Saturday, March 31, 2007

Autumn is here!

Today I wore a long sleeved shirt for the first time sunce arriving on Jan 25. Athough it is still sunny and bright most days, the days are getting shorter here in the southern hemisphere. The nights come earlier with the passing of each day – about 6:30 right now. The natives are sporting jackets and sweaters more and more. The ever present thongs (not what you think) )are giving way to sneakers and other more substantial foot wear. When I first got here I was intrigued by the number of people who wear what we call "flip flops." I saw signs in store windows: Thong Clearance Sale. In the summer months, more Aussies wear thongs and sandals than shoes. You seen them every where including the CBD, not just the beach. In case you are still wondering, I am posting a picture of someone in a thong.

Today was the official kick off to "WYDSYDO8" - that’s World Youth Day Sydney 2008. There was a huge concert in the courtyard of St. Mary’s Cathedral in downtown Sydney. The three hour event included the Rapping Priest, Fr. Stan Fortuna of the Bronx. It was a neat experience of church with 5000 young people from all over the area converging to celebrate. It was a most diverse gathering of people of all races and ethnicities. The Korean community took responsibility for preparing food and there were many Korean delights that I had never tried before. There were Vietnamese, Chinese, Japanese, PNG’s (that’s Papua New Guinians), Indians and many many others amid the Irish, British, Italian, and German Australians in the crowd. And in the midst of it all strolled straw-hatted Cardinal George Pell. It concluded with the 6:00pm Palm Sunday Youth Mass which was jammed with thousands of people. The Australians are getting very excited about the July 2008 World Youth Day here in Sydney

Sydney goes dark!

Earlier tonight Sydney's "Earth Day 60" took place. This event was an attempt by the City of Sydney to make a statement about global warming and to inspire Sydneysiders to join in the effort to reduce its green house gas emissions by 5% in the next 12 months. Several of us at The Centre were enjoying dinner together. I stepped out between the salad course and the Chicken Parmigiana (made by me!) to take a picture of the skyline from my 2nd floor bedroom window. The picture to the left shows the famous Sydney Harbour Bridge in darkness as well as most of the tall buildings in the CBD and many of the other land mark sights. Note: you can't see the Sydney Opera House. This photo was sent to me by Mike Bausch who got it off MSNBC. My shots follow.

Twilight view followed by the Earth Day 60 view.

We thought we could do our part by eating by candle light.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

More Aussie English

It’s not just the words that are sometimes different, it’s the way and times that people interact. Last night we “sabbaticalers” went out to dinner with Sr. Judee. As she and I stood at the bar getting drinks for the others at the table, the barman looked at me and said in words that I could barely understand: “How you been feeling?” Now this is not a usual conversation that one would have with a bar tender in my (limited) experience. I didn’t have the context in which to comprehend what he was saying. Fortunately Judee saw my confusion and said: “Oh, we’re just fine mate.” It was a funny moment. I realized that this is Aussie talk for our: “How’s it going?” We really don’t expect an answer or even the truth. It’s just a way to exchange pleasantries. Cultures are different that way!

I do have some more language differences to share as well.

“G’Day” means “Hello”
“Lay by” means “lay away””Take away” means “take out”
“Good on ya’” means “Good for you!”
“No Worries” means “No sweat”
“Capsicums” are peppers – green, red, orange or yellow
“Bathers” are swim suits
A “torch” is a “flashlight”
And Aussies often use “s” where we would use a “z” like “authorisation”

It’s a great place. People are friendly and service people in shops actually seem pleased to be serving you as they take your money!

It is great fun, but I can see the end coming on the horizon.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Back from Perth!

The great adventure began on last Monday morning as Dan, my fellow train enthusiast, and I departed from Sydney by air. I was surprised, once again, at the vastness of this country. Our flight plan took us over New South Wales, Southern Australia, the South Ocean (a portion of the Indian Ocean) and then the vast desert plains. The five hour flight was uneventful and we quickly settled into our hotel room and began to plan out the two days that we would be in Perth before embarking upon the train trip. Our hotel was on the east end of the city and a walk in our neighborhood revealed to us that this wasn't Sydney! The streets were wider, the traffic slower and the people less diverse in their ethnicity.

That afternoon we explored the beautiful city of Perth (population of 1.3 million). This city is called the most isolated of Australia’s state capitals. Located in the State of South Australia, Perth is closer to Singapore than Sydney. We spent an enjoyable afternoon and evening getting to know the city amid the 94degree heat. You don’t actually notice the heat because of the “Freemantle Doctor.” This is the name given to the gentle, persistent, cooling breeze which blows inland from the Indian Ocean along the Swan River upon which Perth is built. The Swam flows from the nearby Darling Mountains out to the sea – about 30km from Perth.

On Tuesday, after a delightful breakfast at a side walk café, we decided to take a lunch cruise down the Swan River to Freemantle and the Indian Ocean. We walked to the wharf through a beautiful park along the Swan River. The picture to the left shows the wharf and park as we sailed out of Perth. It was a wonderful trip which provided us with magnificent views of Perth and the homes which line the wide river.

At Freemantle the Swan River empties into the Indian Ocean. If you could look across the ocean you would see India to the west and Indonesia to the north west. The huge harbour receives many container ships from the East loaded with goods, raw materials and cars. The captain prepared us for the sight we would see and as it turned out, there wasn't a single ship in the harbour!
The climate here is described as Mediterranean and the red tile roofs and brick homes attest. They say that in Freementle there are 23 dialects of Italian spoken!

Wednesday morning we took a cab to the train station to meet the famous Indian Pacific of the Great Southern Railway. We had a leisurely breakfast in the "Whistle Stop Cafe" in the depot, which also serves as a station for for the Perth mass transit system light rail trains. At precisely 11:55am the train began its 4,352 km (2611.2 mile) journey across the southern Australian outback. It’s not a fast train. It travels an average of 85kph (about 50 mph) on its transcontinental journey from Perth to Sydney via Adelaide. For the most of the distance there is only a single track. This means that frequently our train pulled on a siding to let another train coming from the other direction pass by. This process went on day and night as we moved across the outback.

The route takes us across the Nullabor Plain where we traverse the world’s longest stretch of straight track; not a curve or swerve for 478 kilometers (292.2 miles). There are two towns in the Nullabor, Kalgoorie (population 30,000) and Cook (population 8). When you look out the window, all you see is flat, scruffy gray green very short vegetation, sand and an occasional kangaroo, camel or wallaby. The area was named Nullabor from the Latin: "nullius arbor" - no trees! I guess so!

The scenery in the days on the train were very similar and made it very easy to read a book. But every now and then a glance out the window of my compartment revealed a magnificent view of this part of God's beautiful creation - especially as night time fell upon the outback.

After two nights and almost two days, we arrived in Adelaide in Western Australia. We detrained here because we couldn’t get passage clear through to Sydney. It worked out well because we really wanted to see what Adelaide (population of 1.2 million) was like. Unlike Sydney and Perth, this city was planned out on an easy to understand and get around grid. It is clean with wide streets and many green parks sprinkled within the grid of streets.

We had trouble finding a hotel in Adelaide when we started planning. Once we got there we understood why. Adelaide was hosting 15,000 visitors for the World Fire and Police Competition. Ended up with a great 15th floor room in a classy hotel that we wouldn’t have otherwise chosen. Our two days there were filled with exploration of the city and the nearby famous Barossa Valley wineries.

On Sunday we went to the local Cathedral to Mass and then headed out to the airport for the trip home. The flight home went well and if we had taken the right bus home, we would have been back to The Centre by 7:00pm. As it was, we neglected to notice that the 400 bus we boarded was going the wrong way until we were almost an hour on the road in the dark. The buses come into the airport on a one way loop so you have to be careful. We realized we were going the opposite direction from what we should be, got off and walked to the other side of the street for the ride back through the airport and to Randwick, where we live.

I was in bed by 10pm! A great adventure for sure!

Sunday, March 18, 2007

The Sydney Harbour Bridge is 75years old!

On Sunday March 18 Sydneysiders will celebrate the 75th Anniversary of the opening of the iconic Sydney Harbour Bridge. The people of Sydney (Sydneysiders - no kidding, that's how they call themselves) refer to it proudly as "Our Bridge." On Sunday I will join the hundreds of thousands of others who are exected to march across the bridge from 10am until 7pm. There are so many people coming for this historic parade of people that one has to have a reservation (pardon me - a booking) to walk. Ours is for 12:30pm and as the link to the special site created for this occassion says "bookings are now closed" Click here to see the site It should be quite the event and I am delighted to be part of this bit of Sydney history.

On Monday Dan Chapin and I fly out to Perth on Australia's West Coast. We'll be gone for a week during which time we'll take the famous Indian Pacific Train across the continent. I'll be back blogging next week with lots to tell and show.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

The Blue Mountains

Today Dana of Oakland, Dan of Ogdensburg, newly arrived Joe of Milwaukee, Rick and Lexie of Alabama (Dan’s friends) and I took the two hour train trip into the Blue Mountains. It was a full day but we really had a great time in this beautiful region west of Sydney. I have been wanting to visit it for many weeks. The day was overcast in Randwick as we boarded the bus to the train station, but by the time we were half way to the mountains the sun broke through the clouds and we had us a bright, cool day. It was ideal for hiking through the mountains.

The mountains are called “Blue” because of the fine blue haze that the Eucalyptus trees exude in their tree sap which fills the air. There was indeed a blue mist in the air shining through sun and clouds. We took several trails that lead down into the ravine up from which we could see the mountains surrounding us. After a few hours of this, we found a restaurant over looking the “Three Sisters Rocks” and had a fine meal. It was about that time when the mist became gray and then dark. The clouds soon brought a downpour. We scurried inside from the balcony over looking the valley below where we were eating lunch.

The Blue Mountains were a natural barrier during the colonization period and it was a while before passage over them could be secured. By 1867 the railroad had blazed a pathway up and over the mountains. It’s basically the same route that we traveled today only now it is electrified. It was a long day which started at 7:00am when we caught the bus at the corner in Randwick. Just after 7:00pm we crawled off the bus and were back home.

All in all a good day!

Thursday, March 15, 2007

My Sabbatical in Australia 2007: Day 3 Digital Conference

My Sabbatical in Australia 2007: Day 3 Digital Conference

Day 3 Digital Conference

Friday I plan to attend a special conference about the use of digital technology in the servoce of the Gospel. It is happening in North Sydney, just a short train ride over the Harbour Bridge. This promises to be a very significant event in the unfolding of my sabbatical as it it exactly what I am here for. Materials that I have seen say: "The Conference seeks to assist ministers of the gospel living in an Information Society by seizing the new opportunities new media presents and proceed afresh and with confidence. The Conference will include presentations from skilled practitioners, opportunities for discussion, the addressing of key questions from the fl oor and the sharing of resources."
Take a look for yourself! Click here----->

I know at least three people who will be there and we all have high expectations. I hope we will be inspired. Just the fact that such things are being actively talked about is a very positive sign of the times. We are fast becoming a digital culture. We already are a visual culture and one which too often revolves around 30 second sound bites and video clips. If we, the Church, are to speak to our world of God's unconditional love, then we must speak the language of our times and embrace its culture!

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

"IT" at Newcastle

Today’s adventure was an over two and a half hour train trip to the Diocese of Maitland – Newcastle. This diocese is about 150km (90 miles) north of Sydney and is easily reached by “CountryLink”, the rail service that connects the city with the far suburbs and beyond. The trip began at 6am as Dan and I traveled to Central Station to catch the 7:18am train to Newcastle. Sr. Judee had set up appointments there for Dan to meet with their Interfaith Officer and for me to meet with the IT department team. It was a wonderful trip which took us beyond any of the rail lines that I had ridden before. We arrived precisely on time (10:08 am where a member of the IT team was waiting to “fetch us.” Tracey whisked us off to the Chancery where we went our separate ways, Dan with the Deacon in charge of Interfaith Affairs and me to meet the IT Team.

After attending a Mass for Catholic Schools week, we had lunch together and began the business of sharing our interest in and commitment to putting the gifts of technology and media at the service of the Gospel. The Team in this diocese is headed by Tracey, Lindsay and Cathy, all experts in their respective fields. It was a terrific sharing and a great opportunity to “cross fertilize” what each of is doing. After lunch I had the opportunity to meet with the IT folks in the Maitland-Newcastle Catholic Schools Office. This too was informative. I continue to be impressed with the IT infrastructure that Catholic Schools regularly use in the Diocesan School Systems in Australia. They have the fantastic blessing of being funded by the government here in much the same way as nonpublic schools are supported in Canada. Amazing what you can do with a help from the government! In fact, the federal and state governments provide to Catholic schools in Australia about 80% of the per pupil cost in public schools. The difference is made up by fees and other charges to parents (not parishes).

The day ended with a wonderful train ride home through the Hunter and Hawkesbury River Valleys. Here's a picture taken through the train window as we ascended from the river valley on our way back home to Sydney. Five tunnels just came after this shot was taken. It was a delightful day of seeing new things and learning more about how technology can help proclaim the Gospel. It reminds me of an old saying from my seminary years in which one professor told us “to perfect your instrumentality.” The use of technology is one great way to do this very thing for the sake of the Good News!

Downtown Randwick

Tonight before dinner I went for a walk to a store in the center of Randwick . The streets in the business district were filled with folks as usual. As I walked to my destination I couldn't help but notice that the people I passed along the way were speaking many different languages! Cities in Australia are melting pots of people from around the world who are immigrating here. The first group of people I passed were speaking some language from Malaysea, further on down the block three people spoke in rapid fire Japanese. The next group were speaking German and the next French. I am sure that I also heard some familiar Italian swear words coming from inside one of the shops too! It made for a delightful cultural blend of ethnicity and diversity. So very different from the pews, parks and streets of Fairport. This is a big world and we are but a small part of it!

Monday, March 12, 2007

A Farewell Dinner

Yesterday we celebrated the departure of the senior member of our sabbatical group. Peter returns this week to his native Chicago and the parish where he has served for almost 10 years as Pastor. Bishop David Walker joined The Center Staff as we went out to celebrate Peter’s successful completion of six months of study on Aboriginal Spirituality. It was a bittersweet occasion for us all. The restaurant that we went to is called the “Black Stump”.
I also learned a little more “Aussie English” tonight as well. When you say “that is beyond the black stump” in Australia, you mean that the issue in question is beyond imagining, beyond the realm of possibility, or too far out to conceive. We had a delicious dinner from a wide ranging menu which included roasted Kangaroo steak, sautéed Emu breast and Waygu Scotch Fillet (like mignon). I was hungry and didn't want to risk ordering something that I wouldn't like so I ordered the Fillet with mushrooms. I wasn’t disappointed.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Saturday Night at the Opera

Last night we went to the Sydney Opera House Forecourt to see La Traviata. It was performed by the national company, Opera Australia. Initially both Dan and I were disappointed when we learned that tickets had been sold out for months before we arrived, but then while cruising the SOH (Sydney Opera House) website, we learned about the live broadcast of the last night of this performance on the steps (forecourt, they say) of the Sydney Opera House. Although it was a free event, we still needed tickets. When they arrived by mail we were reminded no chairs or “eskies” (coolers) were allowed but that we could bring cushions to sit on. So we assembled on the steps of the Opera House with about 5000 others as the sun began to set about 6:30pm Saturday night. Behind and underneath us all sorts of people were arriving in cabs and limos for the performance in the theatre. They had tickets, but we had the glorious weather and setting sun.

Promptly at 7:30 the announcer welcomed all of us seated on the steps of the Opera House as well as the other 5000 who were gathered in Melbourne in a simpler outside venue called Templeton Square. Through the wonder of technology the Opera Hall’s 1500 capacity had been augmented by 10,000 for this inaugural event. It was delightful and we were happy to be part of it! The opera lasted until 10:30 and had two twenty minute breaks. The sound was spectacular and the huge 25 x 40 foot screen delivered crisp, clear and well televised pictures of such a nature that we couldn't possible had gotten inside the massive building. I am glad that we couldn’t buy tickets! The outside venue was terrific!

When the performance was over, the crowd dispersed in a heart beat and was quickly disbursed into the nearby bus and railway system. I was amazed at how easily Sydney welcomes crowds, treats them with respect and sends them home happy and unscathed. Peter (of Chicago), quoting Bill Bryson in Downunder, is fond of saying “Australians do things well.” I agree.

Thursday, March 8, 2007

Destruction next door

Each day for the last few weeks I have awakened to the crashing and smashing noises of the demolition of the building next door to The Centre. It seems that this part of fashionable old Randwick is a highly prized area for development. The former convent, Motherhouse and Hospital next door to The Centre has been vacant since the Sisters of the Sacred Heart sold the little used property to a developer. They told us that it was coming, but now that it has arrived, it is quite incredible! There were two large “heritage homes” that years ago were converted to institutional use. They were expanded and added on to over the years. These additions are the parts that are being raised in preparation for the development of 10 Condos. These will have the same wonderful view of downtown Sydney (the CBD) as I have from my back window. Every morning for the last few weeks I have awoken to the crashing and smashing of the walls of the outer structures of the two buildings that in recent years have looked like one structure. The removal of the "outer additions" is where all the racket is coming from. It has been great fun taking pictures of the progress -even if a little noisy.

Tonight we four priests from The Centre were invited by the priests of our local parish, Our Lady of the Sacred Heart, to join them for dinner at their home. Frs. John Rate, Tony O’Brien and John Bosman made us feel right at home in their midst and reminded me of the finest aspects of the great fraternity of the priesthood. We spent a wonderful evening comparing notes on how we do ministry and sharing our joys and challenges. In the midst of our delightful evening, I reflected on how blest I feel to be part of this wonderful brotherhood. Though the details and cultures are different, the story of Christ’s love mediated through the lives of priests is the same. It was a great evening at the end of which we all promised each other we’d do again. I hope so.

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

The Beach, the Ocean and an old friend!

Today started out rainy and cool, but before long the sun peaked out and it warmed up. Our newly arrived sabbatical guest from Oakland had asked if I would show him how to get to he beach. I never need much encouragement to go to the beach, so off we went. It turned out to be a moderately sunny day, but the wind was high so it was a bit like being sand blasted. But we managed. The picture that accompanies this posting was taken just before I ventured into the wind tossed raging ocean. I wasn’t in the water more than 10 minutes when I was upended by a ferocious wave and smashed into the bottom of the beach. I limped back to the blanket and began what I expect will be a lengthy healing process. Before the night came on I began to ache in my back and shoulder. Lesson: never take the force of the ocean for granted.

I met Dan and his visiting friends, Ric and Lexi Ambrose, for dinner at a German restaurant in The Rocks. (more on that location at another time.) Dan has known them for 30 years and what I came to realize was that Dick (as we called him then) and I had been in St. Bernard’s Seminary together 40 years ago! He and Lexi, both retired now, live in Birmingham, AL. They are touring Australia and Hawaii as part of their retirement travel. It was great fun to compare stories of when we were in the seminary together. They leave soon for a few weeks to see more of Australia and then will return for a few days. At that time we’ll reconnect and travel (by train of course) to the Blue Mountains which are about 2 hours away. What a small world this is! First, Dan Chapin (with whom I shared 3 years at St. Bernard's) and then, Ric Ambrose as well. Amazing!

Sunday, March 4, 2007

Sunday Mass, Museum and Mass Transit

At Sr. Judee’s suggestion we went to St. Francis Church for 10am solemn High Mass today. One of my goals is to see how Australians celebrate the Sunday Eucharist. Three of us set out at 9:00am. We had directions but they were a little vague and I was a little over confident in my reception of them. The result was that we learned more about the suburbs of Sydney. The church is located in Paddington on Oxford St. I have walked up and down this main street in the CBD many times. But, it seems that Oxford Street numbers run in two directions. I knew from the Internet that we were looking for 463 Oxford St., but I didn't realize that it was in the suburb of Paddington. Oh well, it all worked out fine in the end.

It was a good exposure for Dana, our newest arrival in the program. He sailed in (literally) from his diocese in Oakland on Friday. We backtracked a bit and finally found the church. It was a very hot and muggy day and we veteran "Sydneysiders" were not as bothered as our newest compatriot. He will to get used to walking in the heat real soon .

The mass was "very high" with more incense than I’ve seen in a long time. There were tons of servers dressed in white albs (like ours) but with purple collars for Lent, choir members in red cassocks and white surplices and other ministers. The congregation was of mixed ages with a slightly larger number of younger folks than I have been seeing elsewhere we attended. Fr. Pat McGrath welcomed us after mass and when we commented on the all female choir, he explained that their regular choir has as many men but they were off this weekend.

After mass we took a bus to Circular Quay and had breakfast at a favorite restaurant, City Extra. The theme is the newspaper business and the menus came on newsprint. It's located in the heart of Circular Quay where all the ferry boats come and go. Dana and I went to the Maritime Museum after breakfast while Dan went back home to prepare for his guests who arrive on Monday morning. The museum was very fine and our experience was enhanced by the fact that it was air-conditioned and the temperature was over 90 degrees outside.

We returned to The Centre in time for a nap. But I was excited about a steam train excursion that was returning from an outing at 7:15pm so I headed back to the CBD to see what I could see. The picture shows a 2-6-2, 1947 built steam locomotive which hauled 13 coaches in from the Blue Mountains. The fans had mostly departed by the time I got there so I had the platform to myself. Neat.

After the steamer backed out of the terminal, I was so thrilled that I knew I wouldn't be sleepy any time soon, so I took my camera on the next CityRail train across the Sydney Harbour Bridge to take a few night shots of the city and its famous bridge. This picture was a time exposure taken by leaning against a light post, but as the shutter snapped a train came rumbling through. But all in all, it's not a bad shot.

It was a good day!

Friday, March 2, 2007

More "Aussie English"

This is the second entry in which I deal with idiomatic Australian English. It comes to mind because this week I got a haircut and I had the darnest time understanding what the barber was saying to me. Now this can be problematic when he asks you "How short you want your hair cut?" and you think he is asking you how long you have been in Australia! I survived this challenge and got a decent haircut anyway. But the point is that not only do they speak with a funny accent (note the American prejudice here) but they have different phrases than we do. This requires the astute visitor to really learn and decipher the local speech patterns.

All in all, I am catching on, but here’s a few more idiomatic phrases:

G’day = Hello
Mate = friend, used often to refer to others “me and my mates…”
Bloke = a man, not used as often as mate
Give way = Yield (as in a traffic sign)
Take away = take out ( as in food)
Good on ya’= good for you
Mozzies = mosquitoes
The loo = bathroom or (“rest room”)
Brass razoo= top dog or top banana
Car park = parking lot
A booking = a reservation
The boot = trunk of the car
CBD = Central Business District (downtown!)

What the Aussie's are doing in Catholic Schools with the Internet

Today I took the "CountryLink" train to Hornsby where I was met by a priest of the Diocese of Broken Bay who pastors two communities which became one parish in July. It has a geographical name KU-RING-GAI CHASE CATHOLIC PARISH. We went off to see the parish office which is tempoarily located in a nearby shopping center. A new building is being constructed on one of the parish sites. Here's a link to their website:
Then we were off to see one of the schools in his parish. The kids there were prepared to show me around the classroom and their internet setup. They were very cute and excited to show off what they were learning.

It ties in very well with what I had learned at the Catholic Schools office a few days before. At one point we asked them to log onto our Assumption parish website. They did this with ease and delight. In less than 10 seconds they were viewing our parish miles 9700 away! When I asked them to click on the “webcam” tab, all 38 of them did so and I think we crashed the server. Amazing!

The day finished with a tour around the boundaries of the parish through a beautiful park like hilly environment called "Brooklyn." When it was time for me to go, we went to the train station where I caught a fast train back to Sydney Central and then a bus home. I arrived in time to join the other guys who love here for dinner. Yesterday marked the arrival of a priest from Oakland, so now we are four. One from Chicago, now one from California and two of us from New York State.