Hello from Nice in south eastern France! I was in Italy yesterday, Monaco this afternoon & France this evening. That's a lot of prayer territory! And a lot of walking. I was joined from Genova to Nice by Irish Ann, a mother of two working boys & a lover of pilgrimages (walking + prayer). We were an odd couple treking around the Genova Gulf coastline together. Ann is half my height & I'm half her age but neither of us shied away from telling a few stories early on. Once the first day was out of the way though her Irish story telling skills kicked into gear & I was but a listener! The distances scheduled for this week were at times a lot more than Ann was prepared for & with some foot problems she was forced to only walk half days here & there but we always managed to find each other at the other end & progress further on along the coastline. I had a very blessed & uplifting week meeting priest after priest who opened the door with a smile & accepted me & the mission with open arms. After a difficult week last week it was the perfect remedy to have a series of priests ask me if they could pray with me before I continued on. One priest even handed me a tiny brick, which he signed the back of & dated. As he handed it to me he simply gestured that we each had to play our part in building the house of God; to build unity. A few towns further on I met a young priest who straight away jumped on the internet site to check out what's been happening & he immediately started laughing - Fr Stefano, pictured in last weeks entries, is one of his close friends. It was a great conversation starter. However, the highlight was, time after time, having priests ask me if they could pray for me before I continued. A young Carmalite priest shared with me that this part of the world is a real mission field with a low level of faith, "98% of the population say they are Catholic, the problem is that no one is christian." In all honesty though, I was left with a sense of hope from the prayerfullness of the chritians I did meet. As the week drew towards a close I was lamanting on having only found Catholic Churches for the entire week & wondering if I'd missed people along the way. That was on the road into San Remo, late at night, as Ann & I were still looking for somewhere to stay. It was then that we passed a Lutheran Church on the way in & then first thing the next day found 6 evangelicals meeting in an old church followed by a Russian Orthodox Church with 3 parishoners standing at the front door. One of the men only spoke Russian so I asked him in Russian, "Can I have fish please. Thankyou." That was all I remembered from Russia but it once again broke the ice & we had a fun time trying to communicate. His friend spoke fluent english though so he stepped in when we'd talked ourselves into a brick wall. The call to pray for complete unity was well recieved. It has been a culturally bizzare week for me. I say this with half a smile; I really didn't get into the Genova Coast lifestyle. I just didn't get it. I grew up on an island (Flinders Island) & so the environment was very familiar & welcoming. It was just that the hundreds of lifeless bronzed bodies beached along the shoreline was not what I'm used to seeing. When we went to the beach we'd swim, but no one here was swimming! They were ALL tanning. I said to Ann that I didn't understand why no one was swimming, after all it was nearly 30degC. Ann proposed that it may be polluted. Not too much further down the road we passed a fellow who was standing at the water's edge urinating into the sea. Yep, it's polluted :-) I tried to buy a sunscreen at a shop but for the shelves of sun products all I could find was tanning lotions. In the end I had to ask for help & after a few minutes of searching I was on my way with my 'SPF50 Babies Milk Lotion'. No pride lost there. I like it. It's not greasy. The beaches were a mass of bronzed bodies (clothing was very optional) & the car parks were filled with expensive automobiles reflecting the million dollar yachts anchored beyond the section of water reserved for swimming. Or urinating. I just didn't get it. I have no idea why, but as I walked along 'opulence coast' the strangest thought poped into my head. I once shot my sister, Rachael, between the eyes with a suction dart gun (still sorry about that Rach) & as I walked I thought, "I bet these guys wouldn't have done that". Basic point being, I felt out of place (no idea why that memory of all the possible memories was the one to come to mind). I'd like to go for a swim some time before leaving the coastline however my very well tanned hands & face coupled with my Omo-white chest could cause people to think that a Panda has escaped from the local zoo. I'd better not cause a scene. Last night I decided to operate on my left big toe before it succumb to the same fate as it did in Panama & the USA. The now re-grown toenail had begun to bury deep again & was within a whisker of splitting to toe open & another bundle of painful walking. With a set of small scissors, some tweezers & a nail file I was able to cut away the ingrown nail & clean up a nasty looking wound over the course of an hour. It wasn't quiet as painful as I thought it would be but that was the point in taking an hour to do what a doctor would do in 5mins with anesthetic. It wept a little over the course of todays walk but not too seriously & I think it was made to look worse by the antibitoic gel I put on it. Not sure. I'll be keeping a close eye on it though. Ann & I walked along the grand prix track in Monaco today on our way to Nice. Monaco was over flowing with mansions, unbelievable sports cars & the biggest luxury water craft I have ever seen in my life. And at one point I counted 4 helicopters in the sky at one time. The whole day left me with an overwhelming sense of sadness. I was praying as I walked along a high, winding cliff road past a mansion clad nudest beach & I kept thinking, "Why? How can so many live like this when so many fight to stay alive?" Some of you may remember Adolfo from Panama who shared his tin shed with me & a bread role when I had nowhere to stay & nothing to eat. He was leaving his wife & little girl the next day for a few months to try & find work before returning with whatever money he could muster up. I kept thinking of him as I walked & prayed today & now I'm getting up to date with the tragedy in Myanmar this past week so it's all hitting home pretty hard. Unity is choice & to not choose it in it's fullness is to not choose love in all its fullness. God is love. I'm looking forward to making it back home but I'm even more eager to hit the missionfileds again. Actually, I booked my flights home today. I'll catch a train from Spain to Paris & fly out on Friday the 11th July & arrive back on home soil in Sydney at 8:15am, Sunday the 13th. It's near & yet with a my left toe, right foot & right shoulder all in some sort of trouble the last few thousand kilometres looks very real indeed. I'd better get bqck to it then. God bless & please pray on!! Sam.
"We continually remember before our God & Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, & your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ." 1 Thesolonians 1:3