1998 Restoration

BOTH CHALLENGE AND ADVENTURE

by Fr. David May

I was recently asked by the MH community to pay a visit to two of our houses : MH Paris and MH Ghana. In addition to visiting with the staff in both places, there were also other purposes to the trip.

From Paris, Teresa Reilander and I were to travel to Belgium and meet with the Bishop of Namur, André-Mutien Léonard, concerning the possible opening of a house in his diocese. There’d also be time to visit friends in the area, and witness the promises of our associate priest, Fr. Bernard Sorel.

At our house in Ho, Ghana, I was to meet our many friends there and to go with the staff to Takoradi, seven hours away, where an African associates’ meeting was to be held, graciously hosted by the Bishop Charles Sam of Takoradi, himself an MH associate. (Note : On Jan 13, 1998, Bishop Sam died suddenly of a heart attack. Please remember him in your prayers.)

As always in our MH family, it was a joy to be together with the staff. In Paris, they consist of Teresa Reilander and Jeanne Guillemette. We had time to pray together, talk seriously, and enjoy ourselves!

The Paris apostolate of ‘poustinia in the marketplace’ is a challenging one. Much time is spent confined to quarters, as the staff make themselves available to those who come to talk or use the poustinia rooms, and those who telephone. In their ‘spare time’ they help translate Catherine’s writings into French.

Most of my two weeks on the continent was spent with Teresa traveling in Belgium. During those very full days, we had visited with a number of good friends there among both laity and clergy.

I was amazed at the depth to which people embrace the poustinia and adapt it to quite varied circumstances. One community of families, the Colline de Penuel, makes the poustinia a regular part of their spiritual journey, and offers it to anyone who’s interested.

Teresa and I spent an afternoon with Bishop Léonard. He is investigating the possibility of a house for us in his diocese. At the moment none is available, but our time together enabled us all to have a better appreciation of one another–our concerns, and what might be the possibilities in Belgium, should God give the green light for an MH there one day.

Another highlight of the trip was witnessing Fr. Bernard Sorel’s renewal of promises as an associate of MH. This took place at the Colline de Penuel, in their lovely chapel. Just before the ceremony began, a group of Father’s friends arrived from Lithuania. We ended up celebrating the liturgy in two languages : French and Lithuanian. The fervor with which Fr. Bernard renewed his commitment transcended every language barrier, and filled each heart there with great joy.

Before I knew it, I was back in England to catch a flight from London to Accra, capital of Ghana. There, the staff–Angela Redmond, Lisa Coxe, Beth Ryan and Philomena Lim–were at the airport to greet me, along with our new applicant, Joseph Chie Nimene. The town where our house is located, Ho, is about three hours’ drive northeast of Accra.

This was my first visit to Africa, so I tried to ‘take it all in’ as much as possible. As you know from past articles in Restoration, Ghanaians are as welcoming, courteous, and generous as any peoples you’ll find on earth. I found myself swept up in their collective and individual ‘welcome’, and was glad that opportunities arose to serve them in small ways as a visiting MH priest.

In MH itself, the staff entered a new phase when Joseph became an applicant on September 8. It now is the only MH fieldhouse that also serves as a Training Center.

Many of our conversations focused on just what this entails. You know what we found out? That if you are to train others in the Gospel life, the Lord requires you to go much deeper into the mystery of love in its nitty-gritty expressions, especially in forgiveness, patience, gentleness with one another, and fidelity to poverty. It is a big challenge, but quite an adventure! Do pray for our team there in a special way in this new pioneering venture.

It was a joy for me to meet Joseph. He’s known MH for years; as a youth, he used to ‘hang around’ our house in Liberia. He and I discovered we have quite a bit in common, including a love of the sea and a remarkably similar sense of humor (much to the chagrin of our poor sisters in the house).

One main reason for my visit was to help with the retreat for our associates. We in MH worked together as a team on this, and I think the fruits were indicative that this was what the Lord desired. Our theme this year was : going deeper into the Little Mandate. We staff each took a line or two and planned a few reflections to share with the brethren.

The big question was : how many of the 11 associates presently in the country would come? Distances are great and travel isn’t always easy; and each priest is very busy with numerous responsibilities.

To our delight, eight of our brothers were able to spend several days with us. We combined both serious reflection with plenty of time for relaxed sharing and laughter. And did ‘Sister Aggie’ and her crew ever feed us well!

The high point of the retreat was Thursday, November 13, when all those present were at some stage of making promises as associate members of MH. Monsignor Joseph Kpeglo and Fathers Walter Agbetoh, Patrick Allala, Francis Azah made first promises and received the MH cross. Bishop Francis Lodonu and Fr. John Odzanga renewed their commitment for two more years; Bishop Charles Sam and Fr. Andrew Dzeble made final promises.

It was done with such simplicity and joy. These men are obviously deeply attracted to the spirit of the Gospels as taught us by Catherine and lived out in the community.

Within a few days, my Ghanaian sojourn came to an end and I headed back to the beloved Yorkshire coast and our house in Robin Hood’s Bay. During the winters there, we’re often enveloped in thick cloud and fog–not the season when many folks can travel to grace our doors with their presence.

I certainly have a renewed awareness this year that we’re all part of one Body in the Church of Christ. No one of us is isolated from the other, and in whatever offering we make, in darkness of prayer or in light-hearted service, the whole Body is affected and shares in the blessings.