Sunday 30 September 2012

Rang De Basanti and the Law of the Cross

An interesting passage from Lonergan that might be relevant to Rang De Basanti:
we only gradually arrive at understanding and willing the good of order. For as infants we want particular goods; as children we turn our attention to a series of particular goods (whereby life becomes good), and so we gladly learn practical skills; as adolescents we see the need for cooperation, and consciously enter into new personal relationships; as young men and women we conceive the goods of order, we think of better orders, we protest against abuses and disorder, and we long for reform and perhaps even for revolution. (emphasis added)
He goes on:
Finally, philosophers reach the point where, besides recognizing particular goods that are appropriate for particular persons, they also recognize the good of order, which is good on account of its own intelligibility and its participation in the divine good, which is desired by the will because the will is an appetite that follows the intellect, and which can be desired by the will even when the good of order produces particular goods not for the one desiring them but for others only. (The Triune God 493, 495)
The young people of RDB are idealistic. They have realized that something is sadly wrong with society. They seek immediate solutions.

But what is the solution? Does it lie with the philosophers, as Lonergan seems to suggest? Yes and no. As he says in Insight, philosophers might possibly be able to conceive of the solution, but its acceptance by all or many, and its implementation, these evoke so much resistance from our fallen condition, that there is no salvation from mere philosophy. The salvation that is, comes from above. And he goes on to speak of faith, hope and love, and the Law of the Cross, the law of a love that is self-sacrificing. In that sense, the young people of RDB, after their initial quick-fix solution, are magnanimous enough to engage in this kind of love. Theirs is, in fact, some sort of self-sacrificing love. And I found the scene where DJ's grandfather and mother pray very touching: Grant that the sacrifices of these kids are not wasted.

And still we need to ask: what is the solution, the good of order, towards which we can all aim? Here the creativity that Lonergan calls for in his economics, the creativity that someone like Marx at least attempted, dedicating years of his life studying in the British Library, and that the church somehow never attempted, at least with the same passion.

26 Sunday Year B, Homily by Lorenzo Piola


Here's a Sunday homily by one of our deacons, Lorenzo. I thought it was good, so here it is with due permission.

XXVI DOMENICA DEL TEMPO ORDINARIO - anno B - 30 settembre 2012
Prima: Nm 11, 25-29 || Salmo 18 || Seconda: Gc 5, 1-6 || Vangelo: Mc 9,38-43.45.47-48

Che bello! Gesù oggi è preciso come non mai: indica chiaramente il da farsi… un po’ crudo, forse…
Ma iniziamo cercando di capire l’atteggiamento di Giovanni. Qualche versetto prima del brano del brano che abbiamo ascoltato nel Vangelo di oggi, Marco racconta che Gesù aveva dato ai suoi discepoli la capacità di liberare dai demòni… ma non riuscirono a liberare un ragazzo indemoniato. Ora invece, è uno sconosciuto che usa il nome di Gesù per guarire altre persone. Probabilmente è ancora vivo il risentimento per quel fallimento e Giovanni d’impeto si rivolge a Gesù in modo un po’ brusco, tentando con arroganza di fermare quel guaritore (Giovanni + Giacomo, fratelli soprannominati da Gesù Boanerghes = “figli del tuono”, in aramaico, per il loro fanatismo, le loro intemperanze, la loro veemenza e impulsività). “Maestro, abbiamo visto uno che scacciava demòni nel tuo nome”. “Nel nome di Gesù” = letteralmente significa identificandosi con Gesù. “E glielo abbiamo impedito”, e sentiamo la motivazione, “perché non ci seguiva”. Notate la sottigliezza: non si lamenta col Maestro dicendo “non è tuo discepolo” ma: “non è dei nostri”.

C’è qui la pretesa, che spesso è anche tra i cristiani di oggi, che tutti i seguaci di Gesù facciano parte del gruppo dei discepoli, i cosiddetti “cristiani praticanti”. Nel brano parallelo, quello ascoltato nella prima lettura, succede qualche cosa di simile a Mosè: lo Spirito scende su 2 che non erano stati prescelti per entrare a far parte del gruppo che avrebbe aiutato Mosè. Gesù, come Mosè, rassicura i discepoli (e noi!): di Spirito ce n’è in abbondanza! La Chiesa fa parte del Regno, non è il Regno! Gesù amplia l’orizzonte della sua comunità e dice “Non glielo impedite (imperativo!) perché non c’è nessuno che faccia un miracolo (=agisca con forza) nel mio nome (=identificandosi con me) e subito possa parlar male di me”. Impariamo da Gesù il coraggio di osare: lo Spirito aleggia dove vuole: “Chi non è contro di noi è per noi”. Gesù rivela che ci possano essere suoi discepoli anche se non appartengono al gruppo che pretende di avere il monopolio del suo insegnamento, chi sembra all’apparenza estraneo al nostro recinto può essere strumento della grazia. Pensate a quanti buoni ebrei e buoni mussulmani avrete sicuramente incontrato nella vostra vita: sono tanti quelli che vivono i valori evangelici senza essere formalmente “dei nostri”!  Una bella eredità lasciataci dai Padri della Chiesa, ribadito con forza anche dal Concilio Vaticano II, è il concetto dei semina Verbi: in altre fedi e culture troviamo “frammenti del Verbo” e siamo chiamati a valorizzarle, come sa fare benissimo anche papa Benedetto XVI. Cerchiamo prima cosa ci accomuna… che non ci capiti di non accogliere i semi che Dio sparge anche nel cuore di chi non sa o non dice di credere! Questo scandalizza il Signore... scandalizzare = essergli è di inciampo!

Ma siccome Gesù è un bravo salesiano/educatore: non c’è rimprovero senza l’invito a migliorarsi, e lo fa dando indicazioni ben precise.

Identificarsi con lui. Dice: “chiunque vi darà da bere un bicchiere d’acqua, nel mio nome” – identificarsi con lui, i suoi discepoli non lo erano ancora! Ecco perché non riuscivano a fare miracoli… – “non perderà la sua ricompensa”. La presenza di Gesù e del Padre è la ricompensa di chi lo accoglie.

Un’altra indicazione: togliere tutto ciò che impedisce la pienezza di vita. “Se la tua mano…il piede…l’occhio ti sono motivo di scandalo”, cioè è motivo di inciampo per te, se fai un’attività che ti fa inciampare, Gesù è radicale “tagliala! E’ meglio entrare nella vita monchi anziché con due mani andare nella Geènna”… La mano indica l’attività, il piede è la condotta, l’occhio il criterio. Gesù è chiaro ed esigente: appartenere a Lui significa fare delle scelte, a volte anche dolorose. Togliamo di mezzo l’arroganza e il giudizio, la piccineria e la rivalsa: tutto quello che ci impedisce di entrare nel Regno. Non farlo significa morire, perdere vitalità, perdere la passione… essere come morti viventi (il verme che non muore…)! Se non siamo disposti ad osare, a tagliare, a faticare per entrare nel Regno, rischiamo di essere come l’immondizia… la Geenna, maledetta dai rabbini perché lì vi si erano consumati sacrifici umani era destinata a bruciare l’immondizia.

Ecco cosa sogna per noi Gesù, come ci vuole:

  1. Mano: Che sappiamo agire nel suo nome = identificarci con Lui… essere davvero “dei Gesù” per coloro che ci incontrano…
  2. Piede: Liberare il cammino: togliere tutto quello che ci è di scandalo = che ci fa inciampare…
  3. Occhio: Vedere la realtà attorno a noi secondo i criteri del Nazareno: uno sguardo ottimista sulla realtà e sul cammino dell’uomo; è questo sguardo ci permette di riconoscere e valorizzare i tanti semi di bene e di luce che lo Spirito semina nel cuore di tutti, anche dei non credenti.

Questa è vivere leggeri: è Dio che converte e salva il mondo. Noi, al più, cerchiamo di non ostacolarlo!

A new pastoral strategy?

Does the church in Israel have to give more adequate attention to the large communities of migrant workers? Is the current arrangement of nation-wise chaplaincies really the best thing? Should we not attempt to build Christian communities, and even parochial centres, even if we have then, within them, to cater to different linguistic groups?

I am aware that touching the situation here is touching millennial rights, almost. But - first and foremost, the good of the faithful. "Would that all God's people were prophets," says Moses in today's first reading from the Book of Numbers. And Moses, by this sentiment, reveals that he is, indeed a true prophet. As was said of him elsewhere, there was no man humbler than him on the face of the earth. Humility - and the grand vision - marks of the true prophet. Jesus, of course, does it effortlessly in the gospels. And we have missed much of that for centuries. "Those who are not against me, are for me."

For a start: how about a mass in Hebrew for our growing Ethiopian-Eritrean group of young people, who are  just now usually like sheep without a shepherd, if you exclude the good work done by our own students?

Rang De Basanti

Last night we watched Rang De Basanti in the community, with English sub-titles. There were the usual 5 or 6 people. I sat through the whole thing, 3 solid hours, and realized I hadn't really watched it properly before. I think, as usual, we had arrived late and had missed the opening of the movie - the part where the English officer begins writing his diary, and his grand-daughter finds it, and decides to make a movie.

Impressions: first of all, the movie could be cut down to something a little more than 2 hours. It simply drags in places. Though, if you have the patience, those parts do fit in well with the melancholy feelings in the second half.

Next, it struck me that, ultimately, the 5 or 6 youngsters who are the heroes of the film are not really representative. Or at best, they represent a relatively privileged section of Indian youth - despite the dabha background of one and so on. ("Father, it's too American," Giuseppe said to me quite spontaneously, at the scene where Ajay Rathod presents an engagement ring to Sonia.)

Most of all, the second half is extremely unrealistic. True, many Indian youth of the middle and upper-middle classes are disillusioned with 'India,' with the corruption, with the venality, with everything. But - killing the Defence Minister? Killing one's father? Storming the All India Radio station? Trying to give themselves up? Sure, the anger is there, the anger can be fierce in the face of obvious injustice like that of the good name of a pilot being blackened, and the venal Defence Minister being glorified in death. But...

All in all, too ambitious. The basic story line is good: Indian youth rediscovering history, passion and meaningfulness thanks to a project initiated by a British young lady. But the third sub-plot ruins it all - contemporary life as mirroring the past. The temptation to tie up everything, if not forever and ever, at least somewhat neatly.

I was more impressed by my first viewing. In the second, the flaws leap to the fore. Great attempt, wonderful  cinematography and camera work. But flawed.

These sentiments echo those of G. Allen Johnson:
"Rang De Basanti" is a Bollywood film that attacks modern Indian youth and the government, all sugarcoated in light comedy and music, until it gets really heavy. But the simple-minded presentation ultimately makes it ring hollow.
"Another problem is -- and read no further if you don't want the ending revealed -- the idiotic way they go about their political activism once they find a cause worth fighting for in today's India. Is Mehra really advocating political assassination and terrorism over something as relatively minor as buying faulty aircraft from the Russians?"
But the following part of Johnson's review is way off the mark. Johnson just does not get the Hindu right angle here. I did not get the impression that the character played by Atul Kulkarni was "a man from a lower caste" doing odd jobs around the college. Not at all.
"Gradually, though, as they spend time together, they become game -- even as the star of the film turns out to be played by a man from a lower caste who does odd jobs around the college and hates the rich students as much as they hate him."
(See G. Allen Johnson at http://www.sfgate.com/movies/article/FILM-CLIPS-Also-opening-today-2497738.php#flick)

Something new that I learnt: Rang De Basanti was an anti-Brit slogan of the Independence struggle years.

From another angle: this film focusses exclusively on the violent aspect of the Indian struggle. Bhagat Singh, Chandrashekar Azad, and co. I suppose that was there too, though. India, as Vernet said, is complex.

And the snatches of Islamic architecture are memorable. Splendid Delhi. I can never forget it.



Thursday 27 September 2012

Yet another piece on Fr Weksler-Waskinel


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October 10, 1999

For a Priest and for Poland, a Tangled Identity

By ROGER COHEN
LUBLIN, Poland -- Past the ditches where thousands were executed by the Nazis, the crematory described as having "a daily yield of about 1,000 bodies," the gas chamber being visited by a group of Israeli schoolchildren, the priest walks in silence. He is a figure of medium height, dark-haired, swarthy. The Israeli children, some wrapped in the national flag, watch the priest closely. Some look defiant, even angry. Others seem intrigued, as if this Roman Catholic churchman was somehow familiar.The Polish priest is not quite at ease, here in the former Nazi concentration camp of Majdanek, surrounded by Israelis. It is tempting to speak. But his story is complicated, and perhaps they would not believe him. "Seeing these young Israelis," he said at last, "I would like to go up to them and say, 'I suffer in the same way that you are suffering.' "




Piotr Janowski/Agencja Gazeta, for The New York Times
Romuald-Jakub Weksler-Waszkinel at the Nazis' Majdanek camp, where his mother, a Jew, may have died.

His name is Romuald-Jakub Weksler-Waszkinel. He is a priest and a teacher at Lublin's Catholic University. He is also -- as he discovered late in life -- a Jew. He now believes that his mother, whom he never knew, was murdered at Majdanek in 1943. He calls the ashes near the crematory "the tomb of my mother."
It took decades to reach this point, years of intermittent doubt and confrontation. Like many born to central Europe's doomed generations, Father Weksler-Waszkinel was caught in the long, unyielding vise of two dictatorships: Nazism and Communism. He was left with fragments and lies. Now, a decade after the collapse of the Soviet bloc, the priest is satisfied that he has pieced the fragments into a semblance of the truth. His life -- like the lost Jewish presence in many Polish towns -- has crept out from the shadows of Communism.
"Communism hid many things," said Henryk Lewandowski, a member of Children of the Holocaust, a group founded in Warsaw in 1990 after Communist rule had ended and the anti-Semitism that it sometimes promoted had eased. "We know of dozens of people who have discovered in recent years they were really Jews."
But the priest's position is scarcely comfortable. Jews are all but gone from Poland, three million of them murdered by the Nazis during World War II. But three million Catholic Poles were also killed. This terrible equation has helped spawn seemingly unresolvable issues: of competitive victimhood, of the degree of Polish complicity in the Nazis' killing, of whether Poland's true identity is that of a Catholic or a multi-ethnic state.
So Father Weksler-Waszkinel sometimes finds himself trying to bridge the unbridgeable. "We are now a free country, and we have to clear out all the garbage," he said. "Too many people still believe a reference to a Jewish stereotype as an enemy of Poland pays politically. Too few find any place for Polish war guilt."
What seems clear is that the priest's life amounts to a modern Polish parable, one that speaks of the mottled truths of Poland, truths that belie the polarizing slogans. He was the son of good Polish Catholics. Their name was Waszkinel. His father, Piotr, was a metalworker; his mother, Emilia, doted on him. These were the long unquestioned facts of his upbringing.
The family lived, after the war, in Paslek, a town in eastern Poland. True, a couple of drunks did yell "Jewish orphan" at him once. True, he would search in the mirror sometimes for some resemblance to his parents. But these were mere ripples on a generally untroubled sea. "Once I asked my Polish mother, 'What is a Jew?' " Father Weksler-Waszkinel said. "She replied: 'Good and wise people will not call you that. And there is no need for you to listen to bad people.' "



Piotr Janowski/Agencja Gazeta, for The New York Times
With Janina Waszkinel, a sister from the only family he knew, the Rev. Romuald-Jakub Weksler-Waszkinel visited the grave of their mother, Emilia Waszkinel, in Lublin. His birth mother begged the family to save him.


The boy liked parties, girls, the accordion; so when, at age 17, he told Piotr and Emilia of his desire to become a priest, they were incredulous. His Polish father implored him to change his mind. At the seminary, the first weeks were a time of doubt. Piotr came to visit him, took him into the chapel, and wept profusely, in a way Father Weksler-Waszkinel had never seen. A few weeks later, Piotr was dead from a heart attack.
The future priest's faith wavered; he felt guilt and intense grief at the death of the man he had always known as his father. But then a redoubled conviction took hold: "If my father was afraid I would be a bad priest, it was up to me to prove I could be a good one. My decision became irrevocable." But other difficulties arose. When, in 1966, Father Weksler-Waszkinel was about to be ordained, the rector told him there were serious suspicions that he had not been baptized. He was outraged, calling the questioning "an insult to my parents," and in the end, the objections were withdrawn. "I was increasingly torn," the priest said. "The church always used to teach that the Jews murdered Jesus. I did not want to be one of the murderers. It was terrible to think I could be a Jew."
But as he read more, and came to see these teachings as a perversion, the fears ebbed. He told Emilia -- the woman he now calls "my Polish mother" -- that he sensed a secret. He noted that when he read to her about the Jews -- Emilia was illiterate -- she often had tears in her eyes. "Why are you crying? Am I a Jew?" the priest asked her in 1968, shortly after he moved to Lublin and began studying at the Catholic University. "Don't I love you enough?" Emilia replied.
Though not really an answer, this said enough. And so Father Weksler-Waszkinel understood without knowing. As he relates this, he has tears in his eyes, still shaken, it seems, by the long deception that was also his salvation.
Finally, in 1978, when Emilia was briefly hospitalized because of what was suspected to be cancer, the priest confronted her. "I kissed her hands," he said. "I told her that the time had come for her to tell me." Emilia, at last, did not hesitate. She told the priest that his true parents had been wonderful people who loved him. She told him they had been Jews and they had been murdered. She said she had only wanted to save him from a similar death. Part of the story then emerged. He had been born in 1943 -- the exact date is unknown -- to a Jewish couple in the town of Stare Swieciany, then Polish, but now known as Svencionys in Lithuania. He had an older brother. His father was a well-known tailor. His mother, trapped in the ghetto, made contact with Emilia and begged her to take the infant and save him.
Emilia hesitated. But then the priest's Jewish mother said something decisive and eerily prescient that his Polish mother would never forget: "You are a devout Catholic. You believe in Jesus, who was a Jew. So try to save this Jewish baby for the Jew in whom you believe. And one day he will grow up to be a priest."
Hearing this, Father Weksler-Waszkinel was tremulous, for he had fulfilled the prophecy of his mother, a woman he had never known. "You must love your mother for she was very wise," Emilia told him. "Those words she spoke were the words that saved your life because they convinced us to take you in."
But what were his true parents' names? How were they killed? What of his older brother? Emila said she knew nothing. She had deliberately forgotten the names because she was afraid that, under torture, she might reveal them.
The priest decided to tell nobody -- except Pope John Paul II. An enormously supportive letter came back from the recently elected Polish pontiff, addressed to "My Beloved Brother." It said the priest's pain was part of the pain of the cross, a sign of love. It urged him to persevere. But knowing he was a Jew, did Father Weksler-Waszkinel consider abandoning the priesthood? "No, I never had a doubt," he said. "I knew that Jesus saved me. He found me in the ghetto. He was my most wonderful Jew."
The remaining details of his family came out many years later, through the help of a nun named Sister Klara Jaroszynksa. The priest had heard her confession and urged her to be afraid of nothing for he had "been saved at five minutes to midnight and nothing can happen to somebody who has God." The nun, it turned out, had saved many Jews during the war, and hearing the reference to salvation at "five minutes to midnight," she understood. She confronted him a day later and said simply, "You are a Jew."
Letters followed to people the nun knew in Israel. But it was only in 1992, three years after the fall of Communism, that she was able to travel there and organize a meeting of survivors from Stare Swieciany. When a tailor was mentioned, survivors immediately recognized him as Jakub Weksler, who had been known to everyone as "Jankel." His wife -- the priest's mother -- was called Batia.
Father Weksler-Waszkinel immediately traveled to Israel. "All my life," he said with a laugh, "I had been looking for people who looked like me, and suddenly everybody did." At the airport, he was met by Svi Weksler, his father's brother, who had lost his wife and two daughters in World War II but escaped to Russia and survived Soviet camps.
It was an overwhelming reunion. The priest learned how his father had almost certainly been shot in 1943 when the ghetto was liquidated, and his mother and older brother, Samuel, taken to Vilnius. From there, they were probably transported to Majdanek in the fall of 1943, where they were killed by the Nazis. Samuel was 4 years old.
"My uncle, who died recently, could not understand that I remained a priest," Father Weksler-Waszkinel said. "It angered him. He told me I had made myself the representative of 2,000 years of hatred toward Jews." The priest paused, before adding: "But I know that while there are people calling themselves Christians capable of putting a mother and a child in a gas chamber, there is also a Polish Catholic woman who could risk her life to save me."
From inside his shirt, the priest abruptly drew out an emblem on a chain that has become the symbol of his life: a Star of David with a cross in the middle of it. "I am the Star of David with the cross inserted," he said. "That is my life as I see it. The cross is love. Without love, it is the Roman gallows. Jesus is not responsible for the wrongs perpetrated in his name, and I would like to resemble him, if only a little."
The Pope has embraced this extraordinary identity. When the priest wrote a second letter after finding out the story about his true parents, the Pope's reply came backed addressed to "Romuald-Jakub Weksler-Waszkinel." A long name for a double life.
In his small Lublin apartment, the priest has a photograph of his Jewish mother -- given to him in Israel -- next to one of his Polish mother, who died in 1989. Beside a crucifix is a prayer in Hebrew. His predicament makes him laugh. "You know, I can be a Jew in Poland, but as a priest, I cannot be a Jew in Israel," he said. But beneath the mirth, pain lingers. He wonders still about a brother of his mother who left for America early in the century. He worries because he recently found a pamphlet called "The Myth of the Holocaust" at a Lublin newsstand.
"It is good to see all the Israeli students at Majdanek," he said. "But I wish they went around in the company of Polish kids. In Israel, wrong things are said about Poland. And here, the stupidities about Jews persist. I am in the middle, and I know that what is needed is contact, understanding and love."

Copyright 1999 The New York Times Company


Fr Weksler-Waskinel again


Romuald Jakub Weksler-Waszkinel
Born in 1943?
From The Last Eyewitnesses:  Children of the Holocaust Speak
edited by Wiktoria Sliwowska, translated by Julian and Fay Bussgang
published by Northwestern University Press, 1998
Copyright © by Julian and Fay Bussgang
Reproduced with permission of the publisher,
Northwestern University Press, Evanston, Illinois

I was born (most likely) on February 28, 1943, in the ghetto in the town of Stare Swieciany near Wilno. (1)  My first remembered image, as though in a dream, is very clear.  In some spacious place, my mother at a window, bent over a pail, is cutting up boiled potatoes with a chopper, feed for the chickens and pigs.  I am standing, holding tightly onto her skirt.  My feet are touching a large pan in which threads spun from wool are soaking in boiling hot water.
        "Up, Mama, up. . . ."
        "Just a moment, Romcio.  Mama will pick you up.  Just . . ."
        Unfortunately, before I found myself in her arms, I tripped and fell on my bottom into the pan of boiling water.  A terrible yell, excruciating pain . . . and with this, the "film" is interrupted. . . .  According to my Polish mother, this incident took place when I was beginning to walk.  I was a year and two months old.
        I remember nothing of the trip transferring us to Poland in 1945.  The displaced persons for whom Poland "shifted to the west" were repatriated to the Recovered Territories.  In this way, the majority of Polish families from Swieciany found themselves in Lidzbark Warminski.
        Piotr and Emilia Waszkinel left the transport in Bialystok and settled down in a small village, Losiniec (near Korycin, district of Sokolka).  It was from there many years before that, as an eighteen-year-old, Emilia Chorazy had left for France in search of work.  Now she was returning to her hometown with a husband and a small son.  The latter, black-haired, stuttering, quick to cry, would most willingly sit on his mama's knees or possibly follow her everywhere like a chick behind a hen, holding onto his mama's skirt.  He was afraid to be alone; he feared being abandoned. . . .   He also liked being with his father, but most often he was not at home.
        Because the family "nest" of the Chorazy family proved to be too cramped for the arrivals from the Wilno area, the Waszkinel family moved, in the summer of 1946, to Paslak, near Elblag. (2)  A small town, at that time consisting of about 10,000 inhabitants, became for me a "port" for a longer stay.
        I was then four or five years old; thus, it was 1947 or 1948, a late summer afternoon.  I was returning to my house when two drunken men shouted at me, "Jew, Jew, a Jew bastard!"  When I turned to look at those two drunkards, they burst out laughing.  I had no doubt that they were calling me names.  I ran away to Mother, frightened, and I tried to explain to her what had happened.  I did not understand at all what "Jew" meant.
        My questions remained without answers.  Mother explained to me only that decent and wise people certainly would not call me such names as those two stupid drunkards had done.  Besides, one should not listen to stupid people at all; one should avoid them.  It was my first encounter with what could perhaps be called anti-Semitism.
        Afterward, many times in Paslek, particularly when I was younger (more or less during the period of elementary school, 1949-56), I found myself in a situation similar to that described.  I encountered many remarks with a double meaning or malicious allusions to the topic of "Jew boys."
        What caused me the greatest embarrassment were questions of the type, "Whom do you really resemble, your father or your mother?"  I was completely unable to deal with such questions, because I resembled neither Father nor Mother.  They were auburn-haired with typical Slavic faces; I had thick jet black hair and a totally different face.  I suffered so much from it internally that it hurt.  However, because I was very much loved by my parents, it was precisely their love that was the best "balsam" to soothe the pain.
        I did not want to be a Jew; I was fearful of being one!  Why?  The reasons were varied. . . .   Above all, however, I wanted to be the child of those whom I considered my parents, and they were Poles.  I wanted to be the same as other children in school, and they were Polish children.  Poles lived all around.  It was said about some that they were Lithuanians or Ukrainians.  Occasionally, one came across German families.  There were no Jewish families in the vicinity.
        In the lyceum, from 1956 until 1960, the Jewish problem seemed to evaporate.  The young people in a lyceum are already a little wiser.  Besides, I was a very good student.  My parents were proud.
        In the matriculation class, sometime in February, in a conversation with the priest who taught religion, I blurted out that when I passed the matriculation I would go to an ecclesiastical seminary.
        I became frightened at what I had said, but since I had said it, it seemed to me that I should keep my word.  I had to go there; words should not be idly tossed about.  I kept repeating it, troubled. . . .   I was uneasy, and still that very day, in the evening, I confided to my father this "declaration" that I had made to the priest.  Father's reaction irritated me.
        "Well, well, what is this I hear?  And what is to be done with all those girls?" he questioned me jokingly, letting me know, at the same time, that he was not taking seriously what I had said.  It affected me like a red cloth waved at a bull.
        "I may, of course, not be able to bear it and drop out," I responded to Father.  "Perhaps I don't even have any calling for it at all, but since I told the priest, then I ought to go."
        Father was clearly dissatisfied, both with my explanations and, more so, at the very prospect that I might become a priest.  He saw a doctor in me, not a priest, or at worst even an artist, (3) although previously he had on many occasions expressed reservations regarding the life-style of artists.  My father's attitude caught me completely by surprise.  Religion was not an afterthought in their lives; it shaped them.  I was never told, "Go to church," or "Recite your prayers."  I went there together with them, and I prayed together with them.
        And thus when, in spite of myself, I expressed the readiness to go where one could assume my parents would have wanted to see me go, I ran into the attitude I least expected.  But precisely this attitude on the part of my father somehow "spurred me on."  I became stubborn.  I decided to stick to my position.  Mother neither expressed opposition nor acceptance.  She cried in the corner.  It all seemed very strange, but I persisted in my determination.
        In the middle of September 1960, I found myself in Olsztyn, in the Higher Ecclesiastical Seminary.  On the twentieth of October of the same year, Father, while leaving the house at about six in the evening, fell down the stairs.  A heart attack knocked him off his feet, and falling down limply, he hit his head on the floor--a sudden death!
        After the funeral, I confided to Mother that I probably ought not to return to Olsztyn. "After all, Papa didn't want it."
        "Oh no!" she reacted immediately.  "Papa loved you very much.  That is not so.  If you don't like it, if you can't manage, you can leave.  It is your life, your future."  She began to cry . . . and I along with her.
        I wanted to ask Mother why Father so decidedly did not want me to go where I had gone.  I didn't have the strength.  Everything hurt. . . .  Father was barely fifty-two years old.  He loved me so much; he was so needed.  Why did God take Father away from me?
        After a month of indecision, I no longer wanted to leave.  Father's death, his splendid love for me became, in some way, a challenge, a wager, a credit.  I told myself that the stakes were too high.  Father was afraid that I would not be able to manage.  I must be a good priest!  I was, of course, at the beginning of the road.  I was seventeen years old.  In front of me were six long years of theological studies, and I realized that anything could happen.
        During the six years of studies, nobody called me a "Jew."  The Jewish problem disappeared, which seemed to me somewhat extraordinary.  Thus, if in my boyhood, so many saw in me a "Jew," then in my teenage years, particularly during my studies, the Jew in me was clearly "on leave."
        During all the years of my stay in the seminary, we sang a song about a chaplain's calling, and in this piece, there was a verse, "Jesus took my heart and overpowered me with love."  In point of fact, I was then and am still today in love with a Jew, Jesus of Nazareth!  Thus, when I realized that I was to become his chosen pupil, a chaplain, with respect to the ever-returning suspicions about my Jewish origin, I thought, "Wouldn't it be wonderful if I really were a Jew. . . ."
        On the nineteenth of June, 1966, I was consecrated as a chaplain in the cathedral basilica of Frombork.  I worked for one year in the parish of Kwidzyn, where a few persons managed to see a "Jew" in me.  In part, it amused me; in part, it made me happy.  After that year, I found myelf engaged in studies at the Catholic University of Lublin.  In 1970, I completed my studies in the Department of Philosophy, and, in 1971, I began working in the very same department.
         In 1975, Mother sold our single-family house in Paslak, and with this money, as well as partly with mine--after all, I was already working--we bought an apartment in Lublin.  After an interval of fifteen years, we were again living together.
         In some way, this was a continuation of my Jewish problem, because in Lublin many different "tales" reached me, which, in a certain way, woke me up from a dream.  More and more intensely, a question was forcing its way into my consciousness:  "And perhaps, I really am a Jew, after all."  Ever more frequently, I nurtured such a question within me, and the possibility no longer frightened me.
         Precisely because of that, I call the presence of Mother with me in Lublin a beginning as well as a continuation, because my attitude toward the Jewish question was for her the beginning of something unknown until then.  She quickly realized that not only was I no longer afraid of Jews, but that I loved them.  I loved them for many reasons.  Among others, because, through centuries, they were a nation particularly subjected to suffering.  From the religious side, all that was and is dearest in Christianity has Jewish roots.  The maltreatment of a Jew is a maltreatment of Jesus, His Mother, and all His closest followers, the Apostles.
         Thus, in conversations with Mother, quite consciously and purposefully, whenever there was an occasion, I took up the subject of the Holocaust.  Mother, and this was very puzzling to me, did not want to discuss it at all.  She was silent, or she would change the subject, probably deliberately.  Occasionally, I would read some fragment about Jewish suffering during the last war.  Then, quite frequently, tears would appear in her eyes.
         Once, seeing out of the corner of my eyes that she was wiping away tears, I interrupted my reading and asked her directly, "Mama, why are you crying?  Am I a Jew?"
         "Is it that I don't love you?" she replied immediately, crying almost out loud.
         It was uncomfortable for me to hear just such an answer, being really a question directed at me.  She was a wonderful mother and loved me very much.  But this answer-question of hers, given to me many times, was an indication that it was necessary to return to such topics, that something here was still a secret. . . .
         In Lublin, she never said to me that I was her birth son, although I tried to provoke such a declaration.  I wanted to hear it clearly.  I did not hear it.  Whenever I could, I steered the conversation toward Lyntupy--Emilia and Piotr Waszkinel lived there before the war and at its beginning--as well as towards Swieciany, where they came during the war years and lived until the war ended.
         Exactly such a conversation took place in the kitchen at dinner on the twenty-third of February, 1978.  We were talking about Swieciany during the war.  At a certain point, I asked directly, "Mama, and the Jews.  In Swieciany, did you know any Jews?"
         She looked at me and fell silent, as if she were struggling internally.  "Romek," she began, after a while, "you know, don't you, that during the war when the Germans came in 1941 . . ."  Her voice trembled; tears appeared in her eyes.  I took her hands into mine and kissed them, begging that she should finally tell me the whole truth.  And that is when, for the first time in my life, I heard, "You had wonderful parents, and they loved you very much.  They were Jews; they were murdered.  I was only saving you from death."
         I expected just such an answer, and, to a certain extent, I was waiting for it, but when I finally heard it, my head started spinning. . . .  I recovered my senses.  I will not attempt to describe what I was going through.  I remember that my first question, which then burst out, was the following, "Mama, why did you hide the truth for so long?!"
         "You had a wonderful, wise, and good mother. . . .  I was afraid, very afraid.  For saving a Jew, even such a tiny infant as you were then, death threatened.  As you know, we did not have our own apartment.  We were renting a room. . . .  I explained this to your mother in the ghetto.  She listened, but as if she did not hear.  She looked at me, and her sad eyes--you have your mother's eyes--told me more than any words."
         "'HE sees everything,'" she kept repeating. 'Life is in HIS hands, and one ought to at least save someone who cannot save himself.  Please save my child, a baby. . . . You are a believing person, a Christian.  You have told me several times that you believe in Jesus.  After all, he was a Jew!  Please save a Jewish baby in the name of this Jew in whom you believe.  When this little child grows up, you will see, he will become a priest and will teach people. . . .'"
         I heard how my heart was pounding. . . .  After all, knowing nothing about it, I had yet accomplished that which, in that tragic moment, my birth mother had said to my Polish mother.  The meaning, the weight of a mother's words!  Why did she use just such an argument?  One can only speculate. . . .  Undoubtedly, she wanted to convince a Christian woman to save the life of a Jewish infant.  And thus she saved my life!!!  And she certainly did it effectively.
         "I could not refuse your mama," my Polish mother said, wiping away her tears.  "It would have been as if I had renounced my faith.  You had a loving, very wise and brave mother.  She had the courage to give you birth at such a horrible time, and her words forced me to save you.  The rest was in God's hands. . . ."
         I asked about my birth name.  I heard a sad reply.  "I don't know, I didn't ask.  You mama undoubtedly told me, but I did not try to remember.  I tell you, I was afraid.  Those were dreadful moments.  Papa and I were afraid not just of the Germans.  We were fearful of everybody--Poles, Lithuanians, Russians, our neighbors, and, in general, of everyone we knew.  I don't know how we would have behaved if someone had denounced us.  I don't know. . . .  I am not a hero.  I simply did not want to know any name.  If somebody had reported us, they could have killed me, but, not lying, I would have repeated, 'This is my child, and I love him.'"
         My splendid Polish mother.  She was a hero!  She protected me during the war and during peace.  She always loved me very much.
         About my family home I learned little.  Two facts remembered by Mrs. Waszkinel proved to be very valuable.  The first one was that my father was a tailor in Swieciany.  He had a nice large tailoring establishment in the market square.  When the Germans came, because he was a valued tailor, they ordered him to work in his own workshop.  The other fact was that I had a brother, and my mother called him Muleczek, Szmulek, Samuel.
         When the Germans entered, and it was becoming ever more apparent that annihilation awaited the Jews, my brother Samuel, born in 1938 or 1939, was hidden with some Lithuanian family living in Swieciany.  Nobody expected my coming into the world. When, however, it in fact happened, a series of obstacles presented themselves to my mother, and each one threatened death.  First, it was necessary to hide the very fact of her pregnancy from the Germans, as well as from the Szaulis (Lithuanian police), then to give birth, and then, finally, to hide the infant as long as possible.  Although my life was marked with the imprint of death from its very beginning, my parents had maintained the hope that the life of their first-born son was safe.
         And then, already after my birth, the people hiding Samuel brought him back to the ghetto.  In view of the situation which had arisen, my mother decided to seek care for me.  It is well known that Jews paid with whatever they had for the assistance given them.  Meanwhile, in order to save me, there was no longer anything valuable left to surrender because the people who had been hiding Samuel, and who had received for it many valuables from my parents, gave nothing back upon returning my brother.  In the end, I received as a "dowry" diapers and the small comforter in which I was wrapped, as well as--and today these are my greatest treasures--a samovar and a hand scale (called a berzmien).
         In 1979, I found myself for the first time in Laski, near Warsaw, where I met the nun Sister Klara Jaroszynska.  During a conversation with her, I quickly became aware that she had been actively engaged in rescuing Jews during the war.  She was decorated with the medal "Just Among the Nations of the World."  I confessed to her the whole truth about myself.  I wanted to confide in someone trustworthy, but, above all, I expressed the desire that she help me in a search for some "traces" of my family.  I asked Sister to remember two bits of information that seemed significant, namely, one, the circumstances relating to my father, and, two, the name of my brother.
         Long years of waiting began.  Ten years passed.  Slowly, I was losing hope of finding any traces of my dear ones.  Sister Klara's search via correspondence was producing no results.
         Finally, in 1989, Sister traveled to Israel, and there she came across the traces of the Jewish community of Swieciany.  A meeting was immediately organized for Sister with the remnants of the inhabitants of Swieciany who had survived the war and were now living in Tel Aviv and vicinity.
         Those two above-mentioned pieces of information which Sister possessed turned out to be sufficient for me to regain the knowledge that the war had taken away from me.
         That tailor who was ordered by the Germans to work in his own workshop was called Jakub Weksler.  His wife was Batia, nee Waiskonska (some pronounce it Waiszkunska).  The Wekslers had a small son named Samuel.  What is more, they showed to Sister a picture of my birth mother in the book issued to present the story of the Jewish community of Swieciany.  It is a photo showing members of a Zionist organization from the thirties.  My mama is sitting in the middle.  She was then the chairperson of this organization.
         In 1989 (on the fifteenth of April), my Polish mother passed away in my arms.  In the spring of 1992, Sister Klara Jaroszynska arrived in Lublin bringing with her the lost--it had seemed forever--"trace" of my relatives, as well as the picture of my birth mother.  In the meantime, it turned out that my birth father's brother and sister were still alive, living in Netanya.  That very year (1992), in July, I traveled to Israel to make personal contact with my own very close relatives--the brother and sister of my father.
         I was greeted with tears and a completely unimaginable love.  Aunt Rachela (Rosa) Sargowicz, nee Weksler (she passed away in November 1992), and Uncle Cwi Weksler were elderly people, strongly affected by the war.  Both knew about the existence of Samuel; my existence was for them a total surprise.  Back in 1941, they had escaped into the depths of Russia.  Uncle went through the purgatory of Soviet Lagers.
         Two surviving girlfriends of my birth mother knew that toward the end of 1942, Batia Weksler was walking around, using their expression, with a "tummy."  However, both ladies had escaped in 1943 to join the partisans, and in the spring of 1943, the Jews of Swieciany who still remained alive were deported to Kowno and Wilno.  My dearest ones were most likely murdered in the Wilno Ghetto or in Ponary.
         I am left only with a charred samovar and a hand scale--silent witnesses of those horrible days and nights.  Not "only"!  Today I know that my mother's eyes are in me, my father's mouth, and the fears and tears of my brother. . . .  I carry within me the love of my parents--Jewish and Polish!

LUBLIN, DECEMBER 15, 1994


(1)  This story was received by the Association of the Children of the Holocaust after the Polish book had already been published and, therefore, appears [in the English book] for the first time. return
(2)  Formerly Elbing, East Prussia, it was also part of the Recovered Territories.  return
(3)  Because I played the accordion, I participated quite actively in school theatrical productions in the lyceum.  I usually won school recitation competitions, and on many occasions at home, I broached the notion that perhaps I would become a performer.  (Author's note)  return

                                                                                                                         pp. 292-301
 

Wednesday 26 September 2012

Fr Romuald Jakub Weksler-Waskinel's story

A gentleman greeted me on the road this morning, as I was returning from the FMA chaplaincy, and I didn't know what to say. From the net I learn that greeting is Tzom Kal - Easy Fast. The more traditional greeting is "G'mar Hatimah Tovah" or "May You Be Sealed for a Good Year (in the Book of Life)." Perhaps that's what the gentleman wished me - I heard only the Tovah, and I mumbled back 'Tovah.'

Here is something that picks up from my Yom Kippur find of last year, the touching and fascinating story of Fr Romuald Weksler-Waskinel. This is from Ha-Aretz online.

Home News Features
Jewish-born Polish priest dreams of Aliyah
Romuald Jakub Weksler-Waszkinel considers himself both Catholic and Jewish, says 'To love Jesus means to love Jews.'
By The Forward and Donald Snyder | Jun.21, 2009 | 5:31 PM

When Romuald Jakub Weksler-Waszkinel applied to immigrate to Israel as a Jew under the Law of Return last October, Israeli authorities delayed responding to his request for months.

Perhaps it was the priest's white-band collar around his neck that had something to do with this.

Yet ultimately, Israel's Interior Ministry did issue the 66-year-old Polish cleric, scholar and professor at Catholic University of Lublin a two-year residency visa. It was, it seems, an imperfect compromise with a priest who insists: "I am Jewish. And my mother and father were Jewish. I feel Jewish."

Speaking through an interpreter during a phone interview, he said, "Going to Israel would be the return of the Jewish child who took the long way home."

Born in 1943 in Nazi-occupied Poland, Weksler-Waszkinel did not know that he was Jewish until he was 35 years old, 12 years after he was ordained as a Roman Catholic priest. Nor did he know that his birth parents, both ardent Zionists, were murdered by the Nazis after entrusting his care to a Polish Catholic family to save his life. It took him 14 years after he learned he was Jewish to find his real name and the names of his parents. "So in a way, it took me 14 years to be born," the priest said.

"My mother's dreams went up in the flames of Sobibor," he explained, referring to the death camp in Poland where some 260,000 Jews were murdered.

Weksler-Waszkinel is not the only one who grapples with a dual identity. Mark Shraberman, chief archivist at Yad Vashem, Israel's Holocaust museum and research institute, said in an interview in Jerusalem that he receives many letters from Poles who are discovering that they are of Jewish origin. "They find out the truth when one of their parents is dying," Shraberman said. He added that he recently received a letter from another Polish priest in a small town who just found out that he is Jewish.

But Weksler-Waszkinel, in seeking to rediscover his lost identity by immigrating to Israel, is taking his search for that identity further than most. Though he sought originally to become recognized by the government as a Jew under the Law of Return ? the law that grants any Jew immediate Israeli citizenship ? he pronounced himself "very satisfied" with his two-year visa.

Weksler-Waszkinel says that he plans to immerse himself in Jewish life. "I don?t know what that means; after all, I am a Catholic priest. But I will find out," he said. "I thought, perhaps, I could be a volunteer at Yad Vashem as someone who survived the Shoah and who participates in the Christian-Jewish dialogue, which is so important." He says that the first thing he will do is learn Hebrew.

Weksler-Waszkinel was born in the town of Stare Swjeciary - which was then in Poland but is now known as Svencionys in Lithuania - four years after the Nazi invasion of Poland started World War II. His mother, Batia Weksler, gave him as an infant to a Christian woman to save his life.

Emilia Waszkinel, his Christian mother, initially hesitated to take him because she and her husband, Piotr, risked death for hiding a Jew. Emilia was reportedly convinced to accept the baby in response to his Jewish mother?s plea: "Save my child, a Jewish child, and in the name of the Jesus that you believe in, he will grow up to become a priest."

The couple raised the boy as their own child in Eastern Poland, where they lived after the war, without telling him that he was Jewish. The boy attended secular schools.

Perhaps because of this, his parents were shocked when, at the age of 17, Weksler-Waszkinel told them he planned to become a priest. His father tried to discourage him, saying he should instead become a doctor, and cried uncontrollably when visiting his son at the seminary. Weksler-Waszkinel felt enormous guilt when his father died shortly after this visit. Briefly, he considered ending his studies.

Even before discovering his Jewish background, Weksler-Waszkinel had harbored doubts about his true identity. The young man had been aware of the fact that he did not have the pronounced Slavic features of his parents. He had been called "a Jew bastard" by town drunks, so he asked his mother if he was Jewish. She assured him that he was Catholic. When he was 35, long after his ordination, he again inquired about his identity, and Emilia, weeping, told him about his Jewish mother.

Emilia told Weksler-Waszkinel that he had wonderful parents who were murdered by the Germans in the Holocaust and that she had saved his life.

"My head spun, and I asked her why she hid this from me," the shocked priest wrote in a 1994 essay. "My heart was pounding as I thought that I had become a priest, something my mother said I would become."

The priest had fulfilled the prophecy of his Jewish mother, a woman he had never known.

He felt he needed to confide in someone, so he wrote to Karol Wojtyla, who by then was Pope John Paul II but who had been Weksler-Waszkinel?s professor in Lublin. The pontiff responded, "My beloved brother, I pray so that you can rediscover your roots."

Weksler-Waszkinel eventually traveled to Israel. There he met his Jewish father?s brother, who showed him a photograph of his parents. He realized that he resembled them. "My mother?s eyes are in me, my father?s mouth and the fears and tears of my brother," he wrote in the 1994 essay.

Weksler-Waskinel's uncle embraced him as a long-lost relative, but said that he could not understand how his nephew could be a priest and represent the church that has persecuted Jews for 2,000 years. The priest responded: "To really belong to Jesus means to love Jews. Jesus never betrayed me, and I will not betray him."

Nevertheless, Weksler-Waskinel grapples with his tangled identity.

"His double identity is a problem for him that he struggles with all the time," said Zbigniew Nosowski, a friend of the priest and editor of Weiz, a Polish-Catholic intellectual magazine in Krakow.

According to Michael Schudrich, chief rabbi of Poland, "Father Waskinel is incredibly honest in saying that he is Jewish, and he is also honest in not wanting to turn his back on the church."

Some close friends grasp the enormity of the priest's conflict. "He has an impossible task to find a place for himself," said Stanislaw Krajewski who is a friend of the priest and teaches mathematics at the University of Warsaw. Krajewski said the 66-year-old priest has been "an uncomfortable presence" to some Jews and Christians because of his dual religious identity.

"He is very Jewish and very Christian," said Hanna Krall, a prominent Polish journalist and novelist.

Weksler-Waszkinel says Poland will always be his fatherland and Israel will be his homeland.

The priest has devoted most of his academic life to writing about Jewish-Christian relations. He praises the reforms introduced by the Second Vatican Council, calling them "a radical change, a revolution."

He is working to further improve ties between Christians and Jews, inspired by Pope John Paul II?s call for greater Catholic respect and understanding for Jews. When asked how Weksler-Waszkinel promotes ecumenism, Schudrich said, "When he gets up in the morning and breathes... his life?s message is that strong."

According to a number of Polish intellectuals, Weksler-Waszkinel?s story brings Jews and Christians closer. "When he tells his personal story, he has tears in his eyes," Krajewski said. "And audiences cry with him. It is a very sad story."

Weksler-Waszkinel's speeches to churchgoers and lay people point to the Jewish roots of Christianity and the enormous gap dividing the two faiths. He often criticizes the Catholic Church for not closing the gap between Jews and Christians. In our interview, he told me that Pope John Paul once said, "The New Testament finds its roots in the Old Testament," and that what is significant is the word "finds." Weksler-Waszkinel added, "Those roots have always been there, according to Pope John Paul, but for 19 centuries they were forgotten, and a Jew was considered the worst enemy."

Weksler-Waszkinel's application to go to Israel as a Jew under the Law of Return is clearly heartfelt. It also has a practical aspect. He said that getting Israeli citizenship would entitle him to benefits he needs to supplement his small pension of $900 a month. Under the two-year visa arrangement he has now accepted, those benefits will not be available. The priest is determined to immigrate, nevertheless, even with little money and just a two-year visa.

Experts doubt that the Ministry of the Interior, controlled by the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, would have granted Weksler-Waszkinel citizenship under the Law of Return.

In 1962, the Israeli Supreme Court ruled in a 4-1 decision against Jewish-born Oswald Rufeisen, a Carmelite monk known as Brother Daniel, who sought Israeli citizenship under the Law of Return. This was the first narrowing of the statute, which was basic to Israel's identity from its founding in the wake of the Holocaust. Judge Haim Cohen, the single dissenter, noted that the Nazis sought to kill all those born Jewish, irrespective of their conversion from or rejection of Judaism. But the court ruled that the Law of Return did not apply to Jews who had embraced another religion.

Weksler-Waszkinel's case for automatic Israeli citizenship seems to be stronger than that of Rufeisen in one respect: He could argue that he never did, in fact, "embrace" another religion. Unlike the Polish-born Carmelite monk, who converted as an adult to Catholicism after finding shelter from the Nazis in a convent, Weksler-Waszkinel never consciously chose to leave Judaism for another faith. He argues that he considers himself a Jew who was raised from infancy as a Catholic without being informed of his true identity.

"The court fight would be lengthy and complicated, and he decided to avoid it," said Schudrich, who is helping the priest relocate to Israel.

"He wants to be in a place where he can see a full, rich Jewish life," Schudrich said of Weksler-Waszkinel's need to fulfill his dream to live in Israel. "He has this inner longing to be in a place that is surrounded by the culture of his ancestors."

http://www.haaretz.com/jewish-world/2.209/jewish-born-polish-priest-dreams-of-aliyah-1.278518

Tuesday 25 September 2012

Cor regis in manu Dei

The first reading this morning from the Book of Proverbs: Cor regis in manu Dei... quocumque voluerit, vertet illud. And the gospel: the invitation to become part of the Family of God by listening to his Word. Two ways of going to God, which are probably the way of the Spirit and the way of the Son. God moving our hearts, the golden string, the pull that keeps us restless until we rest in him. And the invitation to respond, the word that calls. Freedom playing out in different ways in each case.

Sunday 23 September 2012

The Philippines and North East India

This is a Filipino folk dance troupe. It reminds you immediately of our North East India. 

This reminds you even more of the Naga folk dress

The colours are strikingly similar. It is very likely that the same groups of people spread out into North-East India, Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines. The Filipinos themselves say they derive from Malay, negrito and Chinese stock.



San Lorenzo del Ruiz at Ratisbonne

Rosary at the Statue of OL of Sion
The San Lorenzo del Ruiz community which gathers Saturdays and Sundays in our chapel at Ratisbonne celebrated their patronal feast today. Rosary, mass in Tagalog, a variety program of folk dances and the life of San Lorenzo, and of course, plenty of Filipino food. The Philippine Ambassador to Israel was in attendance, and some members of his staff. People came from as far as Tel Aviv and Rehovot.
Finger food after mass

The Dragon dance

Fan lady

Folk troupe


Friday 21 September 2012

Matthew and his Hebrew gospel

Feast of St Matthew today. Can't help remembering the talk of the Hebrew or Aramaic gospel of Matthew that was supposed to have been found - by Pantenus? - in India...

Tuesday 18 September 2012

Morris West' 'Lazarus'

I am reading Morris West's Lazarus. The novel is the story of a hardliner disciplinarian pope who undergoes a critical heart surgery. It is full of invectives against the way the church functions.

Perhaps some years ago I would have found it congenial. Just now it seems merely tired and outworn. The significant thing is that God hardly seems to have a place in the whole business at all. Though perhaps that is not quite fair. There are some uplifting moments. 

Monday 17 September 2012

The place of faith in theology

Ratzinger calls for faith in theology, and Lonergan agrees. The question is only where faith enters, and how. Lonergan would say: if you have faith, it is always functioning in theology. Only, it functions implicitly in first phase theology - in research, interpretation, history, dialectic - and explicitly in second phase theology - foundations, doctrines, systematics, communications.

No, no, one might say: it has to function explicitly from the start. Yes, fine, but how are you going to ensure that someone has faith, or certify that s/he has it? So Lonergan recommends that first phase theology be open to all comers. The method is designed to raise and handle the question of faith, at the level of dialectic and foundations. The method is designed to bring horizons more and more explicitly to light. And one discovers that the basic horizon is not only religious but also moral and intellectual.

It is likely that we will discover goodness and holiness cutting across intra-church theological tendencies, churches, religions, and non-religions. The rub seems to be in the difficult area of the intellectual. 

Salesian sanctity, graduated

Salesian sanctity consists of cheerfulness and duty, or doing one's duty cheerfully and well. The catch is in the duty. At the level of a theologate, duty includes study. It certainly does not consist of choosing to do, or to do well, only what I like. It includes doing what I don't quite like to do, what I am not drawn to doing, what does not give me immediate pleasure. Called for is a sort of transcendent openness - or perhaps a supernatural openness. 

The multi-cultural mix of STS

We had the inauguration of the Academic Year 2012-12 of the Studium Theologicum Salesianum, Jerusalem, this morning.

Our students come from 22 nations, and the staff from 14, making a representation of 30 nations on this little campus.

The students are about 48, and the staff some 21, if you include the 'visiting' or 'invitati'. A student-teacher ratio of 2+:1.

The largest groups are the Indians, with 7 students; the Italians, with 6, and the Polish and Ethiopians with 5 each.

Well and truly Jerusalem, with all nations of the world streaming to it. 

Friday 14 September 2012

The Exaltation of the Cross

Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, Solemnity in Jerusalem and the Holy Land. Fr Vernet gave a beautiful little homily this morning. I learnt that this feast was set up after the recovery of the Cross from the Persians in 628, by the Byzantine Emperor Heraclius. It was meant to remember both the finding of the Cross by St Helena in 328, and the recovery of it from the Persians.

When the Persians sacked Jerusalem and the Holy Land in 614, they destroyed almost all the churches, including that of the Holy Sepulchre, and the Emperor Khusrow carried away the Cross as one of his trophies.

Yesterday we visited the Holy Sepulchre, and were at the very spot where Helena discovered the three Crosses. It would seem that the Roman soldiers had disposed of the crosses in a nearby cistern, and there they had lain till Helena discovered them. The story of the discovery is well known: the Cross was identified by the miraculous cure of a moribund woman. One of the bishops of the time has left a written testimony. '

The Cross was eventually installed on the place the Christians remembered as Calvary, and Constantine and Helena built a basilica over it and the Tomb, replacing Hadrian's Temple and perhaps using material from it.

A sadder story regards the Mamilla Pool, Birket Mamilla, the Upper Pool that Isaiah speaks about in his ch. 7. It seems the Persians sold all able-bodied Christians into slavery after their sack of Jerusalem. But more than 4000 older men, women and children were herded into the then empty Mamilla Pool and left there to starve to death. Eventually the bodies were buried around the Pool, which seems to be the origin of the cemetery that exists up to our days, known as the Muslim cemetery. It was used by various waves of Muslim invaders.
File:MamilaPool.jpg
Mamilla Pool in the middle of the 19th century
The Mamilla Pool today

Tomb of Emir Kubaki, d. 1289

Muslim cemetery


Thursday 13 September 2012

Herzl's house

Herzl's house, now in Mamilla. Transported stone by loving stone from wherever it used to be originally. Now housing what seems to be a cafe. Theodor Herzl was the father of modern political Zionism, and so an important figure for the State of Israel. Once again, I've passed by a hundred times, and never noticed this. I assumed it was one of the several buildings that were relocated when the Mamilla arcade was constructed.

A pillar of the Temple




This is something that most tourists and pilgrims might miss, even if they pass it a hundred times: an unfinished pillar destined for the Temple, in the time of Herod the Great. Trust Vernet to spot these things. This particular pillar was discovered quite by chance some 15 years ago, while digging around the Russian Orthodox Church off Jaffa Street. Since it was defective, it was abandoned - you can see that the carving has not been quite finished, on the left side. This was meant for the pillared portico around the Temple Mount, and gives us even today some idea of the magnificence of the construction, which Vernet says was surely the largest and most imposing building in its time in the Middle East. 

Fusion...

Dominique Arnaud and Eric John Wyckoff outside St Anne's

Dominique and Eric John once again, outside St Anne's

Wednesday 12 September 2012

Iris Murdoch's 'A Fairly Honourable Defeat'

I finally managed to finish Iris Murdoch's A Fairly Honourable Defeat. A difficult, if slim, novel. If it were a movie, it would be more 'continental' than 'Hollywood,' with its sharp and often painful rendering of characters and life. In the end, the suave, dapper and probably evil Julius King wins out. The last chapter is a scene of him peacefully enjoying an aperitif and a dinner in one of the great Paris eating places. No bad conscience for him. Who is the honourably defeated? Hard to say. But the total antithesis of Julius is Tallis, Morgan's pitiful husband. Tallis is slovenly, his house is impossibly filthy, he just cannot make any money, and he shuffles about with leftist activist sympathies, a wife who has deserted him, and a father who is terminally ill and always absolutely foul tempered and filthy mouthed. Julius is instead tall, handsome, always impeccably dressed, successful, moneyed, and utterly confident. He is happiest when he has no one to depend on him, no ties at all, as in the final chapter. Tallis instead is saddled with responsibilities, his father, his wife's nephew Peter, and he would dearly love to get his wife back, even though she simply despises him. Yet Tallis is the one perhaps who makes the most honourable choice in the novel.

Not Rupert, the would-be philosopher, who writes about goodness, and believes himself to be the epitome of goodness, but who comes crashing down thanks to the machinations of Julius. Rupert, as Julius does not hesitate to point out, lives off his self-image. And when that crashes, he crashes. He is found face down, dead, in his pool.

Not Hilda, Rupert's wife. Certainly not Morgan, who wants to be utterly free, but who will not look at the consequences of her actions, having the great - and perhaps not entirely uncommon - capacity to be completely lost in whatever she happens to be doing. So she engages in an affair with Rupert, her brother in law, and when it comes unstuck she ends up blaming everyone: Rupert himself for not being man enough, her beloved sister Hilda for having taken it so badly, everyone.

Then there is the odd gay couple, Axel and Simon. They are also manipulated by the unscrupulous Julius, who is confident that a semi-lie here and a poke there will be sufficient to make the relationship come unstuck, and who almost succeeds. Axel and Simon manage to pull on by ignoring any possible responsibility for Rupert and Hilda. But they do agonize later over their decision, quite unlike Julius.

As for Julius, he says he is merely out to demonstrate the hollowness of all those who pretend to be good and wise and settled and steady and so on. The fickleness and frailty of all human achievement and relationship. And he is right in this assumption. I can't help thinking: in a life lived without God, isn't goodness or the attempt to goodness merely hubris? Rupert and Hilda are good persons, very social minded and all that, but they do not believe in God. There is no place for that hypothesis in their lives. It is superfluous.

Iris Murdoch was known to Sara Grant. Sr Grant came into contact with Murdoch - was it at Oxford or at Cambridge? - after her own conversion. If my memory serves me right, she said that Murdoch was herself going through the throes of her own conversion. I wonder at what point she wrote this novel. Not, as I said, an easy or entertaining thing. But quite profound all the same. 

Wyckoff''s interpretation of The Life of Pi

Eric Wyckoff was giving me a brilliant interpretation of The Life of Pi: that it deals with the relationship between faith and reason. And he is probably right. By the end of the book, I remember not knowing which interpretation to believe: that Richard Parker is the tiger, or that he is a very 'tigrous' human being. Eric says this is the conflict between the religious and the pure natural interpretations. You can look at the whole story as a story of animals - and that does tax plausibility - or you can see it, as the Japanese investigating team did, as a story of human beings. I hope Eric puts that down. It will be topical: the movie is being made by Ang Lee these days, or perhaps it is ready, I recall vaguely having seen a poster. 

Ratisbonne and the Gehenna torrent

Just struck me once again: the Gehenna torrent begins more or less at Ratisbonne. Our monastery is actually on the watershed (see Zech 14:6-8). In simple terms, it means that if I pour water onto the ground at Ratisbonne, it will flow either to the Dead Sea, or to the Mediterranean. If it flows east, it enters the waterway of the Gehenna (you have to imagine much of that now). If it flows west, it goes towards Tel Aviv and Jaffa...

Tuesday 11 September 2012

Street festival at German Colony

Probably a group of Yemeni Jews, making music

The group again

Live statue

A part of the crowd
Eric, Matteo and I walked over last night to the Street Festival at the Hamoshava Hagermanit, or German Colony, one of the older locations of New Jerusalem. Just one street, full of people, mostly Hebrew speaking, dancing to music old and new, eating street food, drinking beer and wine, and having fun... It was good to see people so happy. Much of the street food seems to have been the restaurants overflowing onto the street - but there is something about street food that attracts more people than formal restaurants. You don't need to screw up courage to enter the restaurant, for example. You just look around, watch others, and buy. Some of the odours were simply wonderful, but we made the mistake of deciding to walk through the whole affair before coming back, by which time both odours and food had quite disappeared. But it was fun.

What I called the Yemeni group - it could have been anything, but we were guessing it was Jewish music from from Arab country - was lovely and lively. People dancing spontaneously and all that.

Also chourizos - Jewish variety of course. And empanadas. And lots of finger foods, of the type Noubar and Yvonne make for us here at home.

Jerusalem has plenty of this kind of thing. You just have to be on the lookout. This particular festival seems to have been part of the approaching Shana Tova, Jewish New Year Day. 

Monday 10 September 2012

Ordinations, Perpetual Professions and some news

Dear confreres of the Ratisbonne Salesian Community, and especially those who are still in their summer vacations,

Many greetings to each of you from Ratisbonne and Jerusalem.

As you get ready to begin your return journeys, here is a little bit of news.

Priestly ordinations. Iosif Ilies was ordained in Romania on 16 June, Sean in Canada on 23 June, Berhane on 1 July, and Dietrich on 5 July. Paul Passah will be ordained on 14 October in India. Nesly's ordination date is not yet fixed, but he wrote telling about his summer ministry.

Perpetual professions. Tadele Wolde and Tekle Wolde made their perpetual professions in Ethiopia on 4 August. Dennis Bisonga also made his perpetual profession on the same day, but in Kenya. Pedro Sachitula and Rooney Undar made their perpetual professions on 15 August in the Philippines. Jacek Garus made his perpetual profession in Poland on 2 September. That leaves Emanuele De Maria, who will make his perpetual profession on 15 September in Italy.

Our congratulations to all our newly ordained, to the newly perpetually professed, and our prayers as Emanuele prepares.

And to all our new Second, Third and Fourth Years, a warm welcome back.

The new First Years have already begun arriving. John Lian from Myanmar came on 26 August. Sibhat and Haish arrived from Ethiopia early Sunday morning, 9 September. Leo, who belongs to the Middle East Province, arrived early this morning, 10 September, and John Christopher from Chennai is due to arrive some time this morning. Tomasz Sage from Poland arrives early tomorrow morning, and Clarence and Carmel from North East India on the evening. No news about Luca De Muro's arrival. As for Matias from East Timor and Finansius from Indonesia, they have still to get their visas, so say a prayer.

Guests. This year we also expect to have two Salesian guest priests, Fr Juan Zura from Chile and Fr Peter Kuchar from Slovakia. They will spend 3 months with us, October to December 2013. Fr Matteo Balla, who has put in a huge amount of work in the Library and Binding, will be leaving tomorrow for a course at St Anne's, while Fr Leonardo Santibanez is currently accompanying the group from the UPS on their pilgrimage in the Holy Land. Fr Richard Amalanathan will continue his PhD studies at the Ecole Biblique. Fr Piotr Przesmycki (PLE) will be visiting staff for Moral Theology in the second semester. Fr Eric John Wyckoff is, of course, since 1 September a full member of the staff, and is all set to take over the job of Registrar from Fr Aurelio. Fr Antonio Scudu has been appointed to Nazareth, and he has already moved there. 

Suheila, unfortunately, has not been well at all. She had to be hospitalized once again in the last 2 weeks, and as I write is still in Hadassah, though now out of the intensive care. Please keep her in your prayers. In her absence, Soher continues to do a great job. 

Yvonne, Nubar, Vicky and Georgette are already back to work (and one or other has been here all through the summer), and are busy getting the house ready.

As for the staff, we are all here, back to base, and will soon be having our first council meeting, this time in Bet Gemal (14-15 Sep). So if some of you don't see us around in Ratisbonne, that's where we will be. But we will be back for the Teaching Staff Meeting at 0900 hrs, 15 September. 

Thanks to Fr Gianni 's interest and persistence, I am happy to tell you that we have a brand new set of moving shelves in the main library stack room. Now there remains only the little job of transferring the books into them. Frs Gianni and Matteo have put in a great deal of work in the holidays.  Hidrimariam has also been here all through the summer, working in the Flagellation, but also doing a hundred things around the house. Fr Stephen is another confrere who has spent the whole summer here, and I know he has put in an enormous amount of work keeping the gardens going, besides all the other work that he has. Fr Vernet returned as scheduled on 6 August, after a holiday in Italy and Catalunya. Fr Victor spent the summer here, doing Hebrew and taking care of various chaplaincies. Fr Aurelio obtained his visa extension, and so was able to take a good if short vacation in Malta. Fr Eric Mairura is back after a 2 month Italian course in Rome, and now speaks fluently. Frs Ric, Eric John and Biju are also back from various summer ministries and holidays. 

So that's a little news from this side. See you soon!


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