Saturday, September 29, 2012

Random Thoughts

I am surprised that I did not see the sun this morning. Each day is blindingly bright, except for today. Clouds from the north and dust in the south have met along a front. It is obscuring the sun and cooling off the dessert but brining unwelcome humidity. With yesterday's temperatures at 96, no one wants increased humidity.

I am acclimating after a week's stay in Amman. Night-time sleep is elusive and I manage to get eight hours each day so I have lots of energy. I can sense that I am now wanting to explore the surroundings. Just a few kilometers away is the ancient Roman citadel and the ruins of the stronghold. When the strong heat breaks early in the week, I'll venture forth to discover this archeological wonder.

Next week's calendar is already filling up. On Monday, I may visit a prominent gallery to see an exhibition by a parishioner. He does graphic arts and paintings. He also plays harmonica in the chorus at the Friday Mass. Tuesday, the community has plans to go to an ancient cave that is supposed to house one of the earliest Christian communities. Wednesday has a social engagement with a mutual friend of a British Jesuit and then an open house at one of the Christian schools in the late afternoon. Ministerial work is increasing by day.

Driving along the Ammonite streets is still a mystery. How I can be in the left lane of a two-way street and have a car out of the blue driving alongside me is mind-boggling. I keep telling myself that this is a whole different value system. Americans might see it as a lack of respect for an individual or for the law, but Jordanian drivers have a different value system. To them, it is not a matter of (dis)respect. They would probably apologize if they thought they were offending me. I am the one who has to experience a different thought process.

I was startled the other night when I stepped out of my car at the Jesuit Center. I heard four blasts and I clutched my heart. It quickly dawned on me that they were firecrackers set off at a neighboring hotel to celebrate a wedding. Yes, it was a Thursday evening - the vigil of their (our) weekend.

I found a few English-based TV stations that show movies. I thought it would be good, but they are 3rd tier movies like "Jurassic Park 3." I did come across "Julia and Julie" and a British-oriented show, but when I flipped back to those channels, Arabic programs were being shown.

I found, with the help of a parishioner, two stations that play American music. Most of the music is not my cup of tea, but occasionally I hear a song I know or like. However, since Andy Williams died this week, I went to Youtube to watch and listen to his music. He possessed such a talent. At the height of his fame, he was between 35-40. He always seemed so old to me in my youth. The ease with which he sang reminded me of Perry Como so I watched some of his videos as well. His voice is perhaps smoother than Andy Williams'. O.K. I also listened to some Frank Sinatra, but then I spent more time playing and listening to Christmas music. Christmas music makes me feel happy.

Youtube lets you discover your childhood.

O.K. Here are 10 of my best-remembered Andy Williams songs (excluding Christmas songs.) Also, he did a number of remakes that are also very good.

1. Moon River         (of course)
2. Summer Place
3. Born Free
4. Speak Softly Love (Theme from the Godfather)
5. The Impossible Dream (The Quest)
6. A Time for Us
7. Where do I begin (Love Story)
8. Can't Take my Eyes Off of You
9. MacArthur Park
10. Exodus Story

I decided to have a cup of tea. Chamomile is nice because we put the whole flower into a pot of steaming tea. The flower opens up and makes a beautiful flowing design in the teapot. It has a calming effect upon a drinker so I thought I would try it at night before bed-time.

I will get my camera out this week. I will do my first watercolor in my Jordanian period.

I've met some nice parishioners at Mass yesterday. I am addressing each of the parishes this weekend before I begin my assignment in earnest nest week. I will preside at two of the Masses this weekend.

I like my office. It is quiet, elevated, and has air conditioning. I use the air conditioner to regulate the humidity more than I do to cool it down. The office is off the beaten track so it is an ideal spot to get some work done.

O.K. That is it for now.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Amman webpage

Here is our new webpage to explore:  www.jordanjesuits.org.

Jordan Jesuits

First Week Adjustments

I arrived in Amman a week ago today. It has taken me a whole week to break through jet lag and to finally move toward a satisfying sleep schedule. I think I might come close to eight hours tonight.

Anyways, I've set up my office and I'm liking the space quite well. The air conditioner helps. Since we are on a hillside, my office is at the level of the tree tops. A needle-less pine tree branch is right outside my window and five small birds provide me with entertainment. As I look across the street, a woman in an orange gown is sweeping her third-floor deck, while a man in Jordanian robes and head covering is slowly sucking on a cigarette on the rooftop balcony.  Passersby on the street below head to the Toledo hotel or down the wadi to the business district.

I toured Jebel L'webdeih today. It is the neighboring jebel (hill) that was first settled by the French.
At the crest is Parish Square even though it is a circle. Many coffee-houses and small restaurants are in the area. Art galleries dot the winding narrow streets. I discovered a small art store that has a few water-colour supplies. I will discover a few of the coffee-houses over time. I saw a nice patisserie that has fine looking desserts. It is right next to the Chocolate House, which deserves exploration. I like the Palestinian noughats and small candies so I will eventually visit the area when I need a respite.

I tried walking the streets. I do get aerobic exercise. Not only are the hills fairly steep, but the sidewalks are not even. One always has to step up or down to make any progress. For sure, many ankles are twisted because of mis-steps.

Driving is tragically worse. One of the Jesuits say that it is not driving, but riding. He says Jordanians pretend they are riding camels and donkeys and they will occupy any available space possible because they are nomadic Beadouins and oftentimes sheep and goats direct them where to go. Driving is a night-mare though. I'm thankful that the major roads have cameras at stop lights and that there are traffic patrols. The inner city is a different matter though. For a highly sensate person, one has to look quickly in five different directions before moving forward. There is no sense of boundaries or rules when it comes to open space.

This weekend I will speak at all the parish Masses. I visited them last week, but I will be visibly present this coming weekend.

The archbishop is quite a good man. He is Jordanian, but he is new to this diocese having just returned in late-August. He was 16 years as bishop in Tunisia and he taught pastoral theology in the seminary near Bethlehem University. He is very likable and wants to come to know the parishes.

The food is excellent. It is very tasty and lean if one stays away from chocolates. The markets are quite interesting. You can find everything you want in them, but the placement of items is all over the store. Sweets are everywhere. Condiments are right next to each of the many sweets locations. If I'm going to bake, I'll have to learn new measurements. Speaking of that, scales only go up to 130. I thought that was optimistic, but then I realized they are recording stones. I think I have many stones.

Television is foreign. We get about 9 channels, but they are all news stations. After a while, I notice I am feeling down. The one movie station is Fox, but it is not anything that I want to follow yet because it is Arabic language with English subtitles. The movies are American, but they are not the first-stringers.

As I am adjusting, I have to find one thing I can enjoy or appreciate each day. I'm doing that. Tomorrow, I will discover the ancient Roman citadel, which is just two jebels away.


Friday, September 21, 2012

First Days in Jordan

I arrived in Jordan safely. The Royal Jordanian flight was very good and it was easy to move through customs. From departure through customs took only ten minutes. I had an easy ride into the city to settle into the Jesuit Center. A good night's sleep ensued.

Last night, I could not sleep at all. I finally fell asleep around 6:00 a.m., which rearranged my plans for the day. I awoke around noon. I hope I can fall asleep earlier tonight. Because Friday is the first day of the weekend, vendors set up tents in the open air market below. Activity ceased around 1:00 a.m., but one car had its panic alarm sounding off until early this morning.

I drove the car today through Amman's Streets. I traveled to Jabal Webdeih, which is the French-settled area. French cafes and pastry shops still operate there. One of our churches is located in this section right off of Paris Square. I hope to find a coffee house here for regular visits.

I drove to Sports City and was much surprised at what I found. Gate 2 is an open entrance way and it leads to public swimming pools. It certainly looked inviting. I was trying to find the walking trails, but instead I came across Petra Stadium where soccer is played. Many ball fields are around, but mostly kids play soccer in the streets. The tennis and basketball courts were filled with soccer games. I can see there is more activity in the park and I'll try to get there for daily exercise walks. Jordanians can be proud of this facility. Now, if they could only keep the place clean, it would be a jewel for the city.

I navigated the streets just fine. It is macho driving and Boston driving has prepared me well. I visited the nearby Toledo Hotel, which appears to be a fine hotel for guest. I might even use the pool in the building. I'm glad to begin to connect the dots in this sprawling city. Most of the buildings are white because they are either limestone or marble. There are quite a few attractive house designs, but the infrastructure of the city needs safety work and  beautification. Night-time though is when the city looks nice. The laser lights beamed onto buildings adds a refreshing splash of color. The evening temperatures hover around 70 degree Fahrenheit and there are no amounts of bugs or mosquitos to interrupt a roof deck meditation.

The television shows are wanting. We get six or seven news stations and after an hour and a half, I remarked to my community member, "We've just watched depressing news. I feel down." One CNN show was on human trafficking in Northern Sinai, mostly of Eritreans. Brutal torture and extortion are common among migrant workers. Fortunately, most of the harvesting of organs has ceased. Another show was about trash harvesting in Mozambique; a third show was about successful innovation of trash harvesting by Egyptians in the massive trash sections of the city. All the while, the commercials were dotted with appeals to a wealthy, comfortable lifestyle.

It is 9:00 p.m. and the vendors are busy at work taking down their market tents. I hope I fall asleep relatively soon.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Time to Go


Summer is waning. Changes occur imperceptibly except for the one who slows down to take in the sensory world. A cool front has swept over New England giving hints of the chilly nights and warm days ahead. This morning’s sky is deep blue due to the absence of clouds. A mild breeze washes over the deciduous trees whose leaves are beginning to blush. Near the pond’s edge small trees display its mild yellow and orange serving notice of the splendor yet to be unveiled.

Sitting inside the courtyard of Campion Center in Massachusetts, I take time to prepare myself for my upcoming journey. Campion houses a retreat center, a health-care facility for elderly and infirm Jesuits, and an active Jesuit community. I’ve often enjoyed visiting this place before I entered the Jesuits because of the stillness that pervades the inner and outer spaces. This afternoon the Jesuits will honor their jubilarians for their dedicated service to the people of God over the years. Seasons change. Some priests are celebrating the end of their ministry while I am entering into the heart of mine.

I pause to catch my breath before I enter the vigorous transition of moving to an ancient part of the world. I sit in the courtyard created by Brother Jim McDavitt who forged strong relationships over the years in the development office. I sit on a bench dedicated by Linda and Liz, colleagues of Jim’s and friends of mine. The sun warms the early morning breeze. The smells and bells of a just-completed Mass fills the courtyard. Subdued sounds of insects give way to the more pleasant chirping of a few orioles. The edges of summer flowers are browed while hardy autumn petals persevere. White Rhododrendra show promise of an autumn bloom. The stone fountain at the center bubbles away. It is a simmering percolation that can go unnoticed as it periodically spills water down its stone base. All feels still, except that somehow everything knows that change is coming. Summer has ceased and life continues in a hardier way.

Like the Jubilarians who look back on their life’s work, I’ve spent this summer assembling the pieces of my life and getting new pieces of the puzzle. Yesterday I was at a party given to me by my family. It was a festive time reminiscent of the days when we were young. I also drove by my old school and revisited roads that once housed childhood friends. Memories upon memories percolated like that fountain in Campion’s courtyard. I recalled those autumn days when I walked home from soccer practices along a four and a half mile stretch along the state forest that contained barely ten houses. I was always drawn deeply into myself when I was immersed in the colorful foliage. Words fail when I try to capture the transcendent feelings. All I know is that I feel glad to be alive. All manner of things are reoriented to their proper place when I allow myself to sense the world around me.

I have been undeservedly awash in care and gratitude this summer. Meals, visits, walks, and meaningful conversations have prepared me for my imminent venture. As I stripped away my life’s possessions, these acts of kindness have filled the space. I treasure the cards and thoughtfulness I received from many loved ones. I wish I were able to repay them for their inexhaustible good deeds!
I’m prepared to leave. In Ignatius’ Suscipe, his prayer of offering oneself to God, he petitions the Lord to take his liberty, memory, will, understanding, and all that one has and possesses. It has inspired many Jesuits and friends for centuries, but it is harder to do than one imagines. I want to keep my will because I want to be able to choose. I want to keep my freedom because I have worked hard for my own personal freedom and I’m thankful my country protects my civil freedoms. I want to keep my understanding because it helps me to become enriched, and I want to keep my memory because they contain memories of you, friends, and loved ones.

To rid oneself of possessions is not easy because we collect things that will be useful in the future and remind us of meaningful times, places, and people. Intellectually, I recognize that all is God’s. All is gift. Emotionally, I find I am attached in ways that need more freedom to enter. However, Christ has told me he will save those important memories for me better than any object can, better than I can. I have to keep moving in the direction of trust. His presence is the best gift to me because we will move through this journey together. In my prayer, I see him talking with Ignatius and they assure me of their brotherly solidarity with me. I find this is a real test of who I am. I feel secure in the line of many Jesuit missionaries dating back to Xavier to the East and to the many who discovered the New World. I am proud to be a Jesuit and I pray that Christ and Ignatius are proud of me.

My prayer is that I remain open to God’s graces. I want to experience the abiding presence of Christ and Ignatius each day. I want to ask, “Where are you, O Christ, in my life today?” I know I will be preoccupied with the transitions’ trial. Therefore, I pray that Christ be the pervading stillness that reorients everything in my life. I pray that Christ looks after my family and loved ones and that he keeps us connected to one another. I pray that everyone continues to move towards greater freedom and a healthy, happy life. I pray for the individual intentions that many have brought to me. I pray that we come to know Christ and the power of his resurrection. Seasons change; Christ remains eternal.

It is time to embark on a new adventure. Lots will unfold before us. I simply ask Christ to help me go in the direction of his embrace where there is singing and rejoicing and where tears are dried and weeping has ceased. He makes all things new. Let’s behold the many graces given to us. Let’s go forward carrying each other in our hearts.

For the Greater Glory of God.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Saturday, September 8, 2012

I left it here...

I arrived in Los Altos, California yesterday and returned to the retreat house for a few days of visiting. I'm seeing my good friend, Fr. Bob Fabing, and saying hello to the rest of the community. I chatted with the Jesuits at preprandials before a very fine dinner. Afterwards, Bob and I went out for frozen yogurt and a conversation while walking the streets of Los Altos.

Today, we toured San Francisco. It was a perfect day with temperatures at 70 degrees and not a cloud in the sky. I got a mild sunburn - my first of the year. We traveled over the Golden Gate Bridge and then went to the new GG National Park. It used to be the old military installations at the Presidio, but the government turned to land over for recreation and development. The beach is filled with many sun worshipers and people out for a stroll or to walk their dogs. It is quite an addition to the city, which is becoming more eco-friendly.

Bob, a native San Franciscan, showed me the highlights of the city. Of course, he played "San Fransisco (Be sure to wear flowers in your hair). This song was sung by Scott McKensie to promote the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967. We hit all the touristy spots: Golden Gate Park, Nob Hill, Union Square, Ghiradelli Plaza, Fisherman's Wharf, SoMa (South of Market Street), and many other fine places.

We ate at Alioto's at 8 Fisherman's Wharf. Alioto was a classmate of Bob's and the Jesuits frequent this restaurant because of his close connection with him. I ate Barramundi. I had no idea they served it in the States. I ate it many times in Australia as it is one of their favored fish. ~ Two bands played on the green outside of Fisherman's Wharf. It is a vibrant area filled with tourists and young people. So much energy is present in the city.

As more construction and renovation are done along the harbor coast, it might be nice to demolish some of the piers to provide a view of the harbor. Many of the old piers and storage units are moved to Oakland, which means the piers are empty or not used for their intended purpose.

It is a city where many can leave their hearts... To see photos of San Francisco, click on the link below:

1. Pics of Golden Gate Bridge

2. Pics of Golden Gate National Park

3. Pics of Streets of San Francisco

4. Pics of the Roman Catholic Cathedral

5. Pics of Being Near Fisherman's Wharf

A Full Day at the Reservation

On my last full day on the Pine Ridge reservation, I began my morning with a walk to the top of the hills to an Indian-made monument symbolizing three warriors. It was a fairly good hike into the hill country where deer were abundant. On the way up I passed by a sweat lodge, which is about what I expected it to look like. It was rather low to the ground because you don't want to have to fill up great spaces with heat and steam. After my descent, I went to the Heritage Center to look at the fine items in the gift shop and art collection.

I concelebrated the Mass of the Holy Spirit for the high school. Fr. George, the president, gave a fine homily. Of note of the events that encapsulated the Lakota Indian culture were: the azalea rite, which is a washing over of smoke from burnt sage grass during the penitential rite, the chanting and beating of drums during the pro- and recessionals, the procession that includes bringing forward the Lakota-style mitre, and an honoring of the ancestral spirits. The chapel windows were designed to tell a story of creation in the Lakota symbolism and the two circular windows at top of the church are to permit the rays from sunrise and sunset to pass through and illuminate the church. It was a lovely ceremony.

Fr. George and I then drove to Porcupine to attend a conference on Strengthening Family Responses during periods of Alcoholism and Drug Addiction. Frs. Peter and Rick were there with a handful of men and women from the Tribe. The speaker was a native who is trained in presenting topics on recovery and good mental health. This topic is one of the most crucial ones for stability of the family and development of the tribe.

After a tour of the parish K-8 school, we then drove to Manderson where the Jesuits staff a parish. The road took us back to Wounded Knee and eventually back to Red Cloud Indian school.

It certainly was great to be with the Jesuit community. Three scholastics serve the school  and many volunteers teach in the school. Many have been Jesuit-influenced and these communities live like Jesuit Volunteer Communities. Though the work is difficult, the community seems to be happy because it is a very important work of the Society.

Many solid Jesuits are at the school. My friend, Dr. Dave does amazing work at the hospital. The superior, Rick, is a compassionate man with a soulful spirit. President George has an easy way about him as he covers responsibilities for many areas in the school and community. Peter retains incredible energy and passion. The brothers in the house are stellar examples of what it means to serve the people of God and the community with great devotion.

I was left with many questions about the reservation and my assumptions of what is best for the people. I can't answer that and I shouldn't answer that. This land is theirs and they will make their own decisions. It will  undoubtedly be a different logic than what I have. As my friend Dave says, "we have to hold the other as other." They are not extensions of us and we have to give them freedom to live as they see fit. There's great talent, intellect, desire, and potential on the reservation. I have no doubt that good things will emerge and the Jesuits will be there in whatever capacity is needed.

I'm blessed to have been able to experience much good life and discipleship. I truly am edified and I will hold  the Jesuit community and the Lakota Sioux in my hearts when I pray.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Pine Ridge Indian Reservation

I toured the township of Pine Ridge this afternoon with Dave. He pointed out Native America-owned and operated facilities that stood alongside Subway, Pizza Hut, and Taco John's. Though the town was small, it was tidy with enough services for the small population. We went south into White Clay, Nebraska where there is a store that sells 15,000 cans of beer a day - mostly to the native population. That was depressing because of the bold move of selling alcohol to the natives just over the border. The reservation is alcohol-free.

 We drove passed the medical center where Dave works. It is quite a good facility that has a wide range of services. Many of the medical staff live in apartments just behind the hospital.

 We then took a trip to Wounded Knee that became enigmatic for the natives. After the U.S. Army captured Chief Big Foot and many warriors, they encamped at Wounded Knee for the night. The army sat on top of the hill with the natives on the lower ground - guns pointed at them. It is speculated that the natives began a ghost dance as a symbol of resistance against the white settlers and U.S. army. No one knows what happened next. Some speculate that the Army became spooked by the dance and inadvertently fired upon the natives. Many were killed, but others fled through the nearby gullies. It became a symbol of resistance that emboldened nearby Lakota Sioux. The Jesuits have a church in back of the location. It is mostly unoccupied though it is a fine building.

 After dinner with the community, I had a tour of the school by the president. My eyes were opened. The school is doing excellent service to the community. Though it is K-8, it is a college-prep school. All graduates go onto college, military, or trade-school, depending upon their life choices. The school respects their Lakota culture while preparing them for life outside of the reservation. It receives national attention and needs great funding. Scholarships are provided for all families and alumni are not yet able to support the school. The Bill and Melissa Gates Foundation provide excellent scholarships for qualified student university tuition. In many ways, the school has so much going for it, but a stable source of income is still needed for operational expenses. I can now see why many Jesuits hold the school in their hearts. I will attend some classes this week. Education is the most powerful force for change in this world.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Photos: Big Country South Dakota

To see photos of South Dakota, click on the link below:

1. Pics of Welcome to Rapid City, South Dakota
2. Pics of Bear Butte
3. Pics of Cheyenne Crossing

4. Pics of Mount Rushmore
5. Pics of Hike Around Sylvan Lake
6. Pics of Sunset and Goats

7. Pics of Cathedral Spires Hike
8. Pics of the Blue August Moon and Prairie Fires
9. Pics of the inside of Wind Caves

10. Pics of timber rattlesnake in the wild
11. Pics of Bison, Pronghorns, and Free-Range Donkeys
12. Pics of Full Moon rising over the Badlands

13. Pics of Wounded Knee and the Jesuit churches
14. Pics of the Badlands
15. Pics of the Hike along Custer National Park

16. Pics of Mountain Lions, Longhorns, Prairie Dogs, and Turkeys
17. Pics of the Jesuit communities of South Dakota
18. Pics of the Red Cloud Indian School and Mission

Cathedral Spires and the Pine Ridge Reservation

Our hike today was along Cathedral Spires. These stately stones were visible from Sylvan Lake and it was great to walk along the trails. It is certainly one of the most beautiful spots in the area. The clouds are fascinating artwork that completes the stone images. We detected some haze, which we were told were from  fires in Nebraska near Chablus. At the top of the spires, we rested and spend time in silence.

The day started out with doing some errands like getting a much needed haircut. I feel respectable again. I usually go to Walters in Rockport, Massachusetts. The man is amazing for he is still working at age 93. He can still see well.

We collected a German Jesuit from the bus station as he wants to visit the Pine Ridge Indian reservation. Our host in Rapid City is the pastor of the Roman Catholic Church called Isaac Jocgues, a French missionary who served largely in Canada and a little in upstate New York. The name was chosen because he served among the native population. The pastor has an African Grey parrot called Sophie and she is quite well-trained.

We toured a large art gallery in Rapid City. It contains artwork from many locals and natives and most of the scenes relate to the regional landscape or native culture. The artwork is inspiring. We did not get to see it all because it is a vast collection. Across the street are the municipal buildings that includes a plaza where a festival was being held. Outdoor sculptures frame the square and it makes for a nice gathering center for the community. Life is Rapid City has enough cultural features to keep oneself occupied throughout the year.

On the way to the Pine Ridge Reservation, we saw an orange cloud. At checkpoint, the police warned us of the fires and suggested detour routes. We were in fact detoured because the clouds became much thicker and the orange plumes drew higher. The German said that it looks like the entrance to Hell. It was quite fascinating. We knew it was a prairie fire that began 50 miles south in Chablus, Nebraska and the winds from Isaac were carrying it forward. It is was a forest fire, it would have been devastating, but the road gravel and dirt roads helped stop the prairie grass from being too destructive. When we passed by the next morning and saw the charred lands, we were amazed that the width was at least three miles. Many homes were spared. Fortunately, the land can regenerate after several rains.

Later in the day, we hiked along Wind Caves. We chose the Garden of Eden tour, which has the most pristine collection of boxwood diagrams known. These cave are enormous and only five percent of the tunnels are explored. It is quite a fascinating set of turns. The geological formations are unique to the area and the cave is essentially dry. At one point, the tour guide turned off the lights (with proper notice) and the pitch darkness made it impossible to see one's own hand being waved in front of one's face. The temperatures of the caves are always 53 degrees Fahrenheit (11 Celsius.) Fresh air is always passing through and getting sucked out of the caves.

When we exited the cave, we went to the natural entrance where wind swept out of the caves. Upon leaving there, we looked at a timber rattlesnake that crawled over rocks until it finally found a place where it could comfortably sun itself.

Later on the ride back to the Reservation, we saw free range donkeys, more buffalo, mule and white-tail deer, and pronghorn antelope. The moon rising over the Badlands was terrific. I wish I had a tripod to get a clearer view of the full moon.

The Jesuits at the reservation are quite nice and hospitable. It is always good to have brothers and scholastics in the community. They add a dimension of care to the place. I've enjoyed their camaraderie and their hospitality. This morning, I preached at the Sunday service in Oglala. I was happy to see so many people at Mass. It is Labor Day weekend and many are away for the weekend. However, because of the fires and the beginning of the school year, some stayed at home. Today is a bit of rest. It is the Sabbath.

Hello, South Dakota

When I stepped out of the airport in Rapid City, South Dakota, a blast of heat pressed down upon me. It had been at the century mark earlier in the day and the land was baking. The sunset took my breath away because, like Montana, it is Big Sky country. The landscape and sky is immense in the same way that the ocean is to Gloucester.

My friend, a Jesuit physician, Dave DeMarco, collected me at the airport and gave me a tour of Rapid City, a city of 70,000 people and growing, before we headed out for dinner. Rapid City is a metropolitan regional city so all of its public services are top-notch. It has quite a good hospital system and a large, active military base. It has a few universities, most notable is the School of Mining. It is South Dakota's second largest city.

We ate at Minvera's restaurant where Dave had a prized bison burger and I had a 6 oz filet. The beef is very tender, so much so that it felt like I was eating dessert.

The next day, Dave gave me a sweeping tour of the Black Hills, which are on the western third of the state. The temperatures were in the 80's so hiking would be fine. We traveled through Deadwood and Sturgis on the northern part of the Hills. Sturgis is a site of a major motorcycle gathering in early August. The city and state are lined with bikers who come to enjoy the extensive natural world. Huge saloons cover the interstate and the township. These saloons are the largest I have ever seen.

Why did I not know that South Dakota was so beautiful? How is it's secret kept from the rest of the U.S.?

We drove to Bear Butte, which is a stand-alone mountain. Prayer ribbons line the trails as it the mountain is considered sacred by the native Americans. It is certainly set apart from the other hills. On our way to the visitor's center and trail head, a small buffalo herd crossed the road with their calves. I was able to get a few photographs of them. Soon afterwards, we continued our sweep through the Black Hills.

An invasive beetle wrecked many of the conifers. The destroy the trees from the inside-out. The branches and needles turn brown and are hollowed out. Vast patches of these pines are wrecked by the beetles. The forestry division cuts down the trees and piles them in clusters to stop the larval cycle of the insects. If the dead trees continue to stand, the beetles can jump from one tree to another. You can tell when you are on private land because most owners do not have the resources to cut down acres of trees. The Park Services maintain the federal and state parks well.

We stopped at Cheyenne crossing for lunch and I tried a bison burger. It was quite good and very lean. Some of the resort towns are emptying out as Labor Day visitors mark the end of the tourist season. Soon these towns will be sleepy villages once again. I bet the people like that.

On the way down to Sylvan Lake, we spotted a mountain goat on the side of the road. I took a few photos of him. I still want to see Bighorn Sheep. I saw Longhorn cows, but I did not yet get a photo of them.

We toured Mount Rushmore. The artist was an amazing man and the process of carving the rock is pain-stakingly laborious, but he did it with a small army of precision workers. It is a marvel to behold once you see the process. Dave and I were talking about which other U.S. Presidents could be etched into the stone. I would expect only FDR would get bipartisan approval.

Rapid City has a neat feature in each major corner of town. They have life-sized statues of each American President symbolized in a particular way that represents his personality. It is fascinating to see each of these sculptures. I wish I had time to photograph each one, but I'll settle for reading about each President once more to gain more of an historical perspective of his contributions.

Mount Rushmore has a very informative educational center. It has a pavilion that lists each of the U.S. states and territories and their incorporation into our federation. A large amphitheater holds the crowds who show up for a Discovery Channel documentary before the  illumination ceremony each evening at 8:30 p.m.

There's a monument park that has capitalized on Rushmore. It has carvings about 12 feet tall of each head of  the U.S. Presidents. There's also a national cemetery near the V.A. hospital. This place has lots to see and do.

After leaving Rushmore, we passed by the Crazy Horse statue. We did not stop in because it is much more expensive with less to see and do. Some natives are suspicious of the artist/benefactors and some believe that his work is good and legitimate. The slow work of carving the statue is limited because all the funds are private.

We then hiked along Sylvan Lake and its cathedral spires. Many quaking Aspen are beginning their autumnal turn. Their quaking is quite beautiful. It is as if the trees are alive in reflecting the sunlight back brilliantly. After the hike, we stopped in Hill City, which is a tiny western town with big character. To top things off, we saw the latest Batman film. I had no idea it was three hours long.

All of this activity is keeping me away from watching the Republican convention in Tampa. Locals say thought that the winds we are experiencing are from Isaac who stalled in the Gulf.


Cardinal says Catholic Church '200 years out of date'

ROME (Reuters) - The former archbishop of Milan and papal candidate Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini said the Catholic Church was "200 years out of date" in his final interview before his death, published on Saturday.

Martini, once favoured by Vatican progressives to succeed Pope John Paul II and a prominent voice in the church until his death at the age of 85 on Friday, gave a scathing portrayal of a pompous and bureaucratic church failing to move with the times.

"Our culture has aged, our churches are big and empty and the church bureaucracy rises up, our rituals and our cassocks are pompous," Martini said in the interview published in Italian daily Corriere della Sera.

"The Church must admit its mistakes and begin a radical change, starting from the pope and the bishops. The paedophilia scandals oblige us to take a journey of transformation," he said in the interview.

In the last decade the Church has been accused of failing to fully address a series of child abuse scandals which have undermined its status as a moral arbiter, though it has paid many millions in compensation settlements worldwide.

Martini, famous for comments that the use of condoms could be acceptable in some cases, told interviewers the Church should open up to new kinds of families or risk losing its flock.

"A woman is abandoned by her husband and finds a new companion to look after her and her children. A second love succeeds. If this family is discriminated against, not just the mother will be cut off but also her children."

In this way "the Church loses the future generation", Martini said in the interview, made a fortnight before he died. The Vatican opposes divorce and forbids contraception in favour of fidelity within marriage and abstinence without.

A liberal voice in the church, Martini's chances of becoming pope were damaged when he revealed he was suffering from a rare form of Parkinson's disease and he retired in 2002.

Pope John Paul II was instead succeeded in 2005 by Pope Benedict XVI, a hero of Catholic conservatives who is known by such critical epithets as "God's rottweiler" because of his stern stand on theological issues.

Martini's final message to Pope Benedict was to begin a shake up of the Catholic church without delay.

"The church is 200 years out of date. Why don't we rouse ourselves? Are we afraid?"

Martini was much loved and thousands paid their respects at his coffin in Milan cathedral on Saturday.

(Reporting By Naomi O'Leary)