A Dream Realized – Fr. Pat Jackson sac

Status

…a dream realised… 

Our pilgrimage to Jordan, Israel and Palestine was a dream realised for our parish leaders at St Christopher’s. We could walk in the footsteps of Jesus, had fantastic guides and drivers, and enjoyed the love, care and fun of being together.  We constantly urged each other to get out of the bus to experience the places where Jesus lived, poured himself out for us and walked up and down tracks and steps. We realized the distances He and the early disciples covered, to preach and heal the crowds in every town and village. Celebrating Mass every day, in the very places where Jesus lived, brought the place and the gospels alive. Returning to four-star accommodation was a welcome end to each busy day.

dream1This pilgrimage provided a mix of history and culture, archeology and scripture, leading to an ever-present awareness of Jesus. In fact we had to pinch ourselves that we were really there. Our two Catholic guides, from Jordan and Palestine, and our two Jewish guides enabled us to see so much that will take time to process. They were passionate about their own countries so we sensed both sides of the tension from the border crossings to the Golan Heights. We prayed constantly for peace and for Pope Francis’ coming visit – commemorating 50 years since Paul VI’s own trip to Jordan, Israel and Palestine.

Arriving in Amman, home to thousands of Palestinian refugees overlooked by a temple to Hercules, our guide was Hisham, a Jordanian Catholic [the changing of guides and drivers when in Jewish or Palestinian areas was a constant feature]. He took us to Madaba and a 6th century Byzantine mosaic map of the Holy Land in the Orthodox Church of St George.

The next day was spent in the UNESCO World Heritage site of Petra, an ancient Nabatean city carved out of rock, and a key point on the silk road linking China, India and trade cities of the Mediterranean. After walking about 4 kilometers through a gorge it appeared suddenly, many buildings carved out of the mountain itself, including churches and a monastery higher up, reached by 800 steps. An old man and his grand-daughter sang a hymn in one of the empty churches.

We had a meal at Wadi Rum, in a bedouin desert camp where Lawrence of Arabia was filmed. A narrow guage railway built by the Kaiser for the Ottoman Empire was nearby. We reached there on the back of jeeps and had an experience of desert sands and a taste of Bedouin hospitality. Then on to Mt Nebo where Moses saw the Promised land. We remembered the words of Martin Luther King: “I have been to the mountain and seen the other side, but I won’t get there…” This place made a deep impression.

Down to Aqaba and by camel to meet Abraham, to hear the recounting of his journey from Ur and be treated again to nomadic hospitality, and then cross into Israel at Eilat with a Jewish guide and bus driver. From here we visited Masada [Herod the Great’s fortress] by cable car, the scene also of the last stand of 960 men, women and children – Zealots who killed themselves rather than fall into the hands of the 10,000 Roman army in 73 AD who after three years’ construction were approaching their hill top perch on a colossal ramp. Proceeding to Jericho and the Mount of Temptation we encountered an almost biblical scene of two flocks of sheep led by their shepherds through the town.

We checked in at the Jacir Palace in Bethlehem [Palestine], changed guides, had Mass in St Catherine’s church, visited the Church of the Nativity built by the Crusaders over the earlier church that Helena, Constantine’s mother, constructed over many sacred sites after the Edict of 313. The Persians destroyed these Byzantine churches in 600, the Crusaders rebuilt them in the 11th century. The Franciscans have had the custody of the sites for 800 years now, and have rebuilt churches under the guidance of a brilliant Italian architect, Berlucci, and are now engaged in constant maintenance. We met a Fr Abrahim who runs an orphanage, a seminary and a parish. He talked to us about the situation of Palestinian Catholics who receive $50,000 annually from the Good Friday Appeal for the Holy places. He asked three things of us – to promote prayer for peace, pilgrimages and projects that could help them.

The Milk Grotto is where, tradition has it, Mary fed baby Jesus, but spilt a drop of breast milk and it turned a rock white. While we were there we heard the Carmelite nuns praying the Office. From there we approached the Shepherds Field and a church celebrating the story of the shepherds, hearing and telling the good news.

dream3We drove to the Mount of Olives, Jerusalem. The churches were in use by various groups, so we celebrated Mass in the Garden at Gethsemane. Later we returned for a Holy Hour, joined by another Australian pilgrim group, the muezzin meanwhile sounding the Muslim call to prayer. Some areas were restricted, being prepared for Pope Francis’ visit, but we could visit the church where Peter denied Jesus. As we said Mass a cock crowed! We spent three days in Jerusalem, leading the Stations of the Cross and taking turns to carry it – it was very moving because we had time to reflect and pray. During it a little girl ran up, touched our cross and made the sign of the cross. Arriving at the Sepulchre we found it crowded and, as time was limited, we moved on in faith despite the human elements. We knelt where Jesus died on the cross, felt the rock, prayed where He was hurriedly anointed on a nearby slab. We visited the Cenacle and prayed there, then moved to the Church of the Visitation which we had to ourselves, with time to pray the rosary. Our Jewish guide took us to the Holocaust Museum and to a memorial for children in complete darkness lit by five candles which were infinitely reflected by mirrors while the names of the children were spoken, and to a model of the second temple.

Day 12 brought us to Abu Gosh, Emmaus, to St Peter’s Church in Joppa commemorating his vision preparing him to meet with Gentiles and convert the centurion Cornelius at Caesarea, seat of the Roman governor. One stone there bore the name Pontius Pilate. It had a hippodrome for chariot races and an amphitheatre. We ate there, and then visited the Carmelite monastery of St Elijah on Mt Carmel. From there we went to Nazareth, the city of Jesus’ childhood and youth. We called at the church of the Annunciation, then on to Cana in Galilee where our married pilgrims renewed their wedding vows and drank the special wine of Cana.

On Day 15 we went to the mount of the Beatitudes and an outdoor Mass. God was so good to us, it only rained at Cana when we were inside. We went to Caesarea Philippi where Jesus asked “Who do you say I am?” leading to Peter’s confession of faith, celebrating Mass at the church of the Primacy of Peter. At the Golan Heights we could hear gunfire in nearby Syria only a kilometer away, then on to Tiberius from where we launched out on to the sea of Galilee. A most beautiful spot, no wonder Jesus loved it. We sang and danced on the boat. Our bus took us to Mt Tabor and then smaller vans to the very top along winding roads. Here was the Church of the Transfiguration, designed by Berlucci in such a way that light through a rose window would light up the face of Jesus on August 6th.

We crossed back into Jordan to Gerasa, a well-preserved Greco-Roman city, and the sound of bagpipes in an amphitheatre and orations by members of our group. We had a fun time at the Dead Sea, floating and covered with mud and then on to Amman for the journey home. It was a time to pray, share, be anointed, shop, take photos, eat and sleep. We have gained so much that has and will change our lives. It was a fantastic opportunity, a spiritual journey for all of us.

 

Patrick Jackson sac [AU] – Syndal – AUSTRALIA

23.05.14

frp.jackson@syndalcatholic.org.au

Return To Esso – Elaine Hogan

Status

Return to Esso – Elaine Hogan

I returned to Tanzania in January to visit Esso – a parish run by the Pallottine Fathers – where I had lived before for over a year, and also to visit Malambo in the Ngorongoro conservation area where Fr. Mike O’Sullivan, a Pallottine Father from Co. Kerry, is now ministering to the Maasai tribe.


re4Esso is as vibrant as ever. I visited all the various “Pallotti projects” which have been set up over the past eight years and I am delighted to say that they are all thriving. The computer classroom was filled with new students, and being taught by Tanzanian teachers. The primary school now occupies six rooms in the Resource Centre. The Faraja (Joy) centre for children and adults with disabilities was being looked after by a young Tanzanian occupational therapist while Clare, the Irish lady who set it up, was home on holiday. The sports hall was packed with teenagers every afternoon and the buzz of activity around “Pallotti” is still there. The local people are now taking leadership of the projects themselves.

re6The new Church, built to hold 1,400 people, will be handed over to the parish for the Easter services… a credit to the locals who provided a lot of the cost through their weekly contributions. What a success story for all involved!
Fr. Noel O’Connor asked me to visit a family on his behalf to find out how they are getting on. There are seven children in the family and Fr. Noel is trying to support them by raising funds to send them to school. They lived in the changing rooms on a football field in Esso for a long time, but now they have a small plot of land in another parish and live in a wooden house – with absolutely no flooring, just mud – and the interior dividing walls are made from sheets of cardboard. They are gradually buying materials to build a brick house. The children are all doing very well in school. Their father is now working on a building site and the eldest son has found work installing solar panels. They are very happy and healthy, and each one proudly recorded a video greeting in English for me to show to Fr. Noel when I got home. I visited Fr. Mike in Malambo, an outstation of Loliondo parish. There are several outstations all around the hills and mountains of Malambo, which Fr. Mike tries to visit as often as possible. The landscape is outstanding and the peace and quiet was astounding! Fr. Mike says Malambo is “Africa’s best kept secret”.

re1One Sunday, Fr. Mike said Mass in Piaya. In this rural area the community only sees a priest two or three times a year. There are no tarmac roads and it is a three-hour drive away. In Piaya we visited the home of the parish chairman who had died tragically two weeks previously (Christmas week) leaving nine children behind, the youngest being only two years old.

When we arrived, his widow welcomed us and had already prepared refreshments. She was a truly beautiful lady and an inspiration. Her attitude was to get on with things for the sake of her children. There were a lot of other children around that day and also a catechist who had been in Piaya to prepare them for the sacraments. Fr. Mike heard confessions before Mass; and during Mass there were baptisms, first communions and confirmations.

After the long Mass, we were invited back to the house where a feast had been prepared for everyone in celebration of all the sacraments received that day. On the journey home we were joined by an old Maasai man and two young boys. There are only a handful of cars in the area, so if there is the opportunity of a lift somewhere, the people will take it. The boys were on their way to a government-run boarding school for hundreds of Maasai children, and without a lift they would have to walk for two days through wide open land with lots of wild animals. re2

The school year begins in January, so driving around the area at that time we saw children either running after a car asking for a lift, or running in the other direction if they thought it was a government car sent to take them to school! But some parents don’t send their children to school as they are needed at home to look after the cattle.
On that Sunday, our youngest passenger, who was about eight years old, had car sickness… and there was nothing we could do only keep on driving; we were in the middle of nowhere. Fr. Mike had arranged a meeting at another outstation on the way home as he was planning a seminar and wanted to personally invite the young people. While the meeting took place under a tree with the men of the village, the women took the sick little boy and washed him and his clothes, and by the time we left a half an hour later, the car was clean, the child was clean, his clothes were dry and the women had wrapped a plastic sick bag around his ears before allowing him back into the car again, the poor little guy!

We returned to the same village later in the week for their first catechism class. It had rained the night before, so the people who had requested the classes were out in the fields looking after their crops. We waited around for them for over an hour (no hurry in Africa). In their first class they learned how to make the sign of the cross. Then Fr. Mike spoke to the surprisingly large gathering of men, women and children.

He held up a bottle of water and explained how it would be blessed and then he would sprinkle it over them and they would be blessed. The sign of the cross and holy water: two things I take for granted every day, these people were only learning now, in the year 2014! Fr. Mike told them that he would be back again soon to bless their houses (mud huts) and their animals, and they were very happy. An elderly woman jokingly asked if she could attend the seminar for the youth: she must have been eighty years old… and she was only just learning how to make the sign of the cross! One day in Malambo we visited a woman Fr. Mike had met a few times before. She had been working in the field one day when a dust storm came and lifted her into the air with such force that when she landed she was paralysed. Now she was sitting outside on a bucket in the shade with her three toddlers playing beside her. Fr. Mike said it was the first time he had seen her sitting; she was usually in so much pain she had to lie flat on the ground. There was also a very beautiful, quiet and shy teenage girl. They all lived in a tiny mud hut, but a strong wind had blown the roof off it. Fr. Mike told her that he was making arrangements to build a small two-bedroomed house for her and her family – it would be made from brick and would have windows and doors. (At a cost of about one thousand Euro). The woman was stunned by this news: she was speechless. As we walked away Fr. Mike said “If anyone deserves a break in life, it’s that woman”.

re5I must mention the child who was born while I was there – whose father I had met a few days before he had died of cancer a week earlier and whose mother had died as she gave birth to him. That little boy will be raised by his relations now and I have no doubt he will be happy, but I can’t help but feel sad for him.

I could write a hundred stories about how difficult life is for the people, but I would also have to say how unbelievably happy they are despite all the hardships and poverty they face every day. And I have to take this opportunity to say a sincere “Thank You” to all who have donated towards the work of the Pallottines in Tanzania. Your donations really do go a very long way.