Two friars returned recently from memorable trips. Below are descriptions of their experiences including thoughts on what the journeys meant to them. This is the second in a series about the travels of HNP friars.
“Those who are close to nature are never far from God”
Joseph Kotula, OFM, Mt. Irenaeus, West Clarksville, N.Y.
This quote by Matthew Henry captures the reason why I have been backpacking since 1974 and why I currently choose to spend most of my vacation time hiking the Appalachian Trail.
Henry, a Presbyterian minister who lived in the 1600s to 1700s, was a great preacher and worked with scripture.
The trail begins at Springer Mt., Ga., and ends at Mt. Katahdin, Maine, a total of 2,174.6 miles. Every year, it takes me a little longer to get used to carrying a pack and hiking eight to 20 miles a day. However, once my physical body gets adjusted, the rest of the journey is mystical.
My hiking experiences have taught me over and over again the reality that God is in every moment and in every thing. St. Bonaventure wrote that St. Francis realized everything comes from the same source and that realization filled Francis with great joy. I, too, have been blessed to experience the uniqueness of life while hiking on the trail, and it has humbled me and filled my heart with joy.
My most recent hiking adventure was in September.
While most Americans were sitting around their tables feasting on turkey and apple pie this Thanksgiving, I was on a 17-hour trans-Atlantic flight headed to the southern hemisphere. My destination: Rustenburg, South Africa. My purpose: to represent my home parish of St. Margaret’s in Burlington, Mass., at the grand opening of a new church in the township of Sunrise Park which came about, in part, thanks to the generosity of my home parish.
This trip marked the culmination of five years of planning, fundraising and community building. More than that, it also marked the fulfillment of a dream conceived in the late 1980s by a small, thriving community of black Catholics outside the platinum mining town of Rustenburg, who have been praying for 20 years for help to build a church to house their rapidly growing community.
Since the fall of 2004, the parishioners of St. Margaret’s in Burlington, Mass., have been answering that prayer by quietly holding bake sales and hosting fundraisers to help the parishioners of the Sunrise Park Catholics fulfill their dream.
The “grand opening” of the new St. Margaret’s, Sunrise Park, was a joyous occasion, presided over by the bishop of Rustenburg, Kevin Dowling, CSSR, and the parish priest, Pius Afiabor, SMA, who tirelessly worked to make this day a reality. “It’s a dream come true, as exciting as the end of Apartheid,” said Thabo Medupe, a long-time member of the Sunrise Park Community. Equally important to many parishioners is their newfound spiritual connection with another parish overseas.
“Now, we can hold our heads up high, not because we have a new church building, but because we know that we have brothers and sisters across the ocean who love us and who are praying for our well-being,” said Betty Sibiya, chairperson of the new parish council.
By the way, another Holy Name friar, Steven Patti, OFM, also hails from Burlington, Mass., and is a former parishioner of St. Margaret’s.
This Thanksgiving was an unusual one for me but none-the-less a special one I won’t soon forget. My latest trip to Africa reminds me of all I have to be thankful for — God’s gifts of family, friends, and fraternity, and the opportunity to participate in the building of God’s kingdom on earth by forging bonds of friendship and community with fellow Christians across the Atlantic in places like Sunrise Park, South Africa.
Editor’s note: More information about Br. Joe and Br. Paul can be found on the Facebook pages of these friars.