Dear Brothers, Family and Friends,
Greetings from Manziana, an Italian town about an hour and a bit NW of Rome, where I arrived one week ago. Although the previous five weeks, most of it travelling across northern Spain on the Camino was a wonderful experience, it was a joy to arrive here and unpack, knowing I was to be sleeping in the same bed for longer than one or two nights.
A word first about Manziana. I’m staying at a Centre of Spirituality of the Marist Brothers in a former Juniorate (a boarding school for lads considering becoming brothers, nearly all of which internationally no longer exist).We’re one week into our course, a group of 17 men, mostly in our late 60s or early 70s and included amongst us, a leadership team of three. These men are:
Br Michael Sexton, a former student of Marcellin College Bulleen, and now working as a ‘missionary’ in Algeria. I use inverted commas as I think Mick would describe his work as building bridges and friendships with the large Muslim community where he lives, mainly through his work as a librarian and all this without any hint of proselytizing, which as you might guess, is strictly forbidden.
Working with Mick is Br Don Neary, Marist Brother from Chicago who was formerly the private secretary to an earlier superior general. Don was based in Italy for 6 ½ years, so he knows the system and the geography of Rome well.
Finally on the leadership team is a Marianist priest, Fr Rich Villa from the U.S.
The participants on the course come from a rich variety of ministry / missionary backgrounds:
Twelve Marist Brothers: Five Australians, two Nigerians, one Scot, and one New Zealander, one Filipino
Three Marianist Priests: One French, one French Canadian, one U.S
Two Marianist Brothers: One from the U.S and one from France (a former lawyer!)
We began in the first couple of days by listening to one another’s life stories. It was very open-ended, although we were asked to try to go beyond listing what we did in our different ministries at the different times, and try to say something of the special and graced times, as reflected in both the highs and lows of our lives. The degree of sharing within the group was both simple and profound, and it was really quite a privilege and also humbling to be part of it all, listening to this bunch of ordinary, yet honest and real ………. Do I dare use the word ‘holy’??? …… group of men!
Regressing to an experience of my youth which came to mind as I listened. It was Sunday morning on the footpath in Clark St Lilydale after Sunday mass in December 1962. It had become known to the local Sisters of Mercy that I was soon to leave for the Mount Macedon Novitiate of the Marist Brothers, and I remember dear old Sr Anthony drawing me aside and saying in my ear ….” And remember Michael that you will receive the hundred-fold (as mentioned in the Gospel) in this life too!” Well as I listened to these men, knowing that I was one of their number, that was my grateful prayer from the heart. It WAS good to be there.
And following on from this sharing (which took two days, there being 17 of us), we have been lead by the first of our visiting presenters, a Notre Dame Sister from Manchester in England, Sr Catherine Darby whose input has been on the theme of “TRANSITIONS OF LIFE’ and of course, transition into the 3rd Age. I know that many of you would be interested so here are a couple of quotes to whet your appetite.
First from an A.A source, I believe:
The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life.
Attitude to me is more important than facts. It is more important than the past,
than education, than money, than circumstances, than failures, than successes,
than what other people think of say or do.
It is more important than appearance, giftedness of skill.
It will make or break a company …….. a church ………… a home.
The remarkable thing is we have a choice every day
regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day.
nside every older person is a younger person
Wondering what the hell happened.
At times it is good to stop and let the dust of activity settle.
At first in the silence there may be some disappointment
but beneath, there is more:
Gratitude for life itself
Humour at my own silliness
Compassion for suffering
And a quiet wisdom
Distilled from a Spirit-filled life.
God’s love is with us. David O’Malley SDB
When I am an old woman I shall wear purple
With a red hat that doesn't go, and doesn't suit me,
And I shall spend my pension
on brandy and summer gloves
And satin sandals,
and say we've no money for butter.
I shall sit down on the pavement when I am tired,
And gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells,
And run my stick along the public railings,
And make up for the sobriety of my youth.
I shall go out in my slippers in the rain
And pick the flowers in other people's gardens,
And learn to spit.
You can wear terrible shirts and grow more fat,
And eat three pounds of sausages at a go,
Or only bread and pickle for a week,
And hoard pens and pencils and beer mats
and things in boxes.
But now we must have clothes that keep us dry,
And pay our rent and not swear in the street,
And set a good example for the children.
We will have friends to dinner and read the papers.
But maybe I ought to practise a little now?
So people who know me
are not too shocked and surprised,
When suddenly I am old
and start to wear purple! Jenny Joseph
Back to our Manziana Programme: Other themes offered by future presenters include:
Praying in 3rd Age., Choices of the Heart’, Religious Life Today, Mission, Seasons of Faith
Throw in a 3 day retreat, an overnight pilgrimage to Assisi and a longer 2 week pilgrimage to Marist country in France, beginning next week, and you just about have it. Tomorrow we have the first of our three free days.(It’s the All Saints/All Souls weekend holiday in Italy) A group of us are leaving early for Rome and then catching an early train out of Rome to the ‘not to be missed’ town/village/church …….. I’m not sure what …….. of Orvieto. The autumn weather here in Italy has been beautiful, warm sunny days and cooler evenings as the night closes in.
Last Sunday, we all went for a mass and bar-b-que at our Mother House in EUR (a suburb) in Rome. It was our only opportunity to get together with two other 3rd Age groups currently on courses, one Spanish and one French. It was a warm family occasion, with the mass, being a bit of a liturgical hotch-potch in 3 languages, but the singing and organ accompaniment (me!) adding to the occasion.
After the bar-b-que, most of our group returned to Manziana by bus, but four of us took the opportunity to attend a 4.30 pm performance of Rigoletto (Verdi) in the Rome Opera Theatre. Because of the price of our tickets, I was expecting excellent seats, so I was disappointed that I could only comfortably see about half of the stage from the second row of a box, perched on a bar stool, so I could see over the heads of the people in front. However by leaning a bit I could see more, and I would have to say the performance was outstanding, with a fine, large orchestra and chorus (about 35 men) and excellent soloists. Keep you ear open for a Claudia Boyle (from Dublin). Her Gilda was the best singing I have every heard in the flesh, speaking of which, wasn’t bad either! There was no amplification at all, just the pure human voices in a superb theatre. The Rome Opera Theatre is stunning, Crimson Velvet and gold everywhere with four tiers of boxes and chandeliers lights (See the photo) . So a thrilling night, and I’m sure I will be left with a lasting memory.
Coming home was thrilling too, being met by pick-pockets on the escalator as we changed from the Rome Metro to the Manziana line. One of these jokers was in front of me, and I actually saw him reaching into Br. Stephen’s hip picket. I yelled at him, and as I did so his mate was in my back pocket from behind me. But he only got a tourist map of Rome, one of the free ones that only that night I’d picked up at Termini Tourist Info. On arrival at Manziana station about 9.30 pm Br Mick Sexton had his car waiting for us, so it was a quick drive home from there.
And I haven’t started talking about the Camino yet, so that will have to be left for another occasion. I’ve been several days trying to finish the above. Best wishes from Manziana. Michael Herry