Wednesday, February 28, 2007

LIFETEEN in Australia

On Wednesday I met with the Youth Minister of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart in Randwick. I had met him the week before when we talked about their parish A-V program. In the course of the conversation then, I mentioned that we web cast all our Masses and have especially good feedback from our Sunday 6pm LIFETEEN Mass. He was very interested in our program and asked me to tell him more at another time. That meeting happened yesterday.

I answered the usual questions about LIFETEEN and gave my typical affirmation of its value to our teen and our whole parish. But the thing that really caught the attention of this youth minister was when I said “We have found over the years that teens actually bring their parents to church!” and it is true. I usually watch our LIFETEEN Mass here on Monday morning at 10:00am Sydney time. Now several others from this parish and other people I have told about our web cast system are watching too. This is what my sabbatical is all about – making good use of the technologic al blessings of our time! My reading of recent Papal teachings on Evangelization all affirm the use of the media and technology of our culture to proclaim God’s love and mercy! So far so good!

There is one parish not too far away where they have LIFETEEN and I plan to check it out soon. I’ll keep you posted.

Monday, February 26, 2007

A Trip to the Diocese of Broken Bay

Monday started a big week of travel for me. I went across the harbour to the Diocese of Broken Bay where I met with Bishop David Walker and several officials of his diocese. They call their headquarters “The Curia.” It’s located in the northern suburb of Pennant Hills in a large office building which the diocese recently purchased. It houses many of the offices which coordinate the major ministries of the diocese. This was a most productive meeting in which I got another look at how this diocese “does church” here in the Sydney area. The bishop was warm and welcoming and very informal. After a while with several of his staff, I continued with the coordinator of the Curia, a layman by the name of David Penny.

From this connection I took many ideas about creative use of the internet. I learned how they use a system called “CASTnet” to link teachers, students and administrators across several dioceses in the eastern part of the country. This is like an expanded version of our own DOR (Diocese of Rochester) Intranet, only its focus is on Catholic Schools, which in Australia are funded by the state and federal governments. I spent two hours with David and members of his staff, it was most instructive. I also shared what we have done using webcasting of our church services. I showed them our website and gave them the link to our parish webcam system. Boy, were they impressed! They are looking for a way to allow the Bishop to be in touch with all households in the diocese. Our system is giving them inspiration.

On the train ride back to The Centre I started processing the conversations that I had had and this started me thinking how we might expand our Webcast system to reach out to folks as well. Think about the possibilities of having a scheduled time when anyone in the parish could watch a presentation, bible study or a teaching put on by at the parish. Anyone with an internet connection could join in and they could have live interaction via phone or email. It boggles the mind.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

North Sydney View

It's a big city! Almost 5 million people live in Sydney. Somewhere I read that there are over 500 suburbs, sections and districts in the greater Sydney area. I have been exploring these via the wonderful mass transit system. One day I had to go to the Diocese of Broken Bay for a meeting with the Information Technology Department. This diocese begins on the northern shore of the harbour; it was established about 20 years ago to make the Archdiocese of Sydney a little more manageable. On my way back to Randwick (which is an eastern suburb) I decided to stop and take a look for the north shore of the harbour. Click here to see another beautiful view of Sydney.

On this same trip I also had some time and wanted to ride the rail system (called "CityRail")from end to end. Since it was the middle of the day, the trains were not crowded and it was raining. I curled up on the second level of the car (they are bi-level similar to Toronto's) and took in the sights as we went from Hornsby in the north to Botany Bay in the south. It took over an hour on the system. It was also a great time to process what I had just experienced in the meeting with Bishop David Walker and his right hand man, David Penny. The train ride and the gentle swaying of the train cars helped me think through our meeting and its implications for my study of media and technology in evangelization and worship. It was a most profitable day and I saw some great sights too.

One final note. As you may have heard, Australia is experiencing a severe draught for several years now and the rain that I mentioned above is being cheered as a minor improvement. I can see the grass and plants drinking it up as we head for Fall. That's right, summer here is beginning to wind down, schools have started back up; primary and secondary schools a few weeks ago and the universities this week. Amazing this "down under!"

Friday, February 23, 2007

Toranga Zoo! Sydney, of course.

Today I had the treat of meeting Tony and Gloria Sciolino for a trip to Toranga, the Sydney Zoo. Our rendezvous began the Circular Quay. I was delayed in meeting them because Vice President Dick Chaney was in town and all the buses were rerouted. We finally connected about 20 minutes later than planned and caught the ferry for the ride across the harbour to the zoo. It was a wonderful day filled with lions and tigers and bears (oh my!) in a delightful setting on a hill side over looking Sydney Harbour. Actually the zoo features critters native to Australia: kangaroos, koalas, meerkats, wallabies and of course, snakes. It couldn’t have been a better day, sunny, nice breeze and good company. The animals, of course, were all well behaved and enjoyed looking at us as much as we enjoyed looking at them. The highlight for me was the bird show in which the trainers directed the eagles, cockatiels, the owls and hawks to fly around on command and perform all manor of wild bird things to the amazement of the audience. We finished our day together with a wonderful dinner at a Circular Quay Chinese Restaurant. Tony and Gloria depart tomorrow on the continuation of their 6 week “retirement vacation adventure.” It was a great day!

Thursday, February 22, 2007

The A-V Plan of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart Church

Today I had the chance to meet with two staff members of the local parish here in Randwick. Brett and Tristan are responsible for putting a plan together for the use of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart Parish. I first heard about this plan when I went to mass at OLSH in January. It is ambitious and creative and aims at helping the parishioners be drawn more into the liturgy by the use of plasma screens in the side aisles and a large clear glass panel over the altar. This transparent glass becomes opaque when needed so as to allow images to be projected on to it. The idea here is to use the “iGlass” in the center of the church where it is virtually invisible until needed, thus preserving the architectural lines of this 100 year old gothic style church. It was a great meeting and I learned a lot from them. I was very proud of our accomplishments at Assumption and excitedly showed them our website and webcam set up. They watched in amazement as Fr. William finished the 5:00pm Ash Wednesday Mass approximately 9783 miles or 15744 kilometers away! They were also very happy to see our website and decided to take it to their IT team for review since they are in the process of designing their own web site. All very exciting – and the reason why I came!

Monday, February 19, 2007

The Queen Mary 2 Arrives in Sydney!

Today the Queen Mary 2, the largest passenger ship ever built, arrived in Sydney amid much fanfare and huge crowds of well wishers. The QM2 slipped into Sydney harbour in the early hours, but “Sydneysiders” surprised the crew by being there in the thousands to welcome her in their boats, ferries, yachts and on the shorelines. At 23 stories high, the Q was so large that it couldn't sail under the Sydney Harbour Bridge! It is 2275 feet long and three times the size of the Titanic! People in the thousands came to the Garden Island port where the QM2 was birthed for the day. I went down to check it out in the afternoon as well. There was an atmosphere of excitement and delight that immediately enveloped you as you approached the dock. The ship is huge!

At 7:00pm the Queen Elizabeth 2 also arrived in Sydney and when the two sister ships passed
each other in the harbour, they let out a deafening volley of boat horn blasts! The newspapers report that the sound could be heard rumbling around the CBD amidst the sky scrapers for as far away as 20 km. (12 miles). Before the QM2 departed at 11pm for Hong Kong to continue its around the world journey in 80 days, the was a fantastic fire works display! Over 100,000 people viewed the display from all the harbours and hills surrounding the city. It was a fun night.

Of course trying to get that many people home afterwards was a job, but that’s another story.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Sunday in Sydney

I have been trying to experience different celebrations of the Eucharist on Sundays since I am on sabbatical. It’s a whole different perspective to be a PIP – that’s Person in the Pew. I’ve been to Mass in Mexico (lively, but not understandable to me because of my language deficiency), Tucson Cathedral, Randwick’s Sacred Heart Church and of late, St. Mary’s Cathedral in Sydney. This very large church is gothic in style and cavernous in scope. It is also quite difficult to fill with the Spirit and enthusiasm that I appreciate at our own celebrations. We spent the day walking around the uptown district after a wonderful breakfast at an out door Italian Restaurant. All in all it was a great day which ended with a swim in the salt water pool that is part of The Centre where I am staying in the eastern suburb of Randwick.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

The Sydney Opera House

One of the most famous buildings in the world and an icon of the City of Sydney is the Sydney Opera House. Yesterday I had the opportunity to take a tour of this great edifice. The hour tour began in the lobby and proceeded up the grand staircase to the front side of the structure. Actually it is a bit misleading to call it the Sydney Opera House. There are actually 5 venues in the complex. The opera hall and the concert hall are the largest of the structures, but as you can see from the picture, there are many arching roof lines that contain the five theaters or “theatres” as we say down here. We were able to view the largest on these, the concert hall. The one on the right in the picture above. These magnificent buildings were the first in the world to use precast concrete in such a manner. I incorrectly assumed that the super structure of the buildings was steel. It’s all concrete. The external is covered in mother of pearl colored ceramic tiles. The shape of the buildings in unique and is said to represent sails on the harbour, sea shells or mere geometric abstractions. It is an open question. The Danish architect, Jorn Utzon, when asked what it looked like to him is reported to have said: “Like the Sydney Opera House!” No matter. It is a powerful work of art. Inside the concert hall one enters a totally wooden structure – a building within a building. It is acoustically designed to resonate the same way whether filled with people or not. It holds 2000 people and I will be one of them on Saturday evening when I attend the Brahm’s German Requiem. It was an inspiring visit. I may go back for the “behind the scenes tour” later. The only thing about that is that it starts at 7:00am (so as to not interfere with rehearsals).

Monday, February 12, 2007

The Sydney Aquarium

I’m not much on aquaria, but since a friend back home had recommended that I check out the Sydney Aquarium, I figured I’d give it a try. What a delightful surprise it was indeed! There were all the usual tanks filled with glowing exotic fish of the tropics as well as the fish one might expect to see in the streams, rivers and seas around Sydney. But then there was the “oceanarium” where one can see all the fish that might eat you if you are in their hungry sights. One of the distinct features of the Sydney Aquarium is the huge glass tank (easily 75 x 200 feet) into which you walk through a glass tunnel. There on all sides and above swim sharks, eels, sting rays, giant turtles and the like. It was fantastic! While walking through this amazing underwater display there is soothing music and wonderful display boards which tell the visitor what you are looking at. At one point I wondered who was looking at whom!

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Rain in Sydney

It started last night, the rain that is. They had been predicting rain for several days, but last night as I stepped out onto the platform at Milson Point in North Sydney, I walked into a deluge! My intention had been to stand on the platform and watch the trains go by as they passed onto the Sydney Habour Bridge on their way into the underground tracks in the CBD. The phrase "sheets of rain" fits the reality perfectly! It was coming down so hard that even the sheltered platform offer no relief. My intentions thwarted by the much needed rain, I scurried across the platform and jumped into another train going right back across the bridge. Several zig zags on various lines brought be to the bus station in Bondi Junction where I finally boarded (under cover) a 400 bus which brought me back to the Centre. That was Sunday night.

I write these words on Monday afternoon and it is still raining on and off. I guess all the prayers for rain have been heard and I hope that the down pour will alleviate the drought somewhat. The locals are quick to remind that we really need the rain in the catchment areas on the planes and that these coastal rains just run off the land. Well, I can't argue with that, but there sure has been a lot of run off in the last 18 hours!

Thursday, February 8, 2007

Australian English!

The Australian culture is a lay back one. Today one of the leaders of the Broken Bay Institute where I was doing some studying described the "culture of leisure" that pervades his country. It is very often manifested in the commitment to sports. Seems like every where I go there are people playing Cricket, football, soccer, etc. People are certainly very friendly and welcoming where ever I go. They always seem to have time to give directions and answer questions. Nice!

More on “Australian English”:

They say:
sorry when we would say “Excuse me”
Motorway when we would say "expressway"
Ring me when we would say "call or phone me"

Bonnet when we would say "hood of the car"
Barbie when we would say "outdoor grill"
Bookings when we would say "reservations"
Schoolie when we would say "grammar school student"
Unie when we would say "University student "
Pasty when we would definitely say "a piece of pastry! "
Footie when we would say "soccer player"

My favorite saying to day: “I am thrilled to my back teeth!”

On today’s trip to the BBI and diocesan headquarters (called the Curia here), I took a 45 minute commuter train ride from downtown. I’ll retrace my steps on that trip with a video camera soon.

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

I'm getting used to it...

When I first arrived here, I was met at the airport by the Director of the program, Sr. Judee Glaister, RSM. She led me to the car and I proceeded to go the "passenger side" - the right side of the car. "You gotta get used to Australia" she said. "Unless you intend to drive," she continued, "you have to sit on the left hand side of the car." Several days of this and I have finally, I hope, gotten used to where I sit in the car. But it is also a challenge to look to the right when you cross the street. In the center of the city the cross walks are marked as the picture illustrates. I haven't stepped into traffic (which is always coming from the right, not left) yet, but I have had a few close calls.

Other peculiar linguistic elements of this culture are: "bookings" not reservations, the "boot" not the trunk of the car, you "ring" people as opposed to calling them on the phone. The list goes on. I'll say more about this at a latter time when I compile more.

Sunday, February 4, 2007

View from the Bridge

Yesterday I was able to walk across the Sydney Bridge and want to share these pictures. The weather as you can see is is warm and wonderful. Australia is presently in the midst of a severe drought, though with all the water in the 16 mile long harbor it's hard to believe. Temperature today is supposed to be over 90!

Saturday, February 3, 2007

Information Technology in Sydney

I was able to meet with some of the IT folks in the Diocese of Broken Bay where David Walker, founder of The Centre where I am living, is now Bishop. It was a fascinating interview with one of their staff of 27. Right now there are 15 contractors working with the 12 permanent IT department folks. Six years ago they invested 1 million dollars in this project. They are about where we were in Rochester three years ago. But they have a plan for the future that is very exciting and more far reaching than where we are going. Among the things that this diocese of 250,000 is planing are: the networking of all parishes, institutions and interested parishioners on one system which will have its own fibre optic network and microwave towers. Excess band width will be leased out to others to off set some of the expenses. They plan streaming video conferencing available at all parishes and institutions which will be supported by the diocesan server (which I saw in an air conditioned 20 x 20 foot glass enclosed room in the IT Dept.) This will allow folks to visually connect through their intranet as a supplement to their email system. When the bishop wants to connect with his priests or all parish personnel, they simply go to their computer stations and there he is! Amazing, just think of the possibilities!

PS For those of you who have asked about pictures from the top of the bridge; the BridgeClimb is highly organized and comtrolled. They do not let you take ANYTHING up there with you. You are given and jumpsuit, eye glass straps, handkkerchiefs attached to your wrist with elastic bands, a very heavy harness which attaches to a cable that anchors you to the bridge structure at all time! But alas, you can't carry your own camera (you are too busy holding on for dear life!)
Some day when I have the chance I will take and post some pictures from the sidewalk level. of the bridge.