Sunday, July 13, 2008

Australia – Wrapping Up

Amazing how quickly these few days have passed. This is the last day of the ILYG in Melbourne. Since it was a Saturday, Muletta’s Café had changed the time frame for our breakfast. We could come in anytime before 7:15 AM, but after that whatever food had been put out for us would be it. They get a good weekend crowd after that and wanted to take advantage of it. I went over a little past seven to get my tea and toast. There were just a few folks still there. At 8:30 AM we met in the lobby of the Discovery Hotel and then split up by tram or train to go to Malvern. Of course, I took the train since it involved some nice walking and a train ride.

When we got to Malvern, our group consisted of myself and five of the students. Walking down the street from the train station to the school, the guys were amused by a couple of large signs advertising “colon irrigation” and wanted to make sure that we took a picture of it. There are a number of businesses here that you are unlikely to find in the US – this would probably be one of them.

We arrived in time for the opening prayer service in St. Joseph’s church, and by now we knew the lay of the land and found a pew. The morning prayer was similar to the other ones – lots of popular Christian music (all very singable, engaging, and rhythmic) followed by a couple of readings. During the closing song, one of the female chaperons from the New Zealand group was inspired to come to the front of the church and dance. It seemed to be the right thing to do and added a real festive element to the song.

Following the song, the students went back to the gym for the first of three more sessions today with Jesse Manibusan. At the same time, the Brothers gathered separately for our own meeting time. Br. Thomas Johnson and Br. David Hawke led the session. After some information for us all, we split up into small groups of 6 – 7 and discussed the challenges, opportunities, and horizons in our own situations. About 30 – 35 minutes was spent doing this, and then we returned as a large group to provide highlights and insights. The primary concern seemed to center around vocations, but it soon became clear that the important dimension of that concern reflected back to the quality of life in our communities and the interior life of the Brothers. David pointed out that its no coincidence that the first two sections of the Circular regarding the past General Chapter highlighted just these two topics. If the Brothers lead lives of authentic witness (passion, devotion to the Gospel, etc.) and a solid community life, vocations will be one of the results, if the experience of others is any indication.

At the end of this session, there were some announcements and then the group gathered for a group picture of Brothers. I didn’t get a shot of that, of course, since I was in it. But I did get a shot of all the folks taking the picture with a pile of cameras that the Brothers had put in front of them. And behind these picture-takers were the students plastered up against the plate-glass doors at the end of room, just coming back from their session, and ready for their morning break. They also were taking pictures through the glass. It was a rather humorous scene from our perspective.

Following the break, and while the second session with Jesse was going on, I found the computer center and worked on completing and uploading my blog and pictures. However, the internet connection was rather complicated and highly secure (this being a school, after all), and so I was only able to prepare it for uploading but couldn’t actually do so until I was back at the Discovery Hotel. I would have done the whole thing last evening but my computer went on the fritz, and that was true the next morning as well. I then discovered that the problem would go away if I simply kept the computer plugged in all the time. So to make a long story short, I worked on the whole thing late that morning.

By lunchtime, I wasn’t really hunger but rather returned to Melbourne Central and the Discovery Hotel in order to put together a package to send back to Napa containing all the stuff that I could no longer carry around with me (a set of shoes I ended up not needing, a nice jacket that’s now been substituted by the one given out for the Brothers, and the like). I’d seen a place on my way out to Malvern that both sold you the box and would ship the stuff home, and I took advantage of it. It involved some running back and forth between the hotel and the store, and there was a whole bunch of paperwork, but the thing was finally done. The bottom line, of course, was that I missed all the sessions that Jesse did. But by now I knew that I couldn’t do everything and I was content with it.

When I came back to Malvern the Closing Mass and Ceremony were about to commence. Before Mass, I had a chance to check in with those coordinating the liturgy in order to see how we might do a little special something that the Brothers had agreed to during our morning session. That done, I sat with our group as they trickled in and soon we again had a full church enthusiastic Lasallian Youth, ready to raise the roof.

Fr. Chris was again the main celebrant, and two of the guys from our group were acolytes. The liturgy began with a vibrant song, followed by “Let us remember…” in a bunch of different languages, said by representatives from those language groups. There was, of course, a variety of music throughout the liturgy. Fr. Chris played and sang a “Glory to God” that he had composed and also sang us one of his songs during the homily (this seemed to have become a pattern for him). This latter song was especially written for the occasion, it appears, and dealt with accepting oneself.

At the end of the liturgy, after the prayer after communion, I went up to the microphone and invited all of the Brothers (including Scholastics, Novices, and Postulants) to come up to the sanctuary area. It was moving to see them come up from the congregation, young and old, some with canes and others bouncing with excitement. The congregation spontaneously broke out in loud applause as we did so. Once assembled, I spoke briefly about how the Brothers usually tend to stay in the background, preferring to put our students up front, but we wanted to share something with them, something that we sang just when we gathered as Brothers, the “Honeur a Toi.” This morning, I had asked how many Brothers knew it, and over half of the group had raised their hands. Although we didn’t practice it, as soon as I started the song, they belted it out with passion. Practically everyone was singing it (one of the Brothers had prepared the text on small pieces of paper that were given out to the Brothers as he saw them today), and we really sounded good – as if we’d practiced for weeks – with clear, solid rhythm and no hesitation. You can imagine the reaction. Not only was there a wall of kids taking pictures of us as a group, but they were blown away by the song and our united “gift” of music to them. Their applause and cheering at the end were quite genuine and raucous, even as the Brothers walked, shuffled, and smilingly back to their pews and their places among the students. I’m sorry that I didn’t film it, but again… you can’t do two things at once. I’m hoping that someone else filmed it.

After our “performance” there was a very nice meditation song that incorporated photographs from our time together, and then the liturgy closed with a final song. But the closing ceremony wasn’t entirely over yet. After a short introduction, Br. Tom Johnston and Br. David Hawke came to the front to hand out certificates to all of the group leaders from the various countries, while their flag bearers went to the back to take up the flag that they had brought in at the beginning of the week. In between each set of countries, we sang “We Are Lasallian” with great gusto and enthusiasm, the flags waving back and forth and increasing in number. When all of the flags were present, Br. Ambrose spoke, thanking all those involved with preparing the week, especially Br. Adrian Watson, and urging us to go forward in the Spirit. Then the flags marched out and the folks from New Zealand came out to dance and sing in front of the church, quickly joined by others from the congregation.

When things finally settled down, lots of groups took group pictures with Br. Thomas Johnson (after all, he IS the Vicar General and the closest thing we have to the Founder – as we were told). Our group from the States was no exception. Of course several of the guys decided that we needed to sing something as an expression of our enthusiasm, and soon we were singing “America, the Beautiful” and “God Bless America” as the pictures were being taken. Hence the picture that I have shows most guys with their mouths open. But never mind, the picture’s the thing.

I had planned and looked forward to going to the Aussie Rules rugby game this evening at the Telstra Dome (the same place where we had the Diocesan Days liturgy), but by the time things were done, it was a half hour before the start of the game and we still hadn’t had dinner. We also found out that Qantas had canceled our noon flight tomorrow and we were not schedule for 9:25 AM, out of the international terminal, meaning that we would be picked up from the hotel at 6 AM. Folks wanted to go back to pack and be ready for that early rising. So decided to forego the game and hang around for dinner.

During dinner I had a fine talk with Br. Fadi from Alexandria, about vocations, the situation in the Middle East, the Brothers, and lots of other topics. The only down note is the fact that when I tried to pick up my food AND take pictures, I dropped the camera on the floor and effectively put it out of commission. I’ll have to see what can be done about it when I get back. As it is, it’s good that I brought an extra camera with me. But I’m going to be very careful with it when I take it out of my pocket.

After dinner, we made our way to the tram station nearby, but I decided to instead take the train, not only because it would involve a good walk but also because the group of some 25 students waiting for the tram were a high-spirited, singing, laughing, and loud group. When the tram came and these kids swarmed it to get on board, I could see the startled expressions on the faces of the driver and passengers who had anticipated a quiet ride home. Now, instead, they would have 40 minutes of excited singing and all the energy that a group of naturally high kids can generate. I took a nice quiet walk to the train station where I ran into Br. Mario and a group of Lasallian Youth from Indonesia, and we had a fine conversation as we made our way into Melbourne Central. They went out for a walk on the town and I returned to the hotel to pack and get ready for our journey tomorrow.

Note: These are some of the pictures taken today. All the pictures for any one of the days are uploaded to