Treasure Offerings

6 December 09 | Posted in Events, Spirituality

A mystery is gripping Britain’s religious community: Just how did a treasure-trove of rare medallions and coins collected by a former archbishop of Canterbury end up at the bottom of the River Wear?

Many of the artifacts are linked to the late Michael Ramsey, a former archbishop of Canterbury with long-time ties to Durham, where he served as bishop and spent some of his retirement years before his death in 1988. Archbishop_Michael_Ramsey

The coins, medals, goblets and other religious items, some solid gold, have been discovered by amateur divers Trevor Bankhead, 40, and his brother, Gary, 44, a fire service watch officer, over the past two and a half years in the frigid, murky waters that loop Durham Cathedral. The brothers have retrieved over 30 items linked to Ramsey, along with hundreds of medieval and ancient Saxon artifacts.

Among them are gold, silver and bronze medals struck to commemorate the second Vatican council, which must have been presented to Ramsey, who was the most senior cleric in the Church of England from 1961 to 1974, when he met Pope Paul VI at the Vatican in 1966.

Trevor Bankhead, a former soldier, said: “We believe the Archbishop threw them into the river in 1983 or 1984, by which time he would have had limited mobility. So we chose places which were easily accessible by the water’s edge and threw silver washers in the river to try and trace the trajectory the objects could have taken.”

“It’s my belief that he did this as a votive offering to the river and to the people of Durham, who he loved,” said Bankhead. “They weren’t just chucked by a burglar–they had clearly gone into the water at different times and different places.”

Archbishop Ramsey’s old friend, the Very Rev Victor Stock, dean of Guildford, commented on Bankhead’s assertion: “He used to go for a walk by the river every day, whatever the weather. I think it’s entirely plausible to imagine him making up a little packet, and quietly dropping it into the water.”

The archbishop’s offerings are keeping up a tradition that is at least 3,000 years old and possibly much older.

In 1998 an archaelogical survey of the Thames found the remains of a huge bridge built 3500 years ago not far from the present Vauxhall Bridge. The confluence of the three rivers, where the Tyburn enters the Thames from the north and the Effra from the south, would have made this a sacred site for Bronze Age tribes.

Around the bridge were votive offerings of valuable goods to appease the spirits of the river. The Celts regarded rivers as bestowers of life, health, and plenty, and offered them rich gifts and sacrifices often at the same spots used by pre-Celtic British tribes.

At one time rivers were thought of as deities with powers to cure all kinds of ailments. Ways of appeasing water courses were devised in an attempt to stop them from claiming lives.

In May 1825 the Duke of Sussex led an elaborate ceremony to mark the start of work on Hammersmith Bridge. In front of a large crowd he performed a ritual that involved the fixing of a brass plate (praising the builders and designer) over one of the coffer dams into which had been placed gold coins and a silver trowel. As this was put in place the Duke poured corn over it saying: “I have poured the corn, the oil and the wine, emblems of wealth, plenty and comfort, so may the bridge tend to communicate prosperity and wealth.”

Aventine, The Hermit Saint

24 June 09 | Posted in Animals, Saints

Saint Aventine of Troyes, France (c. 538)

Aventine, of Bourges, France, was schooled in the spiritual life by the bishop of Troyes, Saint Loup. Loup’s episcopoal suceessor, Saint Camelianus, selected Aventine to be Troyes’ steward and almoner, in charge of the cathedral’s possessions and the distribution of alms.

Having served the Church thus with humility, purity and charity, Aventine thereafter obtained permission to withdraw into the woods to live as a hermit. He had a particular fondness for animals, never wanting to kill any of the forest creatures except when necessary.

Whenever he found any tiny fish in a pitcher of water drawn from a nearby brook by a monk who assisted him, he made a point of placing the fish unharmed back into the stream.

When on one occasion a deer pursued by hunters rushed into the cave that served as Aventine’s hermitage, Aventine protected the frightened animal by closing the door in order to hide it from the hunters until they had passed.

He habitually feed the small birds of the forest that flocked onto his fingers as he offered them a handful of crumbs. handtamingwildbirds

Water Buffalo Theology

26 April 09 | Posted in Animals, Arts and Letters, Friends, Spirituality

The Rev. Dr. Kosuke Koyama, a Japanese Christian theologian who was a proponent of contextual theologies rooted in the experiences of everyday people, died March 25, 2009 in Springfield, Mass. Koyama, 79, taught at the Union Theological Seminary in New York.

His 1974 book, Water Buffalo Theology, was “one of the first books truly to do theology out of the setting of Asian villages,” said Donald Shriver, president emeritus. kosuke-koyama-2

As a missionary in northern Thailand, Koyama said he was inspired to write the book as he listened to the “fugue of the bullfrogs” while watching farmers working with water buffaloes in the rice fields.

“The water buffaloes tell me that I must preach to these farmers in the simplest sentence structure,” he wrote. “They remind me to discard all the abstract ideas and to use exclusively objects that are immediately tangible. ‘Sticky rice,’ ‘banana,’ ‘pepper,’ ‘dog,’ ‘cat,’ ‘bicycle,”rainy season,”leaking house,’ ‘fishing,’ ‘cockfighting,’ ‘lottery,’ ‘stomachache’–these are meaningful words for them.”  water-buff-3

Directed at the concerns of peasants, the book points out that Christianity and Buddhism do not communicate; rather Christians and Buddhists do. Rev. Dr. Koyama advocated seeing God “in the faces of people” to achieve good neighborliness among religions.  He spoke of trying to “season” the Aristotelian roots of Western theology with Buddhist “salt.”

Besides Water Buffalo Theology, Dr. Koyama wrote 12 other books including Three Mile an Hour God (1980) which reflects his thought that God moves at walking speed through the countryside.

Kosuke Koyama was born on December 10, 1929 in Tokyo.  In 1945, as American bombs rained down on Tokyo, he was baptised as a Christian. He was struck by the courageous words of the presiding pastor, who told him that God called on him to love everybody, “even the Americans.”

Once, in discussing death, Rev. Dr. Koyama recalled the story of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples. He said Jesus would be with others the same way: “Looking into our eyes and heart, Jesus would say: ‘You’ve had a difficult journey. You must be tired, and dirty.  Let me wash your feet. The banquet’s ready.'”

Bishops Facing Death Threats

18 March 09 | Posted in Global Catholic, Social Justice

They avoid taking buses, make sure friends know their schedules, and rarely go out when it’s dark. For the three foreign-born Roman Catholic bishops under death threat in Brazil’s northeastern state of Para, speaking out against social ills that plague this often-lawless area at the Amazon River’s mouth has come at a price.

Yet they still noisily involve themselves in rights issues here, part of a tradition of Catholic priests who came to Latin America with their views formed by 1970s Liberation Theology that emphasizes justice for the poor and oppressed.

One of the bishops under threat in Para is 69-year-old Austrian-born, Bishop Erwin Krautler. Bishop Krautler has had armed bodyguards around the clock for the past two years in his diocese of Altamira, from where he has denounced illegal logging and other illicit businesses as well as the handling of the Sister Dorothy Strang murder case.

Bishop Krautler remembers the first time he received a death threat. “It was the exact day I completed 25 years as a bishop,” he recalled.  Later that year, a local paper announced the day his assassination would be expected.

Bishop Krautler says there are several groups unhappy with him and with his colleagues, who are fighting to save the Amazon region from environmental destruction. The bishop has recently spoken out against the construction of  a hydroelectric plant along the Xingu River. He has also strongly opposed land-clearing by farmers and loggers in the Amazon forest and is one of the main figures in trying to bring to justice those who killed Dorothy Strang, of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur in 2005. bishop-erwin.jpg

“These people have formed a consortium to murder those who speak out against what they are doing,” Bishop Krautler told Catholic News Service. “I believe it was a consortium of landowners who got together to hire someone to murder Sister Dorothy. Sister Dorothy Strang, a native of Ohio and a naturalized Brazilian, was 73 when she was murdered near the town of Anapu. She was known as a fierce defender of the Amazon forest.

The government was surprised by the international repercussions of Sister Dorothy’s assassination. Not wanting to worsen its image abroad, the authorities now provide limited police protection for Bishop Krautler and others.

Bishop Bastes vs. the Mining Industry

12 March 09 | Posted in Global Catholic, Stewardship

Filippino Bishop Arturo Bastes is leading a campaign by Catholic clergy to shut down a gold and copper mine on Rapu-Rapu Island in the central Philippines. Bishop Bastes hounded the mine’s Australian developers after a chemical spill at the site, and is now working on shutting down the new owners–a consortium headed by South Korean industrial giant LG International Corp. bishop-bastes.jpg

In the process, Bishop Bastes–with the support of the Catholic hierarchy in the Philippines–risks thwarting a plan by President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, herself a Catholic, to tap the Philippines’ mineral wealth to help lift the country out of poverty.

Bishop Bastes is following a global trend of Catholic clergy taking on mining, especially in Central America.  Priests in the Honduras are protesting open-pit mining techniques and mining-rights laws which they say grant too many benefits to foreign mining companies.

When the church began campaigning against mining in the 1980s, more than 50 mines operated in the Philippines, contributing a fifth of the country’s exports. The number of mines decreased to 12 in 2003 as opposition intensified.

“It’s written in the Bible,” Bishop Bastes says, quoting the book of Numbers, chapter 35, verse 34: “Do not defile the land where you live and dwell.”

Environmentalists and activists such as Jaybee Garganera, of the Philippines’ Anti-Mining Alliance, credit Bishop Bastes and other church leaders for turning mining into a mainstream issue. “It’s debatable whether we would have gained the same traction without the Church,” Ms. Garganera says.

The Rapu-Rapu mine was supposed to illustrate the Philippines’ new pro-mining policy. But the Australian founder of the project, Lafayette Mining, Ltd., felt the brunt of Bishop Bastes’ force when it began operations in 2005.

“Our project became politicized very quickly,” said David Baker, who took over the management at Lafayette in 2006 after a chemical spill at the site killed thousands of fish. That incident enabled Bishop Bastes and others to successfully petition the Philippine government to order the mine closed. Lafayette eventually sold the mine in 2008 to a South Korean and Malaysian consortium headed by LG International, headquartered in Seoul.

Bishop Bastes and his allies have marched on the South Korean embassy in Manilla to protest the resumption of mining and are tapping environmental experts to expose the dangers of chemical leaching from the project. “Mining is the cause of all the trouble,” Bishop Bastes said. “God created the world for people to enjoy, not for miners to destroy.”