Greetings from Rusape! February is usually a rainy month. Rusape is fortunate in that it had 50mm on two consecutive weekends while some places about 20km away had no rain for three weeks. I think the rain was widespread this past weekend. A thunder and lightning storm broke at 2.00am on Sunday morning. It lasted until 6.30am. The rain came down in torrents at times and more gently at other times. I could not sleep with the combination of lightning flashing, peals of thunder and rain on the galvanize room. However, I stayed on in bed as there was no possibility of having a walk in such conditions. Attendance at Mass was down both here and at Tsanzaguru outstation. Weekend ministry began with Eucharist at St. Joseph’s school on Friday morning. The church was full with children and teachers in good voice. The teachers’ strike has petered out. They were offered an increase of $7.00 a month. Most teachers earn between $350.00 and $ 400.00 a month. Not much when one thinks of the cost of living which is on the increase. I went to Gurure/Ruombwe, two long distance outstations on Saturday morning. Before mass at Ruombwe a man approached me. He was very distressed and depressed. He scared me when he said “I will not be here when you come next time as I will have committed suicide.” I suggested that he come to Rusape with me and discuss his problems with Fr. Desmond. He had no money for his return fare by mini bus. I gave him the few dollars. It is hard to imagine how difficult it is for people in the rural area to get dollars. There is no work. Fr Desmond listened to him for over two hours and suggested ways, compatible with local custom, how he might approach some issues and try to resolve his marital problems. There was a three week old baby for baptism. Her seventeen year old mother had died giving birth. The baby was tiny, perhaps premature. We celebrated the sacrament of baptism after the homily. Having left at 9.00am, it was 3.00pm by the time I returned to Rusape. I was looking forward to viewing Ireland playing France, Six Nations Rugby, in Paris at 10.00pm. However, by 9.00pm I succumbed to sleep and went to bed. Owing to the frosty conditions and dangerous spots on the pitch, the game was postponed until March 4th. As most people come to church on foot, there was a small congregation. Many came late owing to the bad weather. We eventually had the church about two thirds full. It was a similar scene at Tsanzaguru. Mass was followed by a sick call to an elderly man, an eighty year old former teacher, in the bush. As usual , some people accompanied me, sang hymns and said spontaneous prayers of the faithful. On Friday last I visited the pre novitiate location near Nyazura, 20km from Rusape, for the first time. The two hectare plot of land is about 2km off the tar road. It is now fenced with wire mesh. Two five thousand gallon tanks have been erected on six metre high iron poles. It is hoped to pump water from the nearby local dam and to drill a borehole for domestic water. Two local men are clearing the site of bushes and trees in preparation for the building project. All the work is being done manually. A nearby family had a fully grown dog. He was trapped and swallowed alive by a two metre long python, which swallowed the dog in its entirety. One could see the head as well as the legs of the dog inside the python‘s skin. The family had to notify the police as pythons are a protected species. No golf on Monday. I picked up a head cold, running nose and sweaty feeling on Sunday evening. Watched Ivory Coast and Zambia play the final of the African Cup. It went to extra time, penalties and sudden death shoot out. It concluded at midnight. There was heavy rain and thunder at midday on Monday. I decided to forego golf and return to Rusape in the afternoon. The carpenter was installing the new doors in the church, which look very good. He is finishing them with three coasts of light varnish. That brings out the natural grain in the wood. February 14th, the feast of St. Valentine, was Uncle Oliver’s anniversary. I offered Mass for him The excerpts below from recent Irish Times articles give an objective view of what happened in Ireland over the past decade. It makes for sad reading. Love and best wishes to all. NB The problem was that this policy went hand in hand with cutting taxes for rich and poor alike to dangerously low levels, a range of tax incentives for property developers and speculators that fuelled the property boom and a lack of effective regulation at all levels. The incoherence of the approach brought the State to the verge of bankruptcy. Since the crash the efforts, firstly of the government led by Brian Cowen and now of the Coalition led by Enda Kenny and Eamon Gilmore, to put the State back on a sustainable financial footing have been widely denounced as right wing and reactionary when they are nothing of the kind. People on the right like Shane Ross don’t believe in a well-funded State at all, hence their rejection of the EU-IMF bailout. One of the reasons why politics failed the country in the first decade of the 21st century was a lack of coherence in the Bertie Ahern-led government about what it stood for. Ahern famously described himself as just one of two socialists in the Dáil, the other allegedly being Joe Higgins. At one level Ahern did follow a left-wing path. During his tenure in office the State funded generous pay increases to public servants, huge increases in welfare entitlements and a massive expansion of the public service. One of the reasons the country got into its current mess was the ambivalence on the part of many politicians and a substantial chunk of the electorate to the State itself. While the exchequer was widely regarded as a source of largesse to be exploited by fair means or foul, there was no corresponding loyalty to the State as an institution. Now that they are in government Labour and Fine Gael are following orthodox policies but in opposition not so long ago they too opposed property taxes and virtually everything else that was suggested to get the State out of its current mess ——————————————————————————————————————————— This year the budget gap is expected to be under 9 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) – the value of all goods and services produced within a country – a small improvement on last year’s outcome, but quite unsustainable. Neither official lenders, in the shape of the EU and the IMF, nor the sovereign credit markets will finance continuing deficits for Ireland. One of the few predictions that can be made with confidence is the budget deficit will be zero in four or five years from now. In any plausible scenario for economic performance, this means more spending cuts and more tax increases. The “Ireland’s Squeezed Middle” series carried in The Irish Times over the last week divides the community implicitly into three groups. The middle: squeezed to excess, it would appear; the poor: presumably to be spared squeezing; and the rich: promising squeeze material, but rather less numerous than a few years back. If the bottom 20 per cent are to be spared, and the top 10 per cent unlikely to deliver 8 or 10 per cent of GDP on their own, it follows the 70 per cent who self-select themselves into the middle class are due for further reductions in living standards. The only scenario in which this might be avoided is a sudden return to rapid and sustained economic growth. In an uncompetitive economy burdened with public and private debt, this does not look likely. The best hope is that austerity is accompanied by the reforms that will build a platform for recovery once the budget deficit has been eliminated.