The Agony in the Garden
Staying with the theme of Hippo in Algeria, where Augustine 'lived and breathed and had his being.' If the front of the building reminded me of Palm Sunday and Jesus' triumphant entry into Jerusalem, then the surrounding hillside could have easily been the Garden of Gethsemane ....
There was a resident priest at the Basilica. He was an Augustinian called Fr Peter-Paul. He was actually in Algeria illegally. And so was the bottle of whisky he produced the night we arrived.
To his left there was a statue on a plinth of St Joseph, the Patron Saint of 'Les Petites Soeurs Des Pauvres'. Each morning after I said the final blessing at Mass, the nuns would immediately 'fall on their knees' to say the rosary. I would give it a body swerve, nip out the back door and have a smoke with St Joe. The rosary wasn't my 'thing', as it were.
One morning when I was lighting up, I noticed that an egg had been placed in front of the statue. An Iraqi nun came out of the church and I asked her about it. She explained, very matter-of-factly, that it was their last egg and, unlike the Old Testament tradition of offering the first of everything to God - the lamb of God - they offered the last. She said that it was a sign of their abandonment to God. "He always provides", and then added with an outburst of laughter, "And it gives him a little nudge that we are running short."
Later that same day, the bell at the front gate rang out. Mother came for myself and Peter-Paul and asked us to go with her to the gate. When we got there, the military had arrived. They asked to come in. Mother beckoned them in and they pulled up in a truck in the middle of the courtyard, just beside St Joseph. They opened up the back door of the truck and it was filled with trays of .....eggs. Wow! What a coincidence. Or as I call it these days a 'synchronicity.'
The next day after Mass, when I went out for my constitutional with the father of the Holy Family (fervent rosary going on in the background), there was a melon placed in front of him. When the Iraqi sister appeared on the scene, I said to her sarcastically, "What time is the melon truck arriving at today then, Sister?" She burst out laughing, "Fr Steve, have you no faith at all!??"
Later that afternoon, the bell went again at the front gate. I knew the script by now and just went straight there. Mother was busy opening it and a truck pulled in to the courtyard. It was an old man who had a stall at the market place down the hill in Annaba. He opened the back door of his truck, while I was thinking - if this is melons, that Iraqi nun is going to be unbearable.
Yes!! It WASN'T melons, it was loads of corn on the cobs. I took armfuls of the stuff and took them to the pantry with such a smug smile on my face. I got back to the truck just in time to see the old man pull away a sheet of tarpaulin to reveal dozens of ... melons.
That 'fall on my knees' moment happened again. The Iraqi nun just smiled at me. It wasn't unbearable at all. Quite the opposite, in fact.
The next day when the nuns had finished their rosary and came into the courtyard, Fr Peter-Paul's, now empty, bottle of whisky was in front of the statue. I put it there. It didn't even have a last drop in it to offer to God.
My plan didn't work, a whisky lorry didn't arrive. But the laughter of the nuns was worth it.
We have all been aware of Cezanne this last couple of weeks, a young woman whose quarantine has been so intensely felt. She can't even step out of her room, let alone go for a walk. And then, as if things could not be worse, her mother, Nessie, contracted the virus and is intensive care in CHUV.
A 'zoom room' was set up so that parishioners and her family can be 'in the room' with her at all times. People gather with her to say the rosary, three times a day. One of the beautiful things I noticed when I've been in the room for the rosary, is that her family from the Philippines have put the camera on themselves sound asleep in the middle of the night so that, at any time, Cezanne can see that they are there with her, albeit, they are asleep. The extraordinary sensitivity of those people is so beautiful. It gave me a completely different view of Peter, James and John, falling asleep in the garden of Gethsemane. Falling asleep has no bearing whatsoever on the depth of love we have for Christ, or for Cezanne and Nessie. Can we even offer Jesus our sleep?
Last night, I decided to contact the nuns in Algeria to ask them to pray for Cezanne and Nessie. I KNOW their prayers are always answered, 100 times out of a 100. I placed Cezanne and Nessie in front of the statue in their courtyard.
This morning, I was doing a few things and walked past my desk, (which I never use). I noticed a photograph which I had leaned against my desktop computer (which I never use). I know I put the photograph there a few years ago, but never gave it a second glance since. I never even noticed it when I wrote about Sr Amie a few days ago. I wiped away the dust and stood in awe at what I saw. Here it is:
On Holy Thursday night, let's all sit with Christ in human form, Nessie and Cezanne, Cezanne who seems to be carrying the suffering of all of our community on her young shoulders. And if you fall asleep, it's okay. Offer them that too ....
And btw, that old woman who had been dumped at the gate of the hospice all those years ago in 1993? Would you believe, I searched through a bag of old photos I brought with me to Lausanne ten years ago - and never looked at since - and I found her. Here she is:
Lord, you shone so brightly in this old lady. Shine in Cezanne's heart now. Steve Online Prayers: Mappet & Richard Walker have set up a zoom room to which everyone is welcome to log in (contact us for link) for daily prayers* for parishioner, Nessie Tome, who remains in hospital with Coronavirus, and for her daughter, Cezanne, who also has the virus. Please let us know if there are others you'd like us to keep in our prayers. *at 9am, 3pm and 9pm daily. Mother Teresa Sisters' Donations: the Sisters are immensely grateful to everyone who has left, and to those who continue to leave, much needed donations of food and other household items for distribution to the families they support. Please ring: 021 647 3135 on arrival to let them know you have bags for them to store. Ch de la Foret 2, 1018 Bellevaux. Suggested items: rice, pre-made ravioli, canned beans, canned vegetables, jam, tea, coffee, milk, eggs, pasta, vegetable oil, soap. Bank details for those who would like to make online donations: Missionaries of Charity, IBAN/KONTO number: CH 38 09 00 00 00 174 035 795. The Divine Mercy novena starts tomorrow, Good Friday, 10 April and ends on Divine Mercy Sunday, 19 April: https://www.thedivinemercy.org/message/devotions/novena
Appel de Pâques de la charte de la migration: Le réseau de la charte de la migration a lancé aujourd'hui un appel au Conseil fédéral, lui demandant d'accueillir 5'000 fugitifs des camps grecs, pour lancer une dynamique en Europe en vue d'évacuer ces camps avant la propagation du coronavirus qui conduirait à une catastrophe. Il a été envoyé aux médias et dans les Eglises et les réseaux de solidarité cet après-midi.
L'appel peut être signé sur le site: www.migrationscharta.ch Details in English on the link.
Merci de faire bon accueil à cet appel - urgent et très important - et de le diffuser dans vos milieux respectifs.
Vous trouverez en annexe la version française avec une lettre d'accompagnement (traduites par le Professeur Pierre Bühler).
Diacre et aumônier à l'aéroport et dans les prisons pour détention administrative à Genève
AGORA - aumônerie genevoise oecuménique auprès de requérants d'asile et de réfugiés. www.agora-asile.ch 079/271.00.65