Sojourn in Africa

In this month’s blog article, I thought I would depart from the norm and share with you about the recent travels of one of our fellows.

Peter Gardiner, CP, is a member of the Passionist’s JPIC Committee for the Holy Spirit Province of Australia, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea. On our behalf he has led immersion experiences in Vietnam, where he has taken students and others connectedMVC-003F with our parishes over to Vietnam to volunteer to work at the Phu Mi Orphanage, caring for disabled children. He has just returned back to Australia from a couple of months ‘Jubilee Sabbatical.” In fact, instead of a holiday, Peter visited some of the most challenging of our Passionist mission areas and ministries in Africa. Our hope is that we can set up similar immersion experiences that allow people from Australia to work with and experience these ministries that are closely related to our Order’s charism.

Peter writes:

I would like to thank those Passionists who made it possible for me to undertake my Jubilee pilgrimage to Africa.

The first two weeks were spent in Leratong Hospice, Pretoria, South Africa. Leratong, which means “The Place of Love,” was founded by Kieran Creagh CP. It is an impressive place. There are beds for 8 men and 8 women, all of whom are dying. It treats mostly people dying of AIDS, but does take others who are terminally ill. In the two weeks I was there, three patients died.

The staff were incredible. They were a marvelously selfless group of people. A comment I heard time and time again, was that they were there, “because they loved people.” The obvious affection they had for their patients, far beyond just caring for them, was an inspiration.

The patients themselves, particularly the women, had horrifying stories of abuse, drugs, and survival by whatever means. Yet there was an incredible faith in them, a steadfastness in the face of their struggles. One morning, I was doing the rounds with Male-Aids-patient-in-a-ho-007Patricia, one of the social workers, and who herself had buried her son last Christmas. We formed a circle to pray with some of the young woman in prayer. One girl, Rose, said to me, “I want to hold your hand, I may be cured”. I said, “if I could cure you, I would, don’t worry about that”. “I don’t worry”, she said.

Whilst in South Africa, I visited Robben Island, which was on my bucket list. Robben Island was the place of internment for nearly all the anti-Apartheid leaders. Nelson Mandela was there for most of his 27 years in prison. We were given a talk by a former political prisoner, which I found incredibly moving. As well as talking about his internment, he spoke of being
 asked to come back and work at
the museum. What he wasn’t told
was that former guards would also 
be part of the museum. He spoke 
movingly dsc7894of the power of
 forgiveness. One of the fellow 
tourists mentioned that she was in 
England at the time of the struggle 
against Apartheid, and mentioned 
that she was a part of a protest that
would pick out South African 
products from the shelves, and leave them unpaid at the checkout. She asked if those protests made any difference. The former prisoner replied that while he couldn’t remember that particular protest, it gave him and the other prisoners great heart and hope as they heard of various protests around the world. All of which eventually led to the dismantling of Apartheid.

From there I moved to Tanzania, and spend much of my time visiting many of the ministries and stations of the Passionist Mission. One of the issues facing the Passionists in Africa is the hope to be raised to a Vice Province in 2015, so they are busy working towards self-reliance. Their ministries rarely financially support their communities, so there are always farms, projects etc to help get that financial independence.

I visited Zanzibar, a mostly Muslim inhabited
 island, off the coast of Dar Es Salaam. Back
in the day, this was a major centre of the
 Slave Trade, particularly to the Middle East 
and Asia. It had a pretty brutal history. On the
 site of the old slave market, the Anglican
sam_0232 Church has built the Cathedral Church of
 Christ. The altar marks the spot of the 
previous whipping tree. The slaves were
 whipped to show their strength – those that did
 not cry earned a higher price. If babies cried
 at any time, the children were thrown down a well to drown. This would encourage other mothers to keep their babies under control. The baptismal font was built over the old well, as a sign of the new life of Christ.

The hospitality of the Passionists in Tanzania and Kenya was exceptional. They were incredibly welcoming and couldn’t do enough for me. It was a spirit of welcome that I found so much part of my time there

In Kenya, I managed to get some down time, and attend a world cup qualifier, Kenya V Nigeria. The result wasn’t what I expected, but as I walked past fellow spectators going in, many of them thanked the “Msungu” (white man) for getting behind the local team.

In South Africa and Tanzania, I attended weddings, at which I knew absolutely no one, except the person who invited me. I was the only white person at both of them. It mattered not a bit. People went out of their way to make me feel at home, to help me do the various dances, and to feel part of it. I asked myself many times, if this were the opposite situation, in Australia, would we make people as welcome as that. I felt ashamed in thinking, No.

The news we get out of Africa is mostly murders, robberies, kidnappings, coups, etc. I could not have found a group of people who made me more welcome to their land. To walk with the ordinary citizens of a land, from which we have all sprung, was an incredible experience.

It was an absolute privilege.

I would like to especially thank Denis Travers CP, who helped organize the places to visit, and was spoken of often as a great friend to the Passionists of Africa. Charles Merceica CP was also very fondly remembered by many Passionists. I would lastly like to Tom McDonough CP, who, to my eternal gratitude, wrote off my budget excesses.

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About Passionist JPIC Australia

I am a priest with the Passionist Congregation and a part of our Australian Province which includes Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea and Vietnam. I have been ordained since December of 1992. I was born in the Philippines, though am from Spanish decent. I came to Australia in 1972 with my family when I was 11 years old, and we settled in Brisbane. That is where I did the rest of my growing up. On completing high school, I went to Queensland University where I studied for 4 years, completing a B.Sc. with a major in Microbiology. The following year I decided to enter into the Passionist Congregation to study for the priesthood. I trained for 9 years, and have been a priest for 25 years. In my time as a priest I have been Director of the Passionist Family Group Movement in Victoria, Tasmania and Queensland; conducted over 400 Parish Missions all around Australia and New Zealand, but particularly in Victoria and Western Australia; worked in adult faith education, Sacramental preparation for children and parents; Hospital chaplaincy; High school chaplaincy, in-services and retreats. In the year 200 I became engaged in developing young adult retreat teams and training them to carry on our high school retreat programs. I am also chair of our Province’s committee for Justice, Peace and the Integrity of Creation (JPIC). I am also a member of ACRATH (Australian Catholic Religious Against Trafficking in Humans).
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