Thursday, 24 February 2011

Franciscan Retreat at Manchester University

On 11th-13th February, the FAV Team (Franciscan Animators for Vocations) were invited to give a Franciscan Retreat for the Catholic Chaplaincy of the University of Manchester. This was co-ordinated by Sr. Oneng. The team included Srs. Clare Bernadette FMSL, Teresa FMSJ,  Oneng FMDM, Br. Paul OFM Cap and Br. Antony OFM.

They were kindly hosted by Rev. Ian Kelly and the Cathsoc and accommodated by the neighbouring OFM Conventual and FMSJ communities.

The theme of the weekend was 'First Things First'. This retreat included opportunities for Mass, Adoration, Confession, workshops, discussion, prayer and reflection. Br. Paul introduced this theme with his opening Mass and workshop on Friday evening. This dealt with the challenge of putting God first in one's life – in practice as well as in desire. In his workshop, Br. Paul explained how St. Francis put God first. Through meditation, he entered into the mystery of Christ by a threefold path, focusing on the Incarnation, the Passion and the Eucharist.
During Mass on Saturday morning, Br. Antony led us to reflect, through the Gospel story of Martha and Mary, on how our busyness can cause us to miss Christ present to us in the present moment. He also led us to question whether God is always our inner motivation for serving others.

Later in the morning, Sr. Oneng's workshop delved into the profound conversion which St. Francis underwent when he decided to kiss a person he would have normally avoided at all costs – a person suffering from leprosy. Oneng explained how, after seeing Christ in the leper, Francis' outlook was gradually changed so that he began to see Christ in all his fellow creatures. We were then challenged to befriend the 'lepers' in our own lives.
In between workshops and scheduled prayers, there was time for Franciscans and students to relax and converse together.

In the afternoon, Sr. Clare led a workshop about the relevance of St. Francis' spirituality expressed in his Canticle of Sir Brother Sun, to ecological issues facing today's world.

The group discussions considered the potential of a spiritual practice of poverty and outlook of humility in our efforts to live in harmony with the rest of creation.
In the evening, there was an open forum with students in which each member of the FAV team shared the story of their own vocation and the team answered questions from the retreatants. This session was resumed and completed on Sunday morning after Mass.

During the Holy Hours, Sr. Teresa helped us to get in touch with God through the prayers of St. Francis.
In the Mass of Sunday morning, Br. Paul highlighted the necessity of God's grace, not just our good works, to help us become the saints we are all called to be.
With some members of the Team including Srs. Oneng and Clare having to depart on their homeward journeys, there were some farewells and photos before lunch.

The retreat concluded that afternoon and evening with a workshop on Franciscan saints and an evening Mass.
FAV Team members commented that they enjoyed the weekend and appreciated the friendly welcome, enthusiastic participation and constructive feedback of the students and chaplaincy. They also enjoyed the Franciscan teamwork of the event. Thanks and God bless to all who enabled and prayed for the success of this retreat.

Sunday, 20 February 2011

Report from FMSL Mission, Santa Rosa, Lima, Peru

Sr. Rose at the Botanical Garden

I went with Bridgit to visit the local school in Santa Rosa where she has established a Jardín Botánico [Botanical Garden] to teach the children the importance of taking care of the environment and to deepen their awareness of the interdependence of all plant/bird/animal/insect life forms.

Bridgit, the environmentalist who set up the project and is teaching the children in Santa Rosa school.

The project started in 2007 with the back-breaking task of clearing the site which was nothing but rubble, stones and junk.

At first the project was held up by difficulties with poor soil quality. Later, a forestry engineer, Javier, became involved. With his help the children were able to grow more vigorous plants. Javier taught them the way to dig a metre square pit for each new tree or bush and then to fill it with rotting organic matter. This would break down to provide food for the growing plants. On top of this organic matter the children placed the soil that had been dug out, minus the large rocks. If a layer of good top-soil could be acquired it would be an added bonus, but if not, no problem.
The garden was planned to include various plants that would provide both colour, perfume and homes for insects and birds.

During my visit, Bridgit, picked five different plants to review with the children:
1. Madre selvas [honeysuckle]. This has a profumo muy rico [very rich perfume] and so it scents the garden and is delightful. It is a plant que trepa [that climbs] so it could be trained to cover parts and make an arbour.
2. Jazmín [jasmine].This also is a climber with a lovely smell.
3. Bougainvillea. This plants has brilliant colour. It can be red, white, pink, purplish or orange. In this garden it is rosado [pink].
4. Palo Verde [Green Post]. This plant actually seeded itself in the garden. It grows so easily everywhere as to be almost a weed! Nevertheless it has a lovely green tronco [trunk] which gives it its name. It also has pretty yellow flowers.
5. The last plant we looked at was the Moye Costeño. It has been planted to make a little avenida [avenue].It is in bud at the moment and it flowers will become red berries that birds feed on.
Bridget is also teaching the children about Hydroponic Gardens. The word comes from two Greek words meaning water and grow. It is a system of gardening which can be operated in small spaces with no soil. Seeds are supported in sand from the river that has been washed and bleached. The seed germinates and when it has three leaves it is transplanted into pure water. The stem is put through a little hole in s tyro-foam which then floats on the water. The final stage is to transplant this in little plastic cups that sit in the water. I saw the children cut hole in the sides of the plastic containing lettuce seedlings in order to insert small drainage pipes into the sand.

Finally the children set up a simpler hydroponic garden for maize. They lined boxes with black plastic and stapled them firmly. Then they put a couple of inches of water in the boxes and sprinkled them with seeds. They will take these home, cover them with newspaper and make sure the seeds do not dry out.

I thought these activities were highly enjoyable for the children. Bridgit went out of her way to impress on the children that learning is not just from books in classes, but can have an important practical dimension. Doing this kind of project could be the beginning of a good career studying horticulture and they might become a Forestry Engineer like Javier. Since these children were doing summer school recuperación because of poor grades in science/maths, the hope was that they would be encouraged to take more interest in their studies.
It was good to see the children learning about the importance of plants and the concept of urban forest as “the lungs of the city”.
by Sr. Rose of Lima