Canoe Pilgrimage for Indigenous Reconciliation

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We were very honoured to attend a living history event at the Galilee Renewal Centre in Arnprior on August 8.  About 30 canoeists, including Indigenous, Jesuits, English, French, men and women, dropped in on their way from Midland to Montreal on a pilgrimage to mark Canada’s 150th Anniversary celebrations.

The 2017 Canadian Canoe Pilgrimage is a project inspired by Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) with the hope of encouraging intercultural and interreligious dialogue and learning. Participants, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous, are immersed in each other’s customs and traditions. Through this immersion, the goal is to foster deep respect, trust, dialogue and hopefully friendship, the building blocks for reconciliation.

The canoe route taken is a traditional First Nations trading route that was travelled by early European settlers such as Samuel de Champlain and Jean de Brébeuf, who were welcomed and guided by the Indigenous Peoples of this land. The route follows a similar one paddled by 24 young Jesuits in 1967.  Members of the Jesuit and Oblate religious orders, their lay volunteers and many others across Canada are actively helping to implement the Calls to Action described by the TRC.

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About 40 guests were treated to the participative Kairos Blanket Exercise as a means to learn about the historic and contemporary relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples of Canada.  Bob, an Indigenous elder from Toronto with a Phd., first led us in a smudging ceremony to purify our bodies, auras and energy.  Then we were invited to walk slowly around on adjoining blankets as actors described specific historical events like:

  • what Turtle Island was like (Indigenous name for North America before colonization)
  • the era of European discovery and colonization of Canada
  • proclamation of the first Canadian Indian Act in 1873
  • establishment of Residential Schools for Indigenous children after 1880
  • U. N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in 2007
  • PM Harper’s apology to First Nations peoples of 2008

Towards the end of the exercise, those still walking found themselves greatly reduced in number and, the blankets had shrunk and were separated from each other.  This was a grim reminder of the impact colonization and Canadian history has had on Indigenous peoples, from their cultural perspective.  We then participated in a talking circle where everyone was invited to reflect on what they had just learned and how they felt.  Much compassion, need for forgiveness and commitment to improving relations was expressed, even tears  It was a well-balanced and poignant educational experience.

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Fr. Ken Forster, Provincial Superior of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, Lacombe Canada Province celebrated an outdoor Mass for everyone under the stately white pines.  He emphasized forgiveness, committment and forging ahead in mutual reconciliation between Canadians and Indigenous peoples.  Our day finished off with a scrumptious spaghetti and meat ball dinner provided by Galilee. We marveled at the healthy appetite of the young paddlers and for their answering the call to reconciliation, forgiveness and committment.

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We all went home more aware of our own history and of the need to support ongoing dialogue of mutual reconciliation based on hope and forgiveness.  We felt energized by the vitality of today’s youth in taking up this social challenge.   Improving relationships and building trust among all Canadians and in particular with Indigenous peoples is every Canadian’s business.  Our sincere thanks to the Galilee organizers, the paddlers and the contributors to this living history event of great educational value.

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Puzzling Over Romans 8:29-30

This passage from Romans was the second reading at this past Sunday’s Mass:

“For those he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, so that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined he also called; and those he called he also justified; and those he justified he also glorified.

This is in the past tense, right?  I thought my salvation would not be fully decided until the second coming of Jesus Christ.  i.e., in the future.  What is going on here?

I was raised in the Presbyterian faith and hence this passage would seem to speak to predestination: Faith in God is a gift of God and there is nothing you or I can do to effect our own salvation.  It’s up to Him alone and furthermore, He has already decided long before we were even born.  Now in the midst of continuing to work out my own salvation in the Catholic faith, I am curious: what does the Catholic Church say about the meaning of this particular reading from Paul’s letter to the Romans?

We were up in Cormac, ON at the annual St. Ann Pilgrimage for the outdoor mass.  Pembroke Bishop Mulhall was our celebrant.  In his homily he discussed the Gospel reading in Mathew but did not address the Catholic interpretation of the quoted passage from Romans.  The fact that it was very hot outside and a big crowd, was likely a factor in deciding not to go into this teaching, which would take extra time.

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Pembroke Bishop Mulhall celebrates Mass as Ottawa Auxiliary Bishop Riesbeck looks on

On the surface it would appear Paul is saying that God decides in advance who he will call (to conversion), whom he will justify (by removing the guilt and penalty of sin to make them righteous) and who he will glorify (give eternal life to). i.e, it is predestined by God so there is nothing we can do in our lives about his decision.  Do we have free will or not?  Do  our actions in life contribute to our salvation or not?  Are we saved through our faith alone or through a combination of faith and good works as the Catholic Church teaches?  This is a major theological dividing line between Roman Catholics and Protestants.

Well I looked around the internet and found a number of Catholic commentaries on this passage, none of which were completely satisfactory in my view.  Then I came upon the explanation given in Nick’s Catholic Blog a few years back.

Perhaps surprisingly, he quotes a number of Eastern Rite Catholic Fathers who basically said that in deciding who He predestines to glory, God takes everything into consideration including whether someone really loves Him or not and how they go about their life.  Also for an omnisicent God there is no past, present and future as we understand it – He sees everything at once.  This explanation neatly preserves our free choice and strengthens the argument that good works do indeed matter and will be taken into consideration by God.  I like this interpretation.  Calvin it seems may have had it wrong.

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4th Degree Knights of Columbus Colour Guard (me on the right)

 

 

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The Identity Theory of Knowing

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I am taking an interesting philosophy course online for free from EDx entitled ‎God, Knowledge and Conciousness.  It is introductory and the 1st philosophy course I have ever taken. Since I do like thinking, I am not too surprised that I enjoy this subject even though I can’t fully understand it.
M.I.T. Prof. Caspar Hare is an enthusiastic and energetic teacher. The basic structure of a philosophic argument he says is:
Premise 1     e.g. Animals that fly have wings or equivalent.
Premise 2     e.g. Pigs are animals that do not have wings or equivalent.
Conclusion‎   e.g. Pigs don’t fly.
If it is impossible that the premises be true and the conclusion false, the argument is valid. If the premises are all true then the‎ argument is sound. To attack a philosophical conclusion one must convince the reasonable believer that at least one of the premises is not true or alternatively, convince a non-believer that all the premises are true.
Sounds straight forward?
Our most recent lesson was on physicalists vs. non-physicalists ways of knowing something. Non-physicalists assert that science can never explain everything due to “qualia” – the human experience of finding out what something is like.  This is philosophy of the mind.
Mary is a brilliant scientist who is colour blind but can explain everything in the universe in the language of science including the brain state of someone who sees red. In the thought experiment, she is suddenly able to see a tomato is red for the first time. She says “now I know what it’s like to see a red tomato.”. The non-physicalist deems this a “qualia” and says she now has additional non-physical knowledge that she did not have before seeing the red tomato for the first time.
The physicalist says no it is just knowing the same fact in a different way and not new knowledge at all.  She already knew what the brain state is of someone who sees a red tomato (since she can describe every possible brain state using the language of science.)‎ Hence she merely “self-identifies” with this knowledge saying I now personally know what it’s like to see a red tomato.  It is the same knowledge (the brain state) only she now knows it in a new way.  This is the “identity theory” of knowing something.
Another way to illustrate this is as follows.  There is a terrible train wreck and Maria wakes up in the hospital in traction with no memory of the accident or who she is.  She watches television and hears a report of the accident and that 2 people, Maria from Barcelona and David from Toronto, are in intensive care in this hospital.  She asks herself am I Maria or David?  When a relative comes in and says hi Maria.  She “self-identifies” with the knowledge that she is Maria and from Barcelona.  But she already knew Maria is from Barcelona.  So there is no new fact here that has to be explained by science simply because she now knows she is Maria.  Esoteric stuff.
Well this discussion ‎touched off a lot of angst as many course students felt that the experience of something is indeed different from the prior knowledge of that something. Many of these students in the course are perhaps younger.  Younger people it seems, may intensely value their experiences as unique new knowledge they acquire as they go.
I am less inclined to as I age. The truth exists and my acquired knowledge of it through experience, merely confirms or denies it. It is a different way of knowing the truth through experience, not new truth in itself.  I say this about my Faith that God exists which has been confirmed through some personal conversion experiences I’ve had.
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If I have confused you, you can read up about Frank Jackson, the renouned philosopher who premised qualia as a way of proving science will never be able to describe everything since there are things in this world that are not physical.‎ I think there are better ways to prove that.  Stay tuned.

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Some More Valley Festivals

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We went again this year to the Valley Bluegrass Festival in Horton Township, just north of Renfrew.  It was a pleasant evening on the Johnson farm where the event is held each year.  We only stayed for 4 shows, the first 3 being very good.  The last was a little too slow and dated for us.  Each show runs about 45 minutes with a 5 min pause in between.

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Rhyme and Reason put on a great show – that’s a dobro on the left

I particularly like banjo music and the harmony of 3 or 4 singing voices.  Marie enjoys the banjo too and also the overall creativity of the music.   It’s lively and humorous with pranks and crowd banter and light-hearted insults flying back and forth.   It can get repetitive so when some of the bands stray into country and folk music, that’s just extra spice.

Bluegrass music is American roots music, related to county music but influenced by the music of Appalachia – that American cultural region from southern New York to northern Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi.  It also has Irish, Scottish and English traditional music influences.  One of my favorite bluegrass radio stations is WDVX in Knoxville, TN.

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Foot bridge from the campground to the stage area

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The Spinney Brothers from Nova Scotia are really excellent

There are more and more bluegrass festivals popping up locally with some really great Canadian talent.  One is held at the Navcan Centre in Cornwall and another in Iroquois that we plan to attend next spring.  This was the 23rd annual Valley Bluegrass Festival, and the profits go to the Renfrew Hospital.  It’s a great way to spend a summer evening!

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Another growing event is the Arnprior Dragonboat Festival.  This year there were 15 boats with 20 paddlers in each entered in the day of racing.  They race in the Madawaska River by the marina.

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The weather was great and everyone had fun.  It can be quite physically challenging if you have not trained for the big day.  Luckily there are several doctors present on several of the teams, if needed

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Reg and Katherine Gatenby, Arnprior Hospital Team

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Doug Algier says get your paddles ready!

Perhaps next year Marie and I will make a team for the first time.  A great fun day for sure.  This festival is putting Arnprior on the map.

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Almonte Celtfest

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Liam the Leprechaun brings good luck

For about 8 years we have been attending the Almonte Celtfest held in July each year in beautiful Gemmill Park.  Motivated by a love of Celtic heritage, a friend of mine Terry Currie with 2 others founded this festival as a way of keeping their musical traditions alive and to pass on the legacy of Celtic heritage to the wider community.  Fiddling and step dancing have a strong presence in the Ottawa Valley as Celtic music continues to thrive in kitchens, pubs, churches, backyards and festivals.

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The Fiddle Mass

Not to be missed also is the unique “fiddle Mass” held in the Holy Name of Mary Parish on the Sunday morning during the festival.  Our friends Glenn and Betty Clarke first started coming up.  They have a large RV which they park in the church parking lot.  They started inviting us and others and we have have kept up the tradition most years.  The first year, I mistakenly drove from Barrhaven to Smith Falls thinking that was near Almonte.  Betty still laughs about this!  Now living in Arnprior, we know much better where Almonte is.

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In the rain in 2016

We attended on Saturday this year expecting more rain and the sun came out, thanks to Liam.  Anna Ludlow, a fiddler, vocalist and guitar player originally from Antigonish, NS was the star performer.  She had everyone up and dancing … in the mud.  We had a good time watching all the kids sliding face first in the mud.  Never have we seen this here before!

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Another perennial favorite is Louis Schreyer, world champion fiddler from Chapeau, QC.  He performed with Erin Leahy and 2 others.  I still remember their stunning concert together here last year.  Betty and Glenn are hosting them at a house concert in September.  Last year they hosted Anna Ludlow in a great private concert event in their backyard.

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Louis 2nd from left, Erin on right

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Anna and husband Jarrod

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Glenn enjoys the music in 2012

We are blessed to have the Clarkes as close friends and to get to go to the Celtfest with them each year.  Hopefully the mud will dry up in time for next year’s festival!  Highly recommend (more info.)

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Slainte! (cheers)

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Why I Love Canada

Happy 150th Anniversary Canada!

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I love Canada because we are free to:

  • say what we want to say
  • be who we want to be
  • believe or not believe in God or another deity without persecution and,
  • we have a great educational and health care system

Furthermore, we are one of the last nations in the world not consumed by hate of others.  We are a safe and peaceful country.  The indigenous peoples have shared this beautiful land with us and we are working on improving our relationship.

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150 years ago we were almost invaded by the U.S.  After the U.S. Civil War ended in 1865, William Seward, Secretary of State, was incensed at the apparent role Canada had played in harbouring Confederate sympathizers, spies and mercenaries.  The U.S had its eye on annexing Rupert’s Land which included most of  western Canada just as it had annexed millions of square miles of Mexico after invading it in 1848.

 

 

john a macdonaldIn what has to be one of the world’s most delicate diplomatic negotiating acts, our future first Prime Minister Sir John A. MacDonald with the help of others including the threat of British naval intervention, managed to sooth the high strung Seward.  War with the U.S. was narrowly avoided on several occasions.

This real threat of U.S. imperialism was enough to overcome stiff anti-confederation political views held particularly in Nova Scotia.   So in 1867 Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia circled the wagons and joined in a new nation called Canada for mutual aid and defence.  (“Kanata” means village in Algonquin.)

We were so close to being absorbed by the U.S. and it is still amazing to this day that we somehow avoided it.  So here is another reason to celebrate Canada today:

– Justin Trudeau is our political leader and not Donald Trump!  Go Canada go, eh!

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Should we apologize for the sins of the past?

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No according to those who advocate the “hermeneutic” of discontinuity with the past. Hermeneutic refers to the lens by which we see, interpret and understand the world.  Those who adhere to this discontinuity interpret the wisdom and actions of previous generations as flawed, erroneous and naive and so forth.  By this logic, the sins of previous generations are theirs and theirs alone.

But, according to the 2013 apology by Prime Minister Stephen Harper to former students of Indian Residential Schools, it was wrong to forcibly remove children from their homes and seek to “take the Indian out of the child.”

Our colonizing ancestors thought they were doing what God wanted them to do.  Namely, bring Christianity and civilization to the indigenous peoples of Canada.  They  were naive but had the best of intentions.  They were not equipped to deal fairly with the indigenous peoples that Columbus had discovered for Spain and Pedro Cabral had discovered for Portugal.  Their society lacked the sensitivities and tools needed.  The Residential Schools should never have existed, period.  So if there is discontinuity with the past, why should we apologize today?

Because we all have sinned too.  Romans 5:12-14:

12 Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death came through sin, and so death spread to all because all have sinned— 13 sin was indeed in the world before the law, but sin is not reckoned when there is no law. 14 Yet death exercised dominion from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sins were not like the transgression of Adam, who is a type of the one who was to come.

We see and interpret the facts of the past – history – through our own personal, cultural and racial lens.  Consequently there are an infinite number of views.  For example the native child who was removed from an alcoholic and abusive family situation who now feels that the Residential school saved her life.  The strong Catholic faith of the Algonquin Nation which they know and cherish.

Today in Canada since we see the past through much more inclusive lens, we may be reluctant to celebrate the 150th Anniversary of Canada as reported by the NYT.  However there is indeed something to celebrate here – our willingness to say we are sorry.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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My Friend Nassr

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Staring in 2002 I worked in the HR department of Industry Canada.  We were responsible for workforce demographic analysis and forecasting.  We produced glossy annual reports that the Deputy Minister enjoyed reading.  It was there that I met Nassr Al-Maflehi (pronounced al-maflayhee).

Nassr was a statistician by training and the heart of our little analytical group.  He was from Yemen and his mother still lived in Sanaa, the capital  He was anxious to apply his knowledge to improve employee departure forecasting based on probability theories that he had studied in the U.S.  He was anxious to raise his family who were in Ottawa and to continue his education at the post graduate level.

We spent many hours discussing statistical theory with Nassr trying to explain it all to me.  He helped everyone in our group and our clients in the same way with his kindness and eagerness to share his skills and knowledge.  He was a very positive person that everyone loved.

He was muslim as were 1 or 2 others in our group.  I had worked with Muslims before and was very impressed with their integrity, friendliness, knowledge and good nature.  Nassr asked me for a recommendation to help him get into a PhD program at Carleton.  I gladly did and I believe that he was ultimately accepted.

Another time we had a golf day at work.  He had never played before.  I remember everyone trying to coach Nassr how to swing the club.  With much perserverance, towards the end he started to hit the ball well and we were all amazed.

He invited Marie and I to dinner at his modest house.  We had a delightful time sampling the delicious foods that he and his wife had selected and prepared.  As we left that night he gave me a gift of a Yemen ceremonial dagger called a jambia.  I did not know what to do other than accept it.  To this day I have no idea if it was a precious family heirloom he gave me or a typical gift that people of Yemen exchange.  I treasure it to this day.

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Another time, his uncle from Saudi Arabia came to visit.  Nassr invited my boss and I out for dinner.  We thought this was very generous and thouroughly enjoyed the evening.  However at one point Nassr’s uncle started to insist that we come to Saudi Arabia for a visit and that he would pay for everything.  We felt uncomfortable and politely but firmly declined.

It was shortly after this that Nassr announced that he was moving to Saudi Arabia for a new job at King Saud University and to be nearer his aging mother.  We were all sad to see him go.  There was a luncheon, hugs and tears as he wished us well and we said our goodbyes.  Since than Nassr has gone on to become a professor and teaches biostatistics in the field of dentistry in Riyadh.  I am not surprised at his success.

Hopefully we will see you again Nassr.  Thanks for the wonderful memories and the important lesson that we are all brothers and sisters.

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“When she poured the perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial.  I tell you the truth, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”

Matt 12:12-13

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In 2013 Marie and I visited a small town just east of Marseille, FR called Saint-Maximin-la-Sainte-Baume.  Our purpose was to explore the grotto of Mary Magdalene.

The little town was transformed by the well-published discovery, 12 December 1279, in the crypt of Saint-Maximin, of a sarcophagus that was proclaimed to be the tomb of Mary Magdalene and by the ensuing pilgrim-drawing cult of Mary Magdalene and St Maximin.

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The legend goes that after the resurrection of Jesus Christ, Mary Magdalene, her brother Lazarus and Maximin, (one of the seventy disciples mentioned in Luke 10: 1-24) left the Holy Land by boat to escape persecution.  They landed at Saintes-Maries-de-la Mer further west near Arles, FR.  Mary Magdalene went to Marseille to convert the local people and then retired to a cave in the St. Baume mountains.  She was buried in St. Maximin where her relics are reputed to be.  (Other reputed resting places for her relics are in Vezelay, FR and Ephesus, TR.)

We hiked up a steep path and made our way into an underground grotto buried in the mountain.  There was an altar, statues and water dripping down.  If this is where Mary Magdalene finished her life it was certainly not very fancy.

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The panoramic view from the top of the mountain was breathtaking.  We slowly returned down the path stopping to chat with a friend along the way.

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We retired to Saint-Maries-de-la-Mer for dinner and caught the Fête Votive Camargue parade going right by our table.  We felt very nourished by the history, beauty and reverence of this pilgrimage outing.  France is a gorgeous place to visit anytime.  For the detailed account of the Marys that came here and how the story has changed over the years, click here.

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Missionary Methods

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It is interesting to revisit methods used by Christian missionaries in the 19th and early 20th centuries as they spread the good news message of  Jesus Christ to indigenous peoples.
Here we are not pointing out abuse scandals that have been exposed for example in the Canadian Residential School program.  Rather, about cultural and colonial superiority and absence of respect for local religious traditions that were evident in the way the Christian faith was propagated in this era.
Lesotho is a landlocked ‎kingdom encircled by South Africa. In the 19th century it was besieged by and welcomed Protestant and Catholic missionaries. One of the Catholic missionaries was Blessed Joseph Gerard, OMI (Oblate of Mary Immaculate). He sought to save the souls of the indigenous Basotho people by using the techniques of the day.
Today we talk about enculturation – adapting the message, rules and practices of Christianity so a local culture can see parallels with their own beliefs.  ‎This can work surprisingly well as the recent Book of Mormon play so aptly taught us.
In a candid and frank assessment, Fr. Bernhard Albers, OMI tells the story of Blessed Joseph Garrard’s strengths and weaknesses in his missionary work in Lesotho.  This article made me both laugh and cry.  It also reinforced for me that something really is happening here – the very successful work of the Holy Spirit.
A great read here‎.

 

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