Friday, March 27, 2009

A Feast for Br. Admire

On Wednesday March 25, the Feast of the Annunciation, we welcomed a young man, Admire, as a novice. We had a beautiful Mass in the morning, then during the course of the morning decided that we wanted to fix a feast for him. We told the paid cook to take the day off and be our guest along with the other 15 workers and residents who live with the Brothers at Angler's Rest. Br. Bhekimpilo is a terrific cook, and I have aspirations in that way too, so we planned a menu and I set off to the stores with two helpers to carry the provisions while the rest stayed behind to set tables and clean the kitchen. Of course we had to change the menu after we got to the market since our fantasies and reality did not correlate.

I made beef soup with peas, pasta and tomatoes for the first course, Br. Bheki made roast chicken and a cake. Others fried potaoes, cooked rice, sliced tomatoes and African cucumbers (seedy, tangy things with huge spikey knobs in their flesh), and greens for stewing. It was holy chaos, dear to my heart. Working on a huge wood burning stove, under a dim flickering light and without running water, I felt it was an heroic effort.

When we finally sat down, brothers, workers, and other residents of the friary--18 of us--a marvelous transformation began to happen. At first we were quiet and ate our soup. But they LIKED the soup and began to talk. When we got to the chicken and rice and potatoes (Zimbabwe is the land of 2 starches minumum if you have them) everyone was talking at once. After the miraculous cake and a shot of cane liquor people were high fiving each other and laughing uproariously.

It remined me of Babette's Feast, a terrific film from the 1980's. The brothers have been struggling, and during my visit we have worked very hard on many issues affecting their life. In addition there has been the struggle to simply live. The message of the angel to Mary called us all to say "YES" to our life, yes to each other. Since the party we have all noticed a remarkable lightness and hope among us. There is still much to do, but we are working in a new way.

In many ways, I think of Angler's Rest friary as a bit of Fawlty Towers in Zimbabwe. There are so many people around, trying to be involved. It is a real balancing act for the brothers. Yet there are manic moments of sheer hilarity.

In addition to the feast, we spent a day this past week harvesting beans. I got burned to a crisp in the sun. We picked 150 kilos of dried beans! They hope it will keep them alive if the markets dry up again. We hiked to the top of a nearby mountain, forded rivers, and visited neighbors.

The only remindeer that we are in a very distressed society was the reaction when I pulled out as book about Robert Mugabe I brought with me from South Africa. Everyone wanted to read it immediately. But first it was covered in brown paper, and I was told to get rid of it if a policeman came around...

Friday, March 20, 2009

Safe in Zimbabwe

Thanks for all your prayers! I rrived safely in Zimbabwe on Monday evening and after paying the $80.00 visa fee sailed through customs and was met by Br. Brian, Br. Bhekimpilo and Francis, a friend of theirs who has a car. Br. Brian and Br. Behkimpilo are members of the Community of the Divine Compassion, an Anglican Franciscan Commuity in covenant with SSF through our European \province. The community was founded by my predecessor as Minister General, Br. Geoffrey in the eighties.

We drove 4 hours over dark roads to Nyanga. The brothers live in an old hotel called The Angler's REst. It is still rather impressive. They assured me the pool "has all its parts" except water--the chemicals to keep it safe are too expensive. Speaking of water, it is PURE in Nyanga!

We have had some serious meetings as well as good recreational time. A young man named Admire is a runner and he has taken me along on his 5:00 a.m. runs. We have explored Nyanga, a small town, and we have spent the mornings washing windows, and doing normal friary stuff.

Today I went into Matare, the provincial capital to meet Bishop Peter Hatembe. He is the bishop of the Church of the Province of Central Africa. It is a difficult positon in the current troubles facing the Anglican Communion. But he is a steadfast friend of the brothers, so I took him out to lunch. We at a huge plate of corn meal mush that is eaten at every meal (with fingers), and stewed chicken. Really lovely!

My time is up at the internet cafe...

Friday, March 13, 2009


What an amazingly beautiful city! I arrived in Capetown without mishap (just about 18 hours of travel) from Douala, Cameroon. I was met by my hosts and taken to their home: first world comforts again. A special bonus was learning that my seminary roommate had followed up on a suggestion and arranged to come to Capetown too; he is in Grahamstown, S. Africa on a sabbatical from his parish. We have had an excellent time, meeting church dignitaries and tertiaries. Yesterday we were on our own to do "tourist attractions" so we ascended Table Mountain in a cable car and then took a boat out to Robbins Island. The view from the top of the mountain is extraordinary.

The emotional highlight of my visit to Capetown was the visit to Robben Island to see where Nelson Mandela and the other South African leaders were incarcerated under the Nationalist Party regime. Their treatment was horrifying, yet they managed to not only survive but to overcome the temptation to bitterness or retaliation. I was astonished to read a statement from Ahmed Kathrada who was imprisoned 26 years:

"While we will not forget the brutality of apartheid, we will not want Robben Island to be a monument of our hardship and suffering. We would want it to be a triumph of the human spirit against the forces of evil. A triumph of wisdom and largeness of spirit against small minds and pettiness; a triumph of courage and determination over human frailty and weakness; a triumph of the new South Africa over the old."

Today I begin the Third Order Retreat, then Monday travel on to Zimbabwe. Please keep me and the Franciscan brothers of the Community of the Divine Compassion in your prayers. They are Anglican Franciscans in covenant with the Society of St. Francis.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Photos of Cameroon

Today I am in Capetown, I left Cameroon about 11:30 last night and traveled overnight and until late in the afternoon. But without mishap, and that is all that counts.

But here are the photos of my time in Cameroon.

This is a photo of me, Br. Martin of the Community of St. Michael, and Br. Emmanuel of another Franciscan community in Cameroon.

This is where Br. Martin is building his new monastery

Shopping in Cameroon can be quite an adventure: a butcher shop

And a local version of a dollar store: a roadside cart!

Here I am with the Fon (King) who was visiting his farm:

During my visit to Kumbo the Queen Mother died, so a Ju-ju performed as part of the funeral ceremonies:

It was hard to say good-bye to the Community of St. Michael. Here we were after celebrating the Holy Eucharist Thursday evening:

It was hard to leave; I am lookingforward to my next visit!

Friday, March 6, 2009

Visit to Cameroon

I am in Cameroon. I have come to visit the community of St. Michael, a community-in-formation. The brothers live in Kumbo, in the English speaking part of Cameroon in the northwest region of the country. It is the tail end of the dry season, and the dust is killing. Also the roads in the English speaking part are atrocious: political payback by the French speaking head of government, I understand.

But these are not important.

I arrived in Douala and immediately lost $30.00 to a couple of shysters who said it was necessary to get through customs. Okay,I wasn't born yesterday, but I fell for this one. Because it is too dangerous to drive long distances at night (highwaymen prey on lonely vehicles)Br. Martin had arranged for us and his blood brother (and brother in religion) Paul, to stay in a Roman Catholic guest house. We were joined by Br. Emmanuel of another anglican Franciscan Comunity, but he didn't speak a work of English and my French was too rusty to overcome the handicap of jetlag. The next day we worshiped at the Cathedral and greeted Bishop Dibo of the Anglican Diocese of Cameroon. then we set off on the two day trek to Kumbo.

We stayed in a house in his family's compound. There were problems with electricity and water, but we managed to say our prayers and bathe. The climate there is very cool, so I needed a blanket at night and a sweater in the mornings.

The community's founder, Br. Martin, has got a piece of land about 200 acres in total. He had started the foundation of his monastery by selling cattle and getting donations from friends. The local king (Fon) is very supportive, giving Martin half the land as a gift.

We spent a whole day traipsing around the property, hearing Martin's stories abut the purchase or donation of every parcel, is vision for the house, the cattle raising, sheep ranching, fish ponds, windmills and guest house. The amazing view embraces deep valleys and high mountains. I had no idea what to expect, but it wasn't this!

Wednesday, we went to visit the Fon (the King). His Royal Highness Mbinglo I of the Fondom of Banso received us on a makeshift throne at his farm. A collapsible chair was covered with a blanket and a page in farm clothes came in to announce the King. We stood. I stood on the right side of what appeared to be a garage, the others on the left. Clapping twice and holding our clasped hands over our lips we bowed and greeted the Fon. Nobody sat til he looked at us and waved impatiently. Br Martin scuttled over to me to whisper directions, then I gave a little speech thanking His Highness for his hospitality, his support for the Brothers of St. Michael and briefed him on the Society of St. Francis. I explained I was on a mission of friendship. The community of St. Michael is not part of the Society of St. Francis. But having met Br.Martinin New York and knowing how important it is to nurture friendships in the small world of Anglican religious life, I very much want to befriend the brothers.

There were photos and a visit to the farm where about 200 people were cultivating the fon's fields--a once a season community effort to show their gratitude. Later we had cold drinks back in the farm house garage and i was given a pail of potatoes in reciprocation for the chicken we'd presented a page on our arrival.

back in Kumbo we visited the royal Palace, and i learned that many of the borhters have relatives among the nobility, and we met Sheiks and Princes who were fathers, uncles of the brothers. we wandered into the second courtyard and found half a dozen men sitting on sement platforms. They were sitting and drinking beer, but they were sitting on THEIR platforms, and I was introduced to them one by one: "This is the second most important man in the Fondom..." (He was sitting on the second platform...). One of the Fon's major preoccupations is building proper housing for his predecessors' wives. We looked down into their compound, and it was indeed a shambles of adobe bricks and dust.

Yesterday we met various roman Catholic sisters. They run hospitals and schools, and are very friendsly and welcoming of Br. Martin.

Today I am sitting in Dschan, at Br. Martin's eldest brother's house. the power\ just went out so I am going to post. Photos next time!