Martinique – St. Kitts

You will be very happy to know these are the last 2 islands we visited on this cruise that we will be writing about…

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Martinique is a large island and Forte-de-France is a large city with sprawling suburbs of stately white apartment buildings. Ici en Martinique, on parle français parce que nous sommes en France.‎  Reminiscent of South American port cities, there is a large port area and we are birthed in the industrial area. We walk into the downtown core. No one is hawking anything and we enjoy the peace of it all. We stroll along the waterfront boulevard lined with clothing, perfume and shoe stores. We visit the large cathedral full of tourists and light candles for Dave’s deceased cousin Claudia and for her daughter Louise who both died prematurely last month. We do some shopping and head to the Fort on the hill. It is Monday and it is closed today – darn. No beach today either. We head back to the ship and rest up before catching a wonderful singer from Las Vegas – Savannah Smith. She sings a whole bunch of great songs like Bonnie Rait’s sorrowful “I can’t make you love me”- best show we have seen so far.

There is a link to Canada.  After the Seven Years War known as the French and Indian War in North America (1754-63), France attached little value to its North American possessions.  When the British asked France what they wanted to retain, New France or the islands – Martinique, Guadalupe and St Lucia, they chose these highly profitable sugar-producing islands as part of the terms of the Treaty of Paris.  For France, however, the military defeat and the financial burden of the war weakened their monarchy and contributed to the advent of the French Revolution in 1789.

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St Kitt’s by contrast is one of the smallest islands in the West Indies with a large volcanic shaped peak at its centre. We venture off and find the best shopping yet at the lowest prices. I pick up a lovely water colour painting of the local Catholic church. Marie some perfume for Michelle. ‎Ball caps are 3 for $10. Look out Tim and Kyle! We chat with some friendly sales clerks. There is a large group of young children all dressed in colourful uniforms from a nursery school. We feel beached and islanded out at this point so head back on board for a lazy afternoon.

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Pulling away from St. Kitts

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Barbados

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We have been here before and this time plan to go to a beach. But first we head to St Patrick’s Cathedral for Mass on the 1st Sunday of Advent.  It is a handsome limestone building with beautiful purple and pink stained glass and warm dark wood inner ceiling. It’s in good shape. We arrive early and the man at the door in a wheelchair says welcome back. We see that the pastor Fr. Charles Dominique is a Dominican. We expect to be in for a good homily.
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As we wait for Mass to start we nod to a few other passengers here and the church fills up. A pigeon (or is it a dove?) flies through one open window over the altar and out another.  It’s a young crowd with plenty of youth and children. There is a smallish choir made up of young women and men.  There is a group of VIP visitors upfront with someone taking photos of them. The Mass proceeds. Fr Dominique is a high energy preacher with a great sense of humour.  ‎90 minutes later the celebration ends. Fr Gives a 30 min homily to be watchful and ready while waiting for the coming Kingdom of God made incarnate in Jesus Christ’s birth, spiced up with jokes about daily happenings and being stopped by the police for a bumper sticker. At the end, he asks all the visitors to stand and we are thanked for coming. We sing happy birthday to a few people. He let’s the VIPs rep address us (Crédit Union League 60th anniversary). It was a great if long celebration.
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We walk a few blocks and cross the street. I look the wrong way (they drive on the left here) but survive it.  We hit the beach on Carlisle Bay for a few hours. Bigger waves‎ and sand whiter. It’s very hot and crowded. We walk into downtown which is quiet and take a cab home with a freindly driver. Not as inviting as Grenada but another good experience for sure.
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Barbados was the centre of the sugar trade in the 17th and 18th centuries. Rich English bought up all the land. They brought in slaves from Africa, sent sugar to New England and then rum to Africa for more slaves‎. In 1700 Barbados generated more trade than all other British colonies combined!! There was a slave rebellion at one point that was eventually extinguished. The slave trade ended in the early 1800s but not slavery itself for sometime after. It was not until 1951 that universal suffrage was proclaimed and independence in 1971 I think. Bit of a bleak history here.

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Grenada

For some reason have always wanted to come here known as the spice island for its nutmeg and mace. First impressions are good. St George’s does not look overly commercialized, but in relatively good shape that time has passed it by a bit. White, pink and yellow buildings with red tile roofs. I can here a man’s voice, I think he is singing. The crow of roosters can be heard. A church bell chimes, then another one. Multiple steep pointed hills ‎covered in green. They had a major hurricane in 2004 and the island was flattened. They have rebuilt it since then.

In 1979 a Marxist-Leninist goverment under Maurice Bishop was established here after a coup. In 1983 an even more hard core communist government was established after another coup. The U.S. under Regan invaded Grenada and ousted the communists after 7 weeks. The invasion was strongly condemmed by the U.N.. No visible evidence of any of this now.

We take a water taxi to ‎Grand Anse Beach. It’s a 2 mile stretch of blond sand, quiet clear waters – indeed one of the nicest beaches in the Caribbean. We spend the heart of the day walking the beach and swimming. We do some shopping and after take a local bus back. What a ride with music and the horn blaring all the way! The young man on board tells me they are very development oriented. If you keep positive, stay out of trouble, things work out for you here. Everyone seems vey happy, friendly and calm. This is our best day yet!

Marie buys some spices and I a shirt. We meet a little boy named O’Rian who is gorgeous. As we leave a full moon comes out and the town clock strikes 6 o’clock, the start of Advent. This has to be one of the best gems of the whole trip. Thank you Lord ‎for all your gifts and blessings. Protect Grenada and it’s lovely people.

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Antigua – St Lucia

We arrive on the tiny island of Antigua not knowing what to expect. There are 3 other cruise ships already there. It’s a banner day. The island known for its public beaches is picking up business due to the hurricane flattening of nearby Dominica and St. Martin islands.

We wander up the central avenue crowded with 1000s of tourists for the day. We head to the Anglican Cathedral first founded in the 1600s. It is being restored and everything needs repair. It has been sometime since they have offered worship services here‎. God helped them restore it twice already from earthquakes damage so they will succeed again. The sidewalks here are very dangerous with huge gaps and big drops. They have open deep gutters along the side of the road for storm rain run off.

We grab a cab for what we thought was Limerez beach. 5 other people join us. We are dropped at Mystic Beach which is only 10 minutes away. Spend the day floating in the ocean and walking the beach which is beautiful. The restaurant bar we are in front off is run down. There is an abandoned house next door and nothing much else around. This island is particularly poor. As we go to leave we are told that our cab driver has sent someone else to pick us up but we think it is a scam. After chatting with him on the phone we know it’s true so we take the other cab back – $3 per person – a woman drives us with her daughter in the back who proudly announces she is in kindergarden.

I buy a St Kitts teeshirt (they don’t have any that say Antigua it seems) and Marie picks up 2 tees for the boys. We get back in time for salmon dinner and a nice chat with our table neighbours from Atlanta.

The next day we arrive in Castries, St. Lucia, a much larger island with lots of buildings and traffic. Lush green hills surround us. I am a little groggy from one too many Irish coffees last night. We walk off after lunch and do a little shopping in the local market. It’s teeming with people and it’s hot. We see a young man shouting at people, some other rough looking men and a policeman here and there. There is an air of desperation in people’s faces. I chat with a man who wants to sell me marijuana and explains there is a lot of poverty here.‎ Later in the day when it cools down, I see young children playing happily and singing. Everyone seems in a better mood as the day cools and draws to a close. I have a flash that we are all the same with the same needs and wants. As we have been here before, we do not take a tour. Have seen the Pietons (twin pointy hills) and the steamy sulphur springs already. As we sail away lights are coming on all over town except in the shanty town visible from our ship.

That night, our table mates explain the fantastic tour they went on with an ex-pat guide from Montreal. A lot of organic farming, bananas everywhere and a laid back lifestyle when you get out of Castries.

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Day 4 – At Sea

A lazy day at sea before 6 islands straight. A great day to pontificate. Is cruising a good or bad thing?

On the con side, it is aimless self indulging wandering, burning up bunker fuel, over eating and drinking, taking advantage of cheap 3rd world labour, polluting the seas etc. Just building the ship itself consumed so much energy, caused massive waste and pollution. Some passengers feel overly entitled, are rude and don’t do lineups well (not on this cruise so far). Staff working 7 mos. straight without a day off exposes social and economic disparities and promotes stereotype thinking. Secularism gone wild and it’s expensive. Some have a phobia of ships and the sea.

On the pro side, massive amounts of employment is provided for 3rd world people, particularly youth. The pay rate is sufficient to attract them and many send money home. People of all nations and races mix and see how others look and act. Money is transferred to destination ports and many people benefit economically. Guests and staff get to see beautiful parts of the world they would never otherwise see, sample ethnic foods, learn something new, fall in love Dreams are fufilled, families are having fun, busy people relax and take a break, wives don’t cook and clean. No grass or snow to tend etc. Most importantly one can wander the world and contemplate it’s beauty and mystery. Mankind is destined to wander, explore and dream (think of Cabot, Cabral, LaSalle and Columbus et al.).

In the end it’s a personal choice that more and more people seem to be choosing. This is our 14th cruise. We prefer ocean cruising as the pace is calmer and the public spaces on board are simply fantastic.

Went to the Porch out door sea food specialty restaurant – jumbo garlic shrimp, ceviche, sea bass, lobster tails, mussels, ‎scallops – as much as we could eat washed down with as much Spanish bodega white wine as we could drink. Probably the best seafood meal we have ever eaten. Our waitress Olena from Ukraine kept urging us to have more. The restaurant manager from Bosnia asked us twice how we were doing and explained the importance of training they do for new staff. Best dinner yet. Wow!

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Daze 2 – 3

We arrive at Coco Cay the small private island owned by RCL. There is hazy sunshine as we tender in. Have been here 10 years ago. 3 or 4 small crescent beaches with lots of chairs and beach equipment rentals. HAL’s Half Moon Cay is much nicer we think. I walk the beach while Marie reads. I see a live conch and a black sting ray. It clouds over and stays cool. We have a BBQ lunch with rose wine. Have a great conversation with Courtley from Guyana. We head back to the ship by 1:30. I hit the pool.

The only disappointments so far are the weather (not sunny yet) and the fact you can’t walk fully around the promenade deck (it’s blocked off at either end) nor sit outside on it. Many of the older ships allow you to walk a full lap right around the ship and sit out there in a deck chair close to the water. ‎ No big deal as the walking track on deck 14 is really nice.

We attend the Cruisecritic social and meet Siobahn and Rick from Pembroke and some of the ship’s officers. We are en route to Antigua having skipped Puerto Rico due to hurricane damage. We had wanted to go there to meet some Oblates and offer help.‎ We see there are dancing lessons in the lobby and make a note for tomorrow. The sun comes out at noon and we hit the pool deck.

Dinner of duck and lamb and wine. Followed by the show of dancers amd singers and a stand up comedian. So so. We hit bed exhausted again.

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South East Caribbean Cruise – First Impressions

This is our first cruise on Celebrity (X). First impressions are good. We arrived at the Park ‘N Go at 10 AM and we were on board the Silhouette by 11:25. Only discomfort was that we were asked to wait so some concierge class guests could board ahead of us. Greeted with champagne and smile, we wandered the ship and found the lawn club with real grass growing on the top deck. Heading for the Lido we had a delicious lunch of fish and salads washed down with wine as we have the drink package.

Have met staff from St. Vincent, Mauritius, Indonesia and Goa. All are extremely friendly and helpful. Our cabin seems narrower and deeper with a balcony. The ship holds 2800 passengers and was built in Germany in 2011. It is indeed beautifully engineered with lots of stainless steel and glass. A little sterile in design compared to ships like O’s Marina built in Italy. Passengers are the same demogaphic as us although we might be slightly older than the average age (but younger in spirit!!). We were able to get a reservation in the main dining room for when we wanted. So far so good.

Dinner in the main dining room was great. Prime rib for me and salmon for Marie. Our somelier gave us the whole bottle of red. Then they asked us 3 times if we wanted more. Fantastic food and service. Finished the evening with a little disco dancing at the martini bar. ‎All in all very impressed with X and loving it.

Dave and Marie

(Our condolences to the Devaney family in the loss of Louise and Fr Carl Kelly’s family. We keep you all in our prayers)

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Freemasons and Catholics

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Have you ever wondered why Roman Catholics are forbidden to join the Freemasons?  The reason it seems is that the very tenets of Freemasonry, that all religions are equal (including none), its focus on “deism” and its promotion of secularism, are simply incompatible with the Catholic faith.  Hence one cannot claim to be a Catholic and a Freemason at the same time, as their world views are mutually exclusive.

I do not know any Freemasons, but my deceased great-uncle was a Freemason of the Scottish Rite 14th Degree . I have inherited his ring and am not sure what to do with it.  As well, a deceased neighbour was once the Grand Master of the Madawaska Lodge that I pass everyday on my way to swimming.

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Scottish Rite 14th Degree Ring. Virtus Junxit, Mors Non Separabit (Virtue has united and death shall not separate) is inscribed on the inside with the name of the Freemason

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I do not think Masons are bad people nor do I think there has been a conspiracy to subvert civil society against the Catholic Church to establish nations free from divine monarchy and Church control.  I think the notion of the nation-state with fixed boundaries and separation of church and state came about from forces that far exceeded some men secretly discussing their world view over coffee and brandy.  Nevertheless, the Freemason philosophy and world view is indeed alive and well in Canadian society.

Curious to learn more about the antagoism between this “secret society” and the Catholic Church?  This recent article in the UK Catholic Herald explains it well.

 

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American Hero: Fr. Francois Turgis, Chaplain of the New Orleans Guards

(This is a edited version of my presentation made to the Ottawa Civil War Round Table in Oct 2017.)

Fr. Francois Turgis

Born in Marigny, in the Normandy region of France on April 12, 1813, Isidore Francois Turgis (pronounced ‘turzjee’) loved the classics and the Church. He was ordained on May 31, 1846. During the Crimean War he attempted to served as a chaplain, but was rejected for physical reasons. However, while his flesh was frail, Father Turgis had a spirit of pure steel and his persistence was rewarded in 1857 with an appointment to the Corps of Chaplains. During the Second Italian War of Independence he served with the French army at the battles of Montebello, Palestro, Magenta, Crossing of the Tessin, Marignan, and Solferino. He also served with the French army in Cochin China (Vietnam).

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Throughout the 1850s and 60s in France, the french translation of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin was a very popular read. The book brought about a moral revolution in people’s souls that swept across France and inculcated a strong anti-American South sentiment among liberals.  The sentimental novel depicts the reality of slavery while also asserting that Christian love can overcome something as destructive as enslavement of fellow human beings.  Everyone literally wept as they read it.  One, who was so deeply moved after reading the book, was Fr. Turgis.  The 47 year old war chaplain veteran and anti-slavery advocate was so affected, that he left immediately for America to live among and minister to the black slaves of Louisiana.

After the American and French revolutions, some European countries had made slavery illegal. Rome responded with an ambiguous pronouncement against the slave trade. American bishops construed the papal decree to mean a ban on the Atlantic slave trade only. Some American bishops ‎even defended the institution of slavery on moral, theological and practical grounds.  Hence the Catholic laity of the South based their white supremacist views on both ecclesiastical and regional norms.

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Fr. Turgis, arriving in New Orleans in 1860 had little notion of the conflict that was about to engulf them all.  Somewhat unexpectedly he found himself appointed to the staff of the St Louis (New Orleans) Cathedral.  He still intended to minister to slaves, as there were many free blacks among the cathedral’s congregation.

The sub region of New Orleans and South Louisiana is the one place in the south where the Catholic influence prevailed. New Orleans, the capital city of the slave south, cultivated an attitude of white supremacy of heightened magnitude. The Catholic population joined the Confederate Army for the same reasons their fellow Protestant southerners did – honour, states’ rights, loyalty to home, property rights, perpetuation of slavery and the preservation of white liberties and supremacy.

Amidst the many colourful and unruly regiments formed in New Orleans in the lead up to the American Civil War was the Orleans Guard, a unit of elite white Creoles.  After Louisiana seceded from the Union on January 26, 1861, the colourful Louisiana creole native Gen P. G. T. Beauregard left his post as superintendent of the United States Military Academy and enlisted as a private in this battalion of Creole aristocrats.

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In March 1862, a flurry of military preparations displaced the monotony of guard duty.  U. S. Grant’s Army of the Tennessee was threatening the transportation infrastructure of the Confederacy’s western operations. Generals Albert Sydney Johnston and P. G. T. Beauregard, commanders of the Confederate Army of the Mississippi, summoned reinforcements to meet the Federal encroachment in Tennessee. Creoles of Louisiana, the New Orleans Daily Picayune announced, “Arise! Our Beauregard awaits you; he calls for men in this hour of peril. Haste to his side ere the enemy surround him.” The Orleans Guards answered the call, mustering 411 soldiers into the Confederate Army for a ninety day service period. Major Leon Queyrouze, a prominent businessman and Catholic Mason, was commissioned to lead the battalion.   Archbishop Odin designated Fr. Turgis, the anti-slavery,  war veteran as its chaplain.  A feat in itself as the bulk of Confederate officers were Protestant and refused to accept priests as chaplains, even for Catholic men.  Turgis hoped that he would not have to preach often as a chaplain in the Confederate Army:  “God give me strength for I am not a good preacher.”

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Map by Hal Jespersen, http://www.cwmaps.com

chaplain at workThe organization of the chaplaincy in the Confederate Army was poor. President Davis did not have a high opinion of clergy in general and there was‎ a strong feeling of the need to keep religion and state separate. Consequently, the appointment or election of chaplains was haphazard, their pay poor, their status low and their duties not clear in comparison  with the Union, who considered chaplains essential to the men’s spiritual needs. Chaplains were responsible for religious ceremonies which generally meant for Protestants, preaching and for Catholics, dispensing the sacraments.  In time’s of battle, the chaplain was also expected to assist wounded soldiers and was usually stationed near the field hospital.  By seeking to aid the wounded of both sides, chaplains believed they provided an important contribution as Christians in overcoming the horrors of war.

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Le corps des Créoles d’élite left New Orleans on March 18, 1862 bound for Grand Junction, Tennessee with their Chaplain, Fr. Turgis.  The veteran of the Italian  War steadied his resolve‎ to administer the sacraments to traditionally uninterested Catholics. As the soldiers experienced their first casualties the Orleans Guard turned to their chaplain for spiritual reinforcement. Everyone began attending Mass on Sunday. Turgis talked about the common circumstances of each soldier in a way that drove many to tears.

As the Orleans Guards paused under a line of trees prior to engagement in the Battle of Shiloh, you could hear a pin drop – the gravity of their situation struck the absolved Catholics.‎ After an exchange of friendly fire with the 6th Kentucky, 2 men died. “Oh, what horror is war” proclaimed one soldier.  They had been mistaken for Union forces because of their blue uniforms.

As they prepared for an assault on Day 2 on the Union defences that would later be referred to “the hornet’s nest” there was much fear and tension.  Then “It was truly horrendous as we ascended the hill to see men coming down bathed in their own blood.  ‎The sight of the dead and the rush of the fight made each soldier vie with the other to thrust forward to kill a Yankee.  Each focussed on the death around them and the potential for personal death increasing with every step forward.”

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When a soldier fell, Turgis would run to him. He would apply first aid or administer the last sacraments to comfort his dying moments. In a final gesture, the anointed with Holy Oil, forgave the soldier’s sins for the last time and scanned the field for more injured Catholics, all within direct line of fire.  “Our chaplain Fr Turgis was all the time at our side, with unceasing encouragement always maintaining remarkable self-control” observed one witness.

Here is the content of a letter written after Shiloh that Fr. Turgis wrote to Archbishop Jean-Marie Odin in which he modestly told him not to believe what the newspapers were saying about his valour at Shiloh:

Turgis begs pardon for not having given (Odin) any sign of life since the terrible days of (April) 6 and 7.  He has been trying ever since, as much as his energy permits, to make himself useful visiting the 18th, 24th, 17th, 13th and 4th regiments at Corinth, in all 296 sick, of whom 207 have confessed and 121 have received Communion.  He begs (Odin) to believe nothing which newspapers say in his regard, the Orleans Guards are so favourable to him that they exaggerate everything, regarding as self-sacrifice that which is only the accomplishment of a duty.  About the Battle (of Shiloh): There were about 18 to 20 thousand Catholics, all speaking or understanding French, and he was the only priest.  He gave absolution for 18 hours without stopping, but he cannot prevent himself from weeping continually in thinking about those thousands of Catholics who asked for him and whom it was impossible to see.  The pastor of the cathedral had told him there would be 6 or 7 priests and that he would be unneeded, but without him the elite of their Creole population would have been exposed to being lost for eternity. 

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After the war, the surviving members of the Guards petitioned Archbishop Odin to establish a parish church in New Orleans exclusively for the Catholic veterans and their chère Père Turgis.  Partly due to Fr Turgis poor health, the Archbishop gave them the old Mortuary Chapel on Rampart Street which would also serve as a Fr. Turgis place of retirement. Turgis faced a dilemma of conscience. Should he now seek to fulfill his original intention of serving the black population of Louisiana counter to the Archbishop’s mandate to not empower blacks?  He chose to continue in his sense of duty to his white Creole flock.

Refusing to retire, Fr. Turgis fulfilled promises he had made to dying soldiers on the field that we would take care of their families.  He became the director of the Southern Hospital for invalid soldiers and founding administrator of the Marigny Asylum for widows and orphans of deceased confederates.

The boys from the battlefield had developed a craving for the sacraments during the fear and urgency of battle now came for sacraments because it was Fr. Turgis who was dispensing them.  It was he they came to see and be with in quiet reflection in his room behind the altar.  Here they remembered themselves before defeat.  It was a private venue where veterans went to be with other veterans, away from public opinion.

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The veterans represented there were of every creed – Catholic, Protestant, Hebrew and Atheist.  Brotherly love of the battlefield was the focus more than sacramentality.  Turgis catered to the religious diversity by focusing on their common experience of war.  “They loved to come to him to talk over the days that had so bitterly tried their souls.”

On March 3, 1868, Fr. Turgis died from stomach cancer and fatigue.  A loose group of veterans took responsibility to plan and fund his funeral.  Initially a monument was proposed but the idea was discarded because Turgis had been too humble and modest to want such a grand tomb.  Confederates from as far away as Baton Rouge came to his funeral which was one of the largest the city had ever seen.  Pallbearers included Gen PGT Beauregard, Gen Randall Gibson and Maj Leon Queyrouze.  Thousands of veterans wore their Confederate uniforms.  It was an opportunity to remember the virtue of the South through the person of Turgis.

While Fr. Turgis never did get to minister to black African slaves, he was there for his boys and their families:

“He was essentially a man of duty, a rebel soldier remembered, it ruled his brain, fired his heart.  Duty, according to Turgis, constituted a total devotion to whomever or whatever one was ordered to attend. He obeyed the archdiocesan directive to lead the veterans’ chapel. He also obeyed his heart, which had grown to love his boys from the battlefield.”

Turgis treated the veterans as fellow brothers-in-arms even though he did not support the Lost Cause of the war or slavery.  He did not mourn with them but supported those who were mourning.  He remained indifferent to the loss but sympathetic to those who lost.  The chaplain and the veterans made a tacit agreement to forget temporarily each other’s disagreements over the rightness or wrongness of the war.  By means of his personal bravery and accompaniment of Confederate soldiers, Fr. Turgis’ spirit transcended the war and lifted many up.  He deserves to be called an American Hero.

Our Lady of Guadalupe and St. Jude's Shrine

Our Lady of Guadalupe Church today is administered by the Oblates of Mary Immaculate

Sources

I am indebted to Prof. Michael Pasquier who put his MA Thesis on this subject on line.  He now teaches religious history at Louisiana State University.  I also consulted Gardiner Shattuck’s 1985 book A Shield and Hiding Place which provided useful information on the role of chaplains and the Church during the ACW.  I also consulted T. Harry Williams 1995 book P.G.T. Beauregard – Napoleon in Gray for his write up of the Battle of Shiloh.  The following blog provided some background information on Fr. Turgis: https://almostchosenpeople.wordpress.com/2014/05/25/father-turgis-preacher-by-deeds-not-words/#more-9891

 

 

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Women as Reflection and Completion

 

In a spirited, energetic and passionate talk, Imam Dr. Mohamad Jebara took us on an educational ride through the key role women have played in Islam religion and Muslim society on a historical basis.  He is resident scholar at Ottawa’s Cordova Centre.  The centre is committed to making the world a better place through inter-faith dialogue that inspires all people to work together.  He was the lead off speaker in what promises to be a very enriching lunch and learn series at the Galilee Centre in Arnprior, entitled Faith and Inclusivity: The Gift of the Other. 

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His Eminence, Imam Mohamad Jebara

First we had lunch – and what a delicious lunch it was!  An authentic Syrian meal including spiced chicken, rice, kale, salad, Turkish delight followed by Arabic tea.  It was prepared to perfection by Karyma Nafea, wife of Abdel who is from Aleppo and on the staff of Galilee.  We learned that Turkish delight was actually first created in Damascus some 6000 years ago and should really be named “Syrian delight”.  The memorable meal was authentic mid-eastern with wonderful spices and colour.

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After welcoming us by chanting a 1000 year old Arabic greeting, Mohamad explained that he would be telling us the answer to the question ” Are women in Islam incomplete and unable to define themselves as fulfilled?”  There are many words for “woman” in Arabic.  The one he was using today was “imra’ah” which means mirror or reflection.  I groaned to myself as I was 1 of only 3 men in the 15 member audience.  “What kind of topic is this for me?” I wondered.

Using colourful images and expressive gestures, Mohamad went on to explain the long important role women have played in Islam.  Starting with the Prophet Muhammad’s upbringing, he introduced to us 5 different women who had nurtured the Prophet and inspired him to achieve great things as his mentors and protectors.  He continued with the history of many other Muslim women who had been chief magistrates, founders of universities, scholars and muftis (archbishops), during the golden years of Islamic society from the 8th to the 13th century.

At a time when the rest of the world, from Greece and Rome to India and China, considered women as no better than children or even slaves, with no rights whatsoever, Islam acknowledged women’s equality with men in a great many respects. The Quran states:

“And among His signs is this: that He created mates for you from yourselves that you may find rest and peace of mind in them, and He ordained between you love and mercy. Certainly, herein indeed are signs for people who reflect.” [Noble Quran 30:21]

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“Women complete men and men complete women.  They are equals.” Muhammad explained.  So what happened?  Why do we have such visible inequality of women in Islam e.g.,  the “mahram system” that can effectively make a woman a prisoner in her own house?  The destruction of 12 million Islam books during the Mongol invasion (13th century) and the Crusades (11th to 13th century) ended the golden years and extinguished education particularly for Islamic women.  Other cultural changes that have been confused with religion, have relegated Islamic women to inferior status.  Culture informs religion. Most Muslims do not know their own rich history.

We in the west think that we are much wiser having empowered women in our society.  Not so fast.  Just look at  as the Hollywood meltdown and the #Metoo campaign currently underway I thought.  Muhammad finished with:

“A successful society is one that empowers women.  Empowering women empowers us all.”

Wow, we have just been treated to a rich Islamic fruitcake I thought.

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Gerry Kelly thanks Dr. Muhamad Jebara

 

 

 

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