Monday, February 15, 2016

Lent, Early Rising, and Footwashing

This past Wednesday was Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent for Latin Rite Catholics.  Lent is an observance of 40 days prior to the Easter Triduum beginning on Holy Thursday.  For most modern westerners, Lent does not seem so different from the rest of the year, although regular Mass attendees will notice liturgical changes such as violet vestments, an emphasis on mercy and penitence (“For Christ came not into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved.”), and the absence of the Gloria and Alleluia’s.   Even not-so-observant Catholics often choose to “give up something for Lent,” even if they do not choose to participate in the community activities of fasting on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday and abstinence from eating meat on Fridays.   This practice of giving up something, often something symbolic such as chocolate or desserts, invites us to practice a mild asceticism as we recall the significant asceticism of Jesus (“foxes have dens and birds have nests but the Son of Man has nowhere to lie his head”), and prepare to remember his death for our salvation followed by his triumphant resurrection.


This year, I decided that one of my Lenten observances would be to participate with the community in Morning Prayer, from the Divine Office, each day.  This begins around 5:15 AM.  On Thursday, after congratulating myself for this effort, I was awakened by the church bell ringing at the parish, which normally rings at 5:30 AM.  Startled to alertness, thinking I had overslept, I checked the time and it was 4:22 AM.  It seems that during Lent here, the parishioners pray the Stations of the Cross before 6:30 Mass.


On Holy Thursday, all Masses while recalling the Jewish Passover feast, include a ceremony of Washing of Feet.  This recalls the events related in the 13th chapter of the Gospel of John.  Prior to seating for the meal,

3 Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; 4 so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. 5 After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.

The significance of this is not at all obvious in our American culture.  For meals, we sit in chairs, at tables with our feet, usually in shoes, underneath the table and far from the food and from our neighbors.  It is unusual for our feet to be so dirty that they would require washing before entering the dining area.  For the ceremony of footwashing at Mass, there are usually representatives, rinsing of one foot only, and certainly most people make certain that their feet are clean and healthy before they are approached by Father!  Even so, many people find participating in this to be difficult.  We are not used to anyone bathing us, even our feet.

In the culture of Jesus, people sat on cushions near the floor to eat, and their feet were much closer to the food and to each other.  People wore sandals as they walked the dusty roads.  Prior to living in Cameroon, I had no idea what this really meant.  Here, most of the roads are unpaved and during the dry season there are several centimeters of dust on the road.  Given that there are goats and chickens roaming freely, I do not need to describe what might be in this dust.  Returning from any kind of walk wearing anything but heavy boots (too hot) means that one’s feet are caked in reddish brown dirt.  Even after careful cleansing with a brush it is not uncommon for us to find that we have missed streaks or a whole area, much less the difficulty of cleaning toes and toenails.  It is easy to imagine that wealthy people in Jesus’ culture might have had a servant to clean the feet of the owner and his guests.  Remember that water must be brought to the site of use – no shower or running water, warmed if desired (requires carrying firewood), and then poured manually if rinsing is desired.  The scripture does not describe the degree to which Jesus cleaned the feet of his guests.  We do not know if each person had fresh water or if there was soap.  We do not know how Jesus cleaned himself after this task.  It is now clear to me, however, just from trying to keep my own feet suitable for being in my quarters, that cleaning the feet of 12 grown men who have been out in the dust in sandals, would have been a real task.  We are taught this humility by Jesus.

6   He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”

7   Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”

8   “No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.”
Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”

9  “Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!”

10   Jesus answered, “Those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.”

11 For he knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said not every one was clean.

12  When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them.

13  “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am.

14  Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet.

15  I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.

16  Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him.

17  Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Welcome to 2016

Since I have recently learned that some people actually read my blog, I thought I should finally write something again.

I arrived here again a little over a week ago.  We were able to complete two open heart surgeries last week, one for rheumatic valvular disease and the other for a woman who had likely had endocarditis in the fall.  Both women are doing well and have been transferred out of the ICU and to the recovery ward.  Dr. Cabral also was able to place a pacemaker/defibrillator.  We continue to have delays related to availability of rare blood types.  The blood bank works hard to maintain a list of donors for patients with these blood types, but of course donors also need their own blood!  We continue to work toward improving this system, and we are grateful to our generous regular blood donors.

For those new readers, I invite you to review the archived blog posts.  These posts review many of the things that we do here in Shisong and introduce some of our many projects and collaborators.  I particularly invite you to visit my initial post here:

As I read it, only a couple of things have changed.  As you can see, after my initial 6 month stay, my subsequent visits have been shorter but more frequent. 

Prayer requests:  for those readers who pray, please consider praying for our current patients, particularly those awaiting funding from our current fundraiser (see December 2015 post), and for the Horne and BurketThoene families who are ending their service here in Cameroon this year and discerning their plans for returning to the US.

From today’s liturgy:
          Jesus proclaimed the Good News of the kingdom
          and cured all kinds of sickness among the people.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Merry Christmas

I returned from Shisong on December 4 and will return there early in 2016.  We were able to complete 12 open heart surgeries in addition to those congenital operations performed by the San Donato Mission in November.  Our patient population remains extremely dependent on external sponsorship to make surgery available for poor patients.  I am particularly grateful to Fr. Herald Brock of Franciscan Mission Outreach and the team from Mi-Do for their commitment to fundraising to sponsor patients who need non-congenital heart surgery.  Please see below for our current group of patients awaiting funding and if you are among my readers who pray, pray for us and these patients.

Franciscan Mission Outreach December 2015 Activity Report
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HONDURAS: Aug 4 - Sep 5 and Nov 3 - Dec 3, 2015
There’s always a lot going on in Honduras when Fr. Herald is there: Masses, Confessions, Annointings, First Communions, retreats and talks to different groups (Christian Family Movement, married couples, children and youth, lay missionaries, Catholic University students and personnel), mission visits to outlying communities… All with the goal of building up the Body of Christ in this mission setting.

  • 5-9 Dec 2015: Parish Mission, Corpus Christi, South River, NJ 
  • 2-9 Jan 2016: Friar Suppliers Haiti Mission Trip
  • 20 Jan-11 Feb 2016: Honduras
  • 13-17 Feb 2016: Parish Mission, St. Faustina, Clermont, FL
  • 20-24 Feb 2016: Parish Mission, St. Louis, Alexandria, VA
  • 27 Feb - 2 Mar 2016: Parish Mission, St. Anthony, S. Pines, NC
  • 20-24 Mar 2016: Jesús en la Playa, Honduras

Our missionary efforts depend on your spiritual and financial support. Please pray for us! Tax-deductible donations to support the life, ministries and missionary outreach of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal can be made online by clicking on the link below:

Donations can also be made by check to the order of : “Franciscan Mission Outreach” and sent to :
Franciscan Mission Outreach 
PO Box 1086 
Secaucus, NJ 07096-1086 

*Please indicate if your donation is intended for Cameroon.

Tel:  718-618-4511
Fax: 201-667-2801 

Thank you! You are in our prayers!

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Monday, November 2, 2015

Africa is Not a Country, continued and 100 cases

The Cardiac Centre is hoping to complete 100 cardiac operations this year.  Approximately half of these will have been completed by the teams from Europe and Mozambique that provide congenital cardiac surgery, with a large proportion of funding from Cuore Fratello and other groups.  The remainder are “adult cases”, meaning not congenital although many of the patients are young people, with rheumatic disease, performed by the local team and visiting anesthesiologists.  This year Dr. Maurizio Meme was here for 6 months and together with Dr. Charles Mvondo and the local team completed approximately 36 cases.  I was here in February and will be here until December.  Dr. Italo Milocco was here in January and September, working with the Mozambique team while Dr. Mvondo sought additional education and training in Leuven, Belgium.  We have completed 5 cases and the first patient was discharged on Friday on post-op day 10. (See photo below with the patient next to Dr. Charles in the center).  The Italian mission team from San Donato will arrive next week and we expect them to complete 13-15 cases.  We have patients in the ward awaiting treatment of conditions not related to their cardiac conditions before proceeding with their cardiac operations.  Unlike in the US, it is difficult to fully evaluate patients before they arrive for their operations.  They often come from long distances and are unable to incur the expense of pre-operative evaluation until the procedure is actually scheduled.  This means that unexpected findings lead to delays in proceeding with surgery.  “Unexpected findings” can include something as simple as a rare blood type, meaning that we are unlikely to have the patient’s blood type readily available and need to seek it locally or import it from the cities.

Working with Dr. Charles for the 6 month period beginning in October is Dr. Marta Pugliese, a cardiothoracic surgery resident from Rome.  Below you see Dr. Mvondo discussing a complex aortic case with the team and Dr. Pugliese displaying her notes resulting from that discussion.

I came across this reflection from a Ugandan journalist titled “Why I Cannot Tell the African Story.”  She describes the many situations of Africa and how they cannot be distilled into a brief summary.  Even within the US we have various cultures, economic scenarios, and even languages.  How much more so in Africa!

Sunday November 1 was All Saints Day.  The Gospel reading included what we call the Beatitudes:

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the land.
Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the clean of heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you [falsely] because of me.  Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven.  Thus they persecuted the prophets who were before you.


Next time I would like to share some updates on the Lifebox program (

Friday, October 23, 2015

Home Sweet Home

Greetings from Shisong and my apologies for being so delinquent about posting to this blog!

I arrived in Shisong on October 8 after leaving Rochester on the 5th.   There have been some delays in performing surgery, so I have been catching up on other work and projects.  Sr. Jethro was in the US over the summer making connections with Cameroonians here and with Americans interested in the work of the Cardiac Centre.  We were talking by phone and she laughed when she accidentally referred to me coming “home” to Shisong.  In many ways, though, it is another home for me.

I arrived near the end of the rainy season.  It is lovely to see everything so green.  There are some students from the north of Italy and I went with them to the waterfall which I show below with much water!  In the picture are Gonas Mayr and Alicia Adajar-Duante.  Alicia is a Lay Mission Helper; she is a critical care nurse from California who will be here at the Cardiac Centre for three years.  Her blog is here:


While I was preparing to return to Cameroon, I was working on preparing several responsibilities that I have in Rochester for me to be able to manage long-distance or for others to be able to manage.  In the midst of this, I came across this story describing a tremendous act of generosity.  So many of the stories about troubled areas describe acts of unspeakable cruelty or at best stories of indifference to suffering.  Yet among the poor and struggling, generous acts like this occur daily.  It is good for us to be inspired (and humbled) by stories like this.  (  This man encountered a dying woman and her newborn son.  He only owed them medical care, and for that they were rapidly transferred elsewhere, yet responded by offering the baby a family.  Nurses who are employed in Sierra Leone might be financially better off than some others, but they are hardly wealthy.  Anyone in a community such as his that has any money is instantly tapped to support many others.  It is acts such as this that remind me that I have much more to give.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

February 2015

I arrived here in Shisong on February 1, and had a couple of days to relax and see people since the surgeon, Dr. Charles Mvondo, had to be at an appointment in Italy.  We began operations on Wednesday, February 4 and the work has been steady.  In the past, some people have suggested that I say more about the patients that we care for.  I have been reluctant to say much about my patients due to their right to confidentiality and privacy.  Some of the patients have agreed to have their pictures posted on the Cardiac Centre website and I have referred people there for more specifics.  However, as readers of this blog have seen, this year there was a very successful fundraiser for sponsorship of several patients.  Mi-Do (, run by the amazing team of Dr. Claudia von Lutterotti and Andrea Maria Zeller, has been incredibly successful at raising sponsorship funds since their inception a little over a year ago.  Fr. Herald Joseph Brock, CFR, with Franciscan Mission Outreach (, joined forces with them prior to Christmas to advance fundraising in the US for this very special project.

Donations to this project can still be made at either of the above sites or here:

These are the patients that were listed for the FMO/Mi-Do fundraiser.
I met all of these patients here during this trip, and we were able to operate on several of them, and the others will be cared for by the congenital team next week.  I am frequently inspired by my patients, particularly here in Shisong.  These patients are very happy to be having their operations.  One patient the other day was escorted to the OR by two previous patients who were recovering on the ward!  I also witnessed one patient who was in the hospital awaiting the results of her testing prior to surgery sitting with the family of a patient who had died.

Thank you from the bottom of my heart and on behalf of our patients for all of the support and financial gifts.

These post-op patients and guardians (theirs and others) were sitting outside yesterday:


Saturday was the 2nd Annual Congress of the Cameroon Northwest Anaesthetist Association.  It was well-attended by over 90 anesthetists, theater staff, and nursing students of the hospitals and health centers of the Northwest Region as well as the Western Region.  There was a Lifebox distribution and training program, as well as instruction and training on the WHO Surgery Safety Checklist.  There were also specialty lectures and discussions.  Overall I think this is a successful organization that represents the commitment to excellence and ongoing improvement of Cameroonian nurse anaesthetists.

Globalization of Indifference

Sunday was the First Sunday of Lent and the letter from Pope Francis for Lent, 2015 (“Make your hearts firm,“ Jas 5:8) was presented.  Pope Francis is concerned about what he is calling the “Globalization of Indifference.”  His idea is that when we are healthy and comfortable, we fail to think about those who are suffering.  In America, with the 24/7 News Cycle, we can sometimes feel overwhelmed by the problems of the world and within our nation, and it is easy to try to push this away and exist in our healthy and comfortable environment.  One way to overcome this sense of feeling overwhelmed is to focus on one or 2 things.  This is not to be indifferent to the rest of the suffering, but to realize that most of us are not in a position to correct all of the world’s injustices – but not to unduly contribute to them either!  Let’s not let the sense that we cannot fix everything lead us to indifference and selfishness so that we do not try to be part of the solution of anything.

The letter can be found here:

Happy Lent!

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Much Progress with Sponsoring Patients! Please Consider Helping.

Merry Christmas!  I love this season and this year once again am so grateful for many things.  I wanted to show the great work that Fr. Herald and MiDo have done in getting patients their much needed heart surgery in Cameroon.  Below is Fr. Herald's Christmas Newsletter with a link to a donation website.  I will be headed back there in a few weeks and we hope to operate on these patients.

Peace and Happy New Year!

Franciscan Mission Outreach December 2014 Activity Report


From October 15 to 24 Fr. Herald accompanied US cardiac anesthesiologist Dr. Ellen Dailor (top right) to the Cardiac Centre at St. Elizabeth Hospital, Shisong Cameroon, run by Franciscan Sisters. Dr. Dailor has served several times at this state-of-the-art medical facility - the only one of its kind in Central Africa - and shared her experiences with Fr. Herald. He went to see how Franciscan Mission Outreach might help provide life-saving heart surgery to Cameroonians in need. By God’s providence, Dr. Claudia von Lutterotti and Andrea Maria Zeller (below left, with Fr. Herald) of the European nonprofit Mido - which raises funds for the same purpose - were also visiting at the same time.

Cameroon is a developing country of 22 million, a vast number of whom live in rural areas, survive on what they grow and lack adequate medical care. The average yearly income is under $2000 and life expectancy reaches only into the mid-50s. Cameroon has an extremely high incidence of rheumatic heart disease: 100-200 times higher than in wealthier countries. Rheumatic heart disease (caused by the strep virus) damages heart valves, affects mostly children and young adults and is the most common cause of cardiovascular death in the region. It’s estimated that 40,000 people in Cameroon suffer from this disease.

The Cardiac Centre at St. Elizabeth Hospital has the  advanced capacity to do open-heart valve replacement surgery to treat this disease and save lives. The Centre has a full time, European trained Cameroonian cardiac surgeon, Dr. Charles Mve Mvondo (right), and the staff and technology to provide intensive pre- and post-operative care. When Dr. Dailor is there the surgical team is complete. Though the cost of this surgery in Cameroon ($7000) is only a small fraction of that in the US, it far exceeds the means of almost everyone there who needs it. Nearly 100 patients unable to pay are on a waiting list for surgery.

That’s where Franciscan Mission Outreach comes in. We are working with the Live Greater Foundation to match donations from Mido and cosponsor patients for heart surgery at which Dr. Dailor will attend as anesthesiologist. We are endeavoring to make sure this amazing Cardiac Centre functions at full capacity for the benefit of the poor. Our goal is to raise $25,000 to give seven Cameroonians in need the Christmas gift of free heart surgery.

Please help us in this effort to save a life!