Wednesday, 31 May 2017

Salesian Rectors' Manual (history)

Some excerpts from a discussion with Fr Barro Erra Giovani, one of those closely involved in the formulation of the first edition of the Rector's manual which was published in 1986.

Paul Natali was the main brain and hand behind it.


  • Ongoing formation a new emerging topic of discussion.   How to go ahead in the light of the resistance of confreres to take part in the ongoing formation, was one of the highly discussed issue. 
  • With whom does the rector work? (concept of the community) Issue of the numerical consistency of the community ... A survey done then showed that half of the congregation had only 3 or less confreres.  In such communities, religious life was lived as ideal.  (So among them they agreed that one practices poverty, one obedience and one chastity).
  • The question of work. The intricate connection between consecration and mission. 

Contextual challenges for today:

  • Multi-cultural context of the present times.
  • Pope Francis' insistence on the spirituality of communion ... different from merely living in a community (The 80's had hardly any discussion on communion, it was only on community).

Salesian Brothers as Rectors?

  • Volume of 600 pages on the issue of Salesian Brothers being Rectors of communities... Brs were asked, Holy See was approached, professors at UPS were consulted, Ricceri was the RM.  Later, Fr Vigano published the manual and also made an intervention on the Salesian Brother being a rector... highly theological.

Your suggestion for the revision team:

  • I was more as a confrere than as a rector... but if there is one thing I must say, I insist on the numerical consistency of the community and relationship between the confreres.  Today there is individualism in the community.  Young confreres soon pick up a very fractured idea of community, from their apostolate... each confrere working in his own sector and meeting the community only at meals.  Take a look at the new document on religious life, 'New wine in new wineskins'. 

About 12 members in the drafting committee. Formation department surely had Fr Brocardo.
Duration: done quite fast, near a year after the release of the ratio

Reaction of the confreres to the manual:

  • Well received, in general but also some commented that it was too lengthy... generally accepted because it was new, there was nothing like it before.

Tuesday, 30 May 2017

Person or document?

When in a dire situation and would like some help, to whom or to what will I turn to?  A document or a person whom I trust?  I'd surely turn to the latter.  Perhaps in leisure when nothing else to do, then I'd like to flip through a document.

Even when I do turn to a person, who would that be?  certainly not any random person.  It will be someone whom I trust, perhaps someone who's been through such a situation and I've known him or her to have handled it well.  What will certainly count is my rapport with him and the amount of trust I have in that person.

Contrary to my own present state of conviction, perhaps there will come a time when a document will  be formulated from the collective experience of those who've been through situations, and based on their suggestions and recommendations.  But how effective will that be?  ... the same as personal experience enriched sharing/learning?

But again, that is in time of 'crisis'.  

Whose need?

The ongoing work of the revision of the Rector's manual is raising more questions than answering existing questions - at least for me!

The most important and persistent of all: whose need is the manual: of confreres (those appointed/would-be rectors) or the formation department?

The primary reason for this question that keeps propping up in my mind is what 'different' are we going to say than what is already enumerated in the Constitutions, Regulations, Ratio and the million and one directives that keep being churned out of the Generalate and the Provincial offices?

Secondly, most confreres (at least those whom I've come across) have never really used the existing edition!  Some are happily ignorant even of the existence of one such book!!  Therefore, if it is out of the genuine felt need of confreres then it will be of great help.  If not, it will be one of the many books collecting dust in our archives and bookshelves. And all this effort, time, resources and personnel spent on this endeavour... huh? 

Being a rector

During our small 'English speaking' group discussion on the person and formation of the Rector, I spoke aloud my mind to ask,
What is the "extra/more" expected of a Rector?  What is it that a rector is expected to have, that which his confreres do not?  
I believe that the formation of a rector does not begin just when he is appointed a rector.  At present most often what happens is that when there is a 'hunt' for a person to be appointed as rector of a particular house, the search for a person who has 'escaped' the regular rut of formation and somehow 'got himself ready'.  Once appointed, he is expected to swim, paddle or whatever.  He is on his own.

The rector is formed, nurtured right from the initial formation stage.  Now that has implications for our whole formation strategy.  Only then do we have a pool - sufficiently large and wide, and most importantly deep enough - to pick from, to be appointed as Rector.  His state can then be supplemented with additional help, but not without the basic foundation which every confrere already has!  Otherwise, we will have 'superb' rectors and mediocre confreres... a sure recipe for community hell!  Just as the other way round (superb confreres and monstrous rectors) is no better!

It was then pointed out that it is not a matter of 'more' that a rector ought to have!  One way of looking at it is as the rector a person and rector a service.  The former is more about the personality, the latter is what has a term of office.  It was then pointed out that in this case, the phrase 'He acts like a rector, even though he is no more in office' should be a good thing.  But in our present situation, that is spoken of negatively.  

The spectrawide Salesian community

Listening and getting a vibe of the various experiences of confreres from around the world, and most importantly having lived in a typical European Salesian community, I'm getting a feel of the spectra-wide diversity of the word 'Salesian community'.

Back in India, Salesian community meant all the confreres living and working together in a particular place.  Those 'attached communities' would always be taunted for being 'away'!  Someone working 'outside' the community, meaning in an activity wherein not the whole community is involved, is always frowned upon.

The situation of Great Britain and that of North America is more or less similar.  Salesians working individually in different parts of the city/town, sometimes in structures that are not of the Salesians at all.  Even if the institution they work in is a Salesian, the Salesians themselves have no real say in its administration!  Then there is the whole gamut of other possible 'communities' in Argentina, Germany, Ecuador where there is no Salesian at all.  Neither is it 'attached' to any Salesian community.  The Provincial is directly in-charge!!

What brings us to take cognizance of this situation is the work we are presently at: revision of the Rector's manual.  As it is there are numerous troubles with the concept of the rector of the 'traditional' (all in one place) communities.  Add to that the emerging scenario of Salesians working individually, in different places, sometimes in places not even owned by Salesians.

How does one draw up a manual for the Rector in such diverse contexts?  If it is too generic, it does not serve the purpose.  It cannot be specific because the contexts and situations are not homogeneous. 

Lingua Italiano

This is the first time that I'm attending a meeting which is predominantly in Italian. Of the 22 participants, we are four of us who are totally ignorant of Italian.  A couple of others can understand Italian, but prefer English; some are fluent in both.  Most speak Italian and of those some even Spanish.  So we are divided into three groups, based on language of preference: Italian, Spanish and English.

Since most of the presentations and discussions are in Italian, there is a confrere translating for us. Again a first for me in the use of the translation equipment. I do get what is being discussed but still don't feel part of the group.  But the whole exercise is interesting.

Then in the community, (this is the General headquarters!!) everyone speaks Italian.  So after we help ourselves from the buffet table we look out for for the 'English speaking' tables!  If my stay were any longer than a week I'd have preferred not to sit at the 'English' table, but for now have to!  Last night Fr Ivo led me to the table to sit with the Rector Major.  Gosh, it was weird.  He does not speak English and I knew not a word of Spanish! So he was busy conversing in Spanish with some, I focussed on my plate!   

Raised... but what?

Profile message on Whatsapp of a recently ordained priest:
He died for us... he raised for us.. let us look out dying and raising on this day.. we too shall raise. 
It certainly "raised" my spirit! 

Monday, 29 May 2017

At Pisana, Rome

Reached our Generalate (international headquarters) in Rome last night for a workshop/seminar on the revision of the Manual of the Salesian Rector.  My first impressions of the house itself:

  • The first thing that struck me was the simplicity of the house.  The building is old but in the name of modernising it they have not made it posh!  It certainly has a very rustic feel about it.  No frills, no extravagance!  
  • The Chapel is very beautiful.  Perhaps the only place that looks 'rich'.  Rooms are frugal and functional.  Reminded me very much of our guest rooms back in India. 
  • The dining hall is just tables and chairs, a TV set.  That's it!  The community room has some drinks and snacks, with expresso machines for coffee and tea.  Again, nothing extravagant or posh. 
  • The room tags on the keys are hand written and simple ordinary plastic tags. 
  • The building itself is old and has several patches and sections broken and needed repair, but nothing needing desperate reconstruction... and therefore a typical house, in use.  

I know not to whom should the credit of it all go to:  of keeping the standard of the house functional and neat rather than posh and elegant... personally, I found it a very good balance of the poor and rich parts of the congregation!

A decent km drive around the building

Found several peacocks... am told there are white ones too.
This particular one walked straight into the foyer. 

Chapel (from the adjoining terrace)

Saturday, 27 May 2017

Confreres at Farnborough (May 2017)

Before I forget I would like to record the names of the confreres with whom I spent the last week making my retreat at St John Bosco House, Farnborough.  Most of those there were elderly Salesians and God alone knows the great things they've done in their long and fruitful life.  I feel greatly privileged to have met them and spent the past one week with them...
  • Fr Brendan McGuiness (I'm told he is a very good musician but suddenly a few years ago gave it up totally! There's the music block of the school named after him... presently he is the eldest of those present at Farnborough 89 years old... and he still drives!)
  • Fr Peter Burns (He is 88 or so.  Two months before his ordination he was asked by his provincial if he could go to Ecuador as a missionary. He agreed.  The Bishop of the place came to pick him up at the airport and on their way, Fr Peter was told that he'd be the headmaster of a school!  He knew not a single word of Spanish and he was to manage a whole school.   However, he soon learnt the most basic single words and managed.  He still remembers a sentence he learnt in full Spanish, that he says solved most of the problems with the children.  It meant, 'You are here to study. Your primary duty is to study.  That's what you should focus on.'  
  • Fr Peter Quinn (He has this unique style of asking you a number of questions.  He keeps asking, at his own slow pace, one question after another... Am told he was in Japan for four years teaching English.  He can also speak Spanish, I'm told). 
  • Fr Des O'Riodon (He is the rector, 3rd term!  I had a long chat with him one evening.  Or rather, he was talking and I was listening.  He shared of his great experience travelling from Bangalore to Trichy province and all that Fr Arul Maran does and did with his help.  His association with the 'Little way' that financially assists some projects in India and all that! )
  • Fr Dan Donahoe (He is our regular confessor here at Chertsey.  We invite him on days of our monthly recollection to assist us with our confessions.  Presently he is the vice-rector.  He and Br Joe Adams would not let any opportunity go by to pull each others legs!) 
  • Br Michael Delmer (He was the headteacher at Farnborough for many years. The central administrative building in the school is named after him.  He uses crutches to walk. But practically everyday after supper he takes a long walk outside the campus.  For the feastday meal of Mary help of Christians, he prepared an elegant menu card and a small greeting card for each one of the community members: each card had a different image of Mother Mary and the name of the person printed on it!) 
  • Fr Aidan Murray (He and I were the only ones who had come from outside the community to participate in the retreat. He is the parish priest at Glouchester and he and Fr Sean are great friends.  Every weekend Fr Sean drives up to his place and assists for Masses... that's almost 200 miles round trip!) 
  • Br Joe Adams (He is the manager of the house and practically runs the place.  More than his administrative skills, it is his relational skills that make him have an equation with all, no matter what the age, or the idiosyncrasy!  He was the one of the chief planners of that house for the elderly Salesians) 
  • Fr Andrew Ibrahim (He is on a sabbatical. He was the rector of Chertsey till last year.  Next year he is appointed as the head of RE at our school in Battersea.  He is partly of an Indian origin.  He is renown for his work for the street children work in Kolkata province. In fact he spent almost 6 months of this year in Kolkata.  Every year he takes a batch of students for an experience of the life in the street childrens' home in Kolkata) 
  • Fr Hugh Preston (He was our retreat preacher.  Every talk was prepared and printed, word for word.  But he never read it. He knew it all.  He could have very well taken this whole retreat very lightly, after all he was preaching to confreres, most of whom were the age of his father!  Moreover, for most of his talks, which were only two - one in the morning and the other was during the Mass - some of the elderly Salesians were sleeping!  But he did not mind it one bit.  He was thorough with his task.  He is the twin brother of Fr Francis Preston, one of the former provincials of this Province)

 There were a couple of others who did not join for the retreat but it was great meeting them too, mostly during meals.  Fr Pat Sherlock (the school chaplain and one who was the Province secretary for 10 years and has a knack for computers and database programming), Fr Ivor Netto (he was once the Chaplain of 5 colleges under the university of London) and Fr Jim Gallagher (he had a strong accent and others would pull his leg for it, but he was not one who would easily let the others have him!  He had a hip operation and is feeling much better).

Friday, 26 May 2017

Untapped energy

UK recorded the highest production of power from solar energy today (May 26, 2017) at about 8.7 gigawatts.  According to the National Grid office, it amounts to 24.3% of the total production/demand.  Of course, yesterday and today were quite sunny and warm day, by any comparison of British weather - even summer schedule!  And what was the maximum temperature of the day? 28 c.

The country's power generation sources and their percentage:
Alongside the contribution from solar, 23% of power came from nuclear sources, 30% from natural gas and just 1.4% from coal. 
Read the news article here.

While reading it I was wondering, with all the light and heat that literally scorches India around this time of the year, we could easily power the whole world!!  Yet we are unable to tap this renewable natural source of energy!  

The spirits!

Close to Moorgate station and adjacent to Finsbury square came across this street corner where the two spirits meet: the Holy Spirit and alcohol!  Wilson street chapel and adjacent to it, immediate neighbour, is 'The Living Horse' pub!

No guesses for which is most in demand... especially on a hot British summer afternoon!

London roads, boats and walls

A couple of photos of London...
near Finsbury square... that structure is a hotel.  Forgot the name of it.
 Right at the top of that tower is a statue!
 Wandering around I reached a 'familiar' place... realised it is near the Southwark Cathedral and this boat is on display... again the place was so crowded with people drinking beer and what not, that couldn't get anywhere near the description board!

This is the part of the wall of the ancient city built by the Romans... very close to the Southwark cathedral, near the London bridge.  As part of Londinium (city built by the Romans in 43 AD), it has been standing for nearly 2000 years!! Must have been real architects to have built such structures!!

Thirsty people!

Finished my retreat this afternoon and returned home. Left immediately for London to collect my passport and visa to Italy. Got it!  Will be flying to Rome on Sunday...

Took the time I had after collecting the passport and visa (since I had a travel card which permitted certain routes only after a particular time) I hopped onto a couple of buses and underground trains - just for the heck of it.

Very many places there were so many people gathered and then I realised those were pubs!!  Being the hottest day of this season so far, there were so many of them that practically everyone in the double-decker bus got their mobile phones and cameras out and were clicking away photos of the crowds!! Literally crowds of them... very thirsty people, I guess!

Chrysostom on the Eucharist and the other

Two significant quotes of John Chrysostom that I heard today:
Would you like to honor the body of Christ you receive in the Eucharist? Do not despise the poor when you see him clothed in rags... He who said 'this is my body', has said also 'You have seen me hungry and you did not give me to eat! Whatever you have refused to do for any of these little ones, you have refused it to me also!
What good is it if the Eucharistic table is overloaded with golden chalices when your brother is dying of hunger. Start by satisfying his hunger and then with what is left you may adorn the altar as well.

Eucharist and ourselves

Fr Hugh offered some reasons why we only have a small piece of bread and only a sip of bread, rather than a whole loaf of bread and a cup full of wine.  He gave two reasons:

  1. That we are called to play a small role in the building of the Kingdom of God.  It is not that we are the sole builders or the total responsibility rests on our shoulders.  But in our capacity we do our bit.  The little that we partake of the bread and wine during the Eucharist is a symbol of that 'bit'. 
  2. This Eucharistic meal is only a foretaste of the heavenly 'real' banquet awaiting us in heaven. 

Was all the time thinking, what if the Church had adopted the 'open field' Eucharist rather than the 'upper room' Eucharist?  Would these reasons still hold? 

Thursday, 25 May 2017

Cody Museum, Farnborough

Just close to the Salesian house on the main road of Farnborough is the Cody Aircraft museum. Only this afternoon did I come to know that Farnborough has an airport.  However, it is not publicly commercial and mainly operates private flights and small aircrafts.  But I'm told there are some Boeing 737s too flying from here.

This evening took a walk near the airport.  The museum is open only on weekends.  But a couple of old aircrafts and helicopters are on display out in the open.

On a side note, a typical English tradition: all transportation means are always out in the open!  Practically every house has a garage but it is used mostly as a dumping ground.  Cars and bikes are always parked out in the open.  Wonder how do these vehicles remain rust free?  

Salesian presence, Farnborough

Some photos of the Farnborough Salesian house...
This one is the school building and the new block under construction
 This is the existing school building edifice/entrance
 The St John Bosco House, the main community residence which has the chapel, dining hall, treatment room for the elderly
 The Valdocco house, where some of the conferes reside, right at the entrance facing the road.

St Bede's and the English

Realized that today is the feast of St Bede.  During his homily Fr Hugh Preston stated that he was one who straddled the 7 and 8th century.  Interestingly he lived his whole religious life in only two monasteries.  That too, which were not more than 10 miles away from the other.  So in all his life he would have travelled not more than 40-50 miles!! (At this point some of the confreres were looking at one another and there was a round of laughter in the whole Chapel... for some today travel that distance everyday!).

However, what I remembered as I heard of this saint was that one Salesian house in Chennai province is named after St Bede's.  And then it struck me, that it was the school for the Anglo-Indian boys!  So naturally whoever started that house was most probably a Britisher!

You never know how and where you see connections! 

Wednesday, 24 May 2017

First of the Last

Today for the first time I received the sacrament of the anointing of the sick.  Well, not that I am sick or gravely ill but that it is the custom of the house here, (meant for the elderly confreres) to have the sacrament of healing during the retreat.  So in the evening before the service the preacher, Fr Hugh Preston asked me, "Surely, Vincent you would not like to be receiving this sacrament?"  I replied, "Why not? If everyone is, then I'd be happy to receive the blessing too!"  So it was... and hope it will do me good to get rid of some illnesses!

On the same note, am reminded of the little boy in the catechism class who was asked by the teacher, as to how many sacraments are there, and he replied, 'None'.  The teacher said, "What?" The boy was quick to explain, "My grandma had the last one!" 

Sean Devereux, Farnborough and Chertsey

This morning Fr Pat Sherlock showed me around the school here at Farnborough and while visiting the dining hall of the students did I come to know that Sean Devereux, was indeed a pupil of this school from 1975-1982.  The following painting done by one of the teachers and presently displayed in the dining hall triggered the discussion and my enlightenment.
Not only that he later was a PET at the Salesian school in Chertsey for two years!!  That was before he went as a volunteer to Africa and later was killed while in Somalia, while working for UNICEF.

Br Michael Delmer has authored a book on him... most probably he was a student while Br Michael was the head teacher here.

Surprisingly did not come up with anything related to Sean Devereux on the international Salesian website.  The digital library of course has some interesting matter. Check it out here

Feastday at Farnborough

Had a very sober feastday celebrations of Mary Help of Christians at Farnborough.  A Mass (part of the retreat) in the afternoon and a solemn supper in the evening.  Don't remember a boisterous celebration of this feast except when away from the formation houses!!  Being holidays there is hardly anyone at home this time of the year.  The only place where it would be a busy day was in the Provincial house.  That's mainly because of the perpetual profession in the evening and the first professions at Manoharabad in the morning.

The evening supper table was well laid out with name cards and a menu card too. Am told that it was all the doing of Br Michael Delmer, the former headteacher here at Farnborough. He also added a couple of old photos of Pallaskenry, Ireland, (the former aspirantate of the Salesians) and of Farnborogh itself.

Crucifix (Farnborough)

Along the corridors and common rooms of the Salesian house here in Farnborough, there are several lovely paintings and works of art.  This particular crucifix outside the Chapel has somehow been catching my eye, every time I pass that corner.  

Mary, the pamperer

Today as we celebrate the feast of Mary Help of Christians, I was reflecting on the role of Mother Mary in the life of Don Bosco and the Salesians.  She actually has been a great pamperer of the Salesians, beginning with Don Bosco!!  There is hardly anything that Don Bosco wanted Her to do, She did not do.  The same down the ages.

In a way I think it is from her own attitude that she receives such 'do it' commands and she 'obeys'.  Take the instance at the wedding feast in Cana.  "They have no wine."  Unmindful of what Jesus responds, she tells the servants, "Do what he tells you!"  No big discussion or convincing him that He ought to do something.  No motivational speeches.  Just a statement and then a direct order!

You reap what you sow!

Happy feast!


This morning Fr Pat Sherlock was very kind and gracious to show me around the school here at Farnborough. Though the exams were on, he showed me most of the places and possible activities the children are involved with.

As before, it amazes me the numerous possibilities and opportunities the children here in UK, have in school.  The variety of options, courses, labs, extra-curricular activities, and the great support system especially for those not so gifted or even challenged.  If only those of us in India had even half of these opportunities, we'd be the best in the world in no time!  Besides our education system too needs to be more life-oriented than marks-oriented.  Education is mostly reduced to study and results.  Here in UK, marks and result do matter, but they certainly are not the focus.

For one, the class strength is 25 and that too is quite high according to local standards!  Then the syllabus is framed according to their interests so that by the time they reach the sixth form (the last two years in school, which would be equivalent to our intermediate studies) they already choose which particular stream of studies they wish to pursue.  Besides this 'main course', there are the numerous clubs, groups, sodalities, for enhancement of personalities.  There's music (singing, musical instruments), languages, games (indoor and outdoor), art (in so many forms), and of course, prayer and worship too.

Well stacked and used libraries, computer labs, maintenance staff, informative and colourful display boards everywhere, a separate department and a building for each subject, highly organised and well-thought out schedule ... make it look like an educational paradise.  

Holy Water and chicken

Last month during the house blessing of our new home, everyone forgot to get the holy water.  So Fr Benny volunteered to bless the water and use it for the service later.  My nephew, Chris saw this whole process of collecting water from the tap and the blessing and the later use of it.  Somehow he got it into him that if he is to drink the holy water he'd be holy and that's the way to become a priest.  Since then he has been drinking 'holy water'.

Roshni was telling me last weekend, asking me to keep a place for him in the Salesian society, but she warned me: the place better have a poultry farm nearby.  "He's not going to survive without chicken on his plate!!"

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Art and representation

The Farnborough house of St John Bosco has some lovely painting along the corridors. Looking at some of them the first thing that came to my mind is how closely they represent that what they show: landscapes, bridges, street view, houses, people… Besides the beautiful and intricate portrayal of the scene, they do 'represent' something. Anyone noticing them can tell that it is not the real street or the bridge or the flower, yet looking at it, one gets an idea of what the real thing looks like. I suppose language also does – or attempts to do – the same. So what exactly does Rorty and his successors like Brandom, Blackburn and Price have a problem with? I thought I understood it all along the past semesters, but now am doubtful!

The difficulty is to arrive at what is called 'truth'. While early expressivists held that there are no truths or falsehoods, some later expressivists (Blackburn and Gibbard) have no problem in acknowledging 'truth-statements' but they would mean, 'that which are agreeable by most' or 'collectively agreed upon'… that there are no causal-explanatory statements which somehow 'get the reality right'. There are others who believe that 'truth' would mean 'as it is'. That the whole function of any language is to 'get the reality right'. Kant would call the thing in and as itself as the noumena, Rorty would call it a 'social construct', others would call it 'metaphysical reality' and religion would openly proclaim it as 'non-material spiritual reality'. Now which of them is right or 'true'?

Enlivening liturgy

This morning's talk of Fr Hugh was about making the Eucharistic liturgy meaningful, especially for young people and children, following the example of Don Bosco himself. I was reminded of my days in Shillong, where occasionally I would be invited to animate groups of the YCS or YSM… all school or college going youngsters. The animation would always conclude with the Holy Mass. I remember ensuring that there was always something that the group had to do during Mass, in continuation of the animation and based on the readings of the Mass. It would be some enactment (of either of the readings) or a particular hymn or some action songs, or special intercessions or some small write-up … children always loved it and remembered those activities where they felt that they were part of the liturgy, not mere passive onlookers.

The danger is to swing to either extreme: be rigid about the rubrics or be creative just for the sake of novelty!

Monday, 22 May 2017

Travel in India

Had a long conversation with Fr Des, the Rector here at Farnborough - well, more of him talking and me listening than a conversation in the real sense!  But was happy to spend time with him.  He was narrating all his experiences during his visit to India, Trichy and Bangalore.

The things that stood out for him, from what I gathered, from his long enthusiastic and excited sharing were, the food, the colours, the hospitality, the warmth of people and orderliness of children in the institutions, and of course, the 'chaotic' traffic and 'crazy' travel!!

Speaking of traffic, I can hardly imagine what it must be for an European to travel by road in India.  Here things are so orderly and patient that travel by any given road in the whole of India would be near fatal for anyone with a heart condition!  

Healthcare for the elderly

Being at Farnborough among the senior Salesians of the Province of Great Britain and seeing some of them struggling to walk, sit, stand and coordinate their movements, am reminded of Br Dennis back in my home province at Guntupalli, Vijayawada.

Here at Farnborough the elderly Salesians have all the necessary facilities for their ailing health and stay. Back in Guntupalli, I wonder if Br Dennis has any of these luxuries or anything at all to ease his aches – except the bottle! However, I don't think Br Dennis would feel the absence of these luxuries, because I know not if he knows that Salesians have 'retirement homes'. Not knowing that there are places is better than knowing that there are places and that one can be therein. Left to me, should there be such places? Perhaps yes, but not cut off from active Salesian apostolate. That way the old tradition of 'no retirement' for Salesians makes great sense.

As for me, I certainly would not wish to end up at this stage! Do all the good I can and then rest in peace, for good!

First day of community meals

After my arrival in England, today was the first time I had all the three meals along with the whole community. Someone at table was fooling me, when I shared this with them: “First time you are having all three meals??”

Back in Chertsey, soon after Mass each one disperses in different directions for their daily work. For lunch, there is only Fr Sean and me at home. It is only for supper that we all gather together. Thus today for the first time, I sat for all three meals with the community, and even though it is retreat time, we talk and chat.

Here, I don't think they appreciate or even encourage silent retreats!

Mass cards

During Don Bosco's time, there were prevalent the custom of Mass cards: something boys or people would use to keep track of their participation in Mass, by getting the priest to endorse the card after the Mass. Don Bosco, somehow never introduced those in the oratory or among his boys. He certainly was far ahead of his times, in recognising that Mass is something you attend out of one's own personal desire to meet the Lord rather than fulfill an obligation. As a boy he was eager to participate in Mass, receive communion, even at the expense of foregoing breakfast. He encouraged the boys to Communion, not by routine clockwork but out of a personal experience of the Eucharistic Lord.

Sunday, 21 May 2017

British Summer

Look at these photos! It is of a park in Farnborough. I went out there for a walk after reaching the Salesian house and meeting the confreres. Of course, nothing too great about the place itself. But guess what time it would be?

It was 08.20 pm!! And there still was bright sunlight!! This is really really very weird for me. The sun being up and about till quarter to nine in the night – and can we still call it night??

At last…

At last got to see the plant AND the flower of a particular variety… at Farnborough. At Chertsey we have the plant but was not sure what kind of flower it would yield. Saw the same plant in only one of the houses in the vicinity but that too was no better than the one I have in our garden. So was not sure what to make of the plant. Coming to Farnborough, I saw this particular plant and it flowering right beside the dining hall.

Then for the first time in my life saw a violet coloured rose!

At Farnborough

Drove down this evening to the St John Bosco house, Farnborough for my retreat. Would be here for the coming week making my retreat. It was a good drive, following my google maps directions. However, in two particular places I was a bit lost. The phone was making me go round and round in the same route! Till I decided to see the larger picture and follow the road signs. From then on, it was fine.

I guess I need to remind myself that relying solely on technology is not good! Have enough and more experiences in life of that!

Organ donors

Last night I stayed up a bit late to receive Sr Mary ____ FMA who was coming to give a talk to the Salesian cooperators today.  While I gave her company during her supper, she narrated some of her most cherished memories of this place, Chertsey.

I knew that this place where we Salesians now have our residence was actually of the Salesian Sisters, but what I did not know was that it was their Provincial house for donkeys years.  For almost 7 to 8 decades this was their Provincial house!!  And Sr Mary recalled that the place where our Chapel is, was their Chapel too but made of tin for many many years ... and it is there that very many of the Sisters made their perpetual profession!!

She remembered with nostalgia, how the early local vocations were sent to New Jersey or other missions in the States, besides India, and Australia to help with the English language.  Somehow the superiors then did not think much of developing the English province.  They were not too sure of getting quality and quantity vocations from a predominantly protestant context!  So those few who joined were sent to build up already established mission centres elsewhere.

Quite a few were sent to the States because the Italian community which the FMAs (themselves Italians) catered to wanted their next generation to be adept not only in Italian but English as well. Hence the need for 'English speaking' Sisters!  

Thursday, 18 May 2017

Community honesty

Among the many good things that I've experienced and come to appreciate in this country, Great Britain, is the community virtue of honesty.  I say a 'community virtue' because it is something that is prevalent among almost all. I suppose I cannot categorically state that everyone is honest.  There always will be exceptions but mostly, everyone tends to be honest about their public transactions.

One distinct example that comes to my mind is the unmanned service stations everywhere in this country.  At no place have I seen petrol pump assistants.  Each driver has to fill the fuel tanks of his or her vehicle by oneself.  And then go in to make the payment!  Now I wonder how many take off without paying.  It's very easy, because there is enough time to flee, even before anyone in the shop realises that someone has fled without paying.  But I've never ever seen anyone leave without going in and making the payment.

Still Sunday?

Anet, my three year old niece, know all too well that all good things come on a Sunday.  She knows that she gets to put on her best clothes on a Sunday; that Sunday is the day we go to Church (not that she is any way devout, yet!); that everyone is at together that day; and most importantly, all family travel, that too by car, is mostly always on a Sunday.  So 'Sunday morning' is a good thing for her!  Everytime they want to tide over a tantrum, they 'postpone' it to 'Sunday morning' and she is more than satisfied - even if that done on a Sunday itself! 

Was gladly reminded of this, while travelling back home from London this evening, as I read the incident of a little girl in the back of a Church during a long boring sermon asking, "Mummy, is it still Sunday?"

Torn jeans

Oh, the number of young people I came across today wearing torn jeans!! Whew!  Not only the number of them, but the literally ragged state of the pants!  I'd seen some students at Royal Holloway and it was fine. But in London, the number of them was way too many to count.

If only Mummy were to see this fashion statement, she'd have never ever got rid of my old jeans.  They way by far, usable for another generation - even after my use!  The jeans that I saw today were so 'torn' that Mummy would think twice to use as a mopping cloth or a doormat!  Such was their state!
Image is from the net!
I would never dare click a photo of any stranger, leave alone in such an attire!

London graffiti

During my previous visits to London too I did notice something that I've not found in these rural parts where I live: graffiti.  As one approaches the city of London, one gets to notice the graffiti all around the place.  I know not if it has been 'upgraded' or acknowledged to be part of street art, but it does have a creative bend to it.

Of course, not all of what is expressed is any way worth mentioning, but the art dimension cannot be neglected.  Perhaps some of it can very well be classified under calligraphy!

History of London city

One of the places I spent a long time today in London was at the Museum of London.  It has a lovely collection of the historical development of the city of London right since early AD, before the Romans invaded the island.  The most interesting facts I gathered from my tour of only part of the museum are the following:

  • London was initially a Roman project (though contested).  It was actually 'Londinium' when it was founded by the invading Romans in 43 AD. 
  • However, the Roman power began to wane, largely due to the Anglo-Saxon attacks, and the Romans finally withdrew in 410 AD.  
  • By 600 AD the Anglo-Saxon's had named it 'Lundenwic' meaning London port.  
  • By 886 AD, King Alfred considered to be the first 'English' West-Saxon king, named it Lundenberg. 
  • It was the Romans who instilled the culture of bath and hygiene among the local population (thanks be to God!). 
  • A model of the 2012 Olympic torch is at display in the museum.  The concept, the design and the whole work behind the same is beautifully displayed in a large hall.  

Well, that was only from the two sections that I really spent time at.  Then there was the plague and civil war era, the later developmental stages and other interesting areas of the museum that I could not make it to! Was too tired and wanted to travel rather than be in the same place (travel card had to be made use of, you see!).

The timeline of the history of London city...
 A model of the theatre house ... the concept and the architecture is worth admiring.
 Part of the London Wall, originally built by the Romans!
 I guess it is the logo of the city of London... looks grand!

Rumour mills

Having met Maria and listened to his continuous rabble (that characteristic he still retains, since our days together in Shillong, 2005-2007), it was good. I gathered he was quite unhappy with his experiences of the past year and no sooner did we meet, he took off!

Anyway, among the many things we chatted about, he narrated a talk going around about me among some confreres back in India.  It completely took me by surprise.  It had all to do with my coming to Britain for studies.  The sum and substance of the talk was that I finally agreed to go abroad for my studies (that part is totally true) but did not want to go to Italy because I did not like Italian (really??).  Hence I was sent to an English speaking country!  Wow!

Anyway, one consolation is that Maria now knows the fact.  Those holding the mistaken opinion about my being in England will soon know... should thank Maria, in anticipation! 

Travelling around London

Had a very lovely day in London today.  Basically had to go for an interview at the VFS centre for procuring a visa for my trip to Rome, later this month.  I also thought of taking this chance to meet Br Maria (from Chennai Province) who is in London for a visit to his relatives.  We met at East Croydon, had a tasty south Indian thali lunch at one of the hotels and then almost missed my appointment at the VFS centre.  Had to literally run to and from the stations and in between to change trains and the tube!  Not in the past two years would I have run so fast and continuously for almost 20 minutes, twice!  My thighs and calf muscles are aching like hell now.

Anyway, did make it, although a bit late at the visa centre.  Submitted the form and the needed documents.  Had a little bit of trouble explaining why there was no attached bank statement! What was more ridiculous was that they were asking for the bank statement of the 'Salesians of Don Bosco' (the one who invited me) of Rome!!  After a long explanation and then some discussion among themselves they accepted the application.  Hope everything goes on well at the embassy and they grant me the visa in time (by next Friday!).

Another adventure was the maiden use of a travel card.  Wanted to make the most of it, so after the interview boarded the first bus that I saw, travelled till its terminal.  From there took the tube to another station, and ultimately reached back home after changing some 6 trains and visiting a couple of large railway stations.  Besides it was raining and hence no fun in visiting places!

Here are some of the pics...
This is the Finsbury Square Garden just adjacent to the VFS centre.  Beyond the flowers, is a beautiful lawn!  It was nice to see such open green space in the heart of the city.  Everywhere else there was construction going on!
 Here's one of the buildings near the Moorgate station and the combination of the plants and the purple flowers was too good to miss.  It really looked much more beautiful in real... all around the building.
 The Liverpool State station... quite large and with such high ceiling, that too transparent.  Both ends of the lobby have the same design.

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Health and safety गया तेल लाने!

Last weekend talking to an elderly couple from the parish, time and again I was reminded of the freak 'health and safety' syndrome of the West.  Here any and every work has to follow the 'health and safety' guidelines.

The couple I was having a conversation with were narrating of their scary experience while visiting Thailand.  They were having a jumbo safari.  They were seated on top of the elephant, on a sort of platform with a short railing (10 inches tall) that too on just three sides.  At one point the elephant was walking downhill.  They recalled that terrifying experience of falling off the elephant! Even while recalling and narrating the event, the gentleman was quite visibly anxious.  A while later, they themselves pointed out how some people in India travel sitting on top of the trains.  I said, though not very often, people do sit on lorries and buses, leave alone ride buffaloes, donkeys and horses without any safety gear.

Here in UK, practically every house has to have the inspection every year, the insurance taken, safety measures (smoke alarm, motion detectors, burglar alarm, fire extinguishers... just to name a few) installed and regularly maintained - meaning paid for.  A couple of tiles from our rooftop seem to have shifted.  When I volunteered to see and if possible do the necessary repairs, I was strictly told by the confreres not to even think of it.  The expert had to be called in, they chorused.  (However, after a couple of days, the Rector, relented, but let me do it only under his supervision.  I completed the job in 10 mins!)  While travelling, every person in the vehicle is to put on the seat belt.  Even if one passenger does not, some of the modern vehicles start beeping! Even to ride a bicycle one ought to wear a helmet, have a front light, a rear red light, and if possible wear a fluorescent jacket!  Most construction workers look like astronauts!

Living in places like India with all its challenges and hardships, actually makes us stronger and more courageous.  We take risks quite sportively - hardly considering them as risks at all.  Those Europeans who dare, call it adventure!  But for most of us coming from developing countries it is ordinary living!

'Health and safety' गया तेल लाने!

Vine and embers

Fr Sean narrated an interesting analogy of the gospel about vine and the branches, using a story.

There was a Jewish woman who had stopped going to the synagogue.  After a few days of her continued absence, the Rabbi visited her at her home.  When invited inside, both of them silently sat at the fireplace for a long time.  After a while, the Rabbi picked up a tong and from the burning fire picked out a burning ember and placed it outside the fireplace on the stone floor.  At first the ember glowed brightly because there was nothing else around it so bright.  However, after a while it began to fade out and soon died out.  The fire from which it was pulled out continued to burn with intensity.

Our christian faith has a strong communitarian dimension. While each one is exhorted to deepen one's own spiritual life, the witness that we live out is primarily as a faith community.  Besides the witness value, the community also offers each one a supporting and encouraging presence.  All the more true of a religious community!

Missionary zeal

The apostles and early disciples of Jesus were truly a brave lot.  They traveled extensively, often to far off unknown places, encountering a totally different culture, language and people, carrying with them and witnessing a 'strange' doctrine.  They were often misunderstood, looked upon with suspicion, treated with prejudice, imprisoned, tortured, mocked at and also sometimes accepted.

And as if these 'extrinsic' factors which were well beyond their area of influence or even grasp, were not sufficient, the inner turmoil of those already professing allegiance to Christ and His gospel... and the church.  The Greek widows complaining of them being neglected in the rationing of alms.  The Pharisees challenging the entry of pagans into the christian faith, asking them to be circumcised and adhering to the Law of Moses as pre-requisites.  The dissensions and betrayals of those claiming to be close collaborators.

Then, I suppose, they also had their own inner demons to fight. Personal anxieties and tensions, likes and dislikes that constantly found themselves pitted against that what they preached, their own fledgling faith...

Truly, if they did all that they did, that too with such passion and zeal, as is evident in what history stands witness to, then how strong and deep was their conviction of their love for Jesus.

Costly laugh

One of the news headlines of today reads:
Diamond earrings sell for world record $57.4m

Whew!  What a price!  I wonder if anyone wearing them would be easily identified as wearing that 'world record' earrings?  So the one wearing it should either go around telling everyone that the earrings cost so much or must carry around their neck a placard stating the price of the worn earrings.  And once others would know the price, I doubt if anyone would anymore be interested in looking at the face of the bearer of those earrings - all they'd be trying to do is figure out what's so special about those earrings.

Harvested from the mines in South Africa, the ones who really found these (uncut) diamonds would not even be aware of this price at which they were sold.  Most probably that person(s) would not even have a pair of decent clothes or footwear.

Imagine all the basic life-goods that hefty amount could buy for those living in utter despair and poverty in a famine stricken land or a war-torn refugee camp. Yet people are willing to splurge such prices on a piece of jewelry, which would hardly be worn, leave alone in public places!  Even if one did wear them, they'd be laughed at in the first instance for the two earrings are not of the same colour!

No guarantee either that those earrings would add to the inner beauty of the person wearing or owning those.  If it did, he or she would see their futility and not need them.  If it didn't, what a waste of money! 

Sayings of Don Scaboletti

Here in the English province there was a priest (God rest his soul) who had a queer way of looking at things.  He would call a young cleric and say that there are things he needed to know as a Salesian.  And one among the many things he would occassionally tell the cleric(s) was the sayings of Don Scaboletti (never mind, if there never was a 'Don Scaboletti').  Here's one of the famous sayings:
Never approach the Rector for permission while he is having his morning coffee.  And always approach him for two permissions.  One, an insignificant one, merely to test the mood of the Rector.  If he is in a good mood, then go for the real permission.  If not, make a silent retreat! 
Already now, some senior Salesians bemoan saying, "Those were the days of permissions!"  A few years from now, young Salesians will ask: What do you mean by 'permissions'?! 

Tuesday, 16 May 2017

Roses in the garden

It has been quite a few days since I left the house.  Hence didn't notice some lovely roses blooming in the front of the house.

What's surprising is that the front garden has never ever been watered, except by the light drizzles that we had over the past weekend.  Yet these flowers are in full bloom and plants look really healthy and thriving.  I guess, they've all got used to the British weather!

The following are growing behind the house! If only Mummy were to see the size of these, she'd have me take these back to India!

Actually, they're not roses in the garden, they're outside the garden!  Nonetheless, wherever they are, they're a sight to behold.
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