Ton entered his last few weeks in Aston and was busy to say goodbye to all the people he worked with, visited or has come to know during his 5½ years of stay in the neighbourhood. It started on 25th February when Ton attended his last meeting of the Management Committee of the St James Advice Centre and it ended on 10th March with the celebration of the Eucharist in the church of the Sacred Heart and Margaret Mary followed by a farewell party in the Sacred Heart Club. The goodbyes were softened by the good news that his successor from India, Fr. Syam Kumar msc, had finally received his visa. We expect him to arrive in Birmingham after Easter. He is eagerly awaited indeed.
On 25th February we welcomed Michael O’Rourke and his twin brother Stephen. They travelled from Liverpool by train and stayed the night with us in order to take an early plane for Rome where they attended the final papal audition of Pope Benedict XVI. Michael managed to get in the news himself with a few lines as he was interviewed by both the BBC and SKY TV. They came back for another night with us on 3rd March.
On 28th February we had a very pleasant evening at Sister Anna O’Connor’s place. She is the new mentor of the Cordate Community and has facilitated two meetings so far. We were not the only ones invited at her place. Our friends, the Columbans Jim Fleming and Ray Collier, were also there accompanied by their Chilean and Philippine lay missionaries. We started our gathering with a Biblical reflection, Lectio Divina style, on the story of the poor Lazarus. This was followed by a meal at which the conversation went to and fro, sharing with one another our experiences of living and working in a multicultural neighbourhood. Mark and Ton met Ray again on 7th March, this time as a personal farewell of Ray to Ton. They had worked together on a deanery paper trying to develop a vision for pastoral ministry in a city environment.
On 1st March Mark had his last Motown and Soul night for cancer research. The net receipts were good again, £445, this in spite of a letter of protest complaining about the noise at the club in Erdington where the event was held. The next Tesco charity of the year will be a diabetes organisation.
On Monday, 4th March, we were invited for supper by the Lee Abbey Community, a religious community belonging to the Church of England. They provided us with an excellent meal preceded and followed by some frank discussions. We know each other well enough by now to fire direct questions at each other about our respective churches and mission activities in Aston. Our gathering was concluded by a prayer from the heart.
As usual for Tuesdays we had our lunch at the Sacred Heart Primary School together with the seniors of the area plus a group of people with mental disabilities living in Sutton Goldfield. For Ton it was the last time. It was also his last time to help out with the Job Club at the Centre for the Aston Family and to say a tearful goodbye to a good friend he had been visiting for four years.
A very good thing happened on Wednesday. Ton went as usual to his English class in Cherwell Gardens. The Bangladeshi tutor and students not only thanked him for his services by giving him presents but the tutor did something more. On the request of Ton he had looked for a person in the Bangladeshi community willing to sit on the management committee of the St James Advice Centre, and he had found someone. On Friday Ton took the person in question to the Advice Centre to meet the director, David Fletcher. One wishes that, being involved in various activities, this kind of “cross-fertilisation” would happen more often.
In the evening we were invited for supper by a Sri Lankan family. It was a pity Con could not join us for this delicious meal; it had a bite in it but was not too spicy for Westerners. Con had been the one to help the students of the family with their maths and physics subjects.