Kwe’ Hello Bonjour Guten Tag Hola !

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Kwe' Hello Bonjour Guten Tag Hola !

I have always like languages and studying them, and where possible, using them. Having grown up with English as my mother tongue and at a time when other languages were simply leaned for credit in High School, it wasn’t until studies at university that I really looked seriously at speaking other languages. I began by re-taking my French courses and then added German. While living in the United Kingdom I studied night courses in Italian. In Zambia I tied my tongue with ChiNanja and ChiTonga, and a line or two of Afrikaans while in South Africa.

The first day of my French course, as the professor read through the names of the 50 or 60 students in class, he paused after reading my name, looked at me and then asked me to remain after class. For the first day of classes this didn’t appear to be a propitious beginning! My French professor remembered teaching my father 30 years before and wanted to fire a warning at his previous student’s offspring.

I recently completed two German courses with Goethe-Institut in Munich on-line (much like I did to study Biblical Hebrew through the Hebrew University of Jerusalem). It is a more difficult means of learning (or revising) a language, but can be a useful means if motivated and not in a German-speaking area. Most days I listen to German radio broadcasts on Namibian Broadcasting Corporation German Service (Approximately 2% of Namibians speak German; a legacy from the German South West Africa colony). There is often a Bible reading and short explanation of the Scripture. And from Windhoek, a 100 year old news publication is available on-line, the Allgemeine Zeitung.

Languages can come in handy as well in many ways. Knowing how to ask for something in another language opens doors to communication and better relations. Even being able to explain that one is not able to speak the language in the language you don’t know, can be a great opening for understanding between peoples. On a long-haul bus trip between Port Elizabeth and Cape Town I was taught by the stewardess (mixed race who spoke Afrikaans as her mother tongue) how to say “Ek praat nie Afrikaans nie” which was a great boon, I discovered, when meeting many different people there.

French has been my main language of work for many years, other than English. I studied for my masters degree in History at Université Laval and for the priesthood at the Grand Séminaire de Montréal. It has been one of my working languages in the Royal Canadian Navy and more recently in my parishes past and present (St Philippe-et-St Jacques, Notre-Dame-de-Mont-Carmel and Immaculate Conception/Immaculée Conception). The greatest challenge was learning a bit of Mi’kmaq for celebrating Mass at Lennox Island First Nation. I was patiently taught the Lord’s Prayer, the Hail Mary and the Sign-of-the-Cross in Mi’kmaq by a teacher there. She would let me join her class where I sat like a giant in a tiny chair with the local children and learned to say the words with them and read the charts with names of animals and objects.

We have language to communicate with… or not. We can, if we choose, simply remain within ourselves and not use our language(s) to speak with others. Be prudent, be loving. Language carries responsibility as well. What is said cannot be unsaid. The language used can be as harmful as a spear thrown into a heart, or as beautiful and gentle as a bouquet of flowers. We can make an effort like a hand extended, to reach out and communicate. It is our choice. But communication will likely make for a better world. It could very well mean the difference in someone’s life today! Reach out with love and mercy.

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I wonder…

And how many priests and prelates are well aware of this state of affairs and would rather look away? How many would rather deal with fund raising and parish retention programmes and New Evangelisation programmes which may be or are in actual fact void of the deeper meaning of the Sacraments and how to live them in our daily lives?

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