Thursday, 19 April 2012

Yesterday morning we left our accommodation at St Andrew’s in Kabgayi and headed to the Genocide Museum in Rwanda’s capital city, Kigali. The guided tour of the museum was a very sombering experience and it brought up many ‘unsettling’ feelings. It was a very tough hour and a half, learning about the background of the genocide and the events that led up to it, the horrific events that occurred during the genocide and the aftermath of what occurred. It left all of us pilgrims with many questions like how can this happen and why? It also left us in admiration of the proud Rwandan people and how they have begun working very hard to rebuild their beautiful country. Primary school enrolment has risen from 950,000 in 1994 to 1.67 million today and secondary places have increased five-fold to 200,000. The victims and the people of Rwanda, are very much in our thoughts and prayers.

The Rwandan people have been very welcoming and very happy with the fact that we chose their country as a place to visit. We left Rwanda, Brother Stratton and other hard-working Marist Brothers after being immersed in their culture for 3 days, with a great love of the people of Rwanda.

We then at 6:30pm caught a plane to Nairobi, had a brief stop there and then headed off on a 8.5 hour flight to our final destination, London. In London we are staying at St Giles Hotel, right near Oxford Street and many tourist destinations including the Thames River, Buckingham Palace and the Lords Museum.

This morning we also had our final official Pilgrimage meeting and said our final goodbyes, thankyous and prayers. Special thankyous were given to Br John McMahon, Marie Dorrington, Carol Wark, Br Tony Caddy and Mgr Peter Jeffrey for their hard work and dedication in their efforts to organise and guide us through the pilgrimage. It has been a ‘life-changingexperience’ for all of us. The Marist spirit is very much alive and well in all of us as we all go back to all parts of Australia, to love and serve God!

Looking forward to sharing our experiences with our friends and family.

God bless

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Tour of Marist schools in Rwanda

Monday 16th April

Another very busy day for the pilgrims as we were up for 8am breakfast before meeting Br Straton at 9.00am where he gave us a very informative outline of the history of the Marists' presence and work in Rwanda and all that is going on at present. He also spoke of the history of Rwanda and the changes in the political situation in recent decades. It was encouraging and inspiring to hear of the Marists' plans for another new school, this time in Kigali to give access to a catholic education to a growing number of middle class families who are looking for this service.

We departed at 9.30am for a very long day of travelling and visiting a range of Marist educational institutions well out into the countryside, about two hours plus away from Kigali.

Save: Community, Teacher Training College,Novitiate, Boarding School with enrolment
of 751, all boarders, middle class, Br Augustine is Principal.
Rwabuye: Community and Technical School which is disadvantaged; many ex-soldiers.
School run by the Brothers at the request of the government; owned by the government.
Large secondary school (upper class); school owned by the Brothers ; Br Stanislaus is
Bukemero: Large Secondary and Primary
School at Bmimama for Disadvantaged.

The highlight for most of us was Bukemero, where we were able to visit some classes ranging from about Year 4 - Year 9 in Aussie terms. The local kids were thrilled to see us and after some initial shyness really opened up and answered questions, engaged in some activities and asked many questions about where we were from and what Australia is like. Such wonderful kids, all very keen to learn and especially develop their English. We received a great welcome from so many astonsihed pedestrians who were amazed to look up and see two busloads fowhilte folk driving by in their rurual neighbourhoods.

The Brothers are truly doing an outstanding job here and their pride in the very important services they are providing for individuals, community and country was wonderful to see.I must also note they are doing this great work in what we at home would consider primitive learning environments and while they do have some modern ICT equipment and internet  it is fair to say they are under resourced.

Br Straton then organised and hosted a beautiful buffet lunch at a local restaurant, for which we were all very grateful. from there we journeyed on to a Rwandan history and culture museum where we were able to learn a great deal in a short time about Rwandan customs, culture, geography, history and politics.

Another fascinating ( but very tiring ) day on Central East Africa!


Sunday 15th April 2012

Today was out final day in Kenya and we began by farewelling the lovely Sisters of Mercy who had looked after us wonderfully during our three days at the House of Spirituality. Our first stop was a return to Marist International College for Mass with the Brothers and many members of the local Kenyan community.It was a truly memorable celebration of the Eucharist which included a new member of the Catholic community being baptised, confirmed and receiving his first Holy Communion during the Mass. The highlight was certainly the very talented local musicians as the band, comprised largely of young Marist Brothers delivered magnificent liturgical music and fantastic harmonies in their enthusiastic rendition of some traditional hymns and local Kenyan hymns. A memorable Mass indeed, during which we were formally welcomed by the celebrating priest.

After Mass we joined several Brothers for morning tea to say thank you and farewell and make a presentation. The Brothers at MIC have developed a memorial park for Br Charles Howard and the next step was to pursue funding for some seating for visitors to sit quietly, reflect or talk, especially of their memories of Br Charles who did so much for establishment of the Marists in Kenya. The Brothers were thrilled to receive a combined donation from our Pilgrimage party which would finance the first stage of their planned seating.

From there we moved to a local shopping centre for lunch and final Kenyan gift/souvenir purchases before travelling to the airport. After a long delay we finally departed for Rwanda where were were met by Br Straton. Another hour's travelling by bus took us to St Andrew centre, where a hot meal awaited and finally - bed!

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Jambo and Karibu from Africa

Jambo and Karibu (Hello and Welcome…),

Today, our second day in Africa was an opportunity for us to witness the presence of the Marist Brothers in the Africa Central East province.

Brother Valentin, province leader of the African Central East, spoke to the pilgrimage group regarding the history, impact and current day challenges for the Marists within Central Africa. The presence of over one hundred Marist Brothers in Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, Democratic Republic of Congo and the Central African Republic was evident in the province leadership, teaching in schools, and the formation of young Africans.  Br. Valentin spoke of the province being young and full of hope for the future, which we as pilgrims were now a part. African province assemblies in the past eleven years have placed a focus on the continuing development between the brothers and lay people to have a presence in the lives of others and to plan for the future.

In gaining an understanding of each of the Marist venues across the province, each had provided care and support for those in the communities by being a presence. Many of the places no longer exist, have been reopened, or were newly established after the brothers had undergone atrocities and challenges due to war and civil unrest. The inhumane stories regarding the treatment towards the brothers within the Democratic Republic of Congo, as were those from Rwanda, were difficult to comprehend considering they were there to help support the communities. The room fell silent as we remembered and prayed for those Marist Brothers from our family that had passed due to the horrible choices of others during the Rwandan genocide.

Thank you Brother Valentin for the information provided regarding the Central East Africa province and the role of the Marists.

Morning tea and lunch, thanks to the wonderful hospitality of the Dimesse Sisters, was a time to reflect and informally celebrate the work of the Marist Brothers in their short time in Central East Africa.

The afternoon involved a short drive to the Marist International College (MIC) where we were greeted by the brothers. The MIC tour enabled us to appreciate the work of the brothers in creating a centre for Marist formation, and recently a university that focusses on the development of teachers. The College also has a key responsibility in providing education for the poorer students with aspirations by assisting them financially.

A highlight of the experience at MIC was the privilege to plant a tree in small groups in the Br Charles Howard Memorial Garden. The tree was our contribution to remember an inspirational Australian Marist Brother who has influenced the African people, in particular his commitment to the development of the Marist International College in Karen, Nairobi, Kenya. It was great to see the Australian and African brothers together for a photograph with the memorial garden sign. The group looks forward to reacquainting themselves with the brothers who are doing their formation training at the College at the mass tomorrow.

Following our tour of the MIC, the pilgrims participated in a safari at the Nairobi Safari Reserve. In two buses we travelled through the reserve to witness an abundant amount of wildlife including lions, buffalo, rhinoceros, zebra, giraffes, impala, kudu, crocodile and baboons. “Wow, look at the beautiful lions!” The gasps of excitement and the camera clicking end a great day in beautiful Africa.

Tomorrow we travel to Rwanda to experience the children in the Marist schools which the pilgrims are much anticipating.

The Champagnat Pilgrims wish to extend our prayers to our fellow pilgrim Br John McMahon.

Habari za usiku (Good night)

Mark and Jenny Ashmore

Saturday, 14 April 2012

Jambo and Karibu to Africa!

Friday 13th April

Jambo and Karibu to Africa!   (Hello and Welcome…)

The proposed time in Kenya was rescheduled prior to the pilgrimage beginning and upon arrival at the Fulcimino Airport in Rome the flight was further delayed. A significant time was spent at the airport eating sandwiches and viewing various shops to see in the early morning of the delayed flight on Kenyan Airways to Nairobi.

Despite fears of a Kenyan Airways flight on Friday 13th seemed daunting for many of the pilgrims due to safety the service was well received. The views during the flight over northern Africa were spectacular of the plains, lakes and mountain ranges for those that were awake. The flight into Nairobi revealed that there had been recent rain. Tired and weary the pilgrims disembarked and were met by a friendly Br Kiko at Nairobi airport.

Travelling from the airport to the Dimesse Sisters complex in Karen revealed African life in a variety of ways. Commercialism with new structures lining the road and huge billboards advertising products in English were easily visible. People observed from their vantage points beside the road of locals driving, riding and walking, not to mention the mzungas (white people) in two buses looking back at them with interest.

A short cut due to a traffic jam provided insight into the poverty of people in Nairobi. People living in galvanized roofed houses, walking with bare feet, climbing “unsafe” wooden scaffolding on building sites, and scavenging through rubbish were just some of the images that will stay at the forefront of the pilgrims mind in time to come. The view of Kibera, Nairobi’s largest ‘slum’, was confronting both in enormity and the poverty experienced by those living in these compacted galvanized dwellings.

Upon arriving at the Dimesse sisters complex and then banking and eating in the nukkmart galleria one could be excused for being in Australia and not in Africa on pilgrimage due to the niceties that was experienced. The difference was the security measures taken upon entering the shopping centre.

Br Kiko took the pilgrims to the Nairobi City Market to experience Nairobi life. People observed, talked and mingled with the local Nairobi shop owners as they sought a bargain of wooden sculptures, paintings, clothing and jewelry. “Jambo Australian, kangaroo” rang around the aisles of the market. Papa, meaning father, was also mentioned much to Peter and Paul’s lack of amusement. The excitement afterwards in the bus to dinner confirmed that most were happy with their ‘bargains’. The view of the meat section of the market was met with reservation. The markets were challenging, confronting and intimidating for many in the group, whilst others relished the opportunity to be with the African people.
An extravagant dinner at ‘Carnivore’, the beast of a feast, was a gastronomical affair of soups, potato, spinach…in extreme moderation. The main menu consisted of MEAT, MEAT and more MEAT! Chicken, Beef, Pork, Turkey and the interesting meat of Ostrich and Crocodile were delicious as the waiters cut the meat from stakes using large butcher knives until one could eat no more. One pilgrim mentioned, “How dangerous this knife is over my shoulder whilst it is cutting the meat”. Some pilgrims even ate ox balls and ostrich meat balls, African delicacies. Tusker beer washed down the meat as stories and laughter about the day echoed across the table. Happy Birthday to Carole, who due to some quick thinking by Magdy, organized a cake and the African waiters to sing in Swahili, all to the delight of pilgrims and restaurant guests alike.  The birthday wishes were much to her surprise!

It was a challenging and exhausting day as seen by the very weary pilgrims having ‘micro sleeps’ at dinner and on the bus. Despite the exhaustion it was a wonderful and enriching experience in beautiful ‘slow paced’ Africa.

Habari za usiku (Good night)

Mark and Jenny Ashmore

Marcellin College, Bulleen

Thursday, 12 April 2012


Yesterday morning we woke up to a beautiful European sunny day. Once again in groups of 4-6 we set off to discover and learn more about the history and culture of Rome. We aimed to cram as much into the morning as possible with the aim of meeting back at our accommodation at 1:45pm for a meeting.

At 3pm yesterday we had the privilege of meeting the Marist Brothers Superior General, Brother Emili Turu. Brother Emili, along with Vicar General, Brother Joe McKee and Brother Michael De Waas from the General Council, spoke to us about the missions of the Marist Brothers, the work that they do today, their vision for the future and the importance of building ‘Inclusive’ cultures throughout the world. The Brothers also stressed the importance of the role of Lay Marists in continuing the Marist charism. It was a very informative meeting and one in which we did get time to ask many questions. Having that opportunity to speak openly with the Brothers was a tremendous privilege.

Brother Michael then took us on a tour of the General House before Monsignor Peter Jeffery presided at Mass in the General Council Chapel. Monsignor Peter spoke about the interactions that occurred during Pentecost, being able to communicate with people from all walks of life and how we can relate the Pentecost messages to the work of Marists today.

This morning, were up and about early to brave the cold and overcast weather conditions as we set off to the St Peter's Basilica where we were members of the Papal audience in St Peter's square. The whole group was excited and eager to hear what Pope Benedict XVI had to say. The gospel reading was the Emmaus story and it was read in many different languages including Italian, French, English, Spanish, German, Portugese and Polish among others.

It was amazing to see the huge number of young people who flocked to the square to receive a Papal blessing. We were lucky to get great 'viewing' seats after an advanced party of 13 left our accommodation at 6:45am to line up at the gates of St Peter's Square and save the rest of the group some seats. The latter party arrived just in the nick of time as there was growing pressure from members of the public to obtain the seats. All ended well and when the group 'Marist Pilgrims from Australia' was welcomed to the Vatican, there was large and enthusiastic cheer from our group. All in all, it was an experience that none of us could forget.

Brother John and other members of the Marist family back home, you are all still very much in our thoughts and prayers.

God bless,

Tim Kelly