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 connected 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.
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 Patricia, 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 of 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 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.