Letter to members of The World Community for Christian Meditation - Lent 2014

From Sarah Litchfield, on Fogo in Cape Verde, Africa


(Sarah was a member of several meditation groups in the UK, and spent time in Sydney helping prepare for the 2001 John Main Seminar, where she is fondly remembered for her great contribution to preparing for the event. The following updates her connection with the world wide WCCM community since she felt inspired to go to live at Cape Verde during English winters, more specifically an island called Fogo (Fire) which basically is a volcano in the Atlantic Ocean.)

She says “It is really only the last two years I have been really actively engaged with the Meditatio aspect of the WCCM.  When the opportunity came up to be involved in the Meditation for Schools initiative I was lucky enough to be in Roz Stockely's Wimborne group in Dorset and attend a  day given at a local school by Janet Robbins which totally inspired me to learn as much as possible from them and bring it out to Cape Verde( and she has since begun  meditation in several schools)

“I used Ernie Christie's book for help in how to go about doing all this.  I had to keep it simple as there was no electricity and my computer didn't work anyway and my Portuguese is fine as long as no one long as no one tries to talk back to me!  Luckily it is mediation! “

Her recent letter which follows,updates her life in Fogo

Dear  meditators in the St Catherine and St Joseph groups and friends in Sydney

How are you all?  I know you are all still meditating because extraordinary things have happened here in Fogo.  Thanks for all your perseverance in meditation. I thought you would be interested to know what is going on here.

Well, I don't know how, but I find myself living in an extraordinary little community here in the countryside about 6km from the main town Sao Filipe.  We are quite high up, half way up the flanks of the big volcanic crater that dominates the whole island.  This is definitely the closest I have experienced to what (I have in my mind) the Kingdom of Heaven is.  As my Nigerian friend, Eugenia, says, they really do live the gospel here.  Money plays a very small role in everyday life and not much attention is paid to what might happen tomorrow. Most people work hard on the land and the rhythm of life centres around St Joseph's, the little church about half way between me and the village.

Being from Europe I get rather exasperated at times.  How can they be so stupid as to live like this?  Of course you need money to live. Of course you have to plan for the future.  Can't you see how vulnerable this way of life makes you?  A case in example happened at the beginning of the year.  Our water supply starts from deep in the bowels of the island in the aquifers.  It is excellent water but very deep so a network of pumping stations and pipes connect us all to the source.  It was devised by the ingenious Germans but sadly, Herman the German went back to Europe and now the local firm aren't very good at maintaining the system.   The money put aside for spare parts has disappeared  and so everytime something goes wrong a part has to be flown out from Europe. 'Going wrong' happens a lot because the local electricity people keeping getting the output wattage wrong and that blows the pumping system. 

Luckily everyone is prepared for and resigned to this and have their own backup water supplies in the form of water tanks that are filled up during the rainy season.  However, this time we were 26 days without water in January and 10 in February.  Right at the beginning, after just one week living out of buckets I was at my wits end.  While I was in floods of tears (my contribution) Pedro my friend and gardener and his wife Dina just carried on, labouriously watering my garden and filling buckets for the house by hand with water from a nearby well.  'How do you live like this?' I sobbed to Dina.  'We are consolados' she replied.  Anyone requiring a translation (this is Kriolu the local dialect) just read the Sermon on the Mount.  Finally I became consolada and in mid February my house began to receive a trickle of water.

However, up in the village they were still without a 'pingu' drop and even they were beginning to get frustrated.   The wells were beginning to run dry.  But STILL no one did anything about it.  So, one day, despite my initial pledge not to try and change anything here and interfere, I took myself off to the Townhall to the President, Luis Pires, and asked him to help with not much hope of achieving anything.  It turned out that he is a devout Catholic and is only in his position to help people and not for the power.  The next day everyone's water supply was back up and running well and has been every since. 

Please bear with me because this was the turning point for everything here.  Ever since the most extraordinary things have been happening.  The doors have opened.  President Pires has now asked me to initate a major English Language project but has intimated that I shall be invited to participate in two new projects too.  One is to create an office to welcome tourists and improve service.  The other to ascertain the needs of the countryfolk.  It seems I fit the role of a sort of mediator here.

However, even more extraodinary is how the countryfolk here have taken me utterly to their hearts.  It has not been straightforward.  The legacy of slavery under the 'brancos' ie the Portuguese is not a happy one.  I have had to prove myself time and time again.  My meditation practice is the only thing that has sustained me to be honest.  There have been lots of tears.  This is not a place where 'please' and 'thank you' are freely used and I have had very little sign up to now as to how they really feel about me.  

I have been working in the local schools doing the meditation with the kids, have begun a local girls football team, cleaned the church, typed up the hymns for Mass on Sundays, helped with catechesis, joined the Legion of Maria, helped various kids with school work, tried to learn Krioulu, taught English and the last few weeks helped with preparations for our annual festival at St Josephs.  It happened last Sunday.  After the procession, Mass and the giving of Bibles to the young catechists the judges for next year's festival were announced.  I am one of them.  This is unprecedented and indicates the level of trust that exists between us now. 

Since then I have been discussing the possibility of organising retreats with the other judges. It appears St Joseph's has been marked out as a special location for 'retiros' .  I am not surprised.  After the last World War, a very special man came to work here on Fogo and the neighbouring island that my house looks out to, Brava.  He was called Padre Pio Gottin and reading the story of his work here, he does seem to have been a living embodiment of St Francis.   His legacy is very strong here in the countryside.  With the election of Pope Francis in Europe the powers that be clearly recognise there exists here an extrordinary example of a way of life that Pope Francis is indicating that we need to embrace. 

At the beginning of Lent we hosted an excellent retreat which was facilitated by Philip, a pyschotherapist, the brother of a priest.  He did a very good job and the young people really here do seem to understand that economic development alone here will be very destructive unless we are centred on God and we are guided by the Holy Spirit. The young people seem very keen to incorporate Christian Meditation in all of this. I can see now that my house will be perfect as a place for the retreatants to stay overnight and then we can go to St Joseph's itself to study and meditate.

Due to my work with the festival I have also become acquainted with our priest, Father Lawrence (!!!  I know....).  He has now asked me to teach him English and to my delight he has been to Toledo and Avila and conducted retreats based on St John of the Cross and Teresa of Avila.  I shall be using Peter Tyler's book, The Way of Ecstacy, for us to use in our lessons.  I have given him Word into Silence in Spanish to read (thank you Susan Spence). I haven't  hit him yet with my ideas about every school in Cape Verde meditating everyday but I am just waiting for the right moment!  He has also leant me a copy of the Catechism and knows I want to become a Catholic.... 

So you see, it is all happening, not as I thought it would, but in an utterly extraordinary way.  There are many more meetings and happenings that have taken place but you all have lives to live so I am cutting it short..... but you get the idea??  I firmly believe that none of this would be possible if people like you weren't meditating regularly though. So you are all very much a part of all that is happening here.  I want you to know that and thank you and PLEASE KEEP MEDITATING.   I shall see you all again soon.  We have our retreat weekend in Bournemouth at Greenacres in May to look forward to so I will be back the week before.  I can't wait to hear all your news too.  Aren't we lucky to have the WCCM. 

Much love