A hundred years ago Dietrich Bonhoeffer was born. During the Second World War Bonhoeffer, a Lutheran student pastor and theologian took a stand against that war. Many elements of official church life did not. He was arrested by Hitler’s forces and in April 1945, just months before the war’s end, he was hanged.
Bonhoeffer will appeal today to all those who are hungry for spirituality. But his was not the soft New-Age variety that only focuses on inner feelings and personal enlightenment. Rather, it was Bonhoeffer’s spirituality that made him so politically subversive. And it was always his deepening spiritual journey that animated his struggle for justice.
Bonhoeffer’s writings: Letters and Papers from Prison and The Cost of Discipleship are worth a reread. There is no cheap grace.
In another life it is remarkable how an idea, a vision and some dedication can really make a difference. For over 30 years our confrere Joe Maier has been living and working in the poorest district of Bangkok – the neighbourhood of Klong Toey in the Port area of the city. Sister Marie and Fr. Joe responded to the poorest of the poor of the city and years later we have a major presence in the area. The Human Development Foundation has over 30 schools, the Mercy Centre – an orphanage, HIV/AIDS hospice, legal aid and over 300 employees. All of this because Joe Maier after working a short time in northern Thailand and Laos decided to move into the Slaughter House district of Bangkok. It was mostly Christians who lived here as they were free from taboo and could slaughter animals while other religious convictions could not. It was here among the poorest of the poor that Joe listened and responded to what he saw and heard. Years later we have the gospel lived and witnessed.
The Mercy Centre is a buzz of activity and good inspirational conversation. Even though most of the children housed here are Buddhists, every Saturday evening there is a catholic liturgy and prayers to Our Mother of Perpetual Help. It brings tears to one’s eyes to see the little ones – many with AIDS – sign and gesture their way through the prayer. Joe tells me that this is a very important moment in the lives of the children.
Here in Canada we have Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. In Thailand there is also Children’s Day. It is overwhelming to see the children celebrate their day with play, gifts and celebration. How they can sit and sit so disciplined and patiently is to behold. It made me think of our year in the Novitiate and the Seminary in Windsor when we found kneeling for a half an hour rather stressful.
We visited the area of Thailand where the Tsunami hit just over one year ago. The damage was something to see. However with help from Europe and the United States Joe Maier and his crew were able to restore villages and provide facilities for fresh drinking water and shelter. I saw a Naval vessel more than a mile from the ocean up on dry land. The government decided to leave it there as a memorial.
In Kathmandu, Nepal folks gathered and shared ideas and visions on the Trafficking of women and children. The religious women of Canada have taken this on as a major interest. Nepal is a very poor country. With a population of 28 million and over 90% of the country with no roads, the mountain Kingdom is truly beautiful. The Himalayan mountains hold this country in their grasp. At the moment the Maoist insurgency controls over 85% of the countryside and are set to take the capital, Kathmandu. The people of Nepal deserve better. The King on one side and the Maoists on the other are not good choices for the people. We were able to get out of the country on a flight before the city was shut down by curfew and fighting.
It makes one proud to see the work of a Redemptorist and to know that the inspiration of Alphonsus and Sarnelli continues in our day in the city and country of Thailand. A visit there also makes one see how privileged we are to be living in the West especially in a country like Canada. There is a very different world outside of Europe and North America to be experienced. We can find inspiration when we listen to our confreres who live there.
Paul E. Hansen C.Ss.R.