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franciscan - September 2003

The Society of Saint Francis, 2003

Community Routes 

Living in Pakistan


Thomas Anthony has gone to serve the Church in Lahore and Islamabad for a time.  He sent the following article as a response to a question about his first impression of the place.


Pakistan why? What is it about the place? What is the attraction?  It couldn't be the extreme heat of Lahore, or the noise and pollution of the chaotic traffic...  Then again, that could just be part of it.  Is it the call to prayer from the mosques, so familiar from other places?  Is it the patient courtesy of the people one meets?  Or the crumbling grandeur of its past?  It's all of these, plus me having the Pakistan Experience, falling for it.


It is a country that for two generations has striven to be taken seriously as a nation.  Once part of the orient, it has turned west, to the Middle East, to the Arab world.  Paradox meets Paradox.  It's where the East meets the Orient and the Orient meets the East and the West.


Here I am, trying to make sense of the country, of the Church of Pakistan, of my vocation to be here, of my own life, perhaps. And I thank God that the unfamiliar can feel so like home. I see the Church thriving under hardship, in a country with harsh 'blasphemy laws', bold in its witness while surrounded by Muslims who are themselves becoming more confident. If Acts 29 is being written anywhere, it is here. And all I can do is witness this witness. It doesn't take long to be impressed with Christianity here. The Church has some educational and medical projects.  More about these next time!


Even a year ago, after the Afghan war, there was a lot of uncertainty, and everybody knows that the present climate of security may not last.  Meanwhile I find myself rejoicing in the Lord, along with fellow Christians here, that small fraction of the population. Members of minorities, Christian, Hindu, Parsee, Sikh or 'Islamic sect', don't know what's in store for them.  One can only pray that God will bless Pakistan, in all its colourful variety, in all its peoples.


Ancient and Modern


Three projects begun in the past six months have taken us back to our Anglican and Franciscan roots and have opened up new ventures for the future.  One of these, at Canterbury, is described elsewhere on this page.


At the other end of the country Br Damian has become Vicar of Holy Island, the cradle of Christianity in the north. As well as ministering to those who live on the island he also provides a Franciscan welcome to the visitors each year who come for sight-seeing, bird-watching, pilgrimage and retreat. The stones tell a story of rugged faith, the seals sing on the sand-banks, and Br Damian, and the rest of us who visit, must learn to remember the state of the tide!


This new opportunity for ministry, with Damian and Robert Coombes, was brought about by the invitation of the Bishop of Newcastle, Martin Wharton to follow Canon David Adam at the Parish Church on Lindisfarne. Damian was instituted as Vicar on 11 April, just in time for the season of pilgrims and  visitors  who come in their thousands starting around Eastertide. Robert Coombes  joined him on 1 July to share in the ministry.


Sandwiched in-between these two places lies St Peter's, Bentley, a former mining community on the edge of Doncaster where Br Malcolm has become the Vicar of the parish, and where Brothers Paul Anthony and John are sharing in the life and ministry. It's not such unknown territory for us because until last year Austin and Nicholas Alan were living close by in St Helen's Vicarage, Burghwallis. It's good to be back in the Diocese of Sheffield.


Lindisfarne Gospels


17 April turned out to be a big day for Holy Island when a new facsimile of the Lindisfarne Gospels was presented to the Island by the British Library.  Following a service in the Church, the Gospels were carried through the streets to  their current resting place at the Heritage Centre in Marygate. It was about 1300 years ago that Eadfrith, one of the monks here, wrote and painted single-handed these treasured pages of the book created in honour of St Cuthbert.


There is a stunning exhibition prepared at the British Library in London, until  28  September. It shows and explains the story of this precious inheritance.




Austin and Bernard earlier this year moved to the site in Canterbury to which Franciscan Brothers first came in 1224.  The site, which is now owned by the Eastbridge Hospital Trust, is in Stour Street near the centre of the city, and the brothers live in a house near the entrance.  The grounds are extensive, including a herbaceous border, a meadow with wild flowers and a medieval garden being developed by English Heritage.  Through them run two tributaries of the River Stour which meet at the bridges near the house.  On the further side is a small cottage which has two bedrooms whereas the house has three.  When Colin Wilfred joins them at the end of August there will be a guest room in each of the buildings.  In the autumn it is expected that another brother will join them; he will be studying at the Franciscan International Study Centre near the University.  On the site (which is open to visitors) is the oldest remaining Franciscan building in the country.  It spans one part of the Stour and the last of the friaries all but adjoined it. It was initially a pilgrims or guest house, but after a checkered history now contains a chapel upstairs where the brothers pray twice daily and an exhibition in the two rooms downstairs, one of which had been used in the 19th Century as a prison.  The brothers are very grateful to have been invited to live in such a place.


Human Rights


The 59th Session of the UN Commission on Human Rights was held in Geneva from March 17 - April 25, 2003.  Joyce responded to an invitation from Franciscans International, Geneva Office, to attend for part of the Session by spending the last week of March in Geneva.  Together with other Franciscans (and Dominicans) from India, Pakistan, Eritrea, Colombia and Lebanon she was given the opportunity of learning something of the working complexities of the Commission, the issues faced by the member nations and of how Franciscans International (and other Non-Governmental Organisations) provide a service of advocacy for the poor and marginalized through the UN.  During that week the Master General of the Dominicans visited as well as the Minister General of the Third Order Regular.


It was a supreme ecumenical opportunity for SSF to be represented and hopefully this experience might be the beginnings of a stronger link with FI Geneva from this Province.


The peace and justice work done from this Office is impressive and the hospitality offered by the Director, Br John Quigley OFM is magnanimous.




Brothers and Sisters have participated in a number of conferences in the last few months, with a view to deepening their own call to the religious life, encouraging others in their Christian following, and enjoying the opportunity for worship in a different style to that which is the daily round in our friaries and convents.  John and Augustine Thomas write about two such events which they attended.


From John:


It's personal arguing with God. In June Mark Edmund, John, Stuart and Lawrence met at Ditchingham, in conference with twenty or so other novices from various Anglican communities.  Rev'd Brian Pickett from Southampton spoke around the theme of using scripture in personal and liturgical prayer.


Participants were reminded that scripture is a continuing dialogue, mostly written for communities.  Psalmists, prophets and apostles all experienced profound and prolonged struggles and at times necessarily gave vent to anger, frustration and despair, but never apart from the community of the people of God.  The challenge was given to live on the edge in Christ, alongside others in their anguish as companions, prayerful intermediaries and witnesses to the indwelling love and joy of God in a fragile, provisional creation.


From Augustine Thomas:


Love to live - Live to Love was the overall theme for the Anglican First Professed Conference in May.  Ten of us met in Ditchingham, where we met old friends and made some new ones.  The idea was to explore what it meant to give our lives as religious especially as we approached Life Profession (some of us sooner than others).


We had two main speakers at the conference.  The first was Sr. Violet CAH who spoke on the title 'Life in Community', which she based on her own experiences.  As part of our week we had a pilgrimage to the Shrine of our Lady of Walsingham.  It was here that Fr Philip North CMP who is the new administrator of the Shrine gave us our second talk, on 'Life in the Church'.  In this he spoke of how Walsingham is full of wells.  But he went on to say that his own belief is that Community Life offers a 'well' of sustenance not only to the Church but also to all members of society.


The importance of this conference is the chance to share our hopes and fears with each other.  We did this in both formal sessions and over the dinner table.  There was also opportunity to relax together, and the sight of an enclosed nun dancing wildly to 'Abba' will stay with me for the rest of my life! Next year we hope to meet together at Hilfield.




Moves to Canterbury, Holy Island and Doncaster are described elsewhere on these pages. 

Amos and Moyra have left Barrowfield, Glasgow and are establishing a new house at Mid Craigie, Dundee.  Stuart will join them in September.  

Hugh is living and working at Newton Theological College near Haruro, Papua New Guinea, until the end of the year and Thomas Anthony is in Pakistan. 

Giles returns in September from several months working with the Community of the Divine Compassion in Zimbabwe, helping them to complete building works at their new friary. 

Benedict has also visited them recently.


Lawrence will be moving to Birmingham in September, and John to Doncaster.

Oswin Paul will be spending the Michaelmas term at the Franciscan International Study Centre in Canterbury. 

Robert Coombes has moved from Scotland to join Damian on Holy Island, and will be at Alnmouth during Oswin Paul's time at Canterbury. 


Reginald celebrated the Fiftieth Anniversary of his Profession on 31 July.


In other provinces, Alfred Boonkong has been elected as Minister Provincial for Australia-New Zealand and Athanasius as Regional Minister for the Solomon Islands. 

Bishop Paul Moore, at one time Protector General of SSF, died in America on 1 May at the age of 83.  May he rest in peace and rise in glory.


Dominic Christopher has been released from Life Vows and membership of SSF.  Christopher has been released from First Vows and membership of SSF. f


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