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Monthly Archives: February 2016

Visit to the Jungle in Calais (February 2016)

REfugees Welcome

Jonathan Herbert and Br Hugh SSF visited Br Johannes Maertens at his Catholic Worker house in Calais for 3 nights from 15 – 18 Feb 2016. We spent 2 days visiting refugees, reaching them by walking 4km through the Calais suburbs, over a canal, past a huge chemical plant to the edge of the city where, through a motorway bridge (above), lay sandy wasteland, the Jungle, named after the Afghan word for woodland.

The entrance..

The entrance

 

The Police never came into the Jungle in the daytime, but there were stories of teargas at night. Similarly ambulances would only come to the edge, even in extremis.

 

Eritrean Church

The Eritrean Church (under continuous threat of destruction by the authorities)

On both days we enjoyed bright sunshine which made the mud and rubbish filled frozen puddles slightly less grim. Refugees get though lots of shoes here as they rarely get dry. Most refugees looked in their teens and 20s and overwhelmingly male. Some young women around were British volunteers. We found shops just as you’d expect in a south Asian village. At the entrance of the camp was the Hamid Karzai Restaurant, quite smart of wood and plastic, with glass or Perspex windows, a generator powering a few lights and phone chargers inside, and hot food on display. We later had a very nice meal of rice, dhal and nan bread for about 4 euros each. Johannes and Tom, a British Buddhist, in blue overalls, listened at length to an older Afghan who had things to get off his chest. Tom has lived in a caravan here for some months. Christian and Buddhist, both have the same task of listening and presence, largely to Muslims, and peace-making between the various groups and nationalities, and between the many NGOs who work with varying degree of cooperation. I saw the library with ESOL and French lessons offered, though I saw no class in progress. I saw the dome where the National Theatre in London had put on Hamlet a few weeks ago, and met a journalist/ artist from the National Theatre.

These photos very deliberately show almost no refugees at all close; few were happy with cameras.

Jonathan Jungle

I believe the portaloos had been installed by NGOs, not the French authorities. However French and British money had gone to a section of the camp, sterile and lifeless, filled with gleaming containers, with 3 windows each, where the most desperate resigned to signing into by giving their finger prints, with the strong belief that they would never be allowed to claim asylum in the UK. Everyone seemed think the UK was a much better place to go than France. I longed to tell them about the Verne Immigration Removal Centre which I visit.

We shook hands with many people, among others with Eritrean Orthodox at the now famous church and with a Sudanese young men who served us supper of bread and veg stew which we ate with our fingers lying on a mattress in his hut. Few told us their stories in any detail. It would no doubt take time to build up trust. But the overwhelming impression is that no one would choose to live in this place rather than claim asylum in France – but choose they do. It is extraordinary that this is Western Europe. It is extraordinary that no social services do anything about the unaccompanied teenage boys. It is extraordinary that Calais town so close by shows almost no sign that this is there – almost the only French I heard in 3 days was in the little baker’s shop near Johannes’ house.

Jungle 2

 

Interment of Damian’s ashes

A message from the community at Hilfield:Damian

The internment of Damian’s ashes at Hilfield will take place on Friday 11th March at noon, following the Eucharist. You are asked to contact the Friary at Hilfield and notify them of your intention to come.

The Friary, Hilfield, Dorchester,

Dorset, DT2 7BE, 01300 342314

hilfieldssf@franciscans.org.uk

A letter from Mavis Fielder (Br Damian’s Sister)

Letter from Mavis Fielder, Bro. Damian’s Sister

My brother Roger, or Brother Damian as most of you will have known him, would have been very humbled, by the Requiem Mass held in his honour on Wednesday 3rd February in St. Michael’s Church, Alnwick.

I thank all of those who attended the service, I am sorry that I was unable to meet you afterwards. I also want to thank you for your kind words, thoughts and prayers. You all meant so much to Roger.

My sincere thanks to the Franciscan Brethren in Alnmouth for the love and support given to Roger and myself over the past twelve months. In addition, I thank the Brethren for organising a truly wonderful and memorable farewell for my brother and to Br Benedict who presided at the Mass.

The moving Homily given by Brother Samuel was both inspiring and humorous. It painted a picture of Bro. Damian that many will have recognised. It came from the heart.

I give my thanks to the Parish Church of St. Michael’s, Alnwick, for its kind co-operation in the arrangements for the Requiem Mass and in particular, the Vicar, the Reverend Paul Scott. It was a remarkable occasion, fitting for a remarkable man.

My warmest thoughts to you all.

 

Mavis

Sermon preached by Br Samuel SSF at Br Damian’s Requiem Mass

CY7D9EjWMAALR_5Homily preached by Br Samuel SSF at the funeral of Br Damian at St Michael’s, Alnwick, Wednesday, 3rd February, 2016

‘Jesus the Master speaks, “Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies it bears much fruit”. John 12.24.

So begin the Principles of the Society of St Francis which are read by us day by day through each month.

The place where Damian and I first met was in a field near Bamburgh, at Budle Bay overlooking Holy Island. The occasion was the Franciscan Northern Camp, begun at Wooler in the 1920s by Fr Algy for young people from the North East, continued at Budle Bay after World War 2 by Br Edward, and then taken on in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s by Br Damian and others. At the time of that first meeting in 1972 I was neither a brother nor a member of the camp but a curate on pilgrimage with others from Liverpool to Lindisfarne. Our last stop before our destination was at Budle Bay and it coincided with the final Eucharist of the Northern Camp. The marquee was full of young people and Franciscan brothers and sisters; Br Michael, then Minister Provincial, presided and preached, and Damian accompanied the songs on his ukulele. As he played he bounced – from the beginning I’ve remembered Damian’s bounce!

What a host of memories of Damian have come together for his funeral and requiem Mass here today. Memories of brothers and sisters of the First Order, we who have lived and worked with him, who have laughed and cried with him; memories of Third Order brothers and sisters, and those of that fellowship of former brothers and sisters which we sometimes refer to as the ‘4th Order’; memories also from beyond our Franciscan family – from Scotland and Northern Ireland, from Birmingham and London, from Hilfield and the Channnel Islands and elsewhere; memories from parish visits and missions, from retreats and conferences which Damian has led, and from other religious communities; from his time as an accountant with USPG before he joined SSF. And before that, of course there are memories of home and family in East Grinstead and Hertfordshire. Mavis, we are very conscious of your own memories of your beloved brother, known to you by his baptismal name of Roger, and we hold you very much in our thoughts and prayers this day.

What a remarkable person we have known in Damian. I’ve worked out that, since joining SSF just short of fifty years ago, he has lived in seventeen different SSF houses around the country, and one might add, all stops between as he travelled, or rather swung like a trapeze artist between them. When I succeeded him as Minister Provincial in 2002 I inherited his car. It was a good car. It needed to be for there were nearly a quarter of a million miles on the clock. He was a man of great energy and ability. Over the years he held all the major offices of the Society of St Francis: Provincial Secretary, Provincial Bursar, House Guardian (a number of times), Assistant Minister and Provincial Minister – at one point managing three of them at the same time. I think that the only office he didn’t hold was that of Computer Advisor – and I can’t quite imagine him doing that! And that was just within SSF. In his wider ministry he was at various times hospital chaplain, parish priest, chair of school governors, trustee and often treasurer of a number of charities, a key member of the Bishops’ Advisory Council for Religious Communities, and an ecumenist between different churches and religious congregations – all this besides being a prodigious letter writer, a friend and spiritual guide to seemingly countless people, and let us not forget, a fan of Doris Day! No wonder that he often arrived at meetings and engagements close to the deadline and rather out of breath – or that he managed over the years to collect an embarrassing number of speeding tickets. I remember, when I was a novice, going to see Damian (he was then my Novice Guardian) to tell him that I felt under pressure from being overworked – the perennial cry of novices in every age – to be told by him that we both shared a vocation to burn-out by the age of forty five. It wasn’t totally consoling, but I’m glad that he lasted and flourished a good many more years than that.

However, it wasn’t what or how much Damian did that is most significant; it’s how he did it; for within all the energy and bounce, in harness with it, there was huge warmth and compassion. He had the gift of reaching out to people in their vulnerability and loneliness, in their weakness and brokenness, and in their sorrow and desolation, with kindness, sympathy and understanding. Like, Jesus, his Master, he touched people at their point of deepest need. I expect that most of us here have been recipients, beneficiaries, of that gift of kindness at some point of our lives. We have experienced his generous, patient, compassionate friendship. Nowhere was that ministry of compassion exercised more intently than during his time as chaplain at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast during the 1980s. Out of that ministry Damian wrote a short book, ‘Windows into Caring’, a collection of stories of encounter which, as a handbook of pastoral care, can hardly be bettered. I’m not going to read from that here, but I do want to share a letter sent by someone whose life was touched by Damian and who is unable to be present at his funeral. She asked me to read this: ‘During the last 30 years the companionship of Brother Damian on my faith journey has been what I can only describe as a priceless and very precious gift. During one dark and difficult time he wrote the words, “This comes with a longing to share God’s love with you and to assure you of our union with Him through the tough times and the joys, sometimes so incredibly intertwined”. I have called these words to mind at various times since.’
There was nothing shallow or fleeting in such companionship for it was always sustained and followed through with great faithfulness. One person, in prison on a life sentence, Damian visited once or twice a year for 39 years, zig- zagging across the country in his car to whichever category A prison the man had been transferred. He was hugely loyal, not just to individuals but also to institutions, to SSF and to the Church in particular. Nor was there any false condescension in him for he had a humble courtesy towards all people. Did you ever notice how he followed what these days might be considered the rather quaint custom of addressing men older than himself as ‘sir’?
In all this there went a joyful simplicity, a delight in God’s providence, and a sense of fun. His car, when he was Novice Guardian had the number plate NRO, which he said stood for ‘Not Really Ours’. As Provincial Bursar he was never tight with the community’s funds, he just didn’t believe in us spending much money on ourselves. He preferred to give it away to someone else. The readings for this service, from the prophet Micah about doing justice, loving kindness and walking humbly with God, and from Luke’s gospel about putting aside anxiety, considering the lilies, and seeking the Kingdom, are those set for the feast of St Francis, and a more truly Franciscan brother it would be hard to meet.

Having said all this, I’m aware that the half has not been told, and I’m sure that our sharing of memories and reflections will continue long after this service. But at the heart of it all, at the heart of this deeply Franciscan life, was Damian’s relationship with his Lord. He came from a Scottish Presbyterian background and an evangelical understanding and commitment stayed with him throughout his days. Every time he received the sacrament he would whisper, ‘Thank you Jesus’. This was no pious affectation for it arose out of a deep sense of gratitude to God in Jesus Christ which formed and shaped his life. He wanted, quite simply, to live the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ in and for the world – to lose his life with Jesus in order to find it in the heart of God.
‘Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies it bears much fruit’. That was what it was all about for Damian – practicing/rehearsing the ‘secret of fruit-bearing’ for fifty and more years – so much so that when the diagnosis of a brain tumour was given him at the beginning of last year he didn’t have very much more ‘practicing’ to do in order to hand his life calmly and gratefully back to God. Those who have cared for him over the past year, both at Alnmouth and at St Oswald’s Hospice in Newcastle, have remarked on the peace and joy of his last days. It’s appropriate that the 17th January, the day Damian died, was the anniversary of his profession in life vows forty three years before, the day when he gave away his life to God as a Franciscan brother. Now that ‘giving away’, that self-offering of his life, is complete.

Thank you Damian, dear brother, for showing us the way; and thank you, Jesus, that we now have another brother where it counts, close to the Father’s loving, compassionate and joyful heart.