Happy Chinese New Year, Happy Feast of St Paul's Conversion

22 Jan 2009

This year's feast of the Conversion of St Paul falls on the eve of Chinese New Year! May everyone who celebrates the Lunar New Year have a wonderful reunion meal with your family and loved ones and may the camaraderie during this festive season help you deepen your bond with one another! And for those still eligible for ang pows (red packets), may you get them in abundance!

Obama and Jesus
Once a week, on Thursdays at 6am, instead of personal meditation, we have shared meditation in small groups before the morning mass at 6.45am. Today’s gospel reading which we reflected on was from Mark 3:7-12 – where Jesus is sought and pressed by crowds coming from all over Judea and beyond. I couldn’t help but parallel the crowds in the gospel passage with the millions that gathered in Washington DC and around the world for the recent inauguration of Barack Obama! Why did the crowds gather? Obviously for some good news! But Obama and Jesus did not only give good news, they also challenged the crowds. It’s one thing to just hear and absorb their words on the head level, but quite another to put what you hear into practice. “Blessed are those who hear the word of God and act upon it.” (cf Lk11:27)

Augmenting that, as I pondered further, I realized that during the inauguration, through the invocation of Pastor Rick Warren (in his dramatic evangelical way) and also the cute benediction by Rev Joseph Lowery, millions also heard Jesus’ words – especially when Warren ended with the Lord’s Prayer! Even beyond that, through the beauty of the music (both soulful and classic) and through the entire event itself, if only one had ears, minds and hearts truly open and ready to listen, one could hear God speaking because when one is truly present to the moment, then one can discover the spiritual and the divine in whatever is lovely, true, noble and pure……. (cf Phil 4:4-7 - quote from previous post). Okie enough of my musings on that....

Tragedy hits Catholic Religious Community in Kenya
While the world celebrates the first ever black President of the USA, and while Gaza currently enjoys a ceasefire, things over here in Kenya – especially for the Catholic religious community (ie priests and nuns) - have been rather bleak. Last Friday Jan 16, an elderly Consolata priest, Fr. Joseph Bertaina aged 82, was robbed, attacked and killed in his own office. He was still serving as the administrator of the Institute of Philosophy and died of suffocation as his assailants had brutally stuffed his mouth with a handkerchief, paper and then taped plastic over his face! They cruelly snuffed him out! What a way to go! He was originally from Cuneo, Italy (the same region as that of the two Sisters who were abucted two months ago and are still missing) and has been serving in Africa for over 50 years. Our Sisters and the Consolata priests have a close relationship as they take turns to be our chaplain for weekday masses. Fr Joseph also taught some of our Sisters Philosophy and only a few days before his death, he paid a visit to our bookshop. I attended his funeral service today and felt his death was certainly a martyrdom of sorts. It was such a touching service especially during the speeches on how his gentleness and kindness touched the lives of so many people from all walks of life over the years.

Yet his violent and cruel death challenges us, missionary religious, to seek the root of the problem and alleviate it. It is a problem that can be solved mainly though education and value formation, something that was at the heart of Fr Joseph’s entire life as a priest and educator. It was poverty that led to the robbery, a poverty partly due to the widespread corruption in the government. We pray that the government leaders here can learn a thing or two from the integrity of Obama whom they look so highly up to.

We also pray for Fr. Joseph's attackers.... they are still on the loose. We pray for their repentence and as Jesus once said of his murderers, "Forgive them Father for they know not what they do." And may Fr Joseph who gave his entire life in loving service to God and neighbour rest in peace. “Ultimately,” as one priest shared, “it’s not how we die but where we go after we die that matters.”

Saint Paul alive today
I don’t want to end this post on such a somber note. There is hope and joy in living our Christian life despite the crosses we have to bear. Saint Paul remains an inspiring model not only to us Paulines but to all Christians. We've just released a new animated film on Saint Paul. The original was in French and we oversaw the English version in collaboration with our Sisters in Rome and the UK:

I'd also just like to share a little Pauline experience of being “all to all” (1 Cor 9:22). Saint Paul who was able to live in abundance and in want also inspires us to be comfortable whether we are in the company of the rich or the poor. Over here in Nairobi, I’m blessed to know some well to do friends and occasionally when I meet up with them, one of them would pick me up in her chauffeured Mercedes Benz. Contrast that with the public transport in Nairobi. Called the Matatus (in Swahili "ma tatu" means "for three" because in the old days, you could travel on any route just for 3 Kenyan Schillings!), these are vans/mini-buses blaring loud music, often pretty beat-up with dents and rust all over and even holes on the floor, driven dangerously by reckless drivers but very popular and affordable at the current rate of KsH30 (about S65cents or US40cents) and running on a great variety of routes.
Above: a couple of pics I found on the web showing the matatu (sources: goingtokenya.com and idware.net)
On my very first Matatu ride, I felt like I was on a joy ride in some amusement park. It was so bumpy (no thanks to the holes on the roads here), I had to duck my head several times and hold tight to my seat when the driver (as if he was competing in the Grand Prix ) made a turn round a corner by going over the pavement/sidewalk! Meanwhile, Aretha Franklin’s “Freeway of Love” was blaring on! Since then I have grown accustomed to the Matatu rides but they never fail to induce my adrenalin somewhat. Well, on the last ride I took, a lady who had just done her marketing was seated next to me. When the driver made an abrupt swerve, the bunch of leafy vegetables from her basket fell onto my feet! She quickly picked it up and smiled apologetically at me and I had to smile back. And I thought to myself, this is really being all to all – from the comfort of sitting in a luxurious car to sitting in a matatu with veggie on your feet!

May I leave you with a couple of videos from Sr Tracey, who was my companion in Rome when we made a course together in preparation for our final vows. They give you a peep into the convent of our Mother House in the States which is located in Boston and I thought also quite appropriate to show how Saint Paul is still very much alive today - in us, his daughters!

When Nuns Sing

Still Singing

Happy Feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul! And Gong Xi Fa Chai!



  1. Yo Wendy, On the US Inauguration: well, we stayed up till almost 2am here just to watch History in the Making. But my happiest part is seeing Rick Warren - whose Purpose Driven Life is a great inspiration on me life - get to present God's plan to millions worldwide (and despite loans of opposition from the gay community and naive Hollywood quarters). That Pastor Lo was funny helps too. You will be surpised on how many people, judging from the facebook status updates, didnt realised "how religious-inclined the US inaguration is..." Hmm, whcih part of "In God We Trust" do you not understand, say what? *grin* MT

  2. Hi Sr. Wendy,
    Looks like you have a VeggieTale to call your own now. Hee Hee!
    Keep safe over in Safari Land and keep up all the good works the Pauline sisters are putting together!
    We all love singing nuns!

    Here's wishing you Gong Hei Fatt Choy! Fa Fa Fa!