A Massive Buddhist Temple…in a Cornfield

Dear Readers,

[I apologize in advance for the lack of photos, but I need to catch a plane! Read on for more info!]

Just as an update on my status here in South Africa (just 4 more days to go!), I have continued to keep busy over the past two weeks. Last week, Monday thru Wednesday, I was occupied with Jesuit Refugee Services here in South Africa. They do very good work caring for refugees from other countries who come here to South Africa for reasons such as political persecution or even torture. The main body of refugees here in South Africa are Congolese, with very small contingents from other countries, such as Somalia. I sat in for consults with health-concerned clients on Monday; JRS provides doctors’ fees and the like for hospital visits. I also sat in on an AIDS support group for women.

Tuesday was visits to homes of those who were assisted by JRS in starting “income-generating activities,” or small businesses.

Wednesday was a crime roundtable, hosted by the SA bishops’ conference Justice and Peace office, where they invited a police commissioner (a “General”) and two criminologists to discuss with NGOs what they thought the Church could do to help reduce the (rampant) crime in South Africa.

Thursday found me back at JRS with the health desk again. I visited the homes of those who were too sick to leave. JRS’ staff visits and even provides some physical therapy to those who are incapacitated, to help rehabilitate them. For instance, I met a parapalegic who was paralyzed due to meningitis infection of the brain. Similarly, there was a family whose child had been ill with meningitis infection of brain tissue which had developed into hydrocephalus (this child had been ill since 6 months old, and he was now about 6 years old – suffice it to say that it was hard to watch).

The 15th – Friday – was a free day. Saturday was spent working with the Missionaries of Charity sisters in Johannesburg, at their Mother Theresa Home. I spent the morning assisting at a funeral for one of their residents (and burying him, literally – SAs have a custom of the family filling in the grave (shovels and all) after the undertakers put the coffin in the ground). Then, I spent the rest of my day talking with the residents and helping a paraplegic patient eat and shave. It was a wonderful experience all-around, but I ended up melting my polyester habit on a candle they put on the ground during the funeral (as a catafalque)!

FYI – Kids, catafalque catastrophes are also the most avoidable. Help prevent catafalque catastrophes today!

Saturday was a free day, which I spent cooking with one of the Dominican novices. I cooked a nice meal for the OPs here in South Africa, which went as follows:

Asian-Style Vinaigrette on a salad with pear, chick-peas, and Gorgonzola cheese.

“Hibernian” Chicken – carrots, mushrooms, and onions sauteed on top of braised chicken breasts, topped with a whiskey gravy, and served on a bed of rice and peas.

And, for dessert, Ouefs a la Niege – poached meringues floating on top of Creme Anglais. I put cardamom and nutmeg in the cream to give flavor. I also made a sherry syrup, with some pear juice in it, that was added to the finished dessert to give it a wonderful flavor.

For the vegans in our community, I made a special whiskey gravy with vegetables to put on the rice and peas, as well as caramel pudding with sherry-poached pears on top (also with the syrup to add to the mix).

Everybody ate it, if that’s any sign whether it went good or ill!

On Monday the 18th, I went back to Jesuit Refugee Services. It was Mandela Day, the birthday of Nelson Mandela and a day in South Africa to perform 67 minutes of public service (for each year of Mandela’s service in public office). The office went to a nearby creche (daycare center) which catered to refugees, most from JRS. It was run by the Scalabrinian Sisters, a relatively small congregation whose aim is to serve migrants, immigrants, and refugees. There I cleaned the playrooms of the children, waxed the floors, and cleaned all the toys and chairs.

Tuesday was a visit to the Apartheid Museum in Joburg.

Street view of the museum

There, I read and watched videos about the time of apartheid (apart-ness) in South Africa. A very sad and depressing visit, in many ways, although it certainly ended on a high note (apartheid is no more, thank God!).

Wednesday was a visit with a Fr. Sergio to Evaton Township, where he runs a parish. Fr. Sergio is a fidei donum parish priest, which means he’s really a priest from Chile (Santiago) but he can work for an indefinite time period in the Archdiocese of Johannesburg as a missionary parish priest. He runs two parishes, both rather large geographically and both of which are incredibly poor. There are a good number of “Squatter” homes, tin shacks of whatever they could get their hands on. I went with Father to some vocational centers his parish helps run in the area; it looked like good work was being done, as the classes they had were in high demand! His parish sponsors 3 centers in the area of Evaton, which offer things like computer and cooking classes, to help people get jobs. I visited some Eritreans, who ran a “tuck” shop – a small grocery. We also went to the home of a family in a shack, (one of the few stable, married families in the area!) and blessed their home with a branch picked off a tree outside the shack. A very telling expression of the deep faith of the people there.

The 21st, Thursday, was a “toxic tour” organized by the group, Benchmarks, throughout Rustenberg. While I was not very taken by their presentation of environmental hazards caused by mining (it seems many were accidents of mining, done before anyone knew what the consequences would be of, say, putting heavy metals in a pile and letting them seep into the groundwater), I certainly saw the poverty and problems that were in the area of the mines. There was prostitution for the miners, who lived away from their families (in apartheid days, people were more or less forced to do this, which resulted in breaking up family structure – it led, predominantly, to the AIDS crisis in SA today); this also resulted in some sex slavery. Many of the miners lived in shacks, in the back yard of local residents, because they could get more money in the “living out” allowance that the mines offered for not living on the mine-owned residential areas. On the way home, we stopped at a game park, to see the contrast between the mining area and the park which was “pristine.” Again, I was not particularly taken by the contrast (I think it was a contrast caused more by the farming which was the predominant situation in the mining valley), but I did experience a gnu!

On Friday, we visited the town of Bronkhorstspruit. There is a huge Taiwanese Buddhist temple there, in the middle of a cornfield (hence, the title). It is called Nan Hua Temple, a subsidiary monastery of Fo Guang in Taiwan.

The second, temporary temple - now the visitor centre and residential area for the monks. It is a hulking colossus.

After visiting the visitor centre and meeting our (bad) tour guide, we began our tour with the guide talking for about 25 minutes about how to get to the monastery from the highway. It was horrific.

He showed us around the building and into their museum of “aboriginal” Taiwanese artifacts. We also saw parts of the monastery, including their small “chapel” which was the first temple they built.

Then we went and saw the real deal, the main temple.

No kidding - even bigger than the visitor centre. Think the size of a football stadium.

These monks don’t screw around.

They also had a residential complex for “retreatants” which was a complex of about 15 apartment complexes.

Inside, we were given a vial of lustral water (“blessed” Buddhist water), a small fortune-telling scroll, and a number of pamphlets, including a large calligraphic drawing of the character for “the Buddha” (I believe).

Other than our inept guide, it was a very interesting and nice visit, to say the least. You can find more about them on their website, as I posted above.

Saturday was the ordination of a priest in the township of Alexandra at the Catholic parish – St. Hubert’s. It is run by the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, of which the new priest was a member. It was a long – as you would guess – ceremony, but also very edifying.

Sunday was another free day. One of our brothers had a birthday, and they were celebrating my departure from South Africa, so I decided on a whim to run upstairs and grab a recipe for a tres leche cake! It took me all of about 30 minutes from start to finish, but it came out great. Nobody there had had such a cake, so it was a nice parting gift to the community of OPs. That same night, on another whim (whimsy is much dear to the Dominican heart), the OP community decided I should not leave South Africa without a visit to Cape Town (I will leave South Africa on Thursday).

And so, less than 8 hours post-decision to send me, I’ll be on a plane to Cape Town 40 minutes after I post this to the web! Wish me luck and good red wine!


Yours in Christ,

Br. James Dominic Rooney, OP



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