Sunday, March 29, 2015

And Now We Are In Jerusalem: A Journey with Fr. Jesus

Palm Cross from Mass today.
"And now we are in Jerusalem," said Fr. Ed at mass this morning. The children preparing for first communion had just finished waving their palms and singing a special Palm Sunday song for the congregation and were returning to their seats. His words struck me. Yes, we have now arrived in Jerusalem after a long journey with Jesus to get here. The singing has ended and Holy Week has begun.

I recently completed my own journey with Jesus.

His full name is Fr. Jesus Alberto Franco, and he is a Redemptorist Priest from Colombia. Like our Lord, there are people who want to kill him. They want to kill him because his love of the Gospel and the hope it offers to the poor is a threat to powerful people in his country.

Fr. Alberto does some snow graffiti on our trusty chariot.
Fr. Alberto is the executive secretary of Justicia y Paz, a partner of Development and Peace. I was with him from March 17-March 24 as we traveled from one speaking engagement to another throughout the Central Ontario region. It was an honour to spend time with this humble and passionate man who has received death threats and had bullets fired at him.

Justicia y Paz has helped to create humanitarian zones in Colombia to help protect those who have suffered the most in a long and bloody conflict there - the people without guns. These are the indigenous, the afro-colombians, and the campesinos who live from the land. They have been displaced to make way for powerful economic interests which include the development of huge african oil palm plantations and cattle ranches. Slowly, Justicia y Paz has been helping them to receive justice and to take back the land they have lost.

Fr. Alberto shares a meal and some wisdom with the Hispanic community of Toronto - March 23rd

As we journey through Holy Week, I hope to share more stories from his visit here on the Muse. The fast I have been on for D&P (Thanks to my daughter Amy and her $15 donation I just passed the $4000 mark!) should have left me without much energy as we traveled from place to place together. Instead, I was full of energy all the time. You see, Fr. Alberto was an inspiration to me and I drew energy each day from being in his presence and listening to his message.

I asked Fr. Alberto if we should refrain from talking about his visit on-line for his safety. On the contrary, he wanted news of his tour to be spread far and wide in cyberspace. Such international exposure actually helps to protect him just as much as the security escort that the inter-american human rights commission has ordered him to travel with for his own protection.

So just as Jesus was announced to the powers that be in that Holy City by ordinary people waving palms and singing songs of joy, so to do I announce that Fr. Jesus Alberto Franco was here in Canada. To those that would want to kill him, know that his message has been heard by Canadians and that he has our support.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Hunger at the Halfway

Has it really been nearly a year since I last wrote!? Sitting here at our kitchen table after midnight, it strikes me that the Mustard Seed Muse was in danger of becoming yet another failed aspiration of a cyberspace blogger.

So what has finally inspired me to post again? Why begging for money of course. Yes, I am writing today as a beggar.

Today's Meal - French Onion!
Today marks the halfway point of the 46 day fast my colleague Ryan Worms and I are undertaking together for Development and Peace, the organization we love and work for. From Ash Wednesday (Feb 18) until after the Easter Vigil (April 4) we are eating just one meal of soup and bread a day in the hopes of gaining at least 50 new monthly donors or raising $10,000 for the mission of Development and Peace.

In the process of gaining support for the mission, we are also losing some weight - about 15 pounds so far for me. As the body normalizes to the fast, one starts to feel the hunger itself less acutely. But the challenge is keeping up energy. One can only imagine the psychological burden faced by our brothers and sisters who experience the fatigue of hunger each and every day - 800 million of them throughout the world. For us the hunger is a choice. For them it is not. For us we know clearly when and where our next meal will come. They do not.

Human Rights Defender, Fr. Alberto Franco from Colombia.
While I am fasting in solidarity with the hungry, my main inspiration is actually the courageous men and women with whom we are partners in the struggle for human dignity. Next Tuesday I am going to meet one of them - Fr. Alberto Franco from Justicia Y Paz in Colombia. He is in Canada to meet with our donors and supporters about the challenges faced by his people and what is being done to overcome them. Despite facing death threats and flying bullets, for over 20 years Fr.  Alberto has worked to defend the rights of the most marginalized peoples in Colombia - the Indigenous, the Afro-Colombians and the Campesinas and Campesinos. I will be accompanying him over the course of a speaking tour that will last a week and will span across Toronto, Belleville, Kingston and Peterborough (Let me know if you want to meet him too).

It is said we fast to remember, as Jesus said in the dessert, that we do not live on bread alone. I am indeed finding a spiritual source of energy in my work that replaces the energy provided by food. Even at tonight's meeting I found myself energized as our Peterborough members discussed who will bring what food to one of our public events with Fr. Alberto. Listening to them talk about soups and homemade chili with local bread did not make me groan in hunger, but grin in anticipation.