ox knows its owner and the donkey its master's crib; Israel does not know, my people do not understand. (Isaiah 1: 3)

Christmas thoughts

+ We are called to be the epiphanies of God
+ The ox and the ass in the crib: Isaiah: the ox and the ass know their owner, but my people do not.
+ Swaddling clothes: the king (Solomon) was wrapped in swaddling clothes (Wis 7:3-4)
+ The inn: God does not stay in an inn, like a wayfarer (Jer 14:8)
+ The great goal of Jesus: the joy set before him: the reconciliation of all things in him

Friday 16 December 2011

Nabatean watershed

An ancient water conservation system, built by the Nabateans, near Shivta. Channels running down from the two slopes on either side, and terraces for collecting water, with a slot in the middle for the overflow. Almost our modern watershed technique, and this 2000 years ago. The trees visible have of course grown over the centuries - but they bear witness to the water that is there underground.

Nizzana and Shivta in the Negev

The trip was great. This is the third Ratisbonne trip to the Negev Desert in the south of Israel, but my first, I missed the other two. We drive down towards Beer Sheva (7 wells), where Abraham and Isaac and Jacob seem to have stayed (now a modern town); then further south to Nizzana, which practically touches the border with Egypt. Then back up to Shivta. Both these are towns which probably have a lifespan of 100 BC to 700 or so AD - ended with the Muslim invasion and the defeat of the Byzantine army by Caliph Omar in 636 AD. After that they dwindle. The Nabateans became great builders (you might have heard of Petra of the desert?), and also wonderful irrigators and conservers of water in an arid land. The remains of the churches are amazing, and our dear Fr Vernet made us even spend 30 minutes of silent praying or wandering about. Stunning. (The two photos above are of Nizzana, while the three below are from Shivta or Sobota.)
The church on top of the hillock (Tel) is dedicated to Mary, Mother of God (Theotokos) and to the soldier saints Sergius and Bacchus.
In this church, there was discovered a very precious store of papyri, now known as the Nitzana or Nessana papyri, containing both religious and secular documents, which provide us with much knowledge about life in the Negev at the time. According to Fr Vernet, part of this store may be found in the Franciscan Convent of the Flagellation, in the Old City at Jerusalem. For one of the texts, see The Negev: The Challenge of a Desert, at

To think that this was the land in which Abraham wandered, and where Isaac and Jacob were born and lived; and through which, perhaps, Jesus, Mary, Joseph walked in their journey to Egypt...
Many associations with Isaac. The Hebrew word MEASHEARIM comes from Gen 26:12: you will reap a HUNDREDFOLD (mea = 100 in Hebrew). Today associated with an Ultra Orthodox quarter of Jerusalem. The town name REHOVOT comes from the large well dug by Isaac (Gen 26), it means LARGE ROOM, and is translated by the Latin Vulgate as LATITUDO. Both the words indicate blessing, abundance, peace...
The Negev, or a large part of it, used to be the portion of the tribe of Shimon (Simeon), a tribe that had a very short life, being rapidly absorbed by the tribe of Judah, and hardly mentioned in the OT. The rabbis regarded it as a punishment for the deeds of Shimon...

The other impressive thing about Shivta: the presence of Dina and Ami, who have chosen to live in the desert, reconstructing the life of the Nabateans, trying to live off the land, and so on. They run a small restaurant and also have 3 rooms to be let to guests. Dina spoke to us, in halting English, but impressed us all with her gentleness. The tel.:  08-6550911  0507-383802

Levinas on the Eucharist

One of Vernet's asides yesterday, during one of the pauses during the visit, probably in the monastic church at Shivta: it seems the philosopher Emmanuel Levinas was being interviewed. (Levinas, it is well known, is a Jew, and a philosopher who has reflected abundantly on the Bible and the Talmud.) He was asked: What do you think of the Christian Eucharist? In reply, Levinas shifted the microphone away, and then said: I think the whole of the Bible points to the Eucharist. 

Thursday 15 December 2011

Shivta and the Nabateans

We are going to the Negev desert in the southern part of Israel tomorrow, to a place called Shivta, where there are ruins of cities and Byzantine churches. We have to pass through Beer Sheva (=Seven Wells), 4th largest city in Israel, and on one of the old routes to Egypt. It is likely that Abraham, Jacob, Joseph used this route. Isaac seems to have lived here most of his life - Fr Vernet described him as timid. Jacob instead was a great wanderer, as was Abraham. The Nabateans - the same ones responsible for "Petra of the Desert", now in Jordan - built cities here from about 100 BC onwards. They also had sophisticated water conservation systems. They eventually adopted Byzantine christianity. The cities and churches were destroyed when the Byzantine army was defeated by Caliph Omar in 636 AD... 

Sunday 11 December 2011

Agora (2009)

We watched Agora (2009) last night. The science - religion conflict introjected into 4th or 5th century Alexandria, centred around a beautiful woman philosopher Hypatia, and the Christians, mainly Cyril of Alexandria. A Da Vinci Code type of historical mishmash, which people tend to swallow up whole. Quite a lot of probably deliberate playing about with history. The Christians come out very badly, of course. see, which points out, for example, how the philosophers are all mostly dressed in white and speak in upper class British accents, while the Christians are portrayed mostly in black, and seem to be all louts.
But the way Hypatia explains her stuff is fascinating, especially the elliptical orbit of the earth around the sun, which is her last insight before she is (in the movie) stoned to death by the Christians at the instigation of Cyril of Alexandria.
Still, see the note on Cyril in the online Catholic Encyclopedia: not very flattering. He did expel Novatians and Jews from Alexandria, and he did incite mobs to violence. And Hypatia was a contemporary, as was also Orestes, the Roman Prefect. 

Saturday 10 December 2011

The Jews over the centuries

This morning I accompanied our fourth year theology students to the Holy Sepulchre for mass. On the way back, talking with one of them, I realized, to my great surprise, that by 'Christian persecution of the Jews' he understood only the Nazi Holocaust. It was a great surprise to him to learn that there had been persecution of the Jews by Christians down the centuries, for at least 1700 years. I asked him whether the topic had been dealt with in any of the courses he had attended over four years. He said no.
I began having doubts myself, because most of my knowledge of the persecution comes from James Michener's The Source, I think, or some other novelistic source. So I went down to our library and looked up the New Catholic Encyclopedia, 2nd rev. ed. Nothing under 'Anti-Semitism.' But there was a substantial article under Judaism, post-Biblical history of, by K. Hruby. Very fair and objective, I think. And it contains substantial references to the persecution.
But I also came across Samuel ha-Nagid (our institute is on 26 Shmuel Hanagid) of Spain; the poet Rashi (we have an auditorium named after him); and of course Moses Maimonides, Moses Mendelssohn, and others.
The Sephardim are, in fact, Jews who migrated out of Spain towards Turkey and other Muslim countries where they were better received. Spharad is the Hebrew name for Spain. The Ashkenazi, instead, were associated, in the article, with the Jews in Poland. Yiddish is the Jewish language developed in Germany, but carried with them to Poland. Ladino instead is the language developed by the Jews in Spain and carried with them to Turkey and other places.
See Amitav Ghosh's In an Antique Land, for a fictionalized history of the 12th century Jewish merchant from Egypt, with Indian connections, based on documents found in the Cairo Geniza. I had begun reading this interesting novel, which the Wikipedia defines as undefinable in terms of genre, but had to return the book before coming to Jerusalem.

Saturday 3 December 2011

Some Arabic words...

Slowly some words of Arabic are seeping through... I go for mass sometimes to the Holy Rosary Sisters nearby, who form part of an all-Arab congregation founded in Palestine. The sisters are interesting: the mass is in English, some of them reply in Arabic, the first reading is in Arabic and sometimes in Italian if the Blue Sisters come, the response and some of the singing is in Arabic. But, as I said, some words are beginning to seep through. Rab, for example, as in Rab ne bana di jodi, means Lord or God. Noor means light. Sabah is morning, almost our subah. Then there is Mabruk = welcome, Mubarak as in Id Mubarak, meaning blessing or blessed (the barak root seems to me to be the same as in Hebrew, baruch and so on). Qurbana, of course, indicating the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, as it does also in Kerala.

Friday 2 December 2011

The Anathoth of Jeremiah, and Wadi Phara

We had the Rusticatio today. The word inevitably calls up for me the ‘rustication’ reserved in India for those caught cheating, copying, etc., but really rusticatio comes from the Latin word for the countryside, and so means a ramble in the country. The indomitable Fr Vernet led a group to Anathoth and Wadi Phara. Anathoth – barely 7 kms. from Jerusalem, which was the first surprise – is the birthplace of the prophet Jeremiah. We took an ‘Arab’ minibus from Damascus gate, paid 5 shekels each, and were driven through a checkpoint into Anathoth. I did not understand the exchange in Arabic, but I gathered that much of what we were passing through was a refugee camp called Anath. After winding through the ‘town’ we came to the outskirts and got off. In front of us was a barren hillock, with a single small construction, which turned out to be the tomb of a Muslim notable from the 18th century. Vernet showed it to us as an example of what the tomb of Abiathar might have looked like. Abiathar – one of the two high priests in the time of David – fell out of favour with Solomon (he backed the wrong contender for the throne) and was exiled to Anathoth, where he died.
At any rate, the prophet Jeremiah was born in Anathoth. His father Hilkiah was a priest of the high place of Anathoth. There were many high places dedicated to the Lord in Israel in those days: Bethel, Nob, and Anathoth among them. So this barren hillock must have once housed a sanctuary to the Lord, in the days of Jeremiah. It would appear that Jeremiah deserted this sanctuary for the one in Jerusalem; this earned him the wrath of his own people, his own family (see Jer 11:21: the people of Anathoth are determined to kill me). The town was a Levitical town, and so probably full of priests. All we could see now was stones and a very large number of cisterns. Jeremiah speaks of cisterns, leaky cisterns: see Jer 2:13 (they have abandoned me, the fountain of living water, and dug cisterns for themselves, leaky cisterns that hold no water).
From the hillock Vernet pointed out a number of towns mentioned in the Bible: Givat Shaul, which was the first capital of Israel, Saul’s capital; Nob, 5 kms. away from Givat Shaul, marked now by the tower of the Augusta Victoria Hospital, but completely destroyed in its day by Saul because its priests had helped David; Ophrah, or the Ephraim mentioned in Jn 11:54; and so on.
The OT mentions Anathoth a number of times, but the NT never mentions it. But surely Jesus must have passed by, if not through, Anathoth on his way to and from Jerusalem. It was on the ancient route, through which conquering armies marched upon Jerusalem. 
We sat on the top of the hillock and heard passages from Jeremiah: 1:1-2 (The words of Jeremiah son of Hilkiah, one of the priests living at Anathoth in the territory of Benjamin), 7:1-4 (Do not say, the Temple of the Lord, the Temple of the Lord, the Temple of the Lord); 11:18-20 (I for my part was like a trustful lamb being led to the slaughterhouse); 16:1-5 (You are not to marry or have sons and daughters in this place - Jeremiah is the only celibate prophet); 20:1-6 (not Pashhur but Terror-on-every-side is the Lord’s name for you); 20:7-18 (the famous passage where Jeremiah complains that God has seduced him); chs. 30 and 31 (the book of consolation); 32:1-15 (Hanamel sells a field to Jeremiah, who has the right of redemption; it must have been one of the fields around the hill of Anathoth); 29:11 (Jeremiah’s letter from Babylon; Vernet quoted a line in Hebrew: I have thoughts for you of peace and not of affliction). And then the mention in 2 Mac.
Jeremiah – the reluctant prophet, the complaining prophet; but also the prophet who sees God’s word in the little things of everyday life: buying a field, burying a loincloth, a leaky cistern. A powerful prophet. One of the four great prophets of the OT, with Isaiah, Ezekiel and Daniel.

From Anathoth we walked down to Wadi Phara, with its spring (En Phara or En Parat). Jer 13:4 has the Lord telling the prophet to bury the waistcloth by the Euphrates. Vernet said the Euphrates was too far from Jeremiah’s home town; it was probably the spring at Phara that was meant by the original. The translators into Greek in Alexandria had no idea anymore of the topography of Anathoth, and so translated En Phara as the river Euphrates. But it was probably En Phara that was indicated in the text. Delightful place, now enclosed in a nature reserve, for which we had to pay 22 shekels each to enter. The spring was flowing, the water clear and cool, and full of largish fish. And a monastery on the hillside. The monastery of St Caritone, the first ‘laure’. Laure means the narrow way, in contrast to the wide road to perdition. Caritone was captured by thieves and left bound in a cave in the wadi. Some snakes came and began drinking from the wine in an amphora left by the thieves. As a result the wine was poisoned, so that when the thieves came after another robbery, they drank the poisoned wine and perished. Caritone managed to free himself, distributed the gold to the poor, and began to live in the cave, a life of penitence and self-abnegation. Some others came to join him, the first laure, in different caves on the hillsides. This was at the same time as St Anthony of Egypt. 

Wednesday 30 November 2011

Daniel Attinger, Apocalypse de Jean

 The librarian at the Bibliotheque St Anne, Jerusalem, is Daniel Attinger, a Protestant pastor and member of the community of Bose in Jerusalem. He is the author of Apocalypse de Jean: A la recontre du Christ devoile, which Bill Russell, our professor, says opened up the book of Apocalypse to him. There is, of course, another Apocalyptic author in Jerusalem, and that is our doctor, John Ben-Daniel. See John and Gloria Ben-Daniel, The Apocalypse in the Light of the Temple: A New Approach to the Book of Revelation (Jerusalem: Beit Yochanan, 2003). Quite another take, though. 

Gianni Sgreva's lecture on exorcism

Yesterday Fr Gianni Sgreva, a Passionist priest, gave us a lecture on Exorcism. Fr Sgreva is an experienced exorcist. He told us that he had his first experience when he was 35 years old, at the Shrine of Medjugorje. He also reminded us that a priest needs the explicit permission or faculty from the local bishop if he is to exorcise someone.

Among the things we learned: there are degrees of possession: from the possession true and proper, to infestation, etc. It would seem that the devil can attack either the body, or the soul, or the spirit. Thus it can happen that even holy persons can be subject to attacks. Attacks can be either invited by the person, or caused by other people. Fr Sgreva mentioned witchcraft, black magicians, and the like.

Above all he reminded us that exorcism is one of the three exousia or powers given by Jesus to his disciples, whom he sent out to preach, to heal, and to cast out demons.

He said that deliverance was solely the work of God, and God works when and as he wills. Sometimes, therefore, deliverance comes not during the prayer of exorcism, but later. He spoke of a young man who had undergone exorcism for over 3 years; and then, later, he reported that he was free, and was studying to be a priest. 

Tuesday 29 November 2011

Rejoicing in the incarnation

The gospel of this morning: an invitation to rejoice in the incarnation. "Blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear. Many prophets and kings longed to see what you see and to hear what you hear, but they did not."

The babe dancing in the womb of Elizabeth. David dancing before the Ark of the Lord. And Ratzinger inviting us to learn to rejoice in the incarnation.

From aesthetics to something more profound

Jesus weeping over Jerusalem; Jesus prophesying the destruction of the Temple, saying not one stone would be left over another: merely aesthetic, a lament over this beautiful city and its glorious Temple? Or something more profound? "You did not know the time of your visitation."

I am reminded of Kierkegaard's progression, from the aesthetic dilettante, to the ethical, to the religious.

"Put on the mind of Christ." It is certainly quite different from our own.

Monday 28 November 2011

Many will come from east and west

It is interesting that the very first readings of the Weekdays of Advent speak about the coming together of all peoples. Isaiah 2 speaks of all the nations streaming to Jerusalem, and God bringing about peace. In Matthew 8 Jesus speaks about many coming from east and west to take their places with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven.

The end of the liturgical year and the beginning of Advent remind us repeatedly about the end of the world. The end is not only our 'final destination' but also the 'purpose' towards which God directs all things. St Paul sums it up: the reconciliation of all things - including all people and nations - in Christ. And the Letter to the Hebrews 12:2 speaks of Jesus enduring the cross because of "the joy that was set before him." I am reminded of James Alison and Brendan Lovett again: the joy that Jesus looked forward to was precisely the reconciliation of all things and all people in himself.
It was the possibility of delighting forever in a huge celebration along with a huge multitude of us human beings, people who are good, bad, creative, depressive, but humans and, for that reason, loved. (Raising Abel: The Recovery of the Eschatological Imagination, New York, Crossroad, 1996, 189 = Living in the End Times, London: SPCK, 1998. Lovett 222)

Saturday 26 November 2011

Marcel Pagnol

I was mentioning the movie My Father's Glory to Pere Dominique Arnauld the other day. He was enthusiastic about it, La gloire de mon pere, in French. He told me that Marcel Pagnol had two other books / films, one of which was Le chateau de ma mere. I forget the third one. It would be delightful to get my hands on these... These are sort of autobiographical works by this famous French man of letters. 

Wednesday 23 November 2011

St King David and others

I was amazed to learn yesterday that there is, in Jerusalem, a feast of St King David and the holy ancestors of Our Lord Jesus Christ - on 16 December, actually, the first day of the Christmas novena. There is also a feast of St Abraham, also restricted to the Church in Jerusalem. Someone told me that there is even a feast of the Good Thief! 

The languages of the Holy Land

It is amazing how many languages are needed in Christian Jerusalem. The Franciscans who are the big presence here, use Italian. The Benedictines of Dormition Abbey use German. Several communities and institutions use French: the Missionaries of Africa who run St Anne's and the Pool of Bethesda, as well as Eleona or the Pater Noster garden; the Sisters of Sion who run Ecce Homo; the Latroun monastery; the Abu Ghosh monastery; and so on. In general, French seems to be the second language of most Arab-speaking Christians. The Latin Patriarchate uses French almost more than English. The Salesians of the MOR province use Italian, though many of them know Arabic and now, increasingly, English too.

Then of course there is Hebrew and Arabic. The road signs are in Hebrew, Arabic and English. 

The man who ate too much

Yesterday one of our students was telling me that he was reading the life of Pope John XXXIII, and how much he loved the man. He was recalling how the French were offended when this fat and ugly old man was sent to them as Nuncio; how Roncalli had learnt Turkish and other languages in the places he was posted, much to the disapproval of the Vatican, but to the delight of the Turks and others, and how he is still much loved and remembered in Turkey; and so on. The student also said that he loved Papa Giovanni for another reason: he was fat, like himself, and there are very few saints who were fat. I told him there were some, and remembered the following story: 

“One day the Baal Shem Tov became curious about who would be seated on the other side of him in the Kingdom of heaven. So he approached the Holy One and was given a name. The man in question was alive and lived alone deep in a forest. The Baal decided that he would seek out this man and speak with him. After all they would be spending eternity together, and it would be good to know him better.
One day he was travelling, and decided to go a bit out of his way to find this man. After much searching, and as the Sabbath was drawing near, he found the house, in the middle of the forest. He knocked.
After a long time the door opened and the Baal Shem Tov saw the largest and most unkempt man he had ever seen. He stared rudely, not welcoming him nor speaking. The Baal requested to come in, as the Sabbath was drawing near. The man grunted, stood aside, made way, but said nothing.
It was the Baal who had to say the Sabbath prayers. The other man said nothing. As soon as the prayers were finished, the man started pulling out food from every nook and corner and proceeded to eat, eat and eat. The Baal was stunned. Finally he asked for something, and was given a crust. Finally everything was pushed away and they went to sleep.
The Baal was troubled and disturbed. This was the man who would sit next to him in heaven for eternity. He did not even keep the Sabbath. Perhaps he prayed at night. He kept vigil. He found nothing. The other man slept soundly.
The next day passed the same way, with the other man eating, eating, eating, and now and then throwing something to the Baal.
The next morning the Baal prepared to leave, but before that he blurted out: The Lord says you are holy, and that you are going to spend eternity next to me. But I don’t understand you. You don’t appear holy. You don’t keep the Sabbath. You do not pray. You do not even practice hospitality! Who are you? And why do you live like this?
The man did not reply for the longest time. Then finally he looked straight into the Baal Shem Tov’s eyes and spoke.
‘I was a boy. I lived here with my mother and father, my sisters, my grandfather and grandmother. We were poor, but we were happy. Then one day the Cossacks came. My father hid me. They dragged my father away. I heard the screams of my mother and sisters and grandparents. I watched them tying my father to a tree and torturing him horribly. They taunted him and tried to get him to deny the Holy One. Eventually they poured fuel over him and set fire to him. My father was a small, thin man and he burned fast. The flames went out quickly, and it was over.
‘I came back and buried what was left of my family. I stayed on. But I made myself a promise. When the Cossacks come again, they will find me and tie me to a tree. But I won’t go quickly. I will be so huge, so fat, so strong that when they put the match to me, I will burn and burn, hot and furious. I will burn long, crying out: The Lord our God, the Lord is one, and I will love the Lord my God with all my heart, and with all my soul, and with all my strength.... They will hear my words screaming in their ears and I will refuse to burn out. I will just keep burning.’
There was a long silence. The great hunk of a man stood before the Baal Shem Tov with great tears running down his face, and then began to pray, oblivious once again of the Baal.
‘O God, Master of the Universe, how long? How long will your people continue to kill and slaughter one another? How long, O Lord, will you suffer us and stand by and watch us destroying your creatures? How long, O Lord, will you weep over your children and their fights and their hatreds? How long, O Lord, how long?’
The Baal Shem Tov withdrew as quietly as he could. For the first time, he wondered if he were worthy to sit next to this man in the Kingdom of heaven.”[1]

[1] Megan McKenna, Lent: The Sunday Readings: Reflections and Stories (Bangalore: Claretian Publications, 2007)90-94.

Thursday 17 November 2011

The Dies Academicus at Ratisbonne

Several points to muse over from the Dies Academicus and the inauguration of STS as the Jerusalem Campus of the Faculty of Theology of the Salesian Pontifical University.

One is the hint at the special status of Jerusalem as the meeting point of the Old World, Africa and Asia (Pizzaballa, the Franciscan Custos): Jerusalem as the cross-roads of cultures.

The other is the invitation from Msgr. Franco, the Apostolic Nuncio, to think already of going further, in the direction of a master's degree in Salesian interests such as catechetics and pastoral theology.

The cultures point is both interesting and challenging. Interesting because we have here not only a meeting of cultures, but also of religions, Christian denominations, and rites. Our own community is intercultural, and therefore a practical stage on which to live out interculturality. The neighbours are a challenge: to overcome our own deep-seated feelings, and so on. So ecumenism, interreligious dialogue, intercultural dialogue: several pertinent areas.

The Salesian point is always interesting. If we leave first-phase specializations - archaeology, grammar, lexicology, dictionaries, and exegesis at various levels and different fields - largely to the Dominicans, the Franciscans, the Jesuits, we could still contribute by way of second-phase specializations. Catechetics and pastoral theology come under the specialization of 'communications', at least in Lonergan's way of thinking. Much place for creative thinking here. But the creativity will flow from a new appropriation of doctrines and new systematics.

Another area is that of method. The strengths and limitations of the historico-critical method; the existence and contribution of other exegetical methods; the insertion of these into the process of theology, perhaps functionally divided, so as to avoid the danger of the imperialism of specializations.

And, linked to the topic of cultures: the incarnation of reason. An incarnated reason illuminated by faith. A joyful faith, as Msgr Srei stressed this morning - a resurrection faith. But also an integral faith, with the parrhesia, the boldness, of bearing witness to what is sometimes not quite politically correct.  

Chinese reason

The Dies Academicus is over. Archbishop Savio Hon Tai Fai gave the lectio magistralis, "Theology, Wisdom and Evangelization." I liked the lecture. It was suggestive. It was not direct in the occidental manner. It was - chinese, I think. The archbishop began by invoking a suggestive phrase: theology, not as fides quaerens intellectum, but as fides quaerens sapientiam. Theology as the search for wisdom. And the needed and sought after wisdom as coming only through friendship with Christ. Friendship is a term that echoes through Chinese (Christian) thinking ever since Matteo Ricci wrote his De Amicitia. It is also a term that has long been around Western thinking, at least since Aristotle made friendship a condition for philosophizing.

The other element that remains with me from the talk is the metaphor of leaves, dead leaves. The metaphor comes from the title of the memoirs of Cardinal Celso Costantini, first Pontifical Delegate to China, and later Secretary of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples. Obviously the man means something to Archbishop Hon Tai Fai: he is a predecessor. But the memoirs: Foglie secche. And a quote:
One evening in Beijing, I left the house for the first time after a serious illness and went with the faithful D.G. Comisso to the imperial park and entered the enclosure of a solitary pagoda. ... The enclosure was full of large trees. ... It was autumn. Many leaves had already fallen to the ground. The guardian of the pagoda came out from a side house and began to sweep the floor, piling up the leaves in the corners to bring them out and lay them somewhere in a wild and remote place.
It seems to me that my life resembles one of those autumnal trees; many leaves have fallen, others are about to fall. As the guardian, I have also decided to pick some dry leaves up; the leaves are not longer valid, but may still contain some hidden and useful wisdom in germ. Even the most humble life may reserve some good seed of experience. This is the reason of this book and its title. 
The archbishop did not say as much, but dry leaves, dead leaves, evoke the whole cycle of life, death and resurrection.

Someone said, during the day, that we can speak today, not of philosophy as ancilla theologiae, but of theology as ancilla of the dialogue between faith and reason. Whatever. I found the archbishop edging towards a new use of reason: no longer the pure reason, whatever that might have been, of the past, but the incarnate reason of many colours. He gave us an example of a Chinese use of reason: allusive rather than direct and to the point; metaphorical, certainly, rather than purely theoretical. He said many things without saying many things. There is undoubtedly a concern for respect. He quotes Benedict XV upbraiding the missionaries for being more zealous about expanding the interests of their own countries than that of the Kingdom of God (Maximum illud, 30 November 1919). He refers to Costantini quoting the example of the Indian Buddhists "who were able to forget their architectonic style" and take up that of the Chinese. He talks about friendship with all.

This is a postmodern use of reason insofar as it is an incarnate reason that is used. It is not a postmodern use of reason, if by postmodern we mean utter degradation of all powers of reason.

And, at any rate, there is always several incarnate reasons engaging in scholarship, retrieving texts ancient and new, gently engaging in dialectic and inviting to radical displacements in intellectual, moral and religious areas, and moving towards taking a personal stand.

The historico-critical method has its great merits. Taken in isolation, infected by the imperialism of specializations, it can be incomplete and even damaging. But inserted into the movement of research, exegesis, history, dialectic, foundations, it can pour, together with other methods, into new appropriations of doctrines, ongoing systematics, and fresh communication.

The Atonement

I found, surprisingly, a copy of Ian McEwan's The Atonement in our library. Impressive film, which I saw during some flight years ago. The novel is equally good, if not better. The long musings of the principals do not really come through in the film. The film is a different medium, really. Haunting images, pace, focus, and so on. But writing is different. There is a quality in McEwan's writing that grips the imagination profoundly, if I may use that word. The Atonement is the story of lives that might have been, if only someone had not. That someone turns out to be a precocious young girl, hardly a child. Or perhaps I find the novel gripping because it portrays so well, and once again, the class divide that used to mark, and perhaps still marks, British society. Class divide: sensitive issue. 

Tuesday 8 November 2011

Salesian Convent, Bethlehem

These photos are from the "Salesian Convent" - which is the Salesian house at Bethlehem (not the FMA house, which is adjacent), a solid building built somewhere in 1862. It is built with the usual white 'Jerusalem' stone, which sets off the flowers very graciously... 

Monday 31 October 2011

The eyes of love

Yesterday we had a visit by Bishop Janos Szekely, auxiliary bishop of Estergom, Hungary. Janos is a past pupil of Cremisan: he studied theology there, as a diocesan seminarian, from 1987-1990. Interestingly, he also ordained two young Salesians recently - one of them being Claudius Misquitta. (He said yesterday: the Indian Salesian has picked up Hungarian very well.)
Bishop Janos gave us a simple but profound goodnight. He advised the seminarians (1) to pray, (2) to study hard, and two other things. He ended with a lovely story of a boy who was not very good at baseball, but was put into coaching by his father. His father would come to see him towards the end of the practice session, and the boy's face would always light up. One day his father died. The coach was wondering what would happen. But after a few days the boy came back to the training. And one day, when there was an important match, he asked the coach to be put into the match. He performed brilliantly during the match: he ran faster, he caught more accurately, and so on. The coach was surprised. He said to the boy: I thought you would not be able to perform without your father. The boy said: I played for my father. You see, my father was blind, so he could never see me play. This is the first time he could see me. I played for him.
The bishop concluded: we have a Father who sees us. We are looked upon in love. Let us play well. And let us look upon our people with that same love. 

Sunday 30 October 2011

The importance of Face

We had Fr Joseph Nguyen, SJ, at our table at lunch after the Mass in honour of Our Lady Queen of Palestine at Deir Rafat, and he joined us in our bus back to Jerusalem. Fr Joseph is the Rector of the Jerusalem section of the Pontifical Biblical Institute (PBI) at Emile Botta Road, not far from Ratisbonne. He is from Vietnam, and was telling us that he spent 9 years in a Vietnamese prison. This man is wonderful: he carries no resentment against his jailers. Instead, he was telling me that he ended becoming friendly with all of them, including the highest officials. They studied all his life, his writings, so much so that they could make out which were his writings even when his name was not on them. They found ultimately that he was not an enemy of the state. Instead, that he could be helpful.
Fr Joseph was telling me that we should learn to understand the Chinese and the Vietnamese. Most Westerners do not understand them, he said. Their deepest driving force is nationalism, and the memory of the great humiliation they suffered for centuries under Western rule. Communism became for them a way towards freedom and nationalism. Since they associate Christianity with the West, they tend to fiercely attack it.
If we approach them as enemies, they will become enemies, and they will never change. But if we approach them with respect, if we are not aggressive, we can work with them. In the East, he said, respect is very important, FACE is very important.
Fr Joseph said that Face is important even for God: the only thing God fears to lose is Face. See, for example, the way Moses deals with God: what will the Egyptians say if you destroy your people? They will say that he liberated them only to destroy them in the desert. And God relented.
The Chinese and the Vietnamese often consider Westerners as barbarians: they are too abrupt, too blunt, they are not polite, not respectful. I remember reading this repeatedly in my novels: gwai-loh, they call the Westerners. But Fr Joseph said they had a worse word: barbari. They actually seem to have borrowed a word to describe the Westerners.
You can tell a lie in the East, but you cannot insult anyone. Respect is more important than truth. There is much to be excavated here: it is the truth of the person that is being placed before the truth of a statement. It is a holistic approach. "Speaking the truth in charity," as St Paul says.
Fr Joseph's approach has worked wonders. He was showing me a Bible in Vietnamese: translated by Catholics, financed by the Protestants, and printed by the Communists! At first they used to go through every word, and they had objected to "The fool says in his heart, There is no God." But he had explained to them that this text of 3000 years back could not have been meant as a criticism of Communism which is only 70 years old. They had been content with that, and had made no more problems.
They have learnt now that Christians do not want to destroy anything, that they are friends, that they want peace and reconciliation. Many realize, after they lay down office, that their true and real friends are Christians.
I was surprised to learn that Matteo Ricci's first book in China was L'amicizia. He realized that the only way to enter the Forbidden City was through friendship. This is wonderful. The only way to evangelize, in many parts of the world today, is through friendship and respect.
Friendship and respect: wonderful words. All of us in our community can learn. We can take a commitment to be friends together. And we can be deeply respectful towards one another, all of us. The mark of greatness is when we can be respectful to our employees, and towards those who are junior to us: our boys, our youth, the younger members of the community. 

Thursday 27 October 2011

The river Jordan, the Mount of Temptation, and two monasteries

We went to the newly discovered baptismal site of Jesus at the Jordan River, not far from Jericho, today. About 45 minutes drive from Jerusalem, so not very far. The site is on the border with Jordan, and heavily guarded. The Franciscans own a small piece of land there; once a year the Israeli authorities permit a mass on the site. Today was that day. The Custos celebrated the Mass of the Baptism of Our Lord. There was a fair crowd: priests, religious, laity.

The river is really small at this point: a mere ditch by Indian standards, but probably quite deep. On the other side are some beautiful churches, especially a lovely Orthodox church with golden domes. Several other churches are now coming up, the brothers tell me, after the recent visit of Benedict XVI and his appeal to the Jordanian government to enable and facilitate Christian worship in the holy places.

Before reaching the site, we visited an old Orthodox monastery, I think it was the Monastery of St Gerasimos. The monks were surprisingly very welcoming and hospitable. They even offered us refreshments. The monastery is associated with the beautiful story of a lion. Gerasimos found a lion limping, and pulled out a splinter from its paw. He thought the lion would go away, but it did not, and followed him to the monastery, where it became very popular with the monks. The lion was given the task of guarding the monastery's donkey when it was grazing. But it happened one day that, when the lion was dozing, a passing merchant made away with the donkey. When the lion returned to the monastery crestfallen, the monks assumed its appetite for flesh had overpowered it, and that it had eaten the donkey. As a punishment, they gave it the work of the donkey: carrying wood and water for the monastery. Much later, as the lion was going about its work, the same merchant was passing by, with the donkey and 3 camels. The lion let out a loud roar, the merchant ran away leaving the donkey and camels, and the donkey followed the lion back to the monastery, together with the 3 camels. The monks realized then that they had been wrong, that they had misjudged the lion. The lion remained on in the monastery, and when Gerasimus died, it lay down on the grave and would not rise.
A good story for Bill Russell's theological anthropology: he speaks about animals too!

After the mass at the Baptismal site, we went to the Mount of Temptation. We had to pass through Jericho, a rough Palestinian town, but much greener than Jerusalem, perhaps because it is hotter and because there must be water in the ground.

The Mount of Temptation rears up just outside Jericho. A rugged stratified sandstone mountain, dotted with caves, and this monastery perched on the height. The monks open up once a year; the Franciscans hold a small service of the Word at the door, then everyone goes in for a tour of the monastery. The place was surprisingly well-kept, and once again, the monks were hospitable, offering refreshments. The views were breathtaking. Beyond the lovely little monastery church, there is a small staircase, leading to an alcove where there is, traditionally, the stone on which Jesus sat. Was it the one he sat on when he was tempted? I don't know.

The Jordan river is, according to Fr Vernet, the lowest place on earth: some 400 m below sea level. If Jerusalem is 800 m above, we make a descent of some 1200 m in this journey.

On the way one sees the Inn of the Good Samaritan, but this is something rather new. Close by, the Israelis have set up a museum housing mosaics from the synagogues and monasteries of the region.

In Jesus' time, the road was known as the Bloody Road, because it was lonely, and attacks by dacoits were frequent. It is still rather winding and lonely, but there are the occasional Bedouin settlements, here and there, from what I could see. Rather shabby tin affairs; the old tents must have been far more lovely and wholesome.

And even the monks cannot avoid producing garbage. There was a dirty garbage heap on the path leading up to the monastery, not far from the entrance. 

Tuesday 25 October 2011

Tuloy sa Don Bosco - a unique work for street children

One of the significant visits yesterday was to TULOY SA DON BOSCO, which translates as Welcome to Don Bosco. Tuloy is a Tagalog word meaning welcome and also let’s go ahead. The play of words here is significant, because Tuloy sa DB caters to street children. Street children – defined in the Philippines not as roofless rootless, but as any child on the street for 5 or 7 hours a day – are welcomed here, and they are accompanied into the future.
The centre is the brainchild of Fr Rocky Evangelista, SDB . It is rather unique, in the sense that, as he explained, it does not belong to the Salesians. It is run by a trust, of which the provincial is a de iure member, and Rocky the executive secretary. The others are lay people, and probably some religious. The ‘community’ is irregular by current canonical standards: 2 SDBs, some sisters of various congregations, and lay people, all living together. Rocky chose not to go for his silver jubilee sabbatical, instead, asked to remain forever with the street work he had begun in 1993, just two years before his jubilee. His great help and support has been and is Cathy, a lay person, who began by sending him anonymous cheques, followed up to find out why the cheques were not being cashed, pushed the priest to begin something, and found herself involved up to the neck. She is part of the community that runs Tuloy. She recalls that the only religious object in her house was a statue of our Lady, which turned out to be Mary Help of Christians. She did not know it at the time; she was shocked when she came to know. Mary seems to have prepared the way for this unique project. Another Marian tale is how a small statue of MHoC had been tied to a tree in a piece of land Rocky was trying to buy. They lost it after a while, but one day, 10 years later, found it – the binding wire had fallen off, but the tree had grown around the base of the statue, so that the statue was still standing, attached to the tree. The trunk and the statue are now in Rocky’s office.
The philosophy of Tuloy is simple. Children need to be given the best, so that they can feel they are special, no less that richer children, and they can begin to dream of a better future. So the centre is large, extremely well kept, and spotless clean. About $ 80,000 is needed – per month – to run the centre. It comes from donations and contributions. The collaboration of some large companies is visible: there is a Macdonald house, a Caltex house, and so on. About 220 boys and girls reside in various dorms, and another 500 children in need come in as day scholars. Second is the power of choice. No one is forced to stay on if s/he does not want to. So if anyone does, it is because s/he wants to, decides to. Third, Tuloy is not for those who do not want to work. An hour of manual work to keep the surroundings clean is mandatory. Fourth, children are helped to finish school, and also receive a professional education, after which they leave in search of work. Boys who have no parents are supported for a year till they gather money to get accommodation. Girls are helped somewhat longer. A fifth point is ecology. Rocky is very sensitive to the issue, and is passing on this education to his youth. They become enthusiastic and passionate about it, he says. There is water recycling, which also serves to raise fish, water vegetables, and so on.
And he is clear that professional help is needed: social workers, psychologists, and so on.

The church is remarkable, built of 400 year Spanish era bricks, cut to size, and used with great artistic effect. Old bricks can be used to create a work of art; street children can be transformed into works of beauty.
And behind the church, using the nature and lay of the land, is the residence for the community, and also well-appointed rooms for guests who can spend the day in prayer, or celebrate an anniversary in the church. Most stay on to become benefactors.
Not all the Salesians are happy with this work that does not toe the line. But a significant Salesian, Pascual Chavez, is: he seems to have said: this is the most Salesian work I have seen. The international president of Rotary International, an Indian by the name of Bannerjee, is enthusiastic about the work, and has invited Rocky to speak next year at Bangkok. Colin Powell mentions the project in his memoirs, and says that volunteerism is the future hope of the world.
Rocky is a communicator. He can talk, and he writes. He presented me with an autographed copy of his latest book, I have come home. I think he is on a good track. The irregular status of his community, the presence of lay people and other religious, the innovations, the belief in the child, the ability to communicate, these are all solidly Don Bosco qualities.  

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