Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Reflections on or trip to Cotija 2018.

Reflections on Cotija 2018:
            Once again I have come to this small town located in the foothills of the Sierras here in Central Mexico, to relax and unwind from the stress of everyday life in California. This is my wife’s hometown and we have been coming here almost every year since we were married in 1986. We built a house here about 15 years ago, so we have both our “hotel” and eventual semi-retirement home here.
            The people of Cotija are some of the friendliest people one could find in Mexico, or anywhere else in the world. So many speak English because they have worked or are still working in the U.S. and especially in December, many return for vacation and the various feasts that happen at this time of year. I have known some of the people here for more than the 32 years that I have been visiting, since my college days in the late 70’s early 80’s when I worked at a dairy store that happened to deliver product to the many taco shops in the San Diego area, this is also how I met my wife, whose father owned one of the shops I delivered to.
            The weather in Cotija in December is cool, but not cold. Evening temps can dip into the low 60’s and daytime temps into the mid 70’s. Like Mary Poppins would say, “It’s practically perfect.” Although the last week the temperatures at night have dipped into the mid 40’s, but daytime highs have remained in the mid to upper 60’s. We are in the highlands after all and we get a breeze coming into the valley that cools things down.
            One of the perks I have at the present time is that, as a deacon in the Catholic Church, the Cure of the town parish invites me to celebrate Mass with them. One would usually need a letter of good standing from the diocese where they are serving, in my case San Bernardino, but the priest has known me and my wife for many years, and I have full faculties from my Bishop to serve in all capacities as a deacon. I was privileged to assist in the Sacrament of Baptism the last time I was here two years ago. The baptismal fount is hundreds of years old and has seen at least two saints baptized in it, one being St. Rafael Guizar y Valencia, the other, my wife (although she is not yet canonized…). Noted, I assisted, I did not do the actual baptism, but assisted with anointing and proclamation of the Word, etc. Saturday night I assisted with the last Mass of the day, 7:30 and before the dismissal, we had Eucharistic Adoration. Usually, the priest would raise the Monstrance to bless the people, but he motioned for me to do it, so with a great sense of pride and humbleness (I know they are contrary, but this is how I felt), I raised Jesus in the Monstrance and blessed the people. The feelings of inadequateness in the minister does nullify the effects of the blessing, or in the case of Mass, the Sacrament of the Eucharist.
            Continuing on the spiritual life of the people in Cotija, many of the “hijos ausentes” (those who live in the United States, but come here for the Religious feasts in December including Christmas, so they are the “missing” sons and daughters of Cotija) many of them will also use this opportunity to get married in the Church, or to baptize their children, or to get Confirmation in the Faith, or even to celebrate a Quinceanera (15th birthday blessing and traditional introduction to society for a young lady). These are done all through the week at the parish church, Nuestra Senora del Popolo (Our Lady of the People). December truly is the busiest time for our priests, between all of the masses that are celebrated, the baptisms and the Quinceaneras, weddings and funerals, they are practically non stop in their service to the people of Cotija, and this parish has only three priests to do all the ministries and Sacraments that are needed to be done. We had a Quinceanera at the 7:30 pm Mass last night. It is quite a sight to see a weekday mass, especially at night, to be almost full of people as it was last night. It is also a blessing to see it. I was surprised that there was a Quinceanera scheduled at an evening Mass, and the Celebrant mentioned to me before Mass that he too, wondered why one was scheduled at this hour. God works in mysterious ways I suppose, because this girl was very moved by the priest’s words to her about her life and her responsibilities to both herself and her family and to God. I have to admit, that in my 6 years since my ordination, I have celebrated many of these celebrations and for the most part, it seems like the girls are almost just waiting for it to be over so they can get to the “party” part of their “quince”. It is sometimes disheartening to perceive that attitude in these young women, then just at the point where I feel like telling my pastor that I don’t want to celebrate these anymore, I get a young woman for whom the Eucharistic celebration is the highlight of her day and the party is just icing on the cake. I had one such girl who was very involved in her service, even to the point of singing the “Ave Maria” when it came time to place the flowers at the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe and to ask for her help in becoming the woman that God wants her to be. I was moved to tears. It was after that Quinceanera that I changed my attitude towards the ritual and saw that I was there for God and to do His will in giving the best homily to encourage and challenge the young women who are celebrating this transition in their lives. How they take it, or their attitude towards it, does not matter, at least to me.
            We took a day trip to a National Park in a neighboring town about 2 hours away (about 50 miles, but through mountain roads and traffic…). This park is home to a natural source of pure water, in fact, you can drink water straight from the rock without fear of getting sick, it is that pure! The state of Michoacán is home to the world’s best hass avocados, and Uruapan (where the park is) is the Capital of the avocado empire. We depend so much on Mexican avocados (even though we have the largest avocado growers in our own backyard in San Diego County), that when the workers went on strike last month, there was a major disruption in production and distribution and avocado prices went through the roof, so much so that we had to stop selling guacamole except on the menu items that came with it. Don’t let anybody fool you into thinking that the avocado growers in California don’t want or are afraid of the Mexican avocados. Two major California distributors, West Pak and Calavo, are invested heavily in Michoacán. Both have packing and distribution centers here and make money hand over fist with their product.
            We took another trip, this time only for the afternoon, to a mountain town in Jalisco, about 45 minutes from Cotija. Mazamitla is a town in the Sierras, just as Uruapan is, however the difference with Mazamitla is that it seems to be frozen in time. It is a tourist town, but it still looks like it did 50 years or 100 years ago. Clean streets, flagstone roads throughout the center of town and quaint shops selling just about anything you might want, from waffles and crepes to fine art. We usually just go for lunch at a nice restaurant/resort that overlooks the valley below, as we did today. I remember the first time I was at this particular restaurant and was surveying the surrounding landscape with the plethora of pine trees in these mountains, the scent surrounds you as you breathe in clean mountain air, and I remember thinking that I was going to see the Cartwright clan come riding over the hill and I heard the theme to ‘Bonanza’ playing in my head. I have been to many small mountain towns in many places, but none have the authentic charm as Mazamitla has. This is a town I need to return to and spend a number of days exploring it’s charm and beauty.
            No vacation is complete without at least one minor emergency. We had ours with a flat tire on our rental car. Now, it was a minor emergency because we were returning from a neighboring town and it went flat at a most inconvenient time. A long downhill curving road with no place to pull over. Once we did, we changed it with the spare and drove back to Cotija where we had the tire patched and reinstalled.  It now remains to see it the patch holds to take us back to the airport rental office. Other than that, the only other emergency is running out of bottled water at 6 in the morning so I can’t make another cup of coffee. The water from the tap is not clean enough to drink, but is good enough to wash dishes and clothes and for general cleaning, bathing and personal hygiene, but not for personal consumption. There is only one house here in Cotija that has water clean and pure enough to drink from the tap, and that is at the home of the previously mentioned Saint Rafael Guizar y Valencia which has a well as it’s source of water, not the city’s supply. This water has been laboratory tested and has been certified as some of the purest water in all of Mexico. Now, is it because it is a well? Or is it because it is at the house where a saint lived while he was growing up? I do not know, all I do know is that I have drank from that well also and did not get sick. Like I posted in a video from Uruapan, who says you can’t drink the water in Mexico? Heck, there are places in the US where you can’t drink the water from the tap because of some kind of environmental contamination that has come as the result of our failure to care for our world, and in some cases the pure greed of companies that build infrastructure from inferior material so that over time, it corrodes and poisons the water coming into the home, just so they can make a fast profit.
            Last night was the “Midnight” Mass for Christmas (which started at 9 and finished around 10:30 pm), the Gospel reading from Luke of the Birth of the Savior in a humble stable. As our priest reminded us, the subtlety of God coming into our world as one of us, born in Bethlehem, which means ‘House of Bread’ and being laid in a manger, a place where animals would eat their food. Jesus, the Bread of Life, which we are to eat in the Eucharist for us to have life, and that we might have that life abundantly.  Again, the priest sang most of the Eucharistic Prayer, with the people in their parts with a sung response. I think a Mass sung, is a Mass prayed twice, which St. Augustine would agree with me, “He who sings, prays twice”. I honestly don’t know what incense they use, but I need to get some for our parish because the priest would put inly a small amount and the smoke just kept coming and coming (like the Energizer Bunny), raising the prayers to Heaven with the smoke from the Thurible.
            Today, Christmas Day, marks our last full day here in Cotija. It will be a day of washing clothes, cleaning house (why, I don’t know, we have a lady that takes care of the house throughout the year) and of packing our suitcases. Of course, we will go to the 12 noon Mass, my last one assisting and I will have to pack away my alb and stoles after Mass. It has always been an honor to serve the people of God in the Mass, regardless of where that Mass takes place. That is what makes us Catholic, Universal, that the Mass is the same readings everywhere in the world on the same liturgical calendar. The bread and wine offered on that altar, regardless of the geographical location of the parish, still is transubstantiated into the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ by the prayers offered by the priest for himself and the people at that Mass. For this reason we affirm through the Creed that we are the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.
            I wish everyone who reads this reflection a very Merry and Blessed Christmas season and a Joyous New Year. May God bless you and yours in the coming year as we continue on our journey back to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Friday, July 20, 2018

Random Reflections on my Second Trip to El Salvador:
I wrote about our mission trip to El Salvador last year (2017) with the Maryknoll Fathers and how the country is still, in many ways, recovering from the civil war that rocked this Central American country more than 30 years ago and lasted more than a decade. That war was but the latest in tragedies that have plagued this Central American country. From Colonial times, the people of El Salvador have been exploited for the riches of their country. Even when she won her independence, the wealthy land owners continued their stranglehold on the people, using cheap, sometimes free, labor to build their empires. The wealthy owned the land and owned the government as well. Some things never change (anywhere in the world).

            I have returned to this verdant green country once again, this time to assist our daughter in law in securing her paperwork that she needs to apply for lawful entry into the United States and be reunited with our son and their children.

            Not much has changed since last year (not much changes in a year anyway). Much of the infrastructure improvements that were in process last year are still in, well, process. Once completed, they will facilitate the movement of auto traffic better than the current situation. People say if you can drive in a number of places in the world, you can drive anywhere in the world. They say Mexico City Mexico, Manila Philippines, and not to exclude the States, Atlanta Georgia. I would add San Salvador to that list, I’m sure others could add to the list.

            Where we are staying in San Salvador is in one of the “middle class” neighborhoods of the city. The hotel is a converted home, some would call it a hostel. (I always thought of a hostel as a YMCA in foreign country, 4 sets of bunk beds in the room, common showers, and the Village People singing on the one radio). This middle class neighborhood is still segregated in that there are a number of areas that have banded together in order to form a co-op of homes that are in a “gated” community, sometimes it is an actual gate and in others it is a big chain that blocks entry into the community. Both are kept under constant armed vigilance. In my first reflection from last year, I mentioned the obvious disparity between the uber rich and the uber poor, million dollar mansions with their high razor wire topped walls and armed guards, right next to corrugated shacks where an entire family would live with no running water, toilets, nor privacy. This middle class neighborhood has no suck stark distinction. Yet, it does. On the way out to the medical clinic this morning, I observed a man sleeping on a cardboard sheet, right on the sidewalk. Poverty and homelessness is not particular to this country, nor is drug abuse and mental illness, which I observed in the young man walking down the street with the waist of his pants literally down around his thighs, displaying his underwear for all the neighborhood to see (thank God he was wearing underwear). But these kinds of scenes are played out on a daily basis all over the world. We, in the United States, like to think of ourselves as a first world nation, and in many ways, we are: First in percentage of population that is incarcerated, first in drug abuse by our people, first in homelessness (take a look on Olympic Blvd in Los Angeles any day of the week), first in homicide rates in the Western World. Even with all of our technological advancements, we still have a long way to go in how we treat our fellow citizens and those who are “strangers” among us.

            El Salvador, in a way, is a microcosm of the US, in that they pretty much have what we have here at home; democratically elected government, paved (mostly in the cities) roads, seems everyone has a cell phone, public and private transportation systems, small and medium and large businesses (US companies abound here, from KFC to Pizza Hut), and indoor plumbing. The only thing that is missing is a Starbucks on every corner, but they have Mister Donut (a very nice place to get, er, donuts, not to mention they have a cafeteria also where you can buy breakfast lunch and dinner: try that at Starbucks!); not on every corner, but you would never know that by the amount of billboard space they occupy. They also have all the vices we have; obsessive materialism, class envy, obvious economic disparity to accompany that class envy, and let’s not forget gang violence, which is a reality here from what I have been told by various priests that I talked to last year. I read in a newspaper (yes, they still have a printed newspaper) that in one area of the capital there were 105 murders in a span of five years between 2012 to 2017. I though about that. That number is like summer statistics in Chicago on any given year, yet here, it is a cause for great concern, as it should be. Our homicide numbers should be of great concern for us also. But, I fear that as long as we have this attitude of “well, it didn’t happen to me”, we will never learn to be our brother’s keeper.

            El Salvador does not have its own currency. They officially adopted the US Dollar on January 1, 2001, in part to try and curb runaway inflation in their country. Many other Central American countries have the Dollar for their currency as a stabilizing factor for their economy. El Salvador also uses the US system of measurement, at least at gas stations, and I though I was getting a decent price for diesel at 3.20 a gallon (in California, it is closer to 4), but if one looks at El Salvador’s minimum wage at around 250.00 a month, 3.20 is a lot to pay, so there is good reason that their roads are overrun with busses in this capital city.

            I had the opportunity yesterday, to take Stephanie to the Cathedral in San Salvador. She told me that she had never seen the inside of the Cathedral and she was duly impressed when we walked in. We then went downstairs to the crypt where Monseñor Oscar Romero is buried. I knelt in prayer at his grave, asking for his intercession for the peace of his people. There is a strong sense of tranquility that pervades the whole of the area where he is buried, perhaps because of the violence that pervaded his beloved country during his lifetime and in fact took his very life by an assassin’s bullet, that peace and tranquility which he sought with all his being has finally taken hold in this most sacred spot where the future saint (October of 2018) is lying in repose.

            Just a block over, in the next plaza, is the Church of the Rosary, a brick and mortar edifice that is not constructed in the traditional form of a parish church. From the outside, it looks more like a gymnasium than a church, but there are line of stained glass windows that stack up inline up to to near top of the building on both sides and when one is inside and the sun is shining through those windows, there is a glow about the whole church. There is also a famous collection of the stations of the cross made by a local sculptor. Unique and beautiful, they are an artistic interpretation of the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus without being too “artsy”. To stay and contemplate each station is a reflection of what Jesus did for all the world for all time. There is another memorial inside the church, well, actually there is a mass grave inside the church with a plaque that both marks and memorializes the grave and the 21 people who were massacred in the plaza in 1979 in a government suppression of a protest of the people for better conditions.

            When we were here last year, we had the privilege of having a deacon from San Francisco join us in our mission. He is Salvadoran, he is a few years younger than me, which would have made him a young teen in 1979. His father was a religious man, working with the Church in El Salvador to help the people with their struggle for normalcy. He was at the plaza that day of the government massacre, he described for us the horror of that day and many other days of their sad history of the 70’s through the 90’s. He told us of his actions of pulling people into the church as they sought refuge from the hail of bullets from the governments rifles. He had left El Salvador not too much later after this, he developed a medical condition that could only be treated in the US. By the way, as a youth, he hated the US for what we were doing to his country by sending military aid in the form of armament and ammo, military advisors and trainers to train their military how to effectively kill fellow Salvadorans, so it was ironic that they only place he could go to get treatment for his condition was the US. By the time he was well enough to travel back to his homeland, civil war had become full blown and he was not allowed to return. He stayed in San Francisco, married and started a family, continued in assisting in church and was ordained a deacon in 2012. 2017 was his first time back in his home. When we went to the Church of the Rosary, while we were looking and appreciating the beauty of this church, he stayed behind near the grave of those 21. When I came back to the front of the church to leave, he was there kneeling at the grave, crying; not just crying, but weeping uncontrollably. I could do nothing except kneel with him, put my arm around him and weep with him. All those years of hate, buried deep inside of his soul, had been forgiven in his confessions earlier, I am sure, but now came the renewed grieving for his people whom he loved. 

              When I was recalling this story to Stephanie, I received a moment of grace from God and my eyes once again welled up with tears and I started to weep again. How can I care so deeply for these whom I never knew, were not “my” people, and which this disaster didn’t “happen to me”? Because, in reality, these are my people, we are linked by our humanity, we are linked in our faith, when one part of the body suffers, the whole body suffers.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Reflections of Mission Trip to El Salvador

We are heading back to Los Angeles as I start to write this reflection on our trip to El Salvador as a delegation from the Catholic Missionary group known as Maryknoll. We are not part of Maryknoll, but they were the ones who sponsored the trip. It might be a bit early to start unpacking this trip, but I want to get some of my initial feelings down and then expand on those later.

This was our first trip to El Salvador, the smallest of all the countries in Central America and probably the one most dependent on the American Dollar, since they use the dollar as their currency. The only other country that we have traveled in that does that is Zimbabwe in Africa. We have a connection to El Salvador in that our daughter in law is from here, and we used this opportunity to arrive ahead of our mission group and rent a car to drive to her home town in order to meet her Mom and brother.

As we arrived in the country, my first impression was that it was so green and tropical (which of course I thought it would be) but it seemed to be a deeper green than what I have encountered in other tropical locations I have visited, such as Cancun or Puerto Vallarta in Mexico. It was almost like the trees and vegetation wanted to cover the wounds that have been inflicted on this area since the time of the Conquistadores. For indeed this country has a very painful history, a history that many do not want to remember, nor do they want to dialogue about in order to change for the better, to heal the more recent wounds of El Salvador that occurred during the 1930’s and then again in the 1960’s through the 1990’s when so many innocent people were killed, in order for a few to remain in power. The history of El Salvador is a history of oppression and repression of the human spirit in order for the elite to keep their lifestyle on the back of the indígenas through a slave labor type of economy.

We had an opportunity to meet and get to know our daughter-in-law’s mother and other brother. We rented a car to drive the two and half hour drive to La Unión near the Honduran border. We ate lunch at a seaside restaurant and had a wonderful time. Our daughter-in-law has a very nice family. One of the things that I have noticed in our travels is that whatever country we have been in, they all share the same treasure, that is, their people; not their governments, not their political parties, not their religious affiliation, but their people.

We were privileged to have met and talked with many of the treasures of El Salvador. One such person, named Marbel, was on our home visitation list. We arrived at her home (government housing for the poor, what we call “the projects” here in the states), and we were warmly greeted. Her wonderful smile belied the fact that she has breast cancer and because of the lack of proper medical care, probably won’t be here this time next year. She was incredibly upbeat about her life, very proud of her family and how they had survived all the hardship that had befallen her country in the last few decades. Here was a woman who understood that faith is what sustains us, faith that keeps us from falling into depression, faith that ultimately saves us. Her testimony was very humbling to my whole view on life. We went there to visit and to pray for and over her, for her healing and to impart God’s blessings for her and her family. What happened was that I was so moved, that after we prayed, I asked her for a blessing for me. She looked at me like she didn’t understand the petition. I speak Spanish, so I knew she heard what I had said, she couldn’t comprehend that someone, a complete stranger, would ask her to bless them. So I rephrased the petition by asking her to bless me as a mother would bless her son. I could see her eyes start to get that moisture that one gets before the tears start to flow and she gladly fulfilled my request. It was at that moment, receiving a blessing from one of the poorest of the poor, that I realized that Monseñor Oscar Romero is still alive, indeed has Risen in the Salvadoran people, just as he said he would.

One cannot travel to El Salvador without being reminded of the civil conflict that had happened here. How does a government named their International Airport after a Bishop that was killed by a paramilitary sniper because he was a thorn in the government’s side? Archbishop Oscar Romero is a national hero, the people’s hero, and even though the government eventually won a peace accord with the FMLN (who are now part of the government as a political party), they were wise to not forget from whom the people drew their inspiration from.

There were so many stories of inspiration that came about from the Church during this difficult and troubled times. Unfortunately, too many of those stories are stories of martyrdom, being killed because of preaching, or in some cases, just living the Gospel message of Liberation that is found in Christ. We visited the wall of remembrance in San Salvador, where there are 30,000 names of those innocents who were killed during the conflict, and the one plaque that was for the unknowns who were killed and could not be identified. The memorial may not “look” as impressive as the memorials that we have here in the US, but it makes as much or more of an impression on the soul when one considers that these were unarmed, civilian non-combatants who were killed. Every government has some type of genocide in their history, this was El Salvador’s, and hopefully with this memorial, they will not repeat it again.

We also visited the memorial for the four US women who were kidnapped, raped and murdered in December of 1980, the same year when a snipers bullet took the life of Oscar Romero. Three of the women were religious sisters, two from the Maryknoll order, the other was an Ursuline Sister, the forth was a lay missionary with Maryknoll named Jean Donovan. The short documentary, Roses in December, reminds us that following the commands of Jesus just might cost us everything, but Jesus himself said, “If you lose your life for my sake, you will find it”. Six Jesuit priests would find their lives nine years later on the night of November 16, 1989, along with a housekeeper and her 15 year old daughter (because the soldiers were given orders to leave no witnesses in order to blame the FMLN).

But the civil war in El Salvador is not just a story of killing and of martyrdom, but of redemption and salvation too. I was given permission to share this story with the caveat of keeping the identity secret for fear of possible reprisal (there is still some persecution by those who carry a grudge). As a youth, Rafael (not his real name) experienced the war first hand. He was at the funeral of Monseñor Romero when the bombs went off and the snipers started firing from the top of the government building. I stood on the spot where many had been shot and the phrase “shooting fish in a barrel” describes perfectly the clean lines with which the snipers had in order to take advantage of the situation (100,000 people packed the plaza and the Church where the funeral was taking place). Rafael was also present at the massacre at the Church of the Rosary, where twenty one are buried inside the church, those killed by the violence that was tearing the country apart. There came a point in Rafael’s life where he had to make a decision; he saw what was happening in his country and did not like it one bit, but he did not want to take up arms against his countrymen. He confided that the “guerrillas” made it impossible to refuse their offer, so he joined. He says he hated America and Americans for their involvement and support of the Salvadoran government to be able to kill so many innocent people at will. But Rafael developed a medical condition so severe, that it needed to be attended to in America, so he was able to get an emergency visa to the US in order to be treated, and cured of his condition. It was during his life in the States where he met and married another immigrant from a different country and they began their life together. There is something about hate that tends to fester in the soul for so long, and it takes the surgeon’s scalpel to extract it. The surgeon, of course, is Jesus the Great Physician, and he was able to remove that cancer from Rafael’s soul. Rafael went on to become an ordained Deacon in the Roman Catholic Church in the US and I was honored to see his homecoming when he served as a deacon in a Mass in San Salvador for the first time in his life. This was redemption for Rafael, who never thought he would ever be able to come home and serve as a deacon, to share the love of Christ with his people and to be blessed by those with whom he visited. It was an honor and blessing for me to be able to pray, and weep with this brother. When we visited the Church of the Rosary, where the 21 innocents are buried, he was knelt in prayer at the marker inside the church where they are buried and he was sobbing, he was deeply moved by his remembrance of the events that he had witnessed. I could do nothing but go, kneel with him, put my arm over his shoulders and weep with him (blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted). Rafael received some sanctifying healing in his soul that day, healing that has been decades in the making and I am humbled to have been able to be a part of it.

The economic reality in El Salvador is that there are those who have money, and have a lot of it, and there are those who have no money. There is no middle working class, those fortunate enough to have jobs are the working poor, those who do not have jobs are just poor. Granted, there are many expats living here in the US who send money back home to help out family members, but from my conversations with both the missionaries and Salvadorans, there are many who go to the US and just forget their families back home. In fact, they just start new families here, which compounds the problems that both families now have. I recall driving up to see the Volcano that is right outside of San Salvador and seeing million dollar homes, with the barbed wire on top of the high brick walls and the armed guards keeping constant watch over the property and the owners, right next to hovels made of corrugated sheets and plywood that are so flimsy, I was surprised they did not fall during the short thunderstorm that we had that day. That, above anything else, showed to me that extreme economic divide that is still connected in this small Central American country. This reminds me of what St. Basil the Great said back in the fourth century, “When someone steals another's clothes, we call them a thief. Should we not give the same name to one who could clothe the naked and does not? The bread in your cupboard belongs to the hungry; the coat unused in your closet belongs to the one who needs it; the shoes rotting in your closet belong to the one who has no shoes; the money which you hoard up belongs to the poor.

This is just a part of my reflection of our trip to El Salvador. I will be unpacking the memories of this mission for many months and pondering the ramifications of it in my life for years to come. Not only through the marriage of our son to a wonderful daughter of El Salvador is my life now connected to this country, but I am connected by my personal experience with this land and her people. May God continue to pour out his mercy and blessing on the people of El Salvador, the true treasure of the land.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Comparison of a Safari

My wife and I took a 16 day trip to South Africa and Zimbabwe last year and we had daily Safari drives while in South Africa (Zimbabwe was the Victoria Falls trip). We came up close and personal with many wild animals, usually within 10 feet of lionesses and their cubs feeding on a fresh kill, elephants grazing, leopards lounging on a tree branch or Rhinos looking to charge the jeep (of course I made the joke about how to keep a Rhino from charging....you take away his credit card).

Yesterday, we went to the San Diego Wild Animal Park, renamed as Safari Park, which I hadn't been to since our kids were young (perhaps more than 15 years ago). I always enjoyed going there or the San Diego Zoo or Sea World because of the interaction, as it were, that one has with the animals. however, our trip with our grandson was a bit different, the feeling of being close to these untamed beasts was not the same for me. Perhaps it was the knowledge that they are in enclosed spaces with nearly 0% possibility of getting out, as compared to our trip to Africa where there was nearly 0% of survival had these animals gotten spooked by something as we were parked just feet from where they were with no protection at all except our guide carried a rifle and a sidearm, but our jeep was open with just a rollover cage for "safety".

To give the reader an idea of the differences, I offer two pictures. The first is of our adventure in Africa, the second of our adventure in San Diego.

As you can see, the photo on top, which I named "The Body Guards" is a bit more fear inducing than the picture below it, which was taken from the absolute safety of the Safari Tram. The first picture I took with my Olympus E-3 with a 45-150 zoom, the second, with my iPhone. We were so close to some of the animals, that I could not use my DSLR, but had to use the camera on my phone.

There is a certain adrenaline rush to being so close to danger, not that one should seek out danger without precautions, that would be foolish, but you get a sense of your place in the world when you understand the raw power of these animals and their instinct to defend themselves and theirs. I just don't get that same feeling when I go to a zoo. I hope that one day, our Grandson can experience the beauty and the power of animals in the wild. Until then, I guess it is trips to the Safari Park and the Zoo and let him imagine and dream.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Advent Homily: Second Sunday Year A. Dec. 4, 2016

Second Sunday of Advent, Year A Dec. 4, 2016.
          Advent is a time of preparation in anticipation of the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ. When we read the readings in advent, they don’t seem to look forward to a tiny baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. They seem to speak of the coming of a King, a Judge, of a kingdom that will have no end. What do the readings say to us today? For Scripture is a living word, speaking to our desires, problems and wishes and wants as much as it spoke to those same desires to the peoples it was originally written to.
          Isaiah preaches to the people of Judah and gives them hope, that message gives us hope today also. The tree of Jesse, the father of King David, had been cut down, meaning that the monarchy had been conquered. This was a truth that Judah knew too well, yet from that stump a shoot would sprout. This is not a new plant, because the roots are that of Jesse, but it is a renewing of the kingdom promise by god to his people. There are 7 gifts attributed to the messianic king: The Spirit of Wisdom, Understanding, Counsel, Fortitude, Knowledge, Piety and Fear of the Lord. These 7 gifts are also given to us at Confirmation. We may not use these in the same way as a monarch would, but they are indispensable to living a life that is pleasing to God. And indeed, they help us in our daily journey towards God.
          So Isaiah shows us the Messianic King and what his kingdom will eventually look like, “In that Day”. It will be a kingdom of unsurpassable peace in the world. Even in the animal world, there will be peace among all. The image of the messianic king has been fulfilled in Jesus, but it is offered to us to use as a model after which we pattern our lives.
          Paul calls us all to live in harmony with one another, because there is no more division in the body of Christ, there is no more Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female, but all one body, one voice of Christ to the glory of God the Father. The invitation is given to us, we are expected to extend that invitation to others and to minister to them in their needs, whatever those needs may be. We need to see Jesus in others, because when we see Jesus in others, we treat them in the manner we would, or should treat Jesus. How do we prepare for the coming of our Lord? Do we do works that produce good fruit, like John the Baptist told the Pharisees and Sadducees to do in order to repent? Do we live a life free from presumption?, in other words, we don’t think that just because we have the name “Catholic”, that we have it made and can get in the kingdom just by wearing a title. The Pharisees thought that because they were children of Abraham, and that was enough. Many today think the same way; I am a good person, I haven’t killed anybody, I haven’t cheated on my spouse, etc… Yet, we have the attitude that being a Catholic is enough. It is not. We are called to a deeper understanding of our lives, we are called to a deeper conversion of heart and mind, called to a deeper service to others. Don’t get me wrong. This community of St. Frances of Rome does some incredible work in the communities of Lake Elsinore and Wildomar; from the daily soup kitchen and food pantry, to the Elsinore Valley Pregnancy Center where they help young women to choose life and give them direction and assistance beyond the birth of their child, to the ministries of visiting the sick and elderly in the hospitals and homes. In these, and in many other ministries, we show our love for our neighbor and for God. But we sometimes become complacent in our walk, so I urge you to reflect this Advent on your life, as I will reflect on mine too. How can I serve God in a new, different and better way through my life? I would like to share a story that was shared by a priest in Africa on this same Liturgical Sunday a few years ago.

Many years ago, there lived a great and holy teacher called Rabbi Saadiah. He had hundreds of pupils, and all of them had a great thirst to learn. One winter morning, two of his pupils who happened to be walking in the mountains, while approaching its summit, saw to their great surprise, their master sitting on the snow covered ground, weeping, praying and engaging in other acts of penitence. This beat their imagination and they wondered: “What could such a perfectly righteous person as their teacher possibly need to repent of? Could he have committed some sins, God forbid? They hurriedly departed from that place. Later that day, they asked their teacher what the scene they witnessed was all about. “I do that every day,” he said to them. “Every day I repent and plead with God to forgive my shortcomings and failings in my service of Him.” “Of what failings do you speak?” They asked him. Then the Rabbi told them this story: “One day an old inn keeper received and served me so well without realizing who I was. When I left the next morning someone told him: ‘That was Rabbi Saadiah.’ Immediately, he came after and in search of me. When he caught up with me, he jumped from his carriage and fell at my feet, weeping: ‘Please forgive me! Please forgive me!! I did not know that it was you!’ I made him stand up, and then said to him: But my dear friend, you treated me very well, you were very kind and hospitable. Why are you so sorry? You have nothing to apologize for. ‘No, no, Rabbi,’ he replied. ‘If I had known you were the one, I would have served you in a completely different manner!’ Suddenly I realized that this man was teaching me a very important lesson in the service of God. I thanked and blessed him, and returned home.” “Since then” the Rabbi concluded, “every evening when I say the prayer before sleeping, I go over in my mind how I served God that day. Then I think of that old innkeeper, and say to myself, Oh! If I had known about God in the beginning of the day the way I know him now, I would have served Him in a completely different manner! And that is what I was repenting for this morning.” This is what we must do every day this season of Advent and beyond. Nothing must be taken for granted if we must be ready to welcome Jesus when he comes.

Stephanie's Story: Part 3

It's been a while since I shared about the young lady from El Salvador who came undocumented into the United States seeking refuge from violence in her country. In the last installment of this story, our son had started calling her and carrying on long conversations over the phone. They lived about 60 miles apart, he in Riverside County and she, in Los Angeles County. The love blossomed, they started courting and as young love often does, they decided to marry.

Usually, when one hears about an undocumented immigrant marries a citizen of this country, there is a credibility issue. Accusations of "convenience" is bantered about because of the history in this country of such things actually happening. This was not the case with Stephanie, that I can guarantee.

They married in Vegas (civilly) and then married in the Catholic Church in December of last year. I am happy to say they became pregnant a month or so after their marriage in Vegas and as of May of 2016, we are proud grandparents.

We are now closing in on their first anniversary of being married in the Church and our grandson is 6 months old and a joy to take care of. He makes us laugh with his antics and facial expressions, and I believe he will run before he is able to crawl.

Stephanie's story is far from over, in reality, it is just beginning. She has permission to be here, US government issued ID and such, but her objective is Resident Alien then perhaps US citizen. Pray for her as she, Raymond and Christopher travel this incredible journey of love and family together.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Reflections on our trip to South Africa

 Our Trip to South Africa:
Last year, my wife and I attended an end of year fundraiser for the Catholic School that our niece attends in Temecula, California. And as fundraisers go, they had both silent and active auctions. Many of the items up for bid were the usual fare; golf outings, weekends at the beach or the local mountains, season seats at the Catholic School’s theater (where they have impressive performances) and other items that were given by local residents and businesses. However, one item caught our attention: An all expense week at a game Reserve in South Africa. We have never been to Africa, and thought this would be a great “bucket list” item to do, so we placed our bid, and we had counter bids, we countered those bids until we were the last couple standing. The group that provided the trip mentioned that they could do one more trip for the same price, so my brother in law said he would take it.

Now this trip was one week, expenses paid, at Zulu Nyala game Reserve in northeast South Africa. We would, however, have to pay for our airfare to and from Africa (almost as much as we spent for the week). My brother-in-law, who is probably the most traveled in our family, mentioned that it seems silly to travel 2 days to and 2 days back just to spend 6 days at one place, so he suggested we add to our excursion and expand both the time we are in Africa and the places we see. To this, we agreed. We added a trip to another reserve and to Victoria Falls, in neighboring Zimbabwe. As I write this, we are all in a plane heading to Johannesburg from our connecting flight in Frankfurt, Germany.

Our flight from Los Angeles started out as a normal day at LAX, my wife and I arrived a few hours before boarding and got our boarding passes and passed through TSA rather quickly (a total of about 40 minutes from the time we got in line to get our boarding passes to the time we actually passed through security clearance. My brother-in-law was not so lucky. They arrived after we did, and during their check in, the attendant seems a bit nervous, and gave them their boarding passes, but failed to give them their baggage claim tickets (a fact that my brother-in-law just now realized on our flight from Germany!). TSA decided to do a “random” check on not one, not two, but all three of his family (they brought along their daughter for the adventure). They were subjected to a full revision of their clothes, their bodies, they were interrogated beyond one would consider “normal”. Remember that I said he is the most traveled of our family? Well, a few years ago, they were in India and purchased a root, like a ginger root, or what call in Mexico “uña de gato” that is used in herbal/homemade remedies and they were told, by the person selling it that it was OK to take back to the US. It was not OK to bring back to the US, and it was confiscated by customs agents. So now, we don’t know if the US Government has listed them as potential smugglers, or other Travelers to “watch”. All I know is that when they do a random check, they usually pick one person out of a line (usually a 5 year old child who doesn’t know what’s going on and gets frightened because he’s traveling with grandma and is suddenly taken away from her), they normally don’t take an entire family out of line.

The flight from LAX left at 7:30 pm., and I basically did what I normally do on a weekday evening, watch a couple of movies, eat a dinner of pasta that I end up dropping on my white shirt, and falling asleep past midnight (this is nothing like what I do on a weekday evening, I’m usually in bed by 10). We arrive at Frankfurt at 3 in the afternoon) local time) the next day, 6 in the morning on the West Coast. Our flight from Frankfurt to Johannesburg will take about the same time as our flight from LAX to Frankfurt did, but they are in the same time zone, so we won’t be affected as much from Jet Lag, just affected from trying to sleep in crowded conditions in an airplane (although our flight from Frankfurt is not even half full, Martha and I have a row of four seats to ourselves). It is time to relax and try to get some sleep, it looks to be a full day tomorrow. Arrive at Johannesburg at 6, connect with the smaller “puddle jumper” airlines (think WINGS from T.V.) and to our primary destination at Zulu Nyala, where we hope to see the big 5 and not get eaten by any of them.

I have done my share of traveling in my lifetime. I have traveled more than I ever thought I would as a kid growing up in a middle class family in the suburbs of Los Angeles. I love to travel and see new places, experience new foods, cultures, languages and people, and I usually fly really well. When I say that I fly well,  I mean that it doesn’t bother me to be in a pressurized cylinder at 40,000 feet going at speeds up to 600 mph. I learned to fly airplanes when I was in college,  not the jets mind you, but small single engine planes… the concept is the same. So when I board a jet,  I usually get comfortable I my seat and if the flight is three hours or less,  I am asleep by the time the plane reaches altitude to the time it touches down at our destination. On longer flights, like the one I am on now, the process is a little different. There’s food involved, and I never sleep through a meal (my growing belt line will tell you that), there is also usually a movie or two (on our flight from LA to Frankfurt, Lufthansa had personal monitors at every seat and a large variety of entertainment available) so there is more to distract oneself on longer flights, but I still manage to get a few hours of sleep. Tonight’s flight to Johannesburg is different; I have struggled to fall asleep and I don’t know why. There is another two hours a left in this flight and sleep has avoided me. It seems that I’m the only one awake, well, me and a three year old child who is playing on an iPad with her father. So here I sit, typing away my thoughts while listening to Third Day, Don Francisco, Tigres del Norte and other artists on my Playlist.

On this particular flight, however, I have done something I have never done before: I have crossed into the Southern Hemisphere of our planet. I have been in the eastern and of course I live in the western hemisphere, but I have never been South of the Equator. God has been good to us in giving us the ability and opportunity to travel, and I hope to be able to share his love wherever I find myself, this of course, is our mission as followers of Jesus Christ. As Catholic clergy, we pray the Liturgy of the Hours, which are the prayers of the Church for the world. As a Deacon, I pray the morning and evening prayers out of all the Hours we pray as a church; Invitatory, Office of Readings, Morning Prayer, Midmorning Prayers, Afternoon Prayers, Midafternoon Prayers, Evening Prayer and Night Prayers. We Catholics pray. A lot. Most of us now, rely on our phones or tablets in order to pray the hours (like they say, there’s an app for that) and the app I use is Divine Office (there are many others available), but the problem with relying on you phone or tablet when you’re traveling is the lack of Internet connection to be able to download the prayers.  Divine Office will download three days at a time if you set it up in the settings (I have) but I didn’t have Internet connection in my flights and it didn’t download the next three days while we were in Frankfurt, so here I sit without my Office to pray: Lesson learned: take your book with you when you travel. Another lesson learned: check your phone,  I had today and tomorrow’s Hours on my phone.

We arrived at our destination about 5 in the afternoon, got checked in and was able to shower and shave (that felt really good). We are sitting outside the office, since this is where the Internet connection is, listening to the water running in the fountain. We have already seen crocodiles and bats, and hope to see many more animals tomorrow on our guided outing starting at 6 in the morning.  

This morning found us taking a two hours game drive. We saw a lot, I mean A LOT of warthogs,  wildebeests and impalas, and even a few elephants, a number of giraffes and one cheetah. The cheetah was very accommodating for us in that she turned her head this way and that, got up moved around so we could get different angles of shots, even climbed up into a tree to make some more interesting shots. At the end of the drive,  we had breakfast and I was reviewing my camera and surprised myself that I took over 200 pictures, not all will make it onto the album, but a few might get enlarged and framed. The pace of life here is slow, it should be, since we are in the back country of South Africa. There are a number of workers toiling away in the main reception office, looks like they are perhaps remodeling for some type of curio shop. The Zulu people here are known for their bead workings, our guide told us that the wood carvers are farther North. He also explained that they are in the worst drought to hit SA in more than 35 years. One would not know it by the amount of green that is still here. When drought hits in Southern California, everything turns brown, but then again, everything is brown in SoCal during the summer months. Here in SA it is winter, but they get their rains in their summer months. The weather is cooler than I expected, we may go into town to buy a jacket since we only brought light sweaters. The daytime temps are very pleasing, I am writing this in the shade of some trees in the outdoor garden area, there is a slight breeze and the sound of the running water in the fountain would almost be enough to lull one to sleep if it weren’t for the constant pounding of hammers on concrete in the office they are working on.

In Africa, there are what is called the big five; these are the animals which hunters have said are the most difficult to hunt on foot and are the most dangerous, calling them the big five has nothing to do with their size. They are, in no order of importance, the lion, leopard, elephant, water buffalo and rhino. I asked our guide, why is it that the water buffalo are considered in the big five? I mean, to me, they look like domesticated cows with horns, Texas Longhorns look more ferocious than a water buffalo. But our guides response was that the water buffalo are the most difficult to hunt down, and they would kill you without giving it a second thought (to which my mind went into overdrive thinking, do any animals give a second thought to anything they do?) I also learned that the warthog is one of the most respected animals in the Savanah, even the lions give way to them. Seeing them more closely, and not relying on Disney for my image, the warthog reminds me of an Arkansas Razorback. We have seen three of the big five, tomorrow we look for the lion  and leopard to complete our search.

Today’s drive paid off. It was windy and cold, and the guides said we shouldn’t get our hopes up to seeing much of anything, yet we felt confident. Our hope was rewarded when we were able to see two lioness and her cubs. The lions had just finished eating a portion of a Nyala (close to an Impala) so the two were not so interested in us as they were interested in laying down to rest. Our guide got us thisclose to the lioness and cubs that I was a bit worried, along with the rest of the group as to how close we were. Honestly, had those cats decided we were a threat, we would have been on the lunch menu.

We came back to our game Lodge, and our guide, Mark, suggested that we meet at 3 this afternoon to see whether or not we will go out on an afternoon drive. When it is this windy and cold and starting to rain, the animals seek shelter and are not out in the open. To be honest,  I would appreciate an afternoon off in order to renew and refresh, collect my thoughts and to put my thoughts down on the tablet.

Sunday came, and we had a trip to St. Lucia scheduled. The estuary at St. Lucia is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, meaning that it is protected by international rules because of its unique contribution to world culture and or significance to the environment. The riverboat captain told me that St. Lucia has been without water for a year and a half. Water is pumped in from a neighboring village and if the politics go against them, they are cut off. South Africa is going through a drought of 7 years. Being from Southern California, I understand drought. It was in the estuary where we got some of our most impressive pictures to date. I was able to catch a male Hippo in full yawn, head completely out of the water, mouth wide open, teeth showing, the whole nine yards. It is the shot of the vacation, so far. We returned in the afternoon, and being Sunday, we had wanted to go to Mass, but there is no Catholic Church in the area. There is a retreat house in St. Lucia, but we could not find it, so after dinner, we had a Liturgy of the Word (this is completely licit when you make a concerted effort or have a true desire to go to Mass, but for circumstances not under your control, you cannot go). We read the Mass readings for the day, reflected a bit on them within our small group, prayed intercessory prayer, prayed the Lord’s Prayer, and left with the sign of peace and the dismissal.

Monday found us deciding not to go on the morning game drive. Martha slept in and I did some more photo editing on my tablet. (it was more of deleting double and triple pics and some blurry ones that were of animals moving too fast for the camera to catch with the settings I had on my camera). After lunch, we set out again with our guide and we’re not expecting to see anything new, or gnu if you’re in SA, but we found a group of baboons in a clearing. Now a group of baboons are called a Congress of baboons (draw your own conclusions). They were not very accommodating with the cameras because they started to move off as soon as we showed up. So on our last day in Zulu Nyala, we saw another first, baboons; and not one politician among them.

Tuesday is the start of our second leg of our trip. We left Zulu Nyala early in the morning to travel back to Johannesburg and transfer to a flight that will take us to Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe, another country, another stamp in our passport. We have a helicopter sightseeing ride scheduled and an elephant encounter. I do not know how our accommodations will be, but I think we are going back in time a bit with this trip. We shall see.

We landed in Zimbabwe about 1 in the afternoon, and after passing through immigration, our driver met us to take us to the resort. A resort is not what I would call this place. Let me set the scene: we drive down what our driver, Richman, says is the main road in Victoria Falls and turn off onto a dirt road. OK, so far, par for the course, we have been on dirt roads all week, no big deal, but the vegetation is different here, the climate too, is warmer, even if it is only an hour or so North from Johannesburg by jet. So we are driving down this dirt road, with a lot of dry plants and trees and a lot of dirt (it is winter here and not the rainy season so one would expect it to be somewhat dry). Then we get to the gate of the compound and drive through to the drop off for the guests. There is so much green around that I think I feel through the looking glass and now I am in the Wonderland. What a stark difference to what is on the outside of this place. We register and are shown around a bit, when we get to the bar/dinning room, I am literally taken aback. I cannot believe my eyes. This resort/paradise sits right at the edge of the Zambezi River Gorge, downstream from Victoria Falls, 600 feet above the river. The views are something to behold. The owners, Chris and Debbie, treat you like their own family, letting you know that you are at home. You feel at ease immediately when you hear how all the staff address you, talk with you and treat you. We rested for the rest of the day, walked around the compound a bit to get the feel of it and to take in the beautiful sights of the Gorge.

The next morning, we left early to go on an elephant adventure, an hour ride on the backs on these magnificent animals that God in his wisdom had created. Afterward, we headed toward the helipad to take a 15 minute flight over Victoria Falls. To see the Falls from the air is truly a sight to behold. To see this might river flowing and just drop off into a Gorge and then continue flowing down the gorge is a marvel. It is like someone cut into the earth and made a irrigation ditch for the water to flow through. I have been to Niagara Falls, and while impressive, they don’t stand up to the majesty of these falls.

We were heading out to the city to do some sightseeing and I happen to be wearing a shirt from the Bishop’s Golf Classic that is held each year for the support of our Seminary and Catholic Schools, when the woman at the reception desk asked if I was Catholic? I told her yes and she replied that she too is Catholic. I found out our driver, her son, is also Catholic, so we asked about how the Church is here in Zimbabwe. He took us to the church where he was baptized, St. Kizito, a martyr of the African Church (at least that is what I suspect since he is depicted as being engulfed in flames). So after some “shopping”, we went on a riverboat cruise on the Zambezi. The Zambezi is the natural border between Zambia and Zimbabwe, and the river was hosting a number of craft of all sizes and designs (one even looked like someone had stolen one of the riverboats from the Jungle Cruise ride at Disneyland). This was a Sundowner cruise and the name did not disappoint, we were not only treated to sightings of hippos, crocodiles and elephants (again), but we had the most splendid sunset on the river, hues of gold and blues, of the sun shining off the water in a band of gold reflected from the sun. So ended our short trip to Victoria Falls. We returned to the lodge, ate dinner, had conversation with some of the other guests and then to bed. In the morning, we had a visit to a local village, their school and their people.
The children in the school were very nice, asking questions about our country and we in turn, asked about Zimbabwe. We showed them pictures of our home when it had snowed. To someone who has never experienced snow, it is difficult to conceptualize. The children learn religion in their school. They learn their African religion, they learn Christianity (there is a Catholic Church across the street from the school, however the teacher who was showing us around is Pentecostal), they learn Judaism, Islam and Hindu. The posters on the wall are of the ten commandments and of Jesus and his Apostles, so there is no question of which religion they are teaching the most. This is a village school, supported by the government.

I remember when I was in elementary school, we had religion classes, but they were off campus and after school by the time I was in High School, there was a definable line between state and religion. We had a prayer group that met at lunchtime and although it was led by the students, we had a custodian join us from time to time….until the Administration said he could no longer do so because it had the appearance of him leading it (which was not the case).

The villagers are, what we around call, the poorest of the poor, yet they live a happy life. They have a community water well and they do get some aid from USAID which is in the form of seed and corn. They survive, content to live off the land and the providence of God. It causes me to meditate on who is truly happy? It also causes me to realize that the poorest in our country have more than these will ever realize in their lifetime.

So what makes us happy?  Where do we find contentment in our lives? Is it from the newest iPhone or biggest computer or TV? Is it from having enough money in the bank? Or is the source of our contentment from something more basic, something more human? A mother’s touch, a father’s love for his family that he shows by providing for them, being there for them, by loving his children’s mother by supporting her in all she does. We are way too materialistic in this country, our god is stamped with the motto “In God we Trust” when in reality it is only in what that paper can buy us is really what we trust in.

Today, our quest to see and photograph the Big Five in Africa has come to an end. On this afternoons drive,  we finally saw our Leopard! A beautiful beast, well camouflaged in the bush,  but once we got our Land Cruiser in position, we had a good three to five minutes of viewing this magnificent animal that God had created in his wisdom. It is very odd in the bush that wild animals will continue to do their thing, what ever they are doing at the time, eating or sleeping or even doing the procreation thing, and not give the group viewing them not 10 feet away, a second thought. We were literally 5 feet away from a lioness and her 7 month old Cubs and they couldn’t care less about us, as long as we stayed seated and didn’t make any quick moves or loud noises. This was a completely foreign thing to me, being so close to wild animals and them hardly recognizing our existence.

Our experience here started by us staying in a very nice hotel, then we went to a game Reserve Lodge which was part of the same ownership as the hotel and it was somewhat of a hotel also, the rooms were connected to each other. Then we went to Victoria Falls where our accommodations were individual lodges, one room suites with a thatched roof and a private bath on a smaller property with more privacy (I’m not sure we were downgrading) and our final accommodations were at a private reserve on a larger game conservancy coalition. These were tents. Now when I say tents, I don’t mean Boy Scout pup tents, these were large tents on permanent foundations that had their own thatched roof and private bathroom, well semi private because the shower was actually outdoors! (and I’m still not convinced we were downgrading!) Every place we went had its own charm, it’s own positive points, it’s own distinct flavor. The closer I came to the basics of living, no TV, no radio, basic bed and daily food, the more serene my spirit became. I continued, of course, with my daily prayers (thankfully we had Internet in all the places so I could keep my Liturgy of the Hours app updated).

So I am finishing this before breakfast on the last day of our stay in South Africa. We have had a full adventure in our daily game drives in the bush, in our visits to Victoria Falls, Kruger National Park and St. Lucia, but we also have had a very restful time. I am feeling the need, and desire to head home, like Rafiki said in The Lion King when he learned that Simba was still alive and that Simba needed to return to his home and take his rightful place, “It is time.”