Category: Christianity


AMDG

Pedro-Arrupe-at-prayer11

Fr Pedro Arrupe

I have been enjoying a few days in Valladolid with a group of Jesuit theologians who are preparing for ordination. They are taking part in what is called the ‘Arrupe Month’. Fr Pedro Arrupe, then the general of the Jesuits,  noticed that in the 1970’s there was a curious phenomenon of men who left the order (and often the priesthood) soon after they had been ordained.  It was almost as though even after the long period of formation they were expecting something magic to happen – and had a rather superficial expectation of what the ‘ontological change’ that the sacrament of ordination conferred, really meant.   So Fr Arrupe’s letter issued on December 27, 1979 addressed this – and now there is  a period set aside for a deepening of self-knowledge and Jesuit identity to help prepare the Jesuit Scholastic for ordination to the priesthood. I have joined them for a couple of days to give some input on thriving in (not just surviving) the first years of priesthood.

PictureWe are staying at a fascinating and beautiful College – the Royal English College ‘St Albans’ in Vallodalid.  It was founded by the English Jesuit Robert Persons in 1589, during the English Reformation, as a seminary to train Catholic Priest for the English and Welsh Mission, at a time when it was illegal to do so in the UK.  It has an impressive legacy of alumni who are saints – many Jesuits,  although not all – who would eventually be executed on their return to Britain.   Their portraits line the corridors.  In today’s climate of Islamic violence we have to be careful about the narrative of martyrdom – although it is worth noting that none of the Catholic men and women executed were perpetrators of Violence.  Although it fair to say that Fr Persons was agitating the Spanish King to invade so that England could return to becoming a Catholic country. This  resulted firstly in the famous failure of the Armada.  A second attempt was foiled in Cadiz by Walter Raleigh ….  but we will come to that in a minute.  The College, well endowed, and beautifully kept, still has the patronage of the Spanish Royal Family.  When you enter the college you are greeted with a picture of the King & Queen of Spain with an affectionate and personal message to the College. This Royal patronage is important when you think of how the Jesuits where expelled from Europe, from different countries on numerous occasions, so you can see how it is good to know you have powerful allies ….  things can change however.

44423190For me the jewel in the crown in Valladolid is ‘La Vulnerata’ or the Wounded One  – a disfigured statue of Mary in the chapel.  After Sir Walter Raleigh defeated the Spanish Fleet in Cadiz and took control of the city in 1596,  some of the English troops started a riot (like the football ‘fans’ in Marseille). The soldiers dragged the statue  to the market square where they desecrated it.  The priests and seminarians of the English College in Valladolid brought it to Valladolid and installed with great solemnity in the College Chapel in 1600.  They wished to make reparation for the desecration of their fellow country men.  Every year during Holy Week the statue is processed along the street, where it is met by a huge paso or float, which has a large depiction of the Crucified Christ resting on top of it. The two images meet, and dance to each other for a brief period—then the Vulnerata comes back to the College

gress-CZESTOCHOWA-650x340A little like the famous Image of the Icon of the Black Madonna of Czetochowa which was similarly damaged by Hussite raiders in 1430… and has now become the most visited shrine in Poland, and revered by Catholics and Orthodox alike.  The potential power of our vulnerabilty is a spiritual paradox.  Christ glorious risen body still carried his wounds as St Thomas can testify. The popular devotion to these disfigured images of Our Lady are striking – they seem to unlock a mysterious power in peoples hearts. Many people point to John Paul II visits to Czetochowa as the start of the fall of communism, how this icon of the suffering Poland and the first Polish Pope drew millions together in defiance of the authorities.  Pope Francis will be visiting next week during the world Youth Day  celebrations,  I hope the Queen of Poland draws the 2 million young people expected to attend, to her heart.

AMDG
cannonizationIt with a sad heart I leave Dodoma – but never before have I seen a city grow so fast. When the great independence president, Julius Nyerere, the father of Tanzania, designated Dodoma as the capital rather than the sprawling port of Dar Es Salaam, it raised a few eyebrows. Back then in 1973, it was a small town that the Germans had developed along with the railway. Right in the centre of the country, it was at times a semi-arid dust bowl…. you can see the previous Prime Minister Pinda remembering the whirlwinds when we interviewed him in 2011. However visiting on and off over the last 9 years it has grown beyond recognition.

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Bunge2Nyerere, who became a Catholic at the age of 21, said that he was always a ‘schoolmaster by choice and a politician by accident’. He stands out amongst the ‘Fathers of Africa’ (that post-independence generation of African leaders) in two ways, the peaceful way he relinquished power after 20 years and the simplicity and asceticism with which he lived. He was a daily mass goer and fasted regularly and in 2005 the Catholic Diocese of Musoma opened his cause for beatification. His economic legacy, however, is controversial, but his legacy in social development and leaving behind a peaceful country is impressive. With regards to Dodoma, Nyerere wanted the capital city to be in the centre of the country so that it could have a unifying effect, being equally accessible to all, bringing the tribes together – rather than becoming a bubble for the political elite in Dar. The ‘Bunge’, the national assembly or parliament has been sitting in Dodoma since 1996. Although many offices remain in Dar, the politicians decamp every year to live in Dodoma, the ministers have built houses, and along with them comes the usual entourage of advisors, lobbyists, business people. We had a lovely dinner with one of the entrepreneurial families in the parish who have opened a hotel – and much of their business is reliant on this custom.

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slider-11It is wonderful to visit as a Jesuit as you are inserted into the heart of the community, even though you are a mzungu.  The impressive Jesuit Parish with 1600 at mass is warm and welcoming, with amazing choirs.
The Jewel in the crown for our visits to Dodoma is St Ignatius Prep & Primary school. It is a very special place, and a lot of that is down to Sister Euphrasia, who has thrown her whole heart into building up the community. Some of the best teachers in Dodoma have followed her, even taking pay cuts – because they prefer working in the loving atmosphere of the school than many other schools which are run more like a business, and they are micromanaged. I suppose the great challenge for Euphrasia is one that I have been pondering on myself recently, how do you set up something that doesn’t totally rely on your personality, i.e. that is apostolically resilient, and doesn’t fizzle out when you are gone.

AMDG

All_Saints_Catholic_Church_(St._Peters,_Missouri)_-_stained_glass,_sacristy,_Sacred_Heart_detailI have been telling many of our students here,  that when we die, God is not going to be interested in how you did in this module, or what mark you got in this exam – however He will be interested in how much love you shared in your life.  Today the church focuses on the mysterious way that God manifests his love for us through the Sacred Heart of Jesus. This is a beautiful devotion that has been part of the Church’s armoury of prayer since its earliest days.  There are countless schools, hospitals, orphanages, parishes and even universities around the world that proudly carry the name of the Sacred Heart in their Title.

pierce-christs-sideThe limitless ability of God to love us is made most visible with the historical figure of Christ on the Cross, on Golgotha, outside of the city walls of Jerusalem.  There is a famous story of a German Jesuit who appeared on a late night discussion programme with a famous imam.  When the presenter pressed them to explain the difference between the Muslim and Christian understanding of God, the Jesuit said – ‘Through human eyes, the Christ was a failure ‘ –  this was followed by  a profound silence (which you don’t often see on television!).   When the camera panned to the imam, he was sitting there with silent tears rolling down his face.  A deeply holy and spiritual man, who was obviously close to God, the imam recognised the power of his German friends words.

Wounded-HandsIn the early church, a very popular devotion developed which was contemplating on the sacred wounds of Christ .  We know these wounds, on his forehead the marks of the crown of thorns, on his hands and his feet the holes from the nails, and in his side the large wound that the lance made that pierced his side, were still present in the glorious body of the risen Christ.  Even nowadays they mysteriously appear in cases of stigmata, in the body of doubting-thomasmystics. The wound in his side, opened up Christs heart to us, and so the devotion to Christs wounds, developed to a devotion to his heart, promoted by St Bernard in the eleventh century, and promulgated most notably by the Franciscans and the Carthusians.

In its modern form, the devotion is associated with Saint Margaret Mary Alocoque, a French Visitation sister who claimed to have a series of visions in the 17th Century, that lasted for 18 months.  In these visions, she claimed Jesus appeared to her radiant with love and asked to be honoured under the figure if his heart.   Her spiritual director was  Claude de Colombiere SJ,  is now a Saint. He was crucial in that he did not dismiss Margaret Mary’s claims, but wisely accompanied her and discreetly encouraged her, in spvisitationite of widespread disbelief and even jealousy from many of her sisters and friends. The series of promises that were made to those who followed the devotion,
which include regular communion, attendance of mass on ‘First Fridays’ and weekly holy hours, were sent around the world under the patronage of an American Businessman, with the approval of the Church.  Although the Church officially approves of the devotions, individual Catholics are not bound to follow them.  I wonder whether it could be the perfect antidote to the epidemic of pornography in our times.

 

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