Author Archives: willturnstone

16 February: Pilgrimage planning

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We just held the first planning meeting for this year’s L’Arche Kent pilgrimage. It takes some planning, we can’t just hope for the best. There’s a lot to think about: ‘Not enough cake!’ And possibly guests from other communities to feed.

We know where we’re going – Canterbury – and we know where we are starting:  Sandwich Quay, where Archbishop Thomas Becket made landfall on his return to England in 1170, to be murdered a few weeks later in his own Cathedral. As well as 850 years since then, it is 900 years since his birth in London, and 800 years since his second shrine was blessed and his bones relocated, or translated,  into it.

The route needs planning in detail to be sure it’s accessible and safe from fast traffic; we need to plan our stops and seek hospitality for eating, toileting and washing, and a few minutes of prayer, three times a day. But what prayers, what Scripture will we read? Who will produce the art work* for the passports? Will all be done in time?

Come the end of May, it will be best foot forward again! The walk will feel like the easy bit. Mrs T and I are to test the first couple of miles tomorrow. I’ve cycled over it often enough, but that’s another story.

*This view of the Cathedral is by Ines.

 

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15 February: If Music be the Food of Love

Another post by of the London Irish Chaplaincy, one of the L’Arche Kent diaspora; just a day too late for Valentine’s!

 

I was struck by two recent comments about the power of music, one from a 99-year-old Kerry woman; the other by a young man from Belfast.

I’d written in my last blog, also about music, how I was looking forward to a couple of carol singing events in care homes just before Christmas. One of them, at St Teresa’s in Wimbledon, particularly stood out. Paul, Rory and I were joined by one of our lovely volunteers, Christine, who’s originally from Dublin and who faithfully comes every Friday to chat to the mainly Irish residents. I’d planned a repertoire of Christmas songs, both old and new, but as we were waiting for everyone to arrive I decided to warm up with some Irish songs. It was immediately clear that this was a group who didn’t need any warming up. Everyone was both moved by the music and moving. Feet were tapping and arms were waving as people sang along to the familiar tunes. Sheila from Kerry had requested ‘The Galway Shawl’ in honour of a recently arrived Galwayman and I happily began with that, in honour too of my own Dad. And then for Sheila I did a couple of songs from Kerry: ‘The Black Velvet Band’ and ‘Golden Jubilee’. For the Dubliners present we sang ‘Molly Malone’; and for the several people from Cork (I remarked to the wonderful Sr. Pat, the Director, that the name of the home should be renamed St Finbars!) there was ‘Whiskey in the Jar’ (not literally, I’m afraid!). The house was absolutely ROCKING (and anyway, who needs whiskey to have a good time!). I slowed it down with ‘Sweet 16’, before launching into the Christmas set. It was quite simply the most joyful and uplifting experience imaginable.

One of the Cork ladies confided to me later that she was normally quite shy but had so much enjoyed the singing and dancing. And as for Sheila, she said (and I remembered it word for word, it was so heart-warming):

“We were expecting carol singers and then you fellas turned up! The singing was heavenly. You had us lifted out of our chairs and flying through the air like angels. You’ve made our Christmas perfect.”

We’re looking forward now to our second St Brigid’s concert, at St James’ Church Piccadilly on January 31st. There will be a host of talented performers, ranging in age from the young people of the London Celtic Youth Orchestra to the more mature members of the Irish Pensioners Choir. One of those on the bill, Belfast-born actor Anton Thompson McCormick just wrote to me to say:

“31st will be a delight, people coming together and celebrating the good things – how else to start the decade?”

In the midst of writing this piece I was sent the copy of a letter addressed to me that had been sent to the ICPO (Irish Council for Prisoners Overseas) office in Maynooth from a man in a prison in the North of England. He wrote:

“After reading your article in the ICPO Christmas newsletter 2019 I was impressed that the guitar you had used for the last 24 years had been put to more good use by taking it into Wormwood Scrubs”, and he goes on to ask if I could come and perform to him and the other 25 Irish prisoners there, explaining that “my friends and I are very keen on the idea and it would give us a more positive vibe to take forward”. He ends with the words “Thank you for sharing your story and in fact your guitar”. I was incredibly touched by that and it shows again that we just never know the impact we might have on somebody’s life.

So as we start another new year and if music be indeed the food of love then let us PLAY ON!!!

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February 14, Little Flowers LXIV: a Reflection on Brother Conrad’s prayers.

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We read yesterday how the prayers of Brother Conrad, an early Franciscan, opened the gates of heaven for a dead brother through his prayers. It was tempting to miss out this story from the Little Flowers, because the soul of that young brother who died went to Paradise through the merits of Jesus Christ, according to the Theology I was taught. I wasn’t looking for an argument! It comes naturally to Catholics to pray for the dead, but even so, where does Brother Conrad come in?

Firstly, it was his young friend who sought out Brother Conrad and asked him, not just to pray but to pray the Pater Noster – the Our Father – given to us by the Lord

‘forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us,          and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.’

It is as members of Christ’s body, the Communion of Saints, that the two Franciscan brothers come together in Conrad’s vision. It is as members of Christ’s body that they pray together: if the young brother requested that Conrad should say the Lord’s prayer for him, then that same prayer was at the front of his mind and heart: he was praying it himself, alongside Conrad; and where two or more are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them. So the youth, Brother Conrad, and the Lord himself were praying together to the Father.

Conrad had a gift of being able to encourage the lad and help him to fit into the earthly community where he had chosen – and been called – to live. Perhaps, then, that same gift exercised by 100 Pater Nosters recited within the Communion of Saints, helped the brother to free himself from his remaining pains of fear and guilt to be fit for heaven.

Conrad’s merits? I’m still not sure, but if you suggested that Conrad’s gifts as mentor on earth to this young man were still effective after the young man’s death, I would not argue with you. Let’s place before Jesus all those who relied on us in this life, and would ask for our sympathetic prayers, could they speak to us now; and with Jesus let us pray:

OUR FATHER …

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13 February, Little Flowers LXIII, Brother Conrad’s Prayers.

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A while after his conversion the youth aforesaid died, sith it was the will of God; whereof the said brothers were sore grieving; and a few days after his death his soul appeared unto Brother Conrad as he was devoutly praying before the altar, and saluted him devoutly as a father; and Brother Conrad asked him; “Who art thou?” He answered: “I am the soul of that young brother that died in these days,” Quoth Brother Conrad: “0 my son most dear, how is it with thee?” He answered: “By the grace of God and your admonishments, it is well; seeing that I am not damned, but for certain of my sins, whereof I had not time sufficiently to purge me, I suffer the grievous pains of Purgatory: but I pray thee, father, that even as of thy pity thou didst succour me whilst yet I lived, so now thou wilt be pleased to help me in my pains, saying a Paternoster for me; sith thy prayer is much acceptable in the sight of God.”

Then Brother Conrad consenting gently unto his prayers, and saying the Paternoster once for him and the Requiem Æternam, quoth that soul: “O father most dear, what blessedness and sweet refreshment do I feel! I pray thee that thou say it once again.” And Brother Conrad said it: and when that it was said, quoth the soul: “Holy father, when thou prayest for me I feel my pains assuaged; wherefore I do beseech thee that thou cease not praying for me.”

Brother Conrad, seeing that this soul was so much helped by his prayers, said for him a hundred Paternosters; and when that they were said, quoth the soul; “I thank thee, father most dear, in the name of God, for the love that thou hast shown me; for through thy prayers am I set free from all my pains, and now am I going to the celestial kingdom” and this said, the soul was away. Then Brother Conrad, for to give joy and comfort to the brethren, told them this vision in order. And thus the soul of that youth went to Paradise through the merits of Brother Conrad

We will reflect on this story tomorrow.

WT

 

 

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12 February, Little flowers of Saint Francis LXII: Brother Conrad and the young nuisance, 1.

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Should young boys, teenagers maybe, be encouraged to join religious communities? Before there was universal education, they might well have had to pick up the basics in their monastery before their higher studies. Here we read about one such brother in the community of Offida, another hilltop town.

It appears from this distance in time that some of the brothers had forgotten what it was to be young, and their grumbling had the predictable effect of driving the lad crazy. Until Brother Conrad came along and encouraged young man to be studious of all virtue. We must not force young people back into a corner whence they have to fight to get out, but let us try to maintain the ‘fervour of charity’, and help them to find another way.

And let’s admit that it can be a good thing to be disturbed out of our complacency.

Brother Conrad of Offida, having come on a time as a guest to the House of Offida, the brothers prayed him, for the love of God and of charity, to admonish a young brother that was in that place, the which bore himself in a manner so childish and unruly and ungovernable, that he disturbed both old and young of the community in the divine office, and for the other observances of the rule cared little or naught.

Wherefore Brother Conrad, in pity for the youth and at the prayers of the brothers, called the said brother aside and in fervour of charity spake unto him words of admonition so effective and devout, that by the working of the divine grace he suddenly changed in his behaviour from a boy to an old man, and became so obedient, and gentle, and careful, and devout, and thereafter so peaceful and serviceable, and so studious of all virtue, that, as at the and first all the community had been disturbed by him, so were they all content with him and comforted, and loved him exceeding well.

Offida Town Hall, Wikipedia.

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11 February: World Day of the Sick

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The Catholic Church marks the Day of the Sick on 11 February, the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes.  The theme this year is “Come to me, all you who labour and are burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28).

In his message, * Pope Francis  says that the mercy and comforting presence of Jesus embraces people in their entirety whatever their health condition, discarding no one, but rather inviting everyone to share in His life and to experience His tender love.

Jesus Himself became frail, endured human suffering and received comfort from His Father.  Only those who personally experience suffering  are able to comfort others. “What is needed is a personalized approach to the sick, not just of curing but also of caring, in view of an integral human healing.”

In addition to therapy and support they expect care and attention – “In a word, love”.  “At the side of every sick person, there is also a family, which itself suffers and is in need of support and comfort.”

Those who are sick, the Pope says, attract the eyes and heart of Jesus. “The Church desires to become more and more the “inn” of the Good Samaritan who is Christ (Luke 10:34), that is, a home where you can encounter His grace, which finds expression in closeness, acceptance and relief.”

As men and women with their own frailties and illnesses, healthcare workers show how true it is that “once Christ’s comfort and rest is received, we are called in turn to become rest and comfort for our brothers and sisters.”

*Follow the link to the original Vatican News article.

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10 February: What was it you went out to see – at Lourdes.

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This statue in Venice is very like that of Mary at Lourdes, and as we see, it is surrounded by passport photos and little notes, petitions and thank-yous. We saw a similar crop of photographs around the statue of Our Lady of Valencia.  The Basilica of Our Lady of Africa in Algiers also receives photos and notes from Muslims as well as Christians.

Prayer, we were taught at school, is the raising of the heart and mind to God, but it is also a physical activity. Sitting, kneeling, bowing, walking or riding on pilgrimage, even the physical act of going to the parish church of a Sunday; any of these can enable us to raise our hearts and minds to God.

So prayer can be going to church and leaving a prayer request  on a board or in a basket. Or leaving a prayer request before the tomb of a saint, or in this case a statue. We can ask for the prayers of the Church,  not just the Church on earth today but also the saints triumphant who have all the time in eternity to pray for us: Mary included.

Tomorrow is the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes. What are people seeking there? Can it be put into words? Perhaps peace and healing of the heart and mind, if not of the body, is what I hear most often as the gift of the pilgrimage. An on-going process, not always to be rushed.

Those who leave photos or candles in front of Mary’s statue commend their loved ones to our prayers as well as Mary’s: let us pray then for all who will make the Lourdes pilgrimage this year, as sick pilgrims or helpers, and for all who ask our prayers, directly or through such gestures as we see in this photograph.

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9 February: To the almshouse!

maynards spittal
Dear Simon,
We were sorry to hear that you and Ruth have divorced after so many years. We were unaware of the difficulties in your relationship which do sound beyond human repair. But if you can conserve a friendship then who knows what might not be built on the foundations of the love that brought you together in the first place? And of course, however imperfect the lovers, however imperfect the love, much good has come of your time together. Between you, you sustained two fine young people through to where they are now.
Do you enjoy living in the almshouse? Is there a community feel to the place? I well remember, soon after our George was born, a friend called Kathy came over from Canada, and was just visiting Canterbury for one day, so a quick personal guided tour of the city was required. All the main sights, of course, but also a few of my hidden favourites. We went down Hospital Lane towards the Poor Priests’ Hospital, and of course you cannot really miss the almshouses, which may originate as far back as the 12th Century.
Kathy absolutely fell in love with the idea of almshouses, which provide secure, if compact homes for senior citizens. These days someone in an overlarge rented house might free that property in favour of a family, and receive a handy place in the centre of town. I suspect that when Kathy leaves Planet Earth she’ll not have the money to leave to establish almshouses in Nova Scotia under her name. And nor will we.
The old ones were not built for the likes of me all 6ft 3½ of me— but I gather your place is a 21st Century built apartment, warm, convenient, comfortable. Rest and be thankful!
Will.

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8 February: The Attempted Abduction of Jemma

A longer posting than usual for the Feast of Saint Josephine Bakhita, the saint saved from slavery. Fr. Shay Cullen, who wrote this, works in the Philippines, alongside other Christians who care for the ravaged environment, and also for children ravaged by the sex industry. Both ministries are part of the bigger picture of the Church’s mission.

It’s a case of child abuse and human trafficking that has caught much media attention. It is being held in the court of Honorable Judge Maria Angelica T. Paras-Quiambao, Regional Trial Court Branch 59, Angeles City, a judge of known integrity. It concerns a US national, John R. He is accused of sexually abusing two young girls, call them Sybil and Jemma (not their real names).The younger Jemma is 13 and Sybil is 14 years old. John R. allegedly paid his pimp CM to recruit them and bring to his apartment where he sexually abused them many times.

The two children were rescued by the social workers of Mabalacat, Pampanga and of the Preda Foundation. The children were brought to the Preda home for girls in Zambales where they were successfully undergoing recovery.

The US investigative service at the US Embassy has taken a serious interest in the case and they have already interviewed Jemma and Sybil. They will eventually file charges against John R. in the USA under the US extra-territorial jurisdiction law and perhaps his supporter, Lilian May Zimmer. He is presently in hiding and Philippine arrest warrants have been issued against him.

Last March 6, there was a large rescue operation in Mabalacat and twenty children were rescued from the Golden Victory Hotel and another resort. There, the twenty children had been lured and recruited to engage in sexual relations with local and foreign sex tourists. The twenty girls were referred to the Preda home for girls where they were welcomed and assisted in every way with kindness and understanding. They were given emotional support, shelter, clothes, and personal needs. Their parents were invited over to be with them. There were many emotional scenes as the parents embraced their rescued children and they were reunited.

In the days and weeks that followed, they slowly recovered and began to realize how they had been exploited and abused and that it was detrimental to their lives. Their futures were being destroyed and their chances of finishing school were dashed.

In the Preda Foundation home for girls, they had group dynamics, art and crafts, training sessions, games, sports, karate, dance and counseling. Above all and most importantly, they had the Emotional Release Therapy. In the padded therapy room away from the central house, they shouted, screamed and punched and pounded the cushions in releasing their anger, hatred and anguish at what had been done to them by the sex tourists, recruiters and pimps. Some even blamed their parents for neglecting them and not showing them love and care. In the Preda home, not all were happy at being taken from the life of exploitation and abuse. There were three girls that wanted to go back to the sex industry placed there by corrupt parents.

Preda respects the dignity and rights of the youth and children and it is an open center. There are no high walls, fences or guards. Most of the children go to a regular school in the community and many activities are conducted outside. The children are not prisoners and confined. They are there by free choice.

The three girls were hostile, one of them, call her Martha (not her real name), recruited Sybil to leave and join her on sex strip known as Fields Avenue in Angeles City where there are dozens of sex bars and foreign sex tourists paying money to have sex with young girls. Some are caught like John R. It is an open slave trading market on the streets and in the sex bars. They operate with city permits and inside is a fiery fiesta of young flesh, a sex carnival for cash.

Sybil left with Martha and fell under the power and influence of the family of Martha and the mother of CM. Jemma was happy at the Preda Home. One day, when Jemma was at the school sports parade, the mother of CM, the father and the aunt of Jemma and Sybil, rushed into the parade and grabbed Jemma, the key witness, to abduct her and carry her away to a waiting car. Jemma broke away and the Preda social worker was there to embrace and hold her safely from them. They ran away when the barangay tanods came over. The entire incident was caught on CCTV.

The attempted abduction was well-organized and funded as the participants are penniless. It must be presumed that John R., the American, is paying large sums of money for the abduction and prevent the witnesses from testifying in court. Then, the charges of human trafficking against CM might be dismissed against her. It’s an evil plan to thwart justice. The Preda Foundation filed charges of grave coercion against the father and aunt of Sybil and the mother of CM.

Supporting this sex mafia in Angeles City online from the USA is the alleged child sexual abuser, Lilian May Thompson Zimmer, a US national that is constantly criticizing the good work of Preda and making baseless allegations. In 2014, Preda reported Zimmer for child neglect and abuse done by her against five small children held by Zimmer in her house in Subic, Zambales. She has retaliated ever since.

They have testified that she tortured them and burnt one with cigarettes. They said Zimmer brought them to sex perverts on Baloy Beach, in Trader Ric’s, where they were sexually abused. A hateful, violent person, Zimmer attacked police and social workers when they came to rescue the children. She spent a year in jail but allegedly bribed her way out and escaped to the USA. She is now allegedly promoting the abduction of Jemma and supporting the abusers who are keeping Sybil from testifying in the court of Judge Paras-Quiambao.

More development are expected soon as the US authorities have been asked to investigate Lilian May Zimmer under the extra-territorial jurisdiction law where child trafficking for sexual abuse is a serious offense. One day, justice will be done to address her evil abuse of the children and CM and John R. will go to jail.

This and much more about the Preda foundation can be found here.

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February 7, Praying with Pope Francis: Listen to the Migrants’ Cries.

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Pope Francis’s mission prayer for February is: We pray that the cries of our migrant brothers and sisters, victims of criminal trafficking, may be heard and considered.

Pope Francis made a point of visiting Lampedusa within days of becoming Pope. That is the Italian island, close to the North African shore, where many migrant ships and boats have landed. The cross is one fashioned by an Italian artist from the timbers of such a boat, stranded on the island, its battered paint reminding us of the dangers of even such a short crossing.

The Colombian artist Oscar Murillo created this scene of waiting migrants for the 2019 Turner Prize exhibition in Magate, Kent. In a darkened room that would overlook the sea if a blackout curtain was not there, they sit in rows, waiting. Is it a church they are in, with its wooden benches, or a run-down station waiting room? Either should be a safe place, but it’s clear that this is not: the benches have been hacked about, and that only recently.

The three men on the right hand end of the benches seem to be listening: listening to someone or listening for someone? Are they waiting for a foreman’s call to work, one day at a time, or for the train to take them where they can earn for their families back home? Imagine your own stories.

murillo migrants

The two women on the front row have been eviscerated, their wombs and vital organs replaced by lengths of what looks like stainless steel waste gas ducting.

Hands pressed hard against the bench, the figures are ready to move, but where to? Each one is isolated in his or her own suffering, yet they form a group in our eyes. But let us remember that they stand for individual human beings with families and loved ones who may be anxious over them, hearing no news from the waiting room, the salle des pas perdus as the French have it, the place of lost footsteps. Abandon hope, all ye who enter here?

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