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franciscan - January 2004

© The Society of Saint Francis, 2003

Community Routes

A late postcard from Pakistan

 

Thomas Anthony writes:

 

Alas, Update from Pakistan has turned into Reminiscences of Pakistan.  My visa ran out, and I could not renew it beyond 8 August.  There is always an official who decides these matters, quite arbitrarily, as many a Pakistani has discovered trying to extend their stay in a Western country.  I was just finding my feet, and getting some idea of what I was doing, when the end came, prematurely.  There were so many things to report on, so many new things still to be explored, but suddenly it's all become memory now….

 

 Here are some memories:

 I think back on the Church of St Thomas, Islamabad, with its network of education and health in various parts of the city, hidden behind walls.  The visitor sees only the business and shopping areas and houses of the professionals. There's the church itself, the crowded Urdu services, old people and young joining in Punjabi Psalms, with portable harmonium and tabla (drums) for accompaniment.  The rhythms are local and everyone seems to know the words, and claps the beat.  When all the seats are taken, people sit on the floor, in the lotus position, even old folk seem able to get up and down from that position with ease.  Memories are a sort of audio-visual tape of sights and sounds to be treasured, smells and tastes brought back.

 

And the security everywhere.  St Thomas' is especially well guarded, and the people at the gate like to know where I am going each time I leave the compound.  Last year's attacks have not been forgotten.

 

One night two Muslim friends decide to take me to a Sufi shrine.  It's a Thursday, the day associated with Sufi veneration of 'saints'.  I particularly want to experience the traditional devotional music, the qawwali.  The shrine chosen is not a famous one: it won't be so crowded there, I'm told.  When we get there the place looks busy enough to me.  We all move inside, where people make gestures of devotion to the saint.  It's quite impressive to see so many hundreds at prayer.  Then past the stalls selling the expected wares and on to the place of entertainment.  There is no qawwali tonight.  There is folkloric instrumental music.  There is smoke wafting towards us and I am almost overcome by a smell familiar from elsewhere.  Yes, it is….  hashish.  I can make out several European types among the crowd.  They haven't come because of the Saint.  A few young men dance to the beat of the music.  To the foreigner it's all more like a hippie happening than a devotional occasion, and quite a contrast to the reverence shown in the shrine itself.

 

I remember fondly people's generosity and hospitality.  I went with misgivings about security there, but met only courtesy and friendliness.  Nobody in the cities of Islamabad and Lahore ever indicated that they held my Christianity against me.  At Lahore, my friend Khalid Mahmood took me to see the sights, proud of the city's heritage.

 

I pray for Pakistan, for all God's people there, and for the small minority of Christians.  There are tensions, between Sunni and Shiite Muslims, between them and other groups.  For how much longer will the Americans support President (General) Musharraf?  And will he be able to hold out against so much opposition?  Whatever develops there could have repercussions for Christians. 

 

The good news for me is that USPG may yet be able to get me back there, in a different capacity.  I hang on to that thread of hope. 

 

Hilfield’s  Secret Garden

 

Vincent writes:

 

 What has become known as The Secret Garden was started in the late 1950's by Brother Simon.  There is some evidence to suggest that it was ancient woodland and besides having a trickle of water flowing through the garden, it has lovely peaty soil.  Simon planted a number of trees including a Davidia Involunrata (known as the handkerchief tree) which sadly has recently died, due to disease.  In the early 1960s, Simon went out to Australia where he was killed in a climbing accident.  Between 1978 and 1984 I was the Guardian of T'yr Brodyr in Llandudno where Sister Gabriel asked me to help her with the garden, in particular the trees and shrubs and rhododendron.  On returning to Hilfield in 1984, I began to clear the swamp as it was known in those days and begin some of the early planting.  Then there was a gap of several years while I worked in New Zealand followed by a spell in Belfast and on my return here I began planting up the garden in earnest.  My intention is to have colour and interest all the year round, with a whole range of plant material.  In 1996 an invitation came from Catalyst Television to appear in the garden with Geoff Hamilton in a series entitled Paradise Gardens.  This later turned out to be the very last series that Geoff Hamilton did. This programme gave the garden a certain amount of publicity and from this arose the idea of opening the garden to the wider public, via The National Gardens Scheme.  The N.G.S. began in the late 1920's as a way of raising money for retired nurses and other needy groups of people.  Our opening in May 2003 was again well supported and some £754 was raised.  This included donations for our homemade teas and cakes.  Visitors to the garden from the beginning have included all ages and this year we had our oldest visitor - a lady of 100 from Yeovil.

 

The garden will be open from 6 - 9 May 2004, between 2 and 5 pm.

 

 A Gardeners’ Retreat at Compton Durville

 

‘Several areas of garden were transformed, significant conversations took place in the flowerbeds, and people enjoyed each other’s company as well as the peace and beauty of the convent gardens’.

 

Phyllis sums up the first ‘Gardeners Practical and Prayerful’ event at Compton Durville.  Seven gardeners worked in the mornings, had the afternoons free to relax, walk or visit local houses and gardens, and gathered in the evening for a meditation on a horticultural theme, led by Phyllis.  Any who wanted had the opportunity for discussion on spiritual matters with her, and all were welcome to join in the daily pattern of worship in the chapel.  Two similar events have since taken place, drawing new people each time. Three more are planned in 2004; the Guest Sister at Compton Durville can supply details.

 

‘All returned home refreshed and inspired, although with a few aching muscles.  Some also found themselves gifted with a fresh start, some new beginning with God’. (Quotations from the Diocese of Bath and Wells newspaper.)

 

I was in prison...

 

Over the years, various brothers and sisters have been involved with prison ministry, as chaplains or on mission teams. Until recently, such ministry was a large part of Donald's life, and currently James William and Gina work as prison chaplains.

 

James William wrote the following piece about his work.

 

People are generally very curious as to the nature of life in prison.  The only two ways to experience it are a) throw a brick through a jeweller's window, or b) be a member of the prison staff!

 

The illustration I often give is that of the B.B.C. serial, 'Porridge', starring the great Ronnie Barker.  But, and it's a big but, in reality it is funnier and more painful.  You can come across staff and inmates portrayed in the programmes who somehow appear to have stepped out from the television screen.

  

The Chaplaincy has the responsibility of informing inmates that one of their loved ones has died, or of breaking the good news that a new child has been delivered safely.  Recently I was conducting a service and after delivering a sermon, a prisoner shouted, 'Good sermon, Brother!' To which I said, 'Thank you!'  However, at the end of worship I was asked by the staff to inform the 70 inmates in church that a few hours earlier a prisoner had committed suicide. 

  

I possess at home, a book in which I record real prison life hilarious events.  I still laugh when I review them, all 75. Conversely, the other side of the coin is the pain, as I mentioned earlier.  It is wise to carry a box of tissues because of all the tears shed when I interview men on their own.  I always make sure that they have composed themselves before they return to their cells.  The effect it has on Chaplaincy is simply, at the end of the day, I want to weep, or again, I am rolling around laughing at another classic.

 

We do well to remember that the Church has its share of people being imprisoned: St Paul, St Peter, St Francis, Bonhoeffer and our Lord himself, victim of a mockery of a trial.  Franciscans have always had a place in their hearts for the imprisoned, after all our Blessed Lord said, 'when I was in prison, you visited me.'

 

To be a Pilgrim

 

Mark Edmund joined the The Pilgrims of St Francis for their summer pilgrimage and wrote the following about his time with them.

 

The Pilgrims of St Francis are an ecumenical group who come together for a week to follow the simplicity of life of St Francis in a pilgrimage.  The 2003 pilgrimage began in Romsey and ended in Winchester, a week walking through the beautiful Hampshire countryside.

 

The walking day usually started at 9.15am and that day's destination was reached by 4.00pm. Before starting off we began the day with prayers which were led by various members of the group, and a Eucharist was shared twice during the week with a final Eucharist in the Lady Chapel of Winchester Cathedral.  Over the course of the week there was time each day for discussion, and for socialising and relaxing together in the evenings.

  

We were a band of 27 pilgrims who all took turns in cooking or map reading for the day and this year we were blessed by the weather, which was ideal for walking - dry but not too hot, and only one afternoon when it rained, so spirits remained high.  Friendships were made or renewed and a sense of community was achieved and people looked out for one another so that nobody was left out.  The walk was paced so that everybody could keep up no matter what age or walking experience they had.

 

This was my first walk with the Pilgrims and I found it to be so enriching and valuable an experience that I look forward to repeating it in 2004, and one that I would not hesitate to recommend to others.

 

The Pilgrims of St Francis dates for 2004 are: International Chapter,  29-31 May in Canterbury, Kent; International Pilgrimage to Cantabria, Spain, 3-11 August; National UK Pilgrimage in the Chester area, 21-28 August.  Anyone interested in any of these events should contact Stephen Isitt, 25 Renfrew Court, Allfrey Road, Eastbourne, East Sussex, BN22 7SZ.

 

Greenbelt

 

Christine James writes:

 

Arts and altars, boilers and bouncy castles, camping and cinema, just some of the aspects of life at the Greenbelt Festival.  Taking place over the August Bank Holiday weekend at Cheltenham Racecourse, this Christian Arts Festival, with over 14,000 participants, has something for everyone from playgroups and children's activities through bands and orchestras, dance, poetry and art installations to workshops, seminars and panels on aspects of life and faith today.

 

The Franciscans, a group of gathered people forming an open, welcoming community within the larger community of the Festival, have participated in the Festival for many years.  This year the core of First Order members was Christine James, Maureen and John who were joined by 14 others aged from 18 months to over 50. They offered Morning, Evening and Night Prayer and a daily Eucharist from their base in the heart of the camping area.  For many Festival visitors, Night Prayer, said under the light of candle lanterns and followed by a cup of hot chocolate, is part of their annual Greenbelt experience.  Others drop by for a chat or just to have somewhere to sit quietly.  Another feature of our camp is the prayer tent, an oasis of calm in the hustle and bustle of the Festival.

 

Highlights of Greenbelt 2003, the Thirtieth Festival, included the main Sunday Eucharist, a set by Billy Bragg, talks by Anita Roddick and John Bell and a Trade Justice Carnival.  A Good time was had by all.  Literally.

 

RIP

 

Brother David Stephen died on 21 September, at Alnwick Infirmary.  He was aged 89 years and in the twenty-fourth year of his profession.  His funeral was held at Alnmouth Friary on 2 October.  May he rest in peace and rise in glory.

 

Roundup

 

Liz Heaton was clothed as a novice on St Francis’ Day, 4 October, taking the name Liz

Joyce spent a month from mid-October in Palestine, under the auspices of the International Women’s Peace Service.  The next issue of franciscan will include something of her experiences there.

Catherine Joy has moved to Liverpool, where she will continue to explore her hermit vocation. 

The Brothers in Birmingham have moved to another house about 100 metres from their former one, and continue to be involved in schools and with young people and their families on the local estate. 

The move from Glasgow to Dundee took rather longer than expected to happen, but Amos and Moyra now have the addresses of two flats on an estate at Mid Craigie, Dundee.  Stuart will join them when the flats are ready for occupancy; meanwhile he is at Alnmouth Friary. 

Colin Wilfred has returned to the UK and is living at the  Canterbury friary; Oswin Paul stayed there during the Michaelmas Term while he was studying at the Franciscan International Study Centre. 

John has moved to Doncaster and Lawrence to Birmingham.  

Thomas Anthony is covering an interregnum for six months in a parish in the Diocese of Montreal, Canada. 

Benedict has been appointed the Novice Guardian for the brothers in the European Province.  f

 

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