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Editor’s note: Catholic Communications correspondent Father Bill Pomerleau, pastor of Our Lady of Sacred Heart Parish in Springfield, recently spent a “working vacation” in East Africa. The following is the first of a series of three reports on places and people with ties to the Diocese of Springfield.
Kenyan capital a center of cultural, religious diversity
By Father Bill Pomerleau
NAIROBI,Kenya– Wednesday, June 22
The phone call from Sister Pat Smith was a pleasant surprise.
She had heard from another Sister of St. Joseph in Springfield that I was in Kenya, and called me to see if we could get together.
“How are things in Springfield? Was your parish badly hurt by the tornado?” she asked when we met at the Mwangaza Jesuit Retreat Centre here.
Sister Pat, a native of St. Thomas the Apostle Parish in West Springfield, habitually inquires about the welfare of others. Usually, her care and concern extends to East Africans, whom she has served for many years.
Today, her primary ministry is individual spiritual direction and retreat work, especially for women religious. Based in the southwestern Kenyan town of Kisii, she helps in the spiritual direction of the ever-growing number of church ministers in Kenya and neighboring countries.
“Isn’t this place incredible?” she said, giving me a tour of the extensive complex in the leafy Karen neighborhood on the western edge of Nairobi that serves as a retreat house and residence for retired Jesuits.
“During the day, you have a panoramic view of the Ngong Hills, where they filmed “Out of Africa,” she added.
But Sister Pat’s lifestyle in East Africa hasn’t always been so placid. Earlier in her time in Africa, she worked with refugees in southernSudan, in the notorious Kakuma refugee camp in northwestern Kenya, and in still another refugee encampment in northwestern Tanzania that housed Burundians for many years.
All three of the refugee camps where Sister Pat worked were so massive, with hundreds of thousands of displaced persons from various civil conflicts, that she cannot recall ever personally meeting any former refugees now living inSpringfield.
But her knowledge of the history of the region – along with the experiences of fellow Sister of St. Joseph Dorothy Pilkington (now working inTanzania) has been invaluable to me in my refugee ministry in Springfield.
In January 2008, Sister Pat again found herself in the middle of a humanitarian crisis when civil unrest broke out in Kenya, until then widely considered to be the most stable nation in the region.
A hotly contested presidential and parliamentary election between incumbent President Mwai Kibaki and challenger Raila Odinga enflamed buried passions about tribal favoritism in Kenyan society.
Post-election violence broke out across the country as disaffected members of minority ethnic groups rose up against the Kikuyus, Kenya’s largest ethnic group. The violence killed an estimated 600 Kenyans, and at its height displaced 250,000 people.
Sister Pat was among several church leaders who helped shelter displaced Kikuyus and others at the cathedral in the southwestern Kenyan city ofKisumu.
Fortunately, Kenya’s political elite was able to form a coalition government with Kibaki serving another five-year term as president, and Odinga serving as prime minister. The violence abated, and the nation avoided a full-fledged Rwandan-style genocidal conflict.
East Africa’s most influential nation still has political problems, but journalists and ordinary Catholics I met here describe them more as political cronyism by leaders who hand out favors and jobs to kinsmen and friends, rather than ethnic conflict per se.
A new constitution creating county government and various government campaigns to combat corruption may, many hope, help Kenya to have a more placid general election in 2012.
A stable Kenyan civil society is good for the church throughout the region, since Nairobi is a major regional center of Catholic intellectual life. Priests, women religious and lay people from several nations are enrolled in the Catholic University of East Africa in Nairobi. The Anglican Church in East Africa is also centered in the city.
Nairobi is also a major trading center for goods destined for large parts of the continent, and the home of many African and non-African foreigners. Inexpensive bus lines serve points in Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi and the soon-to-be independent southern Sudan.
Kibira, Africa’s largest slum, is located here. But so are international banks in its modern, clean and bustling business district. Somali women in full Islamic garb mingle with business suit-clad Kenyan professionals. Unlike other African capitals, Nairobi also has a noticeable Caucasian and Asian population.
Catholic and Anglican churches compete with numerous Evangelical congregations, some of which were begun by U.S.-based groups. Other Protestant groups directly founded by Kenyans are independent of what Americans call mainline Protestant churches.
The city also has prominent mosques and prayer spaces for other religious groups.
The successes and challenges of Nairobi’s diversity mirror the successes and challenges of East Africa.
A SWEET RECIPE FROM CONNIE MARTIN
By Peggy Weber
In the September issue of “The Catholic Mirror” I wrote about starting over when I messed up the baking of my mom’s lemon squares.
And I will show how to make them on the Sept. 10th “Real to Reel.” (On WWLP-TV22 at 7 p.m.)
Each time, I promised to put the recipe here, on the diocesan blog. I think the recipe is easy and hope the pictures, which were taken by my daughter Elizabeth, help.
First you make the crust.
Take 1/2 cup of butter — that is one stick. Some people use margarine but I like butter!
Then add 1 cup of flour
Then add 1/4 cup of confectionery sugar
Mix together and press into an 8X8 pan. Build the crust up on the side. Bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes.
After it comes out of the oven it should be a golden brown.
Now here are the ingredients for the filling:
Take two eggs
add one cup of granulated sugar
Then add three (3) tablespoons of lemon juice…
Then add two tablespoons of flour…
Finally, add 1/2 teaspoon of BAKING POWDER!! Don’t mix it up with any other kind of “baking” ingredient!!
Sprinkle some powdered sugar on top after you remove the bars from the oven. Cool, cut and enjoy!!
To sum it up….
Crust: 1/2 cup of butter combined with 1 cup of flour and 1/4 cup of powdered sugar.
Press into an 8X8 pan. Build up the sides a little and bake for 15 minutes at 350 degrees.
Filling: 2 eggs, 1 cup of granulated sugar, 3 tbsp. of lemon juice, 2 tbsp. of flour and 1/2 tsp. of BAKING POWDER.
Mix and pour over warm crust. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes.
Sprinkle powdered sugar on top while warm.
Cool, cut and enjoy!
Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of entries which will be sent by Father Brian McGrath, pastor of St. Mary Parish in Westfield, as he accompanies a group to World Youth Day in Spain.
I leave in a few hours for Madrid Spain. The pope is gathering the youth from around the world to a week of celebration, faith formation and prayer. Twenty three have answered the call from our area. We are high school students and college students. I have four other adults chaperoning the trip. The great thing about this group is the diversity of languages. We are Anglo and Puerto Rican. We have someone who was born in Colombia and another who hails from Bolivia. (He is currently studying at Amherst College.) For the first time we have plans to attend catechetical sessions both in English and in Spanish. It is all very exciting.
Of course being in charge of the trip my excitment is tempered with concerns. I wonder, did I forget anything? Are all the arrangements adequate? Will the transfers go smoothly? How’s the health of the group etc. etc. etc. ?
I have been planning for this trip for over a year. I have led groups to every World Youth Day since Denver in 1993. This is an important time to make sure everything is set.
I’ve been up since about 5 a.m. It was so peaceful after the rain last night. I had time to get the church windows open and vessels set up for our goodbye Mass. I have our travel T-Shirts laid out for the group. (We are wearing “Homer Simpson Yellow” as an homage to the Diocese of Springfield, with a great design done by one of my parishioners.)
There were projects to organize around the parish (a pastor’s life is not just shepherd of souls but also making sure the buildings don’t fall down on people’s heads and that they are ready for the next school year and they will be around for the generations to come.) I even had breakfast … real breakfast not the three-cups-of-coffee breakfast for which I am known. I have morning Mass for the parish and a couple hours to check in with staff. Then it is Mass, load the bus and off to the airport.
In a time when the youth of England are rioting in the streets. We will step into the unknown with faith, hope and love. We will be praying for everyone back home. Say a prayer for us.
pax. Fr. b.
PHOTOS courtesy of Catholic News Service and Dave Martin
World Youth Day: Life-Changing Moment with Pope Benedict
Director of Media Relations
United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
World Youth Day this year is in Madrid, Aug. 16-21, and almost 30,000 young people from the United States alone will participate. Thousands others can join the virtual World Youth Day on Facebook, www.facebook.com/virtualworldyouthday.
I have affection for World Youth Day because I was on the leadership group that launched the event in 1993 in Denver. Pope John Paul II founded World Youth Day in 1985 as a biennial event starting in Rome, with subsequent meetings in Buenos Aires; Santiago de Compostela, Spain; and Czestochowa, Poland. When the event did not catch on worldwide, Vatican organizers asked the U.S. bishops to host it in America. They thought that U.S. media might give it the profile it needed. Were they ever right!
This was a new experience for the church in the United States. Bishops met a from-the-ground-up movement. Instead of leaders urging youth to participate, they found youth all but demanding to go. Many in the hierarchy were taken aback. What the youth sought was unusual and unprecedented. Some lay leaders questioned bringing raging hormones together and said we were looking for trouble. Fortunately, the U.S. bishops decided to take the risk.
In Europe the event had been designed for young adults; minors were discouraged from attending. The U.S. bishops, who from experience with Catholic schools and religious education programs recognized potential in this group, successfully argued for lowering the minimum age for attendees from 18 to 16, and added the component of youth leaders to head delegations.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops was asked to organize the three-day event and initially guesstimated about 60,000 youth would be interested. In a few months, local organizers presented the bishops with a budget problem. About 120,000 young people had registered for the event in the first few months alone.
The thousands of participants changed the bishops’ view of young people. Until then, the bishops had seen youth as the church of tomorrow. After they met them together, they began to refer to them as the church of today. Idealism en masse offered hope. The young people brought out the best in one another and in the adults privileged to be with them.
Before the event, media reported the trite but seemingly eternal story of a church divided. But, when media got to Denver, that story wasn’t there. Graying editors at home demanded to know what youth thought about birth control and abortion. Some reporters dutifully interviewed people along these lines. The youth were incredulous. We’re not talking about things like that, youth replied. One exasperated coed told a reporter, “Get a life!” Another reporter for a newsweekly advised his editor that the youth weren’t talking about his issues. In fact, they weren’t fighting with the church at all. When World Youth Day concluded, the Washington Post reported that it was like Woodstock, with all of the good and none of the bad of the 1969 rock festival.
Pope Benedict was elected in 2005, just months before World Youth Day was to be in Germany. Youth from around the globe cheered when the German pope said he would continue the world meeting and see them in Cologne.
World Youth Day brings youth and the pope together. There is no other world leader or even national leader who has made such an outreach. The pope challenges youth, before politics, church or otherwise, can jade them. He calls them to deepen their relationship with Jesus, recognize that they are in a family comprised of a mix of languages, nations, color and even religious beliefs. World Youth Day helps them realize they have a personal relationship with Jesus at the same time it expands their concept of community beyond a coterie of friends, or even of the parish. It can be life-changing and, with its emphasis on peace and world community, world-changing as well.