Friday, September 28, 2012

Liberia: Monrovia

The bridge over the ocean inlet that leads to the center of Monrovia.
St. Gabriel's Parish, where I stayed with Fr. Adrian, is in Brewerville on the outskirts of the capitol city of Monrovia. On one particular day, though, we took a trip into the city with some of the Cenacolo community members to meet the Archbishop and run some errands.

A building in downtown Monrovia.
We were finally able to meet Archbishop Lewis Zeigler after he finished an all-morning meeting about plans in the archdiocese for the upcoming year of faith. He is a humble man of the people who was bishop of a smaller, more rural diocese in the country and reluctantly accepted the position of archbishop at the urging of the Holy See.

Archbishop Lewis Zeigler with Fr. Adrian, teachers and Catholic school children.
Sacred Heart Cathedral in downtown Monrovia.
Billboard with photo of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, first woman president of an African nation
and Nobel Peace Prize winner

After we met with the archbishop and the Cenacolo members completed their errands we stopped for a bite to eat near the Atlantic Ocean (above) and prayed a walking Rosary on the beach (below).

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Liberia: Walking Pilgrimage to Marian Shrine & Comunit√° Cenacolo

Trekking across the Liberian countryside en route to the Marian Shrine.

The first Sunday I was in Liberia Fr. Adrian decided to do an impromptu walking pilgrimage to the Archdiocesan Marian Shrine, about an hour and a half away on foot. Last year Fr. Adrian had 15 young men living with him in the compound of St. Gabriel's for a "Gospel Year" of intensive spiritual formation. Many of these young men continue to come to the parish almost daily for Mass and other spiritual activities. They were most of the youth who accompanied us.

Jeremiah, enjoying the hike.

Fr. Adrian and Peter praying the Rosary at the Grotto of Our Lady, Queen of Peace.

The Liberian image of Mary, Queen of Peace.
For one year now, the Cenacolo Community has been residing and repairing some of the structures at the Archdiocesan Marian Shrine. The Cenacolo Community began in Italy in the early 1980s to help young people struggling with drug problems. Since then it has spread to many countries and assisted thousands of youth. Cenacolo came to Liberia with the support and encouragement of Fr. Adrian, who was also instrumental in helping to open their house in Ireland. 

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Liberia: VOA and Rick's - St. Gabriel's Outstations

The chapel at Rick's
While with Fr. Adrian in Liberia, I accompanied him on several visits to parish outstations. The first was in an area called Rick's, to a small Catholic community that's just starting to get on it's feet.

Most of the time when going to outstations, we saw scenes like the one above and below. Liberia is one of the greenest and most fertile countries I've ever seen, due in no small part to the abundant rain that fell almost every day.

We visited the chapel in VOA (Voice of America, named for the radio tower used by that station that used to stand nearby) on two occasions: one for the weekly catechesis of children preparing for Baptism and for the other Sacraments, and the other for the weekly feeding program.

The Catholic chapel at VOA (above and below).

A beautiful Liberian child.

For $100 USD Fr. Adrian can provide a very nutritious meal (including chicken) to about 150 underfed children of mostly Sierra Leonian refugees living in VOA.

Prince, the chief catechist at VOA, surrounded by children in the feeding program.

Fr. Adrian on the back of a motorcycle leads the way into the bush.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

St. Gabriel Parish, Monrovia, Liberia

The newly constructed St. Gabriel's Church, Brewerville, Monrovia, Liberia.
Since September 6, I've been with Fr. Adrian Crowley - an Irish missionary priest - at St. Gabriel Parish in Brewerville on the western outskirts of the Liberian capitol city of Monrovia. It's the rainy season here and the water's been coming down in buckets, sometimes for as long as 12 hours straight, but still with a few hours of sunshine most days.

St. Mulumba Catechetists Center, located on the parish grounds.
Liberia was founded in the 1800s by former slaves from the United States. The first ten presidents or so were all American born. It has had a varied history since then, most notably an extended civil war overlapping with the presidency of Charles Taylor, recently convicted of crimes against humanity in the Intenational Criminal Court at the Hague for his role in the civil war in neighboring Sierra Leone. Several of the Liberian women responsible for helping to end that conflict recently received the Nobel Peace Prize.

St. Gabriel's Rectory
The parish church has recently been reconstructed and much enlarged. There has been significant expansion in the congregation since Fr. Adrian arrived a few years ago. In addition to the church and the rectory (above), in the rear of the property are six small houses and several meeting rooms built for the formation of catechists. The meeting rooms are now used as part of the parish school, most of the buildings of which are located across and down the main road.

Fr. Adrian with John Tamba, principal of St. Gabriel School, and students painting desks for the new school year.
When I arrived the new school year was about to begin, so a lot of preparatory work was taking place at the school: the painting of classrooms and desks and organizing instructional materials.

While at St. Gabriel's I've been involved with a lot of different activities: Masses and Holy Hours, meeting with youth, the Pure in Heart chastity group, the Catholic Women's Organization, visits to outstations and other groups working in the area, as you'll see in the postings to follow.

Twice a month the Missionaries of Charity set up a mobile clinic at the parish for mothers and small children. Their presence has helped to save the lives of several very sick and malnourished children.
Missionaries of Charity mobile clinic for mothers and children.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Raising Funds for a Blood Analyzer for St. Theresa Catholic Hospital, South Sudan

The village of Isohe, South Sudan.
Isohe is a small mountain village located in a remote part of the Diocese of Torit, South Sudan. Apart from the breathtaking beauty that surrounds it, one of the things that makes it unique is a very strong presence of the Catholic Church. In addition to St. Theresa Church (built in the first half of the last century by Italian Comboni missionaries), there is St. Kizito Primary School which has about 1,000 students - most of them boarders who come from outside the village, St. Augustine Secondary School and St. Theresa Hospital. The work of the schools and hospital is supported in part by the Italian Catholic NGO, AVSI.

St. Theresa Catholic Church, Isohe.
I visited Isohe on multiple occasions while I was living in South Sudan. On both trips I've made since I left I also visited the village, accompanied on these occasions by Dr. Will Stallings of Missioners of Christ. During these visits Dr. Will consulted extensively and worked side by side with the staff, trying to understand their needs and how we might be able to support them. It finally became clear that the piece of equipment that would be most helpful for them would be an automated hematology analyzer.

St. Theresa Catholic Hospital, Isohe.

Dr. Will Stallings, Sr. Teresa (Administrator), Dr. Brian Madison (Medical Director)
While the hospital has a functioning clinical lab to help diagnose common diseases such as brucellosis, malaria and typhoid, at this point all blood analysis (white cell count, platelet count, hemoglobin and hematocrit) has to be done manually through a microscope. This is a slow and tedious process that greatly limits the hospital's diagnostic ability in terms of the number of patients it can treat and the range of diseases it can test for.

Dr. Will (left) in the lab with a technician (center) and Dr. Brian (right).
A laboratory technician preparing to do a manual blood count using a microscope.
The Mindray Automated Hematology Analyzer (pictured below) would dramatically boost the hospitals diagnostic capabilities both in terms of number and range. It can be purchased in the United States for about $10,000 and shipped to South Sudan. With the help of AVSI the device will be serviced through a medical equipment provider in Uganda. Dr. Will and Franciscan Mission Outreach are working together to try to raise the funds needed to acquire and send this blood analyzer to St. Theresa Hospital. Please consider participating in this effort by making a donation to Franciscan Mission Outreach for this purpose.

Mindray Automated Hematology Analyzer.

One of the patient examination rooms.

Sr. Teresa visiting the children's ward.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Honduras: Comayagua

After travelling from the North Coast to Comayagua with Missioners of Christ I was able to celebrate daily Mass for them in their chapel (above) located very near our friary. I was also able to collaborate with them on a number of local activites.

Saturday, August 18, was a full formation day for the newly formed Corazon Puro (Pure Heart) youth chastity group. The group was formed just a few weeks ago by participating in two successive weekend retreats led by Fr. Agustino Torres, CFR, and a Corazon Puro team from New York. These Honduran youth are now entering into an extended period of formation to prepare them to live and witness to their peers the liberating message of chastity. In the afternoon we looked at the section in the Catechism of the Catholic Church on the creation of the human person. We then looked more closely at the different dimensions of the human person (mind, heart, body and soul) and tried to understand the different factors (both positive and negative) that can influence our actions and some criteria to help discern and make wise decisions in accordance with God's will. In the evening we spent time together in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament in the Casa Guadalupe chapel (above).

On Sunday, August 19, we celebrated Mass for the boys and young men of the Granja Jesus Nazaret, and took the older youth on an excursion to a beautiful water fall about an hour and a half outside of Comayagua.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Honduras: La Ceiba & the North Coast

I was blessed to be in Honduras again for just over two weeks, August 2-20, 2012. The trip began on the north coast in the new missionary Diocese of La Ceiba, where Bishop Michael Lenihan is working hard to shepherd this newly formed local church. I was privileged to accompany Bishop Michael on several occasions, including (above) a visit to Maria Regina High School. While in La Ceiba I helped out with Masses (including a Sunday morning televised Mass) led Holy Hours and was a guest on three different programs on the Catholic Radio Station. One of the principal purposes of the visit was to meet with the community of Immaculate Heart of Mary in Barrio El Sauce to prepare for a Pan de Vida Eucharistic Youth Retreat scheduled for early 2013.

While on the north coast I also helped lead retreats for two groups of lay missionaries. In a guest house on one of the rivers near La Ceiba, I spent two days with the mostly American lay volunteers from the Finca del Nino (Farm of the Child) in Trujillo (pictured above and below). It was a much needed time of spiritual refreshment for these hard working young people serving orphaned and underprivileged children in a remote area of Honduras.

Immediately following the two day retreat with the Finca volunteers I travelled by ferry to the island of Utila for three days with the mostly Honduran Missioners of Christ from Comayagua (above and below) for a time of rest, retreat and recreation after a busy summer of hosting visitng teams from the US.

Before we left La Ceiba, Bishop Michael, and Father Francisco and Father Rene (from the Cathedral Parish of San Isidro) hosted us for a farewell breakfast that included traditional Honduran and Garifuna (a north coast ethnic group of African descent) folk dances (below).