no. 1 january - march 2007
Although he is named after the great missionary Francis Xavier, his life is a little closer to the great animal lover, Francis of Assisi. Francis Xavier Nguyen Xuan Chinh, one of the Vietnamese Carmelites, loves music (he was the choir director in his parish) and can play the guitar, the drums, and the harmonica ("not well but for enjoyment") and enjoys sports. He also loves animals—all kinds of animals.
"When I was in Saint Therese House, the Carmelite pre-novitiate house, I took care of birds. I had fifteen different kinds of birds. I loved their singing every morning and afternoon. Particularly, every time I came back from school, work or tutoring, I felt tired and bored, but when I looked at the birds, and listened to their singing and flight, suddenly I felt better and enjoyed them."
"At that time, I had not studied Carmelite Spirituality so I did not connect my hobby to that. But observing the animals reminded me of the Canticle of Daniel. ‘All you birds of the air, bless the Lord. Praise and exalt him above all forever!’ They reminded me of how I should live."
"When I lived in the Saint Eliseus Community, in the USA, as a pre-novice, I went fishing with the brothers. When I caught one tiny fish, I put it in a big aquarium and took care of him for a year. Gradually I came to recognize that I live in this world so I have to live with, live for, and live in the midst of nature. I understood that it is in the skies, the ground, the mountains, the rivers, and through all kinds of animals as well as neighbors and friends that I shall meet God."
"In the novitiate in Middletown, I had turtles. When we cleaned the garden after the long cold winter, we found a nest of eight turtle eggs. So I made them a new house, planted grass, and made a rock garden. It looked like a small Middletown Lake. I let them stay until they hatched. They were all so cute! They ate a lot and so they grew very quickly. I was happy to have them in my own cell in the novitiate for the whole year."
"Now I am in the first year of theology and living in the Priory of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Ho Chi Minh City. I have two tanks full of fish. Happily, I just had two new families of baby fish born two weeks ago. There are hundreds of them. We call them ‘seven-color fish.’ Hopefully, they will grow well."
"Each time I feed the fish, it causes me to ponder on God’s grace and care for me so far. I should give praise and thanks to God for my Carmelite journey, life and vocation. Like the birds, the fish and all creatures on the earth and in the sky, we gather together to ‘bless the Lord, our God, for his love endures forever.’"
Francis Xavier Nguyen Xuan Chinh, O. Carm., stands next to his tank of fish.
A man of many talents—photographer, painter, author, and preacher—Carmelite Tom Butler from the PCM Province found himself involved in founding St. Bernadette’s parish in Houston, Texas. He would live there from 1977 until 1996, as pastor for the last 12 years.
"An awful lot of the parishioners worked for NASA," he says. NASA is the United States Space Program. "They are a pretty brainy group of people." Those parishioners who did not work for NASA often were employed in companies related to the space industry.
So it seemed natural that a creative priest like Butler would get involved in NASA and "going into space" without ever leaving Mother Earth. Sometimes it was pastoral involvement. Sometimes it was more of a hobby.
In 1986 when the space shuttle Challenger blew up shortly after takeoff and all aboard were killed, the Carmelite parish responded. "We had to do some something because our whole town is involved in the space program. I called all the ministers in town and invited them to have a joint service. The radio station spread the word and we had a packed to overflowing church. Twelve television stations showed up. Several astronauts and their families came."
But most of Fr. Tom’s association with the space program has been far more leisure oriented and has resulted in some res carmelitana going into space. Much of it now lines the walls of Tom’s well organized, spotless room in the Carmelite monastery in Tucson, Arizona.
Appropriately a brown scapular was the first Carmelite object to go into space. Mission Specialist G. David Low carried it aboard STS 32, the Columbia, in January 1990. That scapular made 172 orbits of the earth, traveling a distance of 4,509,972 miles.
Astronaut Bob Cabana, a parishioner at St. Bernadette’s, was made a Eucharistic minister before his flight. "He thought that was great and so every time after that, if a parishioner was going up, I would make them a Eucharistic minister," Butler said. If you ask, he will proudly show you the pyx and the black case adorned with a patch from one of the space missions that always went with the astronaut-Eucharistic ministers. "It is the pyx that I received on my ordination day."
Other items Butler has sent up into space are a small America flag, a medallion made especially for St. Bernadette’s parish, and the driver’s license of deceased Carmelite Marius Zadenski. A Carmelite driver’s license into space? "Oh, he was well loved in the parish, so after he died, the astronauts wanted to take something of his up with them."
Tom’s space hobby and enthusiastic support got him invited to the annual Space Agency dinner. One year he was invited to give the opening prayer. During the prayer he mentioned "the first man on the moon." After the dinner, a man approached the Carmelite to thank him for his prayer. "I am that first man on the moon," he said. Tom was shaking hands with Neil Armstrong.
It was reported that on Apollo 8 in 1968, the first craft to orbit moon, that astronaut Frank Borman carried a medallion with the image of Pope John XXIII and a piece of the pope’s cassock. If NASA ever returns to the moon, you can bet there will be something Carmelite with them if Tom Butler has anything to say about it.
1) The Carmelite Scapular that traveled into space aboard the United States Space Shuttle Columbia in January 1990 with the certification of authenticity.
2) Two hobbies in one! The trail from the Space Shuttle Discovery is clearly visible above one of Bonneau's lighthouses! That Space Shuttle mission (STS-95) had nothing Carmelite aboard but carried 77 year old Senator John Glenn. In 1962 Glenn became the first American to orbit the Earth in a flight that lasted less than five hours. Thirty-five years later, he became the oldest human to fly in space on a mission that lasted almost nine days.
Before he entered the Upper German Province, Bonifatius Dittrich worked for 5 years as a baker. After 10 years in the Order, when he visits his parents, he makes bread the traditional way, complete with a wood oven.
"In a short time, we have rediscovered all the ‘secrets’ and we make great bread!" he says.
His parents live some 380 km from the Carmelite monastery in Springiersbach, where Bonifatius lives and works as the provincial tailor, making Carmelite habits. The distance means the days of bread making are sometimes few and far between. "When one of the brothers is going to a meeting at the provincial house in Bamberg, I take advantage of the opportunity and sometimes go with them. While they are at their meetings, my parents and I make bread for the monastery."
Which is his favorite bread? "Really I do not have a favorite. For me, the important thing is that that it has no preservatives or other additives. It must be natural. I am talking about a bread made with natural yeasts with water, flour, and salt."
There is also a spiritual side to Bonifatius’s hobby. "To have and to make bread is something fundamental to human nature. I think of the Prophet Elijah under the tree. He discovers the bread next to him, baking on the burning ashes. The live coals, the fire, the heat and the bread are all signs of God, of love, and of life. They are essential needs of humanity."
"Martin Luther said ‘God is not a disquieting authority, but a blazing oven overflowing with love!’ I like this image of the fiery oven from which the flames of love pour out very much. If you have ever seen a working oven, you immediately understand the image. ‘By the sweat of your face, you will get bread to eat!’ (Gen 3:19). To make bread is a sweaty work (and not only because of the burning coals). But even with that, making bread is enjoyable."
Any future plans for this hobby? "I hope to construct an oven around the monastery but it is a question of cost. But the monastery has been invited to participate in a neighborhood market where we would offer our ‘products.’ Unfortunately we do not have products to sell other than books. Selling the bread could be a possible way of making the male branch of the Order better known. Too many people still only know the female Carmelites!"
Bonifatius Dittrich, O. Carm., of the Upper German Province finds a spiritual side to baking bread.
Since he was a student in Merkelbeek in the Netherlands, Fr. Piet Vollering has enjoyed playing chess. He still plays at 88 years of age. The Dutch Carmelites used to have chess championships. In the Minor seminary in Lawang, Indonesia, the Dutch Carmelites would play chess every night. The hobby became more and more attractive to him.
The attraction of chess for Fr. Vollering is that it takes up time and is a good way to exercise the brain. Now that he has retired, he plays chess every day from 10 until 11:30 with Br. John Sadiman.
At 72 years of age, John Sadiman, now retired, still enjoys making rosaries each morning in addition to playing chess. The rosary making is a skill he learned when he was in the novitiate at Batu, Malang, Indonesia. Making a rosary, according to Br. John develops one’s patience, perseverance, and silence. It is also an expression of his devotion to Mary, something very much in accord with the Carmelite vocation.
Brother Albert Priyahutama is 66 years old and raises chickens and birds. He started this hobby when he was the procurator of the Carmel Monastery in Batu. Of course, this hobby was closely related to his job. But he became more and more interested in breeding animals when he was in Flores, Indonesia from 1995-2004. There he had pigs, goats, and chickens. So many people came to buy the animals, the hobby turned into a business.
Br. Albert recognized that breeding the animals had a positive effect on him. He learned to be more diligent and patient toward himself and other people. He experienced a tranquility of heart and a bit of contemplation while taking care of the animals.
Unfortunately Br. Albert’s chickens had to be slaughtered because of the arrival of "bird flu," a very dangerous disease that can be transmitted to humans.
2) Fr. Piet Vollering, 88 years old, and Br. John, have become close friends. Each morning includes a walk and then a game of chess together although each man has his own hobby.