Notes from Africa

Monday August 13, 2018

In

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American Cemetery
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Colleville Draw where 1st Division came ashore
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View from German bunker
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Point du Hoc
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Cliffs of Point du Hoc
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Remnants of Mulberry Harbor
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Beach at Arromanches
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Cement caisson used in construction of artificial harbor

Bayeux, France

 

Bayeux is situated in the heart of Normandy, not far from the beaches on the English Channel, the beaches that were at the center of the massive effort of the Allies in World War II called D-Day, June 6, 1944. The beaches today are known by their code names—Utah Beach and Omaha Beach which were the American Sector, Gold and Sword which were the British Sector, and Juno which was the Canadian Sector.

 

A plaque in a museum gives the following figures involved in D-Day alone—the Invasion fleet of 6,939 vessels, 11,680 types of aircraft, and 159,000 ground troops.  As I walked the beaches and grounds of Omaha and Gold beaches at low tide and looked out at the channel I was astounded at the logistical issues involved in planning and preparing for such an assault and what was needed to sustain the assault into Europe—eventually over 2 million personnel came through the beaches, and, of course, there were many who would be evacuated across these beaches because of injury and those who would never return.

 

At Arromanches in the harbor are remains of the Mulberry Harbor, an artificial harbor started on D-Day +1.  These artificial harbors allowed the rapid unloading of cargo to facilitate the invasion efforts.

 

Point du Hoc, on Omaha beach, is noted for its 30 meter (over 90 ft.) sheer cliffs which were heavily fortified.  These are the cliffs scaled by 225 Army Rangers led by Lt. Col. Rudder.  Today, there are a few remnants of German bunkers, and the land is pock-marked from a series of bombings before the invasion.  It is said the number of bombs dropped on this tiny point of land equaled the force of one of atomic bombs used in Japan.

 

Of course, war has its price.  Overlooking Omaha Beach is the American Cemetery and Memorial, a 172 acre cemetery with the graves of 9,385 military dead, most of whom lost their lives in the D-Day landings and ensuing operations, and a memorial wall, ‘Walls of the Missing,’ inscribed with the names of 1,557 whose bodies have not been recovered.  It is a most solemn place, meticulously maintained, which receives over 1 million visitors per year.

 

 

 

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Notes from Africa

Wednesday August 8, 2018

Bayeux, France

When I arrived in Paris last week, Europe was in the middle of a heat wave with temperatures on the Iberian Peninsula reaching 45 C (113 F), but in Paris it was only 34 C (93 F).  I actually enjoyed the warmth after the past few months of cooler temperatures in Kenya.

 

Overlooking the city of Paris is the Basilica of Sacre-Couer (Sacred Heart) located in the Montmartre section; after the Cathedral of Notre Dame, it is the second most visited site in Parish with an estimated 11 ½ million people entering its doors for one reason or another.  The church contains one of the largest mosaics in the world—that of the Sacred Heart of Jesus welcoming people into his embrace.  It is a church dedicated as a place of prayer with adoration of the Blessed Sacrament 24 hours a day.  My home parish in Glen Ullin, North Dakota is dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, thus, I had good reason to pray and to celebrate Mass in this great basilica.

 

The Louvre in the central part of Paris is the largest art museum in the world with approximately 38,000 objects of art over nearly 783,000 square feet.  Of course, the famous Mona Lisa hangs in this museum.  I asked one of the docents how many people visit the museum each day—he said, “About 8,000 on a typical day.”  I think he underestimated!  I spent nearly four hours in the museum and saw much, but compared to the overall size, I saw very little. 

 

Near The Louvre stands Musee d’Orsay, the museum which is called by many as the greatest collection of Impressionism and Post-Impressionism in the world.  Think of Monet, Manet, Renoir, and Van Gogh.  A most famous painting called “The Angelus” by Millet is house there—it is a scene of farmers at the end of a day in the middle of a field pausing to pray with a church steeple in the background—a most moving act of those who do hard, manual labor.

 

I did desire to visit the Cathedral of Notre Dame, but the afternoon I went to the church, the line of people waiting to get in stretched over 200 yards with people standing four or five abreast.  It was a hot day, with a blazing sun, so I decided to forgo the church because I will return to Paris with an opportunity to enter this most famous landmark dedicated to Our Lady.

 

More to come…

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Mosaic of Sacred Heart
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Entrance to the Louvre
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Arch of Napoleon near the Louvre
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Moulin Rouge
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Visitation by Ghirlandaio
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The Triumph of David by Manfredi
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Monet’s Cathedral in Rouen
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Sainte Chapelle exterior
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Sainte Chapelle interior

 

Notes from Africa

Wednesday August 1, 2018

Paris, France

 

The seminarians. Jacob Degele and Matthew Koppinger, who spent a month in Kenya, finished their time with a safari on the Maasai Mara before heading back to the United States.  They have arrived safely home, and, I, myself, flew to Paris for a vacation.

 

The Mara is a National Game Reserve in Kenya that covers approximately 1,000 square kilometers and is home to a great diversity of wildlife.  It is called by some “The Eighth Wonder of the World.”  This is the time of the year for the great migration as herds of wildebeest, zebra, and topi make their way from the Serengeti in Tanzania for the lush grass of the Mara. It is also breeding time for the animals.   It is estimated that 1.5 million, most wildebeest, make this annual migration.  I was stunned by the abundance of grass on the Mara—in most places, it was belly high to the animals.

 

One of the highlights was watching untold number of wildebeest cross the Sand River, part of the border between Tanzania and Kenya—the Serengeti and the Mara.  This river crossing is easily made as the waters are shallow and there are no predators such as the crocodile.  But, if they cross the Mara River, it is a different story.

 

Some of the animals seen: Thompson gazelle, Grant’s gazelle, Coke’s hartebeest, giraffe, warthog, elephant, eland, hyena, jackel, leopard, cheetah, baboon, ostrich, Lappet-faced vulture, dik-dik, Egyptian goose, lilac-breasted roller (national bird of Kenya), yellow billed oxpecker, and African grey hornbill.

 

Enjoy the pictures.

 

Notes from Africa

Thursday July 26, 2018

 

On Wednesday afternoon I traveled to the Cathedral to pick up the two seminarians, Jacob Degele and Matthew Koppinger.  Over the course of their stay, they spent 10 days at Amasago Parish and 10 days at the Cathedral; they were also able to be here at the Mission on a Saturday to assist with our work of serving orphans.  Tomorrow, we will be going to the Masai Mara for a safari.  They will fly out July 30th to return to North Dakota; I will be flying to France for a vacation with a priest friend from Maine.

 

In France the plan is to visit a few museums in Paris and spent most of our time in Normandy, touring the beaches and surrounding area associated with the D-Day Invasion of World War II.  Then, I will be going to the alpine region of France to visit some friends with whom I walked the Camino.  Finally, I will spend some time in Lourdes on a retreat.

 

During the month of July Rogers and I have been visiting families who submitted applications for a heifer or a house.  We had twenty sites to inspect; we also visited the families who have received a heifer.  Driving over the rutted and pothole filled roads becomes tiring and wearisome, but one of the main routes we take recently had a road grader smoothen out some of the challenges of the road.  I asked Rogers how often a road grader is used on these roads; he responded, “Once in a great while…”

 

This year we awarded three heifers and one house.  Before receiving a heifer, the family must grow a plot of Napier grass that is used as forage.  This year we will be able to give away the first fruits of our Heifer Program—two heifers.  When the families receive these animals in the near future, I will have some pictures.

 

For the family who will receive a house, the Mission provides all the material, and the family is responsible for the labor, the building of a house.  In these cases, a fundi, a carpenter, is consulted and extended family and neighbors are enlisted to assist with the construction.

 

The Heifer Program and Housing Program are aspects of the Mission to assist families in need.  I am grateful to the people of the Diocese of Bismarck for their support of the Mission here in Gekano Parish.

 

While on vacation, I do plan to write, but it may not be as regular as my usual Wednesday or Thursday post—it depends on traveling and availability of internet.

Notes from Africa

Wednesday July 18, 2018

 

Sometimes the answer is no.

 

People come to me with various sorts of request for financial assistance—the top reasons would be school fees, transportation, and medical expenses.  In being attentive to these appeals, I frequently hear the condition of poverty—people simply who have no money; at times, there are stories of illness thrusting people down the socio-economic ladder; there are untimely deaths that wreak havoc in the family system; and, there are tails of abuse and alcoholism.  It takes wisdom and discernment in these cases, and a deep awareness of the main purpose of our mission in Kenya—our orphan education program.

 

Here are three requests from people who approached me lately, and the answer was “no.”

1)    A lady came to ask money for glasses so she could read her Bible.  When I told her I needed to reflect on this request, she asked me for a Bible.  Then, I asked her, “What do you want—glasses, a Bible, or money?”  The answer was no.

2)    A man approached me wanting me to buy him a computer; he stated it would help him with some church work he does as well as his regular job.  I told him, “Visit with the pastor of the parish or your employer and let one of them buy you a computer if it is essential to your work.”

3)    A lady came into the office and mentioned she had taken out a loan for KSH 70,000 (about $700.00 USD).  She asked me to repay the loan, with interest, for her.  I simply mentioned we do not do this at the Mission.  She started to laugh as if to say, “It doesn’t hurt to ask.”

I have been told by several people that Kenyans are not afraid to ask for something, and they are aware that “no” is a possible answer.  I keep reminding myself of the purpose of our Mission, and I do consult with others to gain insight into issues, rarely do I give an answer on the spot; the usual course of action is to ask questions, visit with others, and reflect on the request before giving a response.  I, myself, need to be a good steward of the funds entrusted to my care.  And, sometimes, the answer is no…

Notes from Africa

Thursday July 12, 2018

 

Charles Peguy wrote, “Life holds only one tragedy, ultimately:  not to have been a saint.”  A saint is one who knows he is a sinner.  A saint knows the truth.  A saint is a servant of Christ.  A saint’s heart is broken by every little sorrow and sin.  In other words, a saint is one who knows how to life in this world as a faithful follower of Jesus.  In the events of ordinary life one becomes a saint by the grace of God.

 

In staying at Flora Hostel while in Nairobi, I discovered a newly beatified martyr of the Church:  Sr. Leonella Sgorbati, a Consolata Missionary Sister who was assassinated on September 17, 2006 in Mogadishu, Somalia.  Her story is told in a short book entitled All in Three Words.  In preparation for her beatification, a novena was prayed which contained the following prayer:

 

Eternal Father, who through the Holy Spirit,

work in the midst of all peoples, regardless of their culture and religion,

look with Mercy at humankind, often without peace and reluctant to forgive.

Through the intercession of Sr. Leonella Sgorbati, martyr for Christ,

a faithful and joyful witness of the Gospel,

who bore witness with her blood out of love for you and those most in need,

grant us the graces with ask for,

and an ardent apostolic zeal to the point of giving our own life.

Through Jesus Christ our Lord, model and origin of all martyrdom.  Amen.

 

It is a prayer that has inspired, encouraged, and challenged me; a few reflections on this prayer:

-“…look with Mercy at humankind, often without peace and reluctant to forgive.”  This phrase speaks to the mission of the Church in the world, to be an agent of peace and forgiveness.  We are without peace because so often we are focused on desires that hardly reflect anything of the reign of God.  We are reluctant to forgive because of fear which lurks in the human heart or the denial/ignorance of the difference between good and evil, that which is of God and that which is not of God.

-The prayer speaks of Sr. Leonella as “a faithful and joyful witness of the Gospel.”  By all accounts, she fostered a deep faith and knew the joy of God’s care for her and desired to share this with others.  How often do I look at myself, others, and the world around me and not see the beauty and wonder of God?  A joyful person knows God is God and allows God to be God.

-She had “an apostolic zeal to the point of giving her own life.”  St. John the Baptist said, “He (Christ) must increase, and I must decrease.”  Zeal is the knowledge of being loved and the desire to draw others into the love of God.  Zeal does not tire in the midst of challenges and trials.  Zeal fires us into the events of daily life and makes us willing to lay down our lives for others in service.

 

Sr. Leonella, pray for us.

Notes from Africa

July 5, 2018

 

A Sunday Gathering

 

Last weekend, I was in Nairobi to welcome Matthew Koppinger and Jacob Degele to Kenya—they arrived safely at 9:55pm after many hours of traveling from Bismarck.

 

On Sunday we were invited to Holy Trinity Church in Kariobangi (a section of Nairobi) for a meal to celebrate the diaconate ordination of Chrisantus Moses, who was sponsored by the Bismarck Mission when he was in primary school and high school.  He belongs to a religious congregation known as the Comboni Missionaries who devote themselves to the missionary apostolate in populations not sufficiently evangelized.  He is slated to be ordained a priest later this year.

 

At this gathering were a bishop from Italy along with seven priests of his diocese and two married couples, Combonis from Kenya, Italy, Portugal, and the Congo, a single man and woman from Italy, a lady from Australia, and others.  One of Comboni Fathers was telling me about Holy Trinity Parish—it encompasses about 10 square kilometers (about 3.9 square miles).  Within the boundaries of the parish community over 300,000 people live; the parish has a Sunday Mass attendance of over 8,000.  This is one of the poorer sections of the city, and the needs of the people are vast, and five members of the Combonis serve the parish.

 

By way of contrast, the entire diocese of Bismarck encompasses twenty-three counties in western North Dakota with 34,268 square miles (88,753 sq km), the entire population of which is just over 280,000 and a Catholic population of 62,000.  In the Diocese of Bismarck the area is large and population small—in Nairobi, we find the opposite, a very small area filled with a burgeoning population—more people live in one parish in Nairobi, an area about one-third the size of Mandan, ND, than the entire half of western North Dakota.

 

Demographics and geography are important factors in pastoral ministry as are socio-economic factors.  Ministers of the gospel need this awareness in serving the people, “proclaim the word; be persistent whether it is convenient or inconvenient; convince reprimand, encourage through all patience and teaching” (2 Tim. 4: 2).

 

At the end of the day, I expressed gratitude to Almighty God for the vocation of Chrisantus Moses and the work of those who assisted him and supported him in his years of maturation.  Let us continue to pray for vocations to the priesthood and religious life and pray for those who serve the Church locally and afar.

Finally, Matthew and Jacob are now at Amasago Parish here in the Diocese of Kisii where they will minister for the next ten days.  

From left to right in the picture:  Matthew Koppinger, Sabina Kerubo–aunt of Rogers, Rogers Osoro, Deacon Chrisantus Moses, Jacob Degele, and Fr. David Morman

 

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Notes from Africa

Thursday June 21, 2018

 

Last Sunday, I went, along with two altar servers and a student from St. Teresa’s school, to the church in Enchoro, an outstation (mission parish) at the eastern most edge of the parish boundaries.  The church sits on a mountainside and provides a panoramic view of Nyamira county, and the road leading up to the church is narrow and rocky.

 

While preaching, a bird defecated on my homily notes!  A few thoughts entered my mind:  1) I am glad it did not excrete on my head, 2) I am fortunate I was past the point in the homily where the dung landed, and 3) I asked myself, “Was my homily that bad?”  As I have been told, “One never knows what to expect during the course of a day here in Kenya.”

 

After Mass, we were driving home and I told my passengers about the incident.  One of them replied, “The bird gave you a present.”  Oh, the perspectives people have of a given event.

 

Each Sunday I continue to assist the priests of Gekano Parish with Sunday Masses.  I have celebrated Mass in 24 of the 52 churches that make up Gekano Parish.  The parish comprises an area of approximately 196 square kilometers (76 square miles).  As a comparison, the Bismarck-Mandan area in North Dakota comprises an area of approximately 42 square miles and has eight parishes.  There are anywhere from 100 to 500 people at each of these Masses in the outstations.

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Church located upper center with metal roof
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Overlooking Nyamira County

Notes from Africa

Thursday June 14, 2018

 

My visitors, Wes and Kathy Pepple, have safely returned home to Williston, ND, this week.  We drove them to the airport in Nairobi from where they departed Monday at 11:55pm.

 

I am grateful for their presence here in the Mission.  During their stay we were able to train 52 women in the Water with Blessings program at Etago parish in the Diocese of Kisii.  Each of these women pledge to share their bucket and filter with at least three other families—this means 156 families have access to clean water for household use of drinking and cooking.  In spite of the challenges faced by linguistic and cultural barriers, the women instinctively knew the blessings of clean water; the filter system removes 99.9% of bio-contaminants that can cause diseases such as cholera, typhoid, and parasitical infections.  There are more women that need to be trained in this pilot program; we are now in the process of evaluating this program.

 

On June 30th two seminarians of the Diocese of Bismarck will arrive in Kenya to begin their month-long summer internship.  Jacob Degele of Dickinson, ND, and Matthew Koppinger of Bismarck, ND, will be staying in two different parishes in the Diocese of Kisii to learn from the local clergy and seminarians about pastoral ministry in a cross-cultural setting.  I am grateful for the cooperation of our Bishop, David Kagan, and Bishop Joseph of Kisii and Fr. Charles at Amasega Parish and Fr. Otumba at the Cathedral Parish as well as our vocation director, Fr. Josh Walz.

 

In the meanwhile, daily life continues.  In the next weeks we will be visiting homes of those who have made application in our housing and heifer programs.  Also, we continue to visit with the orphans at Saturday Mission.

 

Enjoy more pictures, courtesy of Wes and Kathy, from the safari …

 

Notes from Africa

Saturday June 9, 2018

 

First of all, I apologize for not having posted this past week—a lightening strike knocked out the adaptor used to charge the battery on my computer.  Fortunately, the computer was not affected, and I was able to locate and purchase a new adaptor in Kisumu yesterday.

 

This week has been filled with activity—a excursion to the Maasai Mara for a safari with my friends Wes and Kathy Pepple, a trip to Etago parish (67km one way) to do training with women from the parish for the Water with Blessings pilot project, and Mission Saturday today.

 

On Mission Saturday we meet with a group of the orphans to check on their progress in school and give them an allotment of maize and a small stipend.  This month we are giving the orphans medicine to help prevent and/or get rid of parasitic worms.  The medication is tablet form, but for those under two years of age a liquid is given.  We were fortunate to have Wes and Kathy to assist with this process—we needed extra hands to distribute the medication and make sure the children and youth actually chewed the pill.

 

Last week I posted about Water with Blessings.  This past week we trained 39 women in the use and care of the Sawyer Water Filter; each woman who receives the blessing of a filter commits herself to sharing the purified water with at least three other families in her neighborhood.  A total of 52 women were trained in these past weeks.  This is a pilot project, and we will evaluate to see where we go from here.  We did face some challenges because of the language barrier and cultural differences, but the women instinctively knew the benefits of clean water for drinking and cooking.  You may want to consult the website of www.waterwithblessings.org

 

Finally, the excursion to the Maasai Mara for a safari was an enjoyable two-day break in the midst of daily life here in the Mission.  The distance is only 140Km but it takes about five hours to drive this distance because of the condition of the roads.  It is hard to describe the sights, sounds, and smells of the Mara—the vistas and the animals elate my heart.  Within the Landcruiser used by the staff of the safari camp, I was within six feet of a leopard,15 feet of a pride of ten lions feasting on a wildebeest, ten yards from a cape buffalo and a parade of elephants (I did not attempt to reach out and pet them!).  I must say that I took a wrong turn in Kilgoris on the way home and ended up driving on one of the most treacherous roads I have encountered in Kenya—there were places where the ditches were a shear four or five feet deep and the road only inches wider than the vehicle.  The passengers and I were too nervous and frightened to stop and take pictures…