Sunday, April 27, 2014

A tasty lunch

Today, I cooked a meal for the Saturday/Sunday choirs. They have brought me to their dinners very often so it was right that I repay them with good old fashioned Italian cooking. They instructed me to bake them a cheese and meat lasagna as they have had enough chicken for a lifetime.

I made a ground beef lasagna with the rarely-found ricotta cheese and mozzarella cheeses. It came out great. They told me to make a very small one because there would only be ten of them so I made a large one and it was completely consumed. I made garlic bread based on Turkish bread and I loaded it with onions, garlic, and mushrooms.

Then I made a very fresh salad with chicken on the side. The mashed potatoes and the Turkish salads were a big hit, but surprisingly, the brown rice was seldom touched. The ice cream and cake served in the garden was also a huge hit. Fr. Al prepared the dessert course. As is expected, many photos were taken and everyone was jumping around in the garden in great happiness. Many funny facial expressions will appear on those photos.

The confirmation mass with the bishop was a fun time as well. The bishop did a nice job with the homily because he had to deliver it in English. The seven confirmati were very pleased with his celebration and they enjoyed talking with each other at the reception afterwards.

The choir sang so well. They had the right timing and they were very attentive to what makes for a good liturgy. Everyone recognized the great work they did. Even the bishop and the other Arabic speaking priest sang along to familiar Easter tunes. I was so proud.

Just about every night at 9:30, I receive a call from a choir member who wants me to hear the work her great niece is doing. With scarcely saying hello, they just start playing and singing. Now, they are learning how to play the keyboard and they are doing quite well. I’m very proud of their dedication. The choir understands what they need to learn and work on and they are very diligent.

Today is the canonization of Popes John XXIII and John Paul II. I’m especially excited that John XXIII, the good Pope, is being duly recognized. He has been a favorite of mine for some time. Thank God for Pope Francis.

Thursday, April 24, 2014


Remembering all those who sacrificed

This year's ANZAC Day marks the 99th Anniversary of the landing at Gallipoli on 25 April 1915. Over the nine-month campaign 85,000 Turkish people died defending their homeland together with 8,500 Australians. It was also on 25 April, in 1918, that Australians recaptured the area around Villers-Bretonneux, France. In the playground of a local school, named Victoria, is a sign with the words 'Never forget Australia'.

Some 400,000 enlisted in World War I. Approximately 60,000 died and 200,000 were injured. Most of these casualties were on the Western Front, where 46,000 lost their lives and 130,000 were wounded between 1916 and 1918. Some 23,000 died at Pozières alone, in a six-week period in 1916. In 1915 Australia’s population was 3.5 million. Last year it passed 23 million.

Together with Australia’s armed forces there were others who sacrificed much as a result of Australia’s involvement in the War: those who remained at home and looked after the country, and those who cared for the soldiers who returned changed as a result of the trauma they experienced.

I recently visited the ANZAC Memorial in Hyde Park. It was a moving experience. Our volunteer guide explained the symbolism in the design of the memorial that expressed the grief, loss and gratitude felt by the people of NSW for those who served in World War I. The memorial contains no names, but 120,000 stars in the ceiling dome represent those from NSW who served. Several commemorative plaques, erected by dignitaries, are attributed humbly – A Citizen, A Soldier – in a way that unites us all irrespective of rank or prestige. Just as war is no respecter of persons, those who make it right are all, and any, of us. The architect, Bruce Dellit said,

'There is no pomp, no vainglory, no glamour in this group; rather there is dark tragedy, grim reality and bitter truth. But it is the truth which tells not only of the brutality of war and of the suffering it engenders, but of that noblest of all human qualities – self-sacrifice for duty.'

As you look down into the Hall of Silence, its design causes you to bow respectfully. The main focus of the interior is Rayner Hoff’s bronze sculpture Sacrifice. It is of a dead, naked male soldier, held aloft on his shield by his grieving mother, sister and wife with child. They represent the givers of life, weighed down by death.

Having fought in WWI, Hoff emigrated from England in 1923. As an outstanding public sculptor, he was commissioned to create a set of sculptures for the Sydney ANZAC memorial. His sculptures had powerful interpretations of sacrifice through war, including women bearing its burden.

Outside on the eastern and western faces of the ANZAC Memorial are two empty stone pedestals beneath large stained-glass windows. Two other statues using the image of the Crucifixion were carved by Hoff to portray both the start of the war - The Crucifixion of Civilisation 1914 - and its conclusion - Victory after Sacrifice 1918. As ANZAC Day often occurs just after Easter, the statues would have been powerful images for a Christian audience.

The Crucifixion of Civilisation depicted a stripped, tortured and wounded female figure on a cross atop a pyramid of broken soldiers, corpses, weapons, helmets and the debris of battle.Victory after Sacrifice was similar in design although the central female figure was partially clothed and partway liberated from the cross. They were never installed due to protests by church figures including the Catholic Archbishop of Sydney, Michael Sheehan.
The ANZAC Memorial Shrine was officially opened in 1934 at the south end of the park. The Archibald Fountain, unveiled two years earlier at the north end, has nude figures in its design. However, viewed as Greek mythological figures, the nakedness was acceptable. But a naked female form on the cross was another matter.

Following the protest, the statues were stored in the vaults of the Commonwealth Bank in Martin Place. In 1965 the trustees of the ANZAC Memorial asked then Catholic Archbishop of Sydney, Norman Gilroy, if the statues could be installed to complete the design. He indicated the church's position remained unchanged.

Sometime later the statues were given to East Sydney Technical College - now the National Art School. Hoff had been principal there from 1937 until his death in 1939, aged 44. Around that time, they disappeared. They may have fallen apart, or they may have been broken up because they were surplus to requirements.

Christ's crucifixion is indeed a powerful symbol and one about which religious figures are sensitive. In the 1970s, I read My Name is Asher Lev by Chaim Potok. It describes a young Jewish artist struggling with his faith and family. In his quest for meaning, he paints The Brooklyn Crucifixion. The painting causes dissention between Asher and his father's devotion to his Hasidic beliefs and community. For Asher's father it was disturbing that his son should use a Christian figure to describe suffering humanity.

Hoff's use of a woman on the cross in the 1930s was shocking. Such a powerful symbol, no doubt, would create debate even today. One irony is that artistic works that were designed to help people reflect about war and sacrifice caused such bitterness and controversy.

Hoff's works are a reminder of the role that women play in our society. The shrine helps us remember those who made such sacrifices in the field of war, but it also helps us remember the women - mothers, sisters, wives, daughters - who sacrificed so much to hold their families together.

By Fr Peter Hosking SJ.

Pictured: (Top) ANZAC Memorial, image by Ricardo Martins. (Middle) Hoff's Crucifixion of Civilisation, image by Ellis Taylor.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

John XXIII and John Paul II united in heaven

John XXIII and John Paul II united in heaven

Thomas Reese  |  Apr. 25, 2014Faith and Justice
This column will be published at on Friday but can be quoted now.

As everyone in the Catholic Church gets ready to celebrate the canonization of Popes John XXIII and John Paul II, I feel like a party pooper because I think canonizing popes is a dumb idea.
Saints are supposed to be models of sanctity for Christians to imitate, but who can a pope be a model for except another pope? And that is exactly the problem.
I fear that the people pushing hardest for the canonization of a pope want him made a saint so that he can be presented as the ideal pope that future popes should imitate. It is more about church politics than sanctity.
Making a pope a saint is a way of strengthening his legacy, making it more difficult for future popes to change policies that he put in place. "How can you dare to change what St. Whoever established."
This is the same motivation behind adding "the Great" to a pope's name. For example, some John Paul supporters argued at his death that his writings would guide the church for the rest of the 21st century. In fact the shelf-life of most papal documents expires shortly after their papacies. This is as it should be because each new pope must be guided by the Spirit to respond to the needs of his time.
The decision to canonize Popes John XXIII and John Paul II together was a personal decision by Pope Francis and it epitomizes his vision of the church as a reconciler.  
When the people in charge of canonizations told him that John Paul was ready for canonization and asked him when he wanted to schedule it, his response was, what about John XXIII? They pointed out that John had only one miracle and that two miracles were required for the canonization of someone who was not a martyr.
But that did not bother Pope Francis. What is the point of being pope if you can't break a few rules? He waved the requirement of a second miracle,  just as he had earlier for the canonization of his favorite Jesuit, Peter Faber.
Pope Francis probably knew that there was an extensive discussion of the miracle requirement prior to the revision of the canonization process in 1983. Jesuit Father Peter Gumpel, the leading church expert on the process, wanted to eliminate the requirement for any miracle.
Pope Francis also knew that there are some progressive Catholics who idolize John XXIII but have reservations about John Paul II, while some conservative Catholics feel exactly the opposite. Canonizing popes can be politically divisive in the church when it is an attempt by one faction to impose its model of the papacy on the future by bolstering the legacy of its favorite pope.
But Francis' solution is brilliant: Canonize both popes at the same time. By canonizing them together, Pope Francis is saying that all Catholics should be able to come together to celebrate the lives of these holy men. And since the men are so different, it does not canonize either model of being pope. It leaves him free to follow his own path. 
Pope Francis is fighting the same divisions that St. Paul faced in Corinth where some would say, "I belong to Paul," and others, "I belong to Apollos" or "Cephas." "I am a John Paul Catholic." "I am a John XXIII Catholic." St. Paul points out that they are simply "ministers through whom you became believers." "Paul or Apollos or Cephas...all belong to you, and you to Christ, and Christ to God." 
We are all brothers and sisters in Christ. We should be able to come together as one family both to celebrate and to work for the common good.
Both popes changed the course of history, affecting both the church and the world. Pope John's encyclicals Mater et Magister and Pacem in Terris emphasized the church's role in justice and peace. His calling of the Second Vatican Council began the reforms that brought the church into the modern world.
I am old enough to remember the Latin liturgy and the days when we referred to Protestants as heretics rather than separated brothers and sisters. These things changed because of Pope John. Both John and John Paul improved relations between Catholics and Jews, a breech that had lasted for centuries.
I also remember the days of the Cold War when we had a good chance of blowing up the world in a nuclear war. John Paul's support for the Solidarity movement in Poland began the avalanche that swept Communism from Eastern Europe and ultimately brought down the Soviet empire.
For most Catholics, John XXIII is a very distant memory or someone they learned about in history books. He reigned for less than five years as opposed to John Paul's almost 27 years.
That both men are in heaven, I have no doubt. But they both had their failings. Both popes failed to reform the Roman Curia. John issued a document requiring that seminary classes be taught in Latin, one of the most ignored papal mandates of modern times.
And while John Paul changed history for the better by helping to bring down Communism, his impact on the church was not as positive. True his papal visits encouraged and defended local churches, but his episcopal appointments prized loyalty over competence and pastoral skills. And his suppression of theological debate and discussion caused division rather than unity and stifled creativity.  
But most Catholics are not caught up in these debates. They like both popes. As Catholics, we believe that these saints are in heaven. We do not believe that they lived perfect lives. Saints can be sinners and do stupid things. Knowing that they were not perfect in fact gives us hope.
Thirty years from not another pope will preside over another double canonization, that for Blessed Benedict XVI and Blessed Francis I (yes there will be a Francis II). I will not be around to be  party pooper, but if I am in heaven, I promise to organize a party for all these popes who I am sure will get a good laugh out of it. 
[Jesuit Fr. Thomas Reese is a senior analyst for NCR and author of Inside the Vatican: The Politics and Organization of the Catholic Church. Follow him on Twitter: @ThomasReeseSJ.]
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Returning to Our Personal Galilee

Return to the moment of discovery

Pope Francis has urged Catholics across the globe to rediscover their personal 'Galilee' - that moment when they first experienced a personal encounter with Jesus Christ - in his homily at the Easter Vigil celebration this weekend.

'To return to Galilee means above all to return to that blazing light with which God's grace touched me at the start of the journey', he said.

'From that flame I can light a fire for today and every day, and bring heat and light to my brothers and sisters. That flame ignites a humble joy, a joy which sorry and distress cannot dismay, a good, gentle joy.'

He asked the thousands gathered if they remembered their own Galilee, or had they gone off on roads and paths that made them forget it?

'Lord, help me: tell me what my Galilee is', he prayed. 'For you know that I want to return there to encounter you and to let myself be embraced by your mercy.'

In his Easter message, the Pope prayed for peace, calling for an end to conflicts in the Ukraine, Syria and Nigeria.

The Pope also drew worldwide interest on Holy Thursday when he celebrated Mass at a rehabilitation facility on the outskirts of Rome.

Similar to Holy Thursday last year when he washed the feet of young people in detention, the Pope washed the feet of four women and eight men who are living with disabilities.

The patients ranged in ages from 16 to 86, nine of the 12 were Italian, one was a Muslim from Libya, one was a woman from Ethiopia and one young man was from Cape Verde.

Meanwhile, at a Good Friday Stations of the Cross service at the Colosseum, the Pope listened as meditations were read out reflecting on the pain and suffering endured by the marginalised in our communities.

One meditation spoke of 'all those wrongs which created the economic crisis and its grave social consequences: job insecurity, unemployment, dismissals, an economy that rules rather than serves, financial speculation, suicide among business owners, corruption and usury, the loss of local industry'.

The cross was carried between the 14 stations by pairs of immigrants, prisoners, homeless, elderly, women, disabled, former drug addicts and others.

From Province Express (The Australian Jesuits)

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Phones, corncorbs, and Umm Qais

Ah, phone calls. I should document the various types of phone call I receive and make.

This one person called me several times last week. I returned the call numerous times to find a busy signal. Finally, I reached the caller. I said, “Hello, this is Fr. John and I’m returning your call.” The reply was, “Who are you and what do you want?” I restated that I am Fr. John and that I was returning the call. “Why are you calling me? I don’t know you?,” was the reply. “I am calling you because you called me,” I said. “No, I didn’t,” was the reply. “I am Fr. John and I work at the church.” “O.K. Goodbye,” was the reply.

Five minutes later, when I’m meeting with a different person, the phone rings off the hook because that person is calling me back.

Or, there is always a call, which I return, but there is no answer at the other end. So, I hang up and the person calls me back right away. What gives? They weren’t there a minute ago.

On average, it takes about four phone conversations before I can really figure out what the caller wants. I ask many questions to help tease it out, but it is a lot of patient work.

It is often an ordeal to find out the caller’s name. It is something simple that I would like to know, but I often can’t get it out of the person.

Then there are the people who say, “Hello.” So, I say, “Hello.” And then they say hello, to which I respond “hello.” Then they say, “Good morning,” and I say “Good morning,” and then we are back to the “hellos.” Progressing from conversational basics is not easy. It is not uncommon for us to say “hello” or “good morning” apiece for a dozen times before I ask them if they know any other English words. Why is it so difficult to move forward?

I could go on and on about the multi-directions of the conversations. One must be very patient and a skillful puzzle solver to make headway most times. One day, I will have someone call me and say, “Good morning, Fr. John. This is so-and-so and I would like to speak with you about this topic. Is this a good time to talk?” Oh, that will be sweet.

And then there are text messages.

For a place that is often behind on projects, I am impressed by the rapidity by which the Seventh Circle has been transformed from a rotary into a square with traffic lights. It appeared in last Thursday’s Jordan Times and it was virtually complete by Monday. Everyone’s eyes popped with the speed of the work.

Corncobs bombarded me as I was driving home from an appointment the other day. A pickup truck with loosely collected vegetable pallets lost its freight as his high speed of travel sent his products aloft. I spotted the shaky packaging and stayed clear of it as best I could but those corncobs bounced more than I thought they could.

I saw my first funeral procession earlier in the day. Traffic was backed up and cars were honking their horns just like any other day, but I saw a hearse with three cars travelling in caravan behind it at a respectful speed. Everyone was so frustrated with the pace that they rushed by. I just followed behind in order to pay respects for the dead.

Weeks earlier I was wondering where the Christian cemeteries may be. Upon checking, I’m told two cemeteries exist in East Amman. It would be interesting to visit.  

This is the time of year I like to pull out two books: Howard Fast “April Morning” and Johnny Tremain. It gets me in the right mood for Patriots’ Day.

Yesterday I travelled to Umm Qais, the site of the Gadarene (Gerasene) demoniac in the Decapolis. It is a beautiful spot and I visited last May. I wanted to see the north with its beautiful green grass. It was lovely and it felt so peaceful. The day did not disappoint.

The place is located near the Sea of Galilee where Israel, Jordan, and Syria meet. It provides much room for biblical imaginings. Without a doubt, we know that Jesus would have been familiar with this area of the world. I can ponder him taking in the beauty of the land.

It turns out that most of the soil in Jordan is very fertile, but there is not enough rainfall or irrigation to make the land useful. It is quite a shame. I still hold much hope for Jordan’s progress, but being the fourth poorest nation in its water resources mitigates against making the land viable. I would love to see the climate changed by planting many more trees and bushes that would have an effect upon the rainfall.

Umm Qais was filled with field trips from Girls’ Schools based in Amman. Many of these girls introduced themselves to me and had some conversation as best they could. They were so happy. It was a delightful experience. They had a great time exploring the area and being with one another.

On the journey north, I saw a small village outside Irbid that had at least 18 houses painted in purple. Another dozen were painted in pastel pink. The village looked so colorful in contrast the Amman’s monochromatic pattern. If only more places could do this, the place would look cheerful and happy.

My GPS took me onto some roads that just end.

In Jordan, there is always another way around.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Ministry of Food

I ate a camel burger last night since it was supposed to be lean and healthier than cow. It tasted fine. I didn't have an adverse reaction to eat those scraggly, humpy beasts. Did you know that a camel can close its eyes and still see? That is because its eyelids are transparent so it can see where it is going in a blinding sandstorm.

I continued my ministry of food today by offering sandwiches to those people on the street I regularly pass. I am now fairly well connected to the security officers at buildings and parking lots as well as the police and soldiers I pass. I know that the army cannot accept food from anyone because of sound protocol, but they know I offer the food to them in goodwill.

I enjoy chatting with these guys even though we are frustrated that I don't know more Arabic than I have. I've spent so much time with parish that my time has not been free enough to pick up the language. Still, we communicate and it seems like I have a friendly, familiar face on every street corner now.

I did realize that as I offered sandwiches to some, they thought I was selling it to them. "Free." Oh, thank you.

Music and Dance

Wonderful. The Friends of Jordan Festivals held the Amman Springs Series of concerts called Strings and Pianos a few days ago. I was fortunate to attend one of them at the Al Hussein Cultural Center is Ras Al Ein. Friends of Jordan is trying to create a love for classical western music in the capital, but they recognize it is a difficult venture.

The first night had works by Mozart, Haydn, and Beethoven, and the attendance was scarce. The second night was a healthy audience and the score features Brahms and Schumann. The final night featured Rachmaninoff, Chopin (who spent time in Amman) and Dvorak.

The Series was a way of bringing Jordanians that specialize in western music to return to the capital for audience enrichment. All the performers are accomplished in their fields.

The twenty-five year old, Karim Said, is the mainstay of the program. He is an aspiring conductor and a versatile pianist. He recently founded the Da Vinci Players in London.

Alongside the pianos were two violinists, a violist, and cellist. Since Amman does not have great supply or demand for Western music, the tickets were a steal. It is unfortunate that more people are not aware of the great value of entertainment they could receive from such a modest investment of money.

This week and next, I look forward to the Amman Contemporary Dance Festival at the National Center of Culture and Arts. We might as well enjoy these professional performances at these great prices.

Otherwise, Holy Week is upon us. It lives.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

A Coffeehouse

I decided to leave my office today and sit at a quiet, but busy coffeehouse to catch up on some menial activities. I imagined my day would be filled with lots of interesting Jordanians enjoying conversation. The place is very quiet, quieter than most libraries. I love it. What a gift!

However, my dream of enjoying a cup of coffee was dashed. Oh, I am enjoying a coffee, but I feel the discrepancy between rich and poor. I am, for all intents and purposes, rich, even though I don't have much money, but the security guard outside the store greeted me with a very warm smile. I remarked on his smile and he said, "It is because you are here. You make me happy."

Oh, I felt so bad. I wish he could join me and we could have a conversation. I can tell that he does not have disposable income for a coffee or pastry, so I will treat him to one upon my departure. I am just watching him peruse the area outdoors. He is a friendly chap who is making everyone he meets feel good. I wish we could all enjoy the simple delights in life that make it more memorable.

Calm before Holy Week

A week before Holy Week and all feels calm. I look forward to reading the online newspapers each morning to see what is new in this part of the world. Russian seems to be on a tear; Syria is in a protracted stalemate with Assad; Quebec’s secessionists failed; Turkey is headed towards a more Islamic tradition; elections in India and Pakistan are remote and worrisome; Egypt seems to be creeping along; Iran shows its bravado; the Saudi family lifts some restrictions on women; Lebanon supports Hizbollah in Syria. Jordan inches towards stability.

For three recent mornings as I set out in my car to various destinations, I was very pleased with the very nice drivers on the road. Two Jordan drivers must exist: the traditional Kamikazes who are the rush hour maniacs and the better drivers whose efforts are obscured by the taxi drivers and impatient ones. I pray that the better drivers have an increased role in setting new standards in Jordan. All in all, it makes me very happy to begin my day with pleasant drivers.

Of course there are spectrums of people here, but when two sorts of behaviors are aligned against each other, the difference is stark. I saw the kindness of one man reaching out to an elderly man while I was on my way to church and then I was saw two former friends who are in an isolated stare down because one has a visa to the U.S. while the other does not. It broke my heart that these two men had their friendship severed so totally because of a piece of paper. Both will eventually repatriate; one’s fortune just turned sooner than the other.

I accompanied some parishioners on retreat this past week. I had a lovely day in the sun. The natural surroundings were very pleasant and I enjoyed the silence. My prayer was wondering if people and nations that can spend time comfortably in silence leads to a peaceful people. I think prayer and silence helps one to obtain peace. As noted by the parishioners, silence is not easy and is seen as something to be avoided. They haven’t seen that it can be one’s best friend. As an introvert, I really need it.

It make me think on a national level whether introspect and silence leads to peace. Russia probably cannot stand to look at itself in the silence. The silent people of the world endure all sorts of oppression but for many, it can lead to freedom in the face of oppression.

In Amman, coffeehouses have become places of refuge. If I need a break from parish life, I go to a coffeehouse for a respite. This is actually a very rare occurrence. I’m often with someone, but the idea of having a place to where I can escape is comforting. I found two new coffeehouses that do not allow for smoking and are neighborhood places of respite – one on Jebel Weibdeh, the other in Sweifieh. The number of new places that are restricting smoking is reassuring.

Then, of course, there is IKEA. They have a smoking section in their restaurant, but seventy-five percent of the restaurant is non-smoking and lots of people sit there. It creates a wonderful climate. Yesterday while I was there, I saw a man teach his five year old son how to take the tray from the table and place it onto the conveyor belt. I enjoyed that so much. I watched as others respectfully honored the standards of the place. I like the positive effect that IKEA is having on Jordan. During mid-day, the place was packed with serious shoppers. They do know how to make money, but also to create a pleasant shopping experience.

I do see more Westerners in Amman than ever before. Maybe I am just noticing them but Western faces seem more in abundance.

With regards to church, I have received the music books for all parishes and it is making quiet a good impression. We will all be singing the same songs and it provides a universal standardization that was missing previously. Many parishioners have thanked me for it and it creates uniformity and updating. For so long we have been singing outdates songs from the 1970’s. Progress is difficult to forge, but we are doing it.

I also began supplying the Blood of Christ to one worship center. I am impressed that over 75% of the people are receiving. We also had anointing rites administered last week as we have been preparing for healing and reconciliation these past 30 days of Lent. We are now ready for Holy Week. It always strikes me as odd that everyone looks forward to Passion Sunday so much. They come into the church jubilant and leave grieving. Ah! It has a life all its own.