Sunday, April 29, 2007

"The Overlander" north to Auckland

We arrive in Wellington late in the afternoon in time to return the rental car. We're pretty pooped from the activity of the past few days and decide to walk around the CND for a short while before having supper. It is a beautiful, but windy city and we wicch we had more time to get to know it better. Wellington, New Zealand's capital city, has only 108,000 people, but then the entire country has only 3.8 million people. I am coming from City of Sydney with 5.2 million people in it.

Saturday started with a 5 AM wake up call so we could catch our 6:15 cab to the train station for our 7:20 departure on The Overlander for the trip back to Auckland. The train ride was quite comfortable and we were seated in the Observation car so our views were grand.

One of the highlights of the ride was a very famous spiral. The spiral represents a terrific response to an engineering challenge faced by the railroad builders over 100 years ago. Coming north from Wellington, the terrain was almost constantly uphill but it rose quite gradually.

As a volcanic country, New Zealand is very mountainous. In the center of the country is a large high plateau several hundred feet above sea level. It is to this plateau that The Overlander made its gradual climb north to Auckland. Unfortunately for the railroad there was no long gradual way back down. As a result the engineers of 1901, with the use only of human labor, dynamite, and horse drawn wagons constructed a way for the train tracks to make their way down 195 feet of elevation in the space of 4 kilometers. To prevent that descent from being like a rollercoaster hill they wound their way around a hillside and created 2 tunnels, 3 bridges and 1 horseshoe curve to get the train gradually down to the level where it could continue its trip northward to Auckland.
The twelve hour trip through the center of the North Island wnet by relatively fast. We discracted by the beautiful scenery and didn't mind the time. We arrived at the new Britomart Transportation Center in downtown Auckland right on time. We had scouted out where there station was in relations to our hotel so we walked to the same hotel we left on Tuesday to spend our last 2 nights.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Geothermic Intrigue at Rotorua

We started the day off with a "duck" ride around the town and out into 2 of the many lakes around Rotorua. A "duck" as you may know is an amphibious truck built by GMC in the USA during WWII. It is capable of driving on a road or floating in water - propelled by the same motor and transmission. It was a fun tour and we were grateful that our "duck" ran out of fuel (Driver confessed that he didn't check the tank closely enough) while on land, not in the middle of one of the lakes.

The source of the smell in the area proved to be very interesting indeed. Seems it is a result of the geothermal activitiy in the area that Rotorua is built upon and when the wind condidtions are right, the place smells like rotten eggs. We came to appreciate the distinct aroma and flavor of the Rotorua region the more we got to know the geological history.

Next as we began our journey south to our next overnight stop we came across a
national park built around another of the "hot spots." That resulted in usspending an informative couple of hours walking through a geyser field.

We then headed off to Lake Taupo. This town reminded of Canandaigua 25 years ago. The town sits right at the shore of the lake and is filled with motels and restaurants which line the shore. We had a fine meal in one of these establishments that night.

After a good night's sleep in a great motel apartment (their fond of these in NZ and now so are we), we began the 6 hour trip south to Wellington, the Capital City of New Zealand.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

The SkyTower and Stinky Rotorua

We started the day by checking out of our hotel in Auckland but before moving the car from the underground “car park”, we crossed the street to explored the SkyTower. This is the tallest tower in the Southern Hemisphere. At 328 meters it gives a magnificent view of the city, the famous Auckland Harbour Bridge and interestingly the volcanic island in the harbour. This island was formed by a volcanic eruption of Mt. Rangitoto just 600 years ago.

As we stood in the SkyDeck over 1000 feet in the air, the natural topography, which has been there for thousands of years, spread below us. Across the harbour was this “geological youngster” formed so relatively recently.

After a nice lunch in the Sky Lounge we headed south to Rotorua. We were advised to hold our noses as this town is the site of famous mineral springs and geyser activity.

What a surprise! The place REEKS of rotten eggs!!!

As the lady who checked us into our hotel told us the natural geothermal activity in the area creates a distinct flavor for the region. The smell of sulfur in the air is almost sickening at times – depending on the wind direction.

The hot springs which lie under the entire region permit some unique opportunities. For one, every motel on a very long street had a pool heated to 40 degrees celsius (about 110 degrees Fahrenheit)

Another interesting feature was in our bedroom closet and bathroom. Water from the hot springs below was fed through pipes in our room as towel warmers.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Up the Coromandel Peninsula - to ride a train!

The sun is shining in Auckland when we arise and we are off to ride the Driving Creek Railway, it is a narrow gage mountain railway. To get to the location we have to drive almost three hours up the Coromandel Penisula. For part of the way we are driving at water's edge (on the left hand side of the road!) around sharp curves and very narrow road as we wind northward beside the Firth of Thames (a very large inlet from the ocean). The train trip includes 2 spirals, 3 short tunnels, 5 reversing points and several viaducts on its way to the top of the mountain. And the "Driving Creek Railway" lived up to our expectations, making the harrowing car ride fade in the distance.

The small railway was built by one man, Barry Brickel, who operates a pottery shop
on the side of the mountain. It originally was built as a means to bring clay from a clay pit up the mountain down to the workshop. As people came to the pottery shop, interest developed in the unique narrow gage railway.

Narrow gage railroads are the type of rail track usually seen in mines and logging sites in days of old. The rails are about 15 inches apart and they permit very sharp turns and steep grades. Barry, a 71 year old bachelor, kept adding sections to the railway zigzagging its way further up the mountain. It now snakes its way 2 and 1/2 miles up the mountain to a location with a spectacular view. There Barry built the "Eyeful Tower" to permit a view spanning 30 miles.

We returned to Auckland for a great Thai dinner then back to the hotel.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Off to Auckland

The flight was smooth and the people friendly. My brother and sister in law, Marty & Maureen are waiting for me at the airport. We pick up our rental car and are off to explore and find our way to downtown Auckland - and all this while driving on the left hand side of the road. It sure does feel strange. On our agenda is to head to the hotel and crash. Marty and Mo were in Los Angeles visiting the latest addition to our family - Nathan Douglas DeBeech at 7 PM Saturday night. By the time we are "heads on pillows" in the hotel it was about 27 hours that they have been traveling. For me it was only a 5 hour trip from Sydney. The New Zealanders are very friendly and polite. We are staying at the New President Hotel on Victoria Street directly across from one of Auckland's landmarks, the SkyTower.

We can sit in our room and watch the glass elevators go up to outside of the tower to the 3 observation decks at the top. It was a quick glance out the window and we all crashed for the night.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Back from Retreat and off to New Zealand!

I returned this afternoon from a wonderful retreat in the Australian Capital District. The ACT as they say it here. It was a fine week of warm sunny Autumn weather with plenty of reflection, walking and just enjoying the beauty of the City of Canberra, the seat of the Government of Australia. We stayed at “The Gathering Place” – a former Bridgitine Sisters Convent. Sr. Lorraine Gatehouse and team mate Meryl Bolland provided us with wonderful hospitality while we entered more deeply into their spirituality while nourishing ours. It was a growth filled experience.

I had the opportunity to walk the many tails of nearby Mt. Ainslie as well as the beautiful Lake Burley Griffin around which the City of Canberra is built. In all we spent 8 days exploring the interior life while exploring the exterior beauty of Canberra.

Monday I fly to Auckland, New Zealand. I will be meeting my brother Marty and his wife, Maureen for a week’s vacation before we all fly back here to Sydney, they for a business conference and I for my final week at The Centre. I will not be accessing the blog sight until I get back so look for more commentary and pictures starting May 1.

Back from Retreat and off to New Zealand!

I returned this afternoon from a wonderful retreat in the Australian Capital District. The ACT as they say it here. It was a fine week of warm sunny Autumn weather with plenty of reflection, walking and just enjoying the beauty of the City of Canberra, the seat of the Government of Australia. We stayed at “The Gathering Place” – a former Bridgitine Sisters Convent. Sr. Lorraine Gatehouse and team mate Meryl Bladder provided us with wonderful hospitality while we entered more deeply into their spirituality. I had the opportunity to walk the many tails of nearby Mt. Ainslie as well as the beautiful Lake Burley Griffin around which the City of Canberra is built. In all we spent 8 days exploring the interior life while exploring the exterior beauty of Canberra.

Monday I fly to Auckland, New Zealand. I will be meeting my brother Marty and his wife, Maureen for a week’s vacation before we all fly back here to Sydney, they for a business conference and I for my final week at The Centre. I will not be accessing the blog sight until I get back so look for more commentary and pictures starting May 1.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Off to Retreat

Easter Saturday

Today Dan and I head south from Sydney to a retreat house called the Gathering Place near Canberra the national’s capital. The trip will take about 4 hours on the train; we leave from Sydney’s Central Station at noon. We’ll be on retreat for the week after which we will get a hotel and do some touring in the ACT – that’s the Australian Capital District – before we return to The Centre on Sunday the 22nd. I won’t be able to access the internet while on retreat so this blog will not be added to until after we return. If you are reading this while we are at the retreat house, do remember us in prayer as we will you.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

A Meeting of minds

Easter Thursday
The highlight of today was an appointment with David Walker, Bishop of the Diocese of Broken Bay. Recall that Bishop Walker is the founder of the The Centre’s Sabbatical program for priests around the world. While faced with many responsibilities of a major metropolitan diocese of over 200,000 Catholics just north of Sydney, he still maintains a keen interest in the Sabbatical program. Today Dan and I had the opportunity to sit for an hour with him in his office just a few miles north of Sydney Harbour.

It was a refreshing and stimulating conversation in which we shared about how we saw the Church in Australia wrestling with many of the same things that we deal with in the US. Bishop David is a most wise and gentle leader. He is renowned for his leadership in spirituality and education. His diocese reflects his collaborative leadership style and the passion for empowerment of the Baptised that is dear to my heart. It was a meeting of minds and a sharing of hearts that uplifted my spirit very much. I hope the Bishop David will be able to visit our neighborhood sometime in the future. He would be at home in our midst and is truly a blessing for the church in Australia.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

A day at the Royal Randwick Racecourse

Easter Wednesday
Today we decided that since we were just up the hill from the Royal Randwick Racecourse and it was Easter Carnival (sponsored by a local Brewery called “Twoheys”) that to be patriotic and keep with the social mores of the community, we ought to make a visit to the races. It was quite the day. For the price of admission ($15) and whatever liquid refreshments one wished to indulge in, the Racecourse (at least the “non member” public section) was all ours to enjoy. None of us were particularly interested in betting on the horses, but we did want to check out what the carloads and bus loads of people were doing down there everyday for the past week. I wrote earlier that this is the place where Aussies get dressed up. Today’s experience confirmed this impression to the max. There were all manner of suits, dresses and haberdashery on display. In fact, unbeknownst to us, it was ladies day and this brought out all kinds of fashions and hat contests. It was something to behold.
The races began at 11:45am and continued until 5pm. I placed one $2 bet (and lost), but Joe, who had never been to a race track before, got bit by the bug and wound up winning consistently with his wild hunches. At the end of the day he had won 4 of the 8 races and walked out with over a $100. We big spenders made our way back home in time to be taken out to dinner by one of the women on the staff who has taken a shine to us and wanted to send us off with full stomachs.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

The Sydney Tower Experience

Easter Tuesday
One of the things that we have been looking forward to was going to the tallest structure in Sydney (maybe all Australia?) – the Sydney Tower. Sr. Judee and Bishop David take all the sabbatical people there for dinner in the revolving restaurant at the top of the tower. Today was our turn. The restaurant revolves once every 70 minutes and we got there just as the sun was setting in the west. By the time we had made one revolution, it was well into night time and we looked down on beautiful
Sydney with its many harbours, suburbs and sections. The food was quite good, even the roasted Kangaroo Rump, but the spectacular view commanded our full attention!
It was a great way to celebrate the Easter season!

Sunday, April 8, 2007

Easter Carnival at the Royal Randwick Racecourse

Easter Monday
Today all of Australia is “on holiday”; it’s part of the four day long weekend. This weekend also is the start of a two week school holiday. Many people travel with their kids on family vacations. It’s the weekend when most traffic accidents occur in Australia. The warnings were very similar to our Labor Day travel announcements. This is also the time when Australians dress up for the high social event called “The Royal Randwick Racecourse Easter Carnival” The race course is just down the street from The Centre and today I decided to take a walk down the hill to see what was happening.
As the pictures here show, while it is hard to find an Aussie dressed up for business, church or the opera, they dress “to the nines” for the Easter Carnival.

There are several horse races at the Raceway this week; it is the high society event of the season. The Royal Randwick Raceway is also the location of next year’s (July 08) World Youth Day final mass at which Pope Benedict XVI will preside.

Since I got to The Centre I have been wanting to walk around Centennial Park. This large beautiful space of trees, ponds, paths and people was teaming families out enjoying the sun. It’s been a wet weekend here and today’s break in that weather was enthusiastically embraced by the Sydneysiders who enjoyed time in the park and the raceway. Easter is celebrated differently here. You see Easter Banners and sales in the stores, but it is about the Easter Bunny and chocolate and getting ready for Winter. We do have our challenges, living in a secular culture. I guess as followers of the Risen One we must live our lives in such a way as make his resurrected presence shine through us. I like celebrating the Lord’s Resurrection when nature is unfolding into Spring with its new life and hope.

Saturday, April 7, 2007

Easter Sunday

Today we celebrate the Lord's Resurrection. I went to Our Lady of the Sacred Heart Church in Randwick for the 10:00am Mass. As you might expect it was a full church. I saw many of the folks that I have been seeing each time I go there, plus a lot more. The church was beautifully decorated and the celebration was festive. The Parish Priest (PP) whom we would call the "Pastor", Fr John Rate presided and preached. He is quite a great guy with a wonderfully welcoming style. I was happy that we chose to stay close to home. The church was beautifully decorated and the traditional style church building was filled with flowers and banners. Particularly interesting was their use of long flowing streamers which extended from the choir loft to the pillars in the nave. As you can see from the picture on the right, they were made of a light see-through material. We welcomed two little babies into the Church and sang with gusto that our Savior is Risen! I couldn't help but miss all the folks who are part of my life on this special day. It was nice, but it wasn't like being home.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Good Friday in Parramatta

Good Friday I took the ferry from Sydney Harbour for the one hour ride under the bridge, through the inner harbour and up the Parramatta River to the suburb of Parramatta. This is yet another diocese in Sydney. I wanted to be with this community at the newly consecrated St. Patrick’s Cathedral. I had visited this church a few days ago (see the Monday April 2 entry below) and wanted to see how the parish would celebrate the Passion and Death of the Lord on Good Friday. As you may have noticed in Monday’s blog entry, this new Cathedral has a large long center space in which are located the Ambo, the Altar and the Bishop’s chair, the “Cathedra.” The church filled up shortly before 3:00pm when Bishop Kevin Manning processed into the sacred space and began this solemn, sober celebration. There was a large choir supporting the community in sung prayer. I was moved when it came time for the community to sing the response psalm. The whole church sang with gusto! As we sat there the voices of the 375 people across the church from us touched my heart. It was the first time I heard such wonderful participation since I arrived here. An interesting thing happened when it came time for the more than 750 hundred of us to come forward to venerate the cross. The procession moved along well as the choir led the community in sung prayer. At the end of the line of those coming forward, I noticed a group of young males coming forward for the veneration. In any other setting I would have assumed that these guys were tough members of some gang. Their clothing was jeans and tee shirts and each had short cropped hair with a red spiked Mohawk stripe in the middle. As I watched them bend low in reverence before the cross, I asked the Lord to forgive me for my hasty judgments on how things “appear.”

Our need for salvation continues everyday. Today we celebrate its cost.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Holy Thursday in Randwick

Today we celebrated the Lord’s Supper with the parish community at Sacred Heart Church in Randwick, the suburb in which we live. One of the things that I cherish the most about this powerful liturgy is the way in which we hear Jesus call to service in the context of the First Eucharist, his Last Supper. He makes it very clear that we who follow him are to lead by our service of each other and the community around us. We had a fine celebration, but my heart was lonely for the familiar faces and friends who make up the fine fabric of my community in Fairport.

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Spy Wednesday and Maroubra Beach

Today is “Spy Wednesday” and after a morning Penance Service at our local church I decided to go on a little adventure down the coast to the famous (actually infamous) Maroubra Beach. This place is another of Sydney’s wide wonderful beaches which is enclosed on both sides by cliffs and jagged rocks. The suburb of Maroubra is the territory of the surfing gang, “The Bra Boys.” You may have heard something about this group as they have produced a current movie documentary about their experience. It is the story of the coming of age of several boys who suffer from the loss of effective male presence in their lives (the "father wound") and band together for identity, companionship, security and affirmation in the surfing gang that they called "The Bra Boys." The movie is currently getting high attendance in Australia and is reportedly being considered for distribution in the USA. Russell Crowe, native of New Zealand, but now acclaimed as an Australian actor, is the narrator of the film and saves it from being a C- flick. I rate it as a "B film," but since it has much local appeal, it is doing well here.
I took some pictures of the beach and environs, but the Bra Boys must have been too busy counting their royalties and were not to be seen any where. The dismal over cast of the day seemed to fit this Wednesday of Holy Week when the Gospel tells the story of Judas making a deal with the local establishment to get rid of the “Jesus problem” for the price of thirty pieces of silver.

Monday, April 2, 2007

Chrism Mass at Broken Bay

During Holy Week every year each local church (diocese) gathers to celebrate the blessing of the Holy Oils which are used throughout the Diocese during the next year. Tonight we went to Corpus Christi Cathedral in St. Ives, NSW for the “Chrism Mass” as it is called. St Ives is one of the over 500 suburbs in the Sydney area and the seat (cathedra) of the Diocese of Broken Bay. Bishop David Walker, founder of The Centre for Christian Spirituality where I live, is the Chief Shepherd of this Diocese. It consists of all the territory north of Sydney Harbour to the border of the Maitland-Newcastle Diocese and now has 25 parishes. I say "now" because, like so many dioceses in our country, it has entered a process of Pastoral Planning for the future that has seen the reduction of its 40 communities into 25. Representatives of every parish were gathered at the Cathedral for tonight’s liturgy. During the celebration the Bishop led the local church in invoking God’s blessing upon the oils that will be used for healing the sick, anointing the Catechumens and in all Baptisms, Confirmations and Ordinations during the next year. At the end of a stirring liturgy, these folks and their Pastors were given the Sacred Oils to take back to their parishes. It was all very nice and reminded me that the people of our diocese would be doing the same ritual gathering and blessing in just a few hours at Sacred Heart Cathedral in Rochester.
We are all one church with many different faces!

Tsunami Warning and Interfaith Dialogue

I was going to go to the beach to do some more reading today, but there was an earthquake in the Solomon Islands and all the beaches were closed due to a Tsunami alert. The Tsunami never materialized but “NSW-ers” are congratulating themselves as their recently developed early alert system seems to have worked well today.

Tonight I had the opportunity to join Dan, one of my fellow “sabbaticalers” at an interfaith gathering in Parramatta, one of the western suburbs of Sydney. This gathering was sponsored by the Diocese of Parramatta and the Affinity Intercultural Foundation. It was a fine step in bringing Muslims and Catholics together for dialogue and mutual understanding. Dan and I took a harbour ferry out in the afternoon because we wanted to see the new Cathedral of St. Patrick. It replaced the original structure which had been destroyed by a fire in 1996 and is a magnificent modern structure and like ono other that I have seen thusfar in Australia. The pictures here show the view from the main aisle and from the rear near the massive stand of organ pipes.

Before the meeting started went across the street to the ever present McDonalds, known here commonly as "Macca's". On the way back to the meeting hall we stopped back in to see the Cathedral, now illuminated after sunset. The building was even more beautiful at night with its interior illumination of the black marble Altar and Tasmanian Oak woodwork. But as powerful as it was, my heart was touched by what I saw as we walked into the sacred space. There in the middle of the assembly, on the open floor near the Altar Table, a young Muslim man had spread out his prayer rug and was absorbed in deep praise of the One God whom we all worship. I was moved that Bishop Kevin Manning, who was greeting people as they came for the Interfaith gathering, had welcomed this man of faith to pray in the quiet of the Cathedral before the meeting began. I couldn’t resist the opportunity to catch this special moment with my camera in the dim lights.

The Interfaith meeting brought over 200 Muslims and Christians together to learn more about each other in an environment of respect and trust. I was proud to be a part of it and thought how blest we are in Rochester to have the same type of interfaith alliance with our Muslim brothers and sisters. We have so much to learn from each other and the ture peace of the world depends on this kind of friendship.

We took the train back to Central Station as the ferries do not run at night. It was a most fulfilling day!