Living in Canberra, Uncategorized

Hello. Thank you. We are with you. We support you.

Hello.

Thank you.

Salaam.

Thank you for being here.

Simple words. Everyday words. But words which were filled with emotion and sated with meaning, in the context in which they were spoken.

Everyday people. Everyday words. People going about their normal, everyday business.

They have been to work. They have driven their cars, parked along the verge. They are walking along the street; walking with intent, heading with purpose, to the place of prayer.

Hello. Thank you. Everyday words. Accompanied by smiles. Sometimes, by handshakes. Or by a hand held to the heart; no words, just a signal, that this was appreciated. Deeply appreciated.

In a curving street on a gently-sloping hill in a Canberra suburb, twenty of us were gathered, standing on the footpath, greeting worshippers as they arrived for prayer.

We were Christians. They were Muslims. We were white. They were, mostly, Middle Eastern, or Southeast Asian. They were coming to pray. We, too, would gather to pray; but not today.

Our day of prayer is Sunday. Their day of prayer is Friday. Today is Friday. It is their day of prayer.

So this Friday, we stood outside the mosque, a silent witness of support and solidarity. Smiling, bowing, shaking hands, offering a greeting; not speaking further unless we were engaged in conversation; simply, standing in solidarity.

This is what it is, to be a human being. This is what it is, to relate to our fellow human beings. Hello. Thank you. You are welcome. You are us. We are with you. We support you.

Simple words, short phrases; but deep emotion, and profound meaning. Just in these simple acts and words of human interaction.

Some conversations were longer. We discussed the issues, the personalities. We could see, and hear, and feel, the emotion.

It could have been people like these. It could have been these people. Ordinary people. Coming from work. Gathering to pray. People of faith. Ordinary people, committed people, people who share their lives with us each and every day.

They serve us in shops. They answer our phone calls. They draft our legislation. They clean our homes. They install and service our utilities. They collect our fares and drive our taxis. They are everywhere. They are people of prayer. They are people of peace. They are us. We are them.

What happened a week ago in New Zealand, at the Al Noor Mosque and the Linwood Islamic Centre … and what has happened in Quebec City, and Kembe in the Central African Republic, and the Dar Al-Farooq Islamic Center in Minnesota, and in countless interpersonal interactions involving Muslims as victims … what has happened in far too many places, on far too many occasions, is a cause for deep distress.

We weep. We pray. And we stand, quietly, supportively, in solidarity.

Hello.

Thank you.

Salaam.

Thank you for being here.

Further reflections on the tragic events in Christchurch:

https://canberra.uca.org.au/uca-news/uca-statement-christchurch/

https://revdocgeek.com/2019/03/16/prayer-for-christchurch/

https://www.eternitynews.com.au/world/aussie-church-leaders-respond-to-christchurch-massacre/

https://www.eternitynews.com.au/world/dont-give-nz-terrorist-what-he-wants/

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First Peoples in Australia

Another Time, Another Place: towards an Australian Church

A review of a book of sermons by Rev. Glenn Loughrey

Another Time, Another Place: towards an Australian Church

Published by Coventry Press (2019)

https://coventrypress.com.au

I have recently read this book, a collection of six sermons by Anglican priest, Glenn Loughrey, in which he articulates a plea for his church to move towards being a more consciously Australian church.

I had known of the innovative ministry of Glenn for some time, and was fortunate to have met him in person at a recent seminar. He practices what he preaches. He extols the character of love which Jesus exemplifies, which he describes in this manner: “grumpy, rude, difficult, alternative, disruptive, contrary, and more” (p.50). He does all of this in a constructive and challenging way. This book is a fine contribution to the enterprise of sharing this kind of love in a wider way.

The central image of the book is a pot plant. The Anglican Church, says Glenn, is like the pot plant given to you by your favourite Aunt, which you have kept, all these years, in that beloved pot. The pot is still intact. The plant, however, is stunted and distorted. It has not grown to the full potential it has. It is still in the pot. It needs to be transplanted.

Thus, the book articulates a plea to the church: be transplanted into the soil of this continent. Find the place where you can send your roots down, deep into the country where you have been sitting, no longer protected and constrained by your pot. Draw on the age-old wisdom of the country. Be nourished by the spirit of the land.

Glenn can articulate this challenge with authenticity. He identifies as a Wiradjuri man, with connections deep into the people and the land of that nation. In his ministry, as well as in his creativity as an artist and his rhetoric as a speaker, he sets forth his response to this challenge on a regular basis. His words and his artwork both articulate this desire for contextualisation in our church life, for grounding our faith and our communal expressions of that faith in the realities of Australian society.

Grounding our faith expressions in the deep seated spirituality of this land, is a pressing and primary need.

Glenn outlines four ways in which this contextualisation could take place, arguing that we need to come to grips with four key factors:

the history of the church in this country

the ethos of the space we now inhabit

the language and spirituality of this context

the need to mature as a nation, and as a church.

These four factors read, to me, as eminently sensible and entirely central to the task that the church as a whole faces—not just the Anglican Church, but every Christian denomination in Australia. It will not be easy for us to grapple with these factors. But it is essential that we do so. There are multiple challenges for the churches in Australia in addressing these factors with care and responsibility.

The book is a series of sermon-reflections on a number of biblical passages, which Glenn correlates with these four factors. John 6 leads to a discussion of “breaking the sacred pot” and grappling with the church’s history in Australia. Ephesians 6 is the springboard to considering the ethos of the space we now inhabit. “We recognise that … through a process of living, we have come to this place [of belief]. In the midst of the diverse landscape that is modern Australia, we are to leave space for others to come to faith in the same way.”

Mark 7 and James 1-2 provoke insights into language and spirituality, flowing into possibilities for maturity. Placing a story from the ancient desert fathers alongside the scriptural texts, Glenn proposes that our spiritual ethos and language might be characterised by being “doers … fair dinkum … [giving] a fair go … in tune with nature … listen to land/country”, and then asks: “sound like what we say we believe as Australians?” Indeed; and the challenge for the church is to live this to the full!

In the encounter between Jesus and the Syrophoenician woman in Mark 7, he observes that “the woman and Jesus engage in such a transaction where both are visibly different as a result, but neither is diminished. Both grow in stature and in their understanding of who they are.” The bruising encounter which Jesus has with a person of his land models how the church in Australia needs to engage in intense encounters with the peoples of our land—and points to the transformation that ensues as a result.

The reflections conclude with Mark 8 offering a focus on transformation: “taking what you believe and planting it in the soil of relationships and community and watching it be shaken and broken by the winds of fear”.

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Way back—over forty years ago—when I was a theological student, preparing for ministry in the Uniting Church, I was being challenged and encouraged to develop “an authentically Australian theology”. I remember that we looked at pithy sayings, like cutting down tall poppies, going in to bat for the underdog, and having a fair go for all, as well as trends in society like mateship, sexism, and the colonial cringe. These were identified as aspects that could well figure in the development of such a theology.

The scourge of racism, issues of migration, and the existence of indigenous spirituality, were each noted, but the deep connection between indigenous peoples and the land of this continent was not really canvassed at that time. Since then, an awareness of the importance of this has grown in Australian society. The voice of the First Peoples has been heard, most clearly, in the Statement from the Heart which was shaped at Uluru in 2017.

Now, the deep connection with the the land, and indeed the sovereignty of our First Peoples, are to the fore of our national conversation, and rightly call the churches to engage, listen, and be transformed through this conversation, and through undertaking work on the ground (as it were) with local indigenous communities.

This is a stimulating book, easy to read, consistently to the point, offering creative insights. I recommend it to my colleagues in ministry and to those exercising leadership in their local faith communities.

https://coventrypress.com.au/index.php?route=product/product&product_id=74

See also
https://johntsquires.wordpress.com/2018/08/13/affirming-the-sovereignty-of-first-peoples-undoing-the-doctrine-of-discovery/

https://johntsquires.wordpress.com/2018/08/10/the-sovereignty-of-the-first-peoples-of-australia/

https://johntsquires.wordpress.com/2018/10/13/on-covenant-reconciliation-and-sovereignty/

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Uncategorized

On the threshold, in a liminal space

Over recent months, Elizabeth and I have occupied what might be called a liminal space. Liminal spaces are the places of transition, from one place to another.

We have moved states—indeed, we have travelled the length of the continent, relocating from a Perth suburb just a few kilometres inland from the Indian Ocean, to a suburb in Canberra, in the anonymous territory that is hiding in the midst of the undifferentiated eastern states (at least, that’s how the sandgropers of WA view them).

We have moved house, to a residence that the church has recently purchased. That meant packing everything into boxes in WA, then waiting for delivery to the ACT, where we then unpacked everything and found new places for each item, each book, each piece of furniture.

We have also changed jobs, in association with this domestic move. We have each ended the work that we have been doing in Western Australia in recent times—for Elizabeth, a year-long Intentional Interim Ministry in a Congregation, and some months of resourcing of the Presbytery Pastoral Relations Committee; for myself, two years of restructuring and rebuilding the educational offerings and formation processes within the Synod. That has meant a series of farewells with colleagues in WA.

We are now both settled into congregational ministry—for Elizabeth, in a regular placement, and for myself, as an Intentional Interim Ministry in a Congregation which has experienced a series of challenges in recent times. That means introductions, getting to know new people, and sussing out the key issues in each place. This is a challenging place for us each to be!

And this week, we are both “trainers-in-training” at a course on The Fundamentals of Transitional Ministry. This is part one of a two-part course, auspices by the Interim Ministry Network (based in the USA, but taught with an Australian accent for the Australian context by our colleague, Rob McFarlane). You can see more about this network at http://imnedu.org/

Part One of the course is subtitled The Work of the People. Part Two (scheduled for June) is subtitled The Work of the Leader. The two courses complement and inform each other.

The Basis of Union of the Uniting Church articulates a commitment to this process of change and transition. Obviously the motif of “a pilgrim people on the way” (para 3, also para 18) is a key motif, and the Basis refers explicitly to persevering through the “changes of history” that we experience (para 4). There is great encouragement for us to develop creative new expressions of church in another obvious phrase, referring to “fresh words and deeds” (para 11). So this should be fundamental to the way we operate as a church.

It is clear that Ministers undergo a process of change and transition in moving from one placement to another: moving through ending in one community, and leaving behind the ministry exercised there; to joining a new community and coming to understand and appreciate the context within which ministry now takes place. (And then, of course, exiting the community at the end of the period of ministry.) As well as all of the learnings, adjustments, developments, readjustments, further learnings, reshaping and continuing developments that are inevitable within the course of a good ministry placement.

Alongside this, the Congregation or faith community has work to do, and this is recognised in the second course. This work entails a series of tasks, which the Intentional Interim Minister is charged with overseeing and stimulating. These are summarised quite succinctly as dealing with understanding heritage, refreshing leadership, relational connections beyond the community, developing missional identity, and committing to the agreed future. That’s quite a lot of work!

So, all of these changes that we have experienced in recent times—changes in jobs, changes in residence, changes in location, and changes in the faith community to which we are connected—all bring challenges with them. We are in what anthropologists and sociologists call, a liminal space.

The word liminal comes from the Latin word līmen, which means “a threshold”. Technically, that is the place that marks off one space from another. Its origin was the strip of wood or stone at the bottom of a doorway, which was crossed in entering a house or room.

The thresh is the place where one treads as one enters a room. So the threshold, is where you put your foot as you walk into a new room or new place.

So, we are on the threshold, in a liminal space.

Anthropologists define liminality as “the quality of ambiguity or disorientation that occurs in the middle stage of a ritual”. It is the moment when participants no longer hold their preritual status but have not yet begun the transition to the status they will hold when the rite is complete.

During a rite’s liminal stage, participants “stand at the threshold” between their previous way of structuring their identity, time, or community, and a new way, which completing the rite establishes.

The concept of liminality was developed in the early twentieth century sociologists. It was applied particularly to religious rituals marking the movement of a person from one stage to another. We can see this in the traditions of the church: for instance, Confirmation as a move into adulthood, Marriage as a move into long term partnership, and, of course, Baptism as the movement into life outside the womb, in the world as we know it, and Funerals as the move into life beyond death, life in the world beyond that as we currently know it. These are liminal moments for all human beings.

More recently, usage of the term has broadened to the political and cultural arena, alongside the religious or faith area. So it is a useful concept to be applied to the places where we are ministering and the changes that are among place, or need to take place, within those communities.

During liminal periods of all kinds, the experts tell us, “social hierarchies may be reversed or temporarily dissolved, continuity of tradition may become uncertain, and future outcomes once taken for granted may be thrown into doubt. The dissolution of order during liminality creates a fluid, malleable situation that enables new institutions and customs to become established.”

[I found this on Wikipedia, which references the source as Agnes Horvath, Bjørn Thomassen, and Harald Wydra, Introduction: Liminality and Cultures of Change (International Political Anthropology 2009). Accessed 18 March 2019.]

That means, then, that we are facing opportunities at this moment, in the liminal space—opportunities to dissolve traditions, opportunities to reshape practices, opportunities to cast doubt over long term certainties, opportunities to lay down new patterns of functioning that will be healthy, life giving, and resilient in the longer term. Now that’s a set of challenges to be met!!!

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“Laudato si’, mi’ Signore” (4)

Fr Glen Loughrey, an Anglican priest from Melbourne, led the afternoon panel discussion at the seminar giving consideration to the encyclical of Pope Francis, Laudato si’. He spoke an acknowledgement of country and lamented that this had not been done earlier in the seminar. In Australia, he maintains, the underlying issue for caring for the environment, is caring for and respecting the people who have long cared for the land.

Until we deal with the question of the land—whose land it is, how we go about retuning it to the original owners—Mother Earth will not enable us to deal with the problematic situation we are in. Respect the land on which we live and show our deep care for the land and its people; once we demonstrate this, it will be possible to move ahead.

The programme for the seminar includes a prayer from Aboriginal tradition, attributed to Burnum Burnum, whichncan be read at https://theviolethourmuse.wordpress.com/tag/burnum-down-the-house/

Dr Cristina Lledo Gomez, who teaches at Charles Sturt University, affirmed this approach of prioritising the place of indigenous people. As a migrant, she resonates with the experience of displacement and cross-societal existence. Within the church, there is a sense that we have been traumatised by the increasing environmental damage that we are learning about. Harnessing the resources to move beyond this trauma is an important learning we can undertake, learning from the way that indigenous and migrant peoples have done this.

The encyclical moves people of faith beyond a consideration, solely of their spiritual dimensions; the notion of integral ecology presses for an integrated human development in spiritual, social, sexual, psychological and environmental dimensions, as we work together for the common good. A fine model to use in doing this is See—Judge—Act. Look at your experience; analyse and explore what this means, and draw in the Christian tradition, the resources of scripture and work of subsequent centuries; before moving to undertake specific actions.

David Marsh is a farmer who has delved deep into the ethics of land care, and whose work in developing an ecologically sustainable farm has recently been recognised with a national award. He describes what he has done, as “not intervening and let the world get on with doing what it does”. He spoke of his appreciation of those who had already presented and urged us to press on with “more moral thinking about irrigation” and the consequences of how it is structured.

Then Philippa Rowland, from Catholic Earthcare, spoke about the importance of the dialogue between science and faith. They are “the two wings of one bird”. She has a sense that we are currently in the narrowest part of the hourglass; there is much that is being squeezed into the one space. We humans have become clever at a rate much faster than the rate of development of our wisdom. We need to allow the knowledge of where we are, connect more fully with our discernment of what is needed.

The growing sense of urgency goes alongside a patient working at what is essential. Technology and vision need to work hand-in-hand. Food, clothing and water are critical. Policy change needs to be encouraged and driven further. A federal parliamentary group focussed on climate change is now more active, driven by a group of independents. That is cause for hope.

See also

https://johntsquires.wordpress.com/2019/03/09/laudato-si-mi-signore-1/

https://johntsquires.wordpress.com/2019/03/09/laudato-si-mi-signore-2/

https://johntsquires.wordpress.com/2019/03/09/laudato-si-mi-signore-3/

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“Laudato si’, mi’ Signore” (3)

In the afternoon session of a seminar today, we are continuing consideration of the encyclical of Pope Francis, Laudato si’. Fr Bruce Duncan explicates the theology of the document: the glory of God is human beings, fully alive, in accord with the famous parable of Matthew 25. Is this Vatican 2, part two? … or, Reformation, part two?? An intriguing suggestion …

Certainly, this document challenges the long tradition within Christian theology, to place human beings at the centre of our world, to regard humanity as the crowing pinnacle of creation, and to foster the sense that “we need to take care” of the creation. On the contrary, we are a part–an integral part–of that creation, interconnected, no less and no more important than the other creatures and ecosystems of this world. This, to me, is the big change–and big challenge–that this encyclical provides.

Bruce explained that groups of eminent scientists and social scientists have worked with the Pontifical Commission for Justice and Peace in the preparation of the document, which is thus grounded in the very best of current scientific understanding. At its launching, a group of Muslim scholars published their parallel statement in accord with Laudato si’. The orientation is to foster human wellbeing across, not just denominations, but other world religions. It is about what we all have in common.

Dialogue with indigenous peoples, right around the world, is also integral to the approach taken in the document. This is a highly important matter in South America, in particular in relation to the region of the Amazon—the area of the world from where Pope Francis comes. The indigenous contact with nature is vitally important if we are to shape a sustainable future.

Emily Evans (who works with the National Council of Churches in Australia) then offered an ecumenical perspective. Churches have been working towards justice, peace, and the integrity of creation for four decades. These are three aspects of the one reality; three perspectives on the one unified matter.

Numerous meetings of the full World Council of Churches and its justice commission have reaffirmed and developed this commitment from all the member churches. Ongoing actions and statements have furthered the work of seeking conversion about how we relate to, and live within, the created world. The WCC is now calling people across the world to join in a Pilgrimage of Justice and Peace, to engage in transformative actions together.

There are three intersecting and overlapping journeys involved: via positiva, celebrating the gifts; via negativa, visiting the wounds; and via transformata, transforming the injustices. These are particularly in view each year during the Season of Creation, which runs from 1 September to 4 October (the Feast of St Francis).

Of particular relevance to the theology of the document are these sections:

68. This responsibility for God’s earth means that human beings, endowed with intelligence, must respect the laws of nature and the delicate equilibria existing between the creatures of this world, for “he commanded and they were created; and he established them for ever and ever; he fixed their bounds and he set a law which cannot pass away” (Ps 148:5b-6). The laws found in the Bible dwell on relationships, not only among individuals but also with other living beings. “You shall not see your brother’s donkey or his ox fallen down by the way and withhold your help… If you chance to come upon a bird’s nest in any tree or on the ground, with young ones or eggs and the mother sitting upon the young or upon the eggs; you shall not take the mother with the young” (Dt 22:4, 6). Along these same lines, rest on the seventh day is meant not only for human beings, but also so “that your ox and your donkey may have rest” (Ex 23:12). Clearly, the Bible has no place for a tyrannical anthropocentrism unconcerned for other creatures.

69. Together with our obligation to use the earth’s goods responsibly, we are called to recognize that other living beings have a value of their own in God’s eyes: “by their mere existence they bless him and give him glory”, and indeed, “the Lord rejoices in all his works” (Ps 104:31). By virtue of our unique dignity and our gift of intelligence, we are called to respect creation and its inherent laws, for “the Lord by wisdom founded the earth” (Prov 3:19). In our time, the Church does not simply state that other creatures are completely subordinated to the good of human beings, as if they have no worth in themselves and can be treated as we wish. The German bishops have taught that, where other creatures are concerned, “we can speak of the priority of being over that of being useful”. The Catechism clearly and forcefully criticizes a distorted anthropocentrism: “Each creature possesses its own particular goodness and perfection… Each of the various creatures, willed in its own being, reflects in its own way a ray of God’s infinite wisdom and goodness. Man [sic] must therefore respect the particular goodness of every creature, to avoid any disordered use of things”.

See also

https://johntsquires.wordpress.com/2019/03/09/laudato-si-mi-signore-1/

https://johntsquires.wordpress.com/2019/03/09/laudato-si-mi-signore-2

https://johntsquires.wordpress.com/2019/03/09/laudato-si-mi-signore-4/

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“Laudato si’, mi’ Signore” (2)

Continuing the sessions at a seminar where we are considering how Christians across various denominations might respond to the encyclical of Pope Francis

Professor Quentin Grafton, from the Centre for Water Economics, Environment and Policy at the ANU, spoke about water: the need to provide water and to ensure the sustainable management of water resources and sanitation services, for all human beings.

Currently there are 2.1 billion people without access to safely managed drinking water and 4.5 billion people without access to safely managed sanitation services. Well over 4 billion people experience lack of access to a safe water supply on a periodic basis. We westerners take for granted our continuing supply of clean water and flushing toilets; we are in a highly privileged situation.

Around 700 children are dying EVERY DAY from diarrhoea, linked to unsafe drinking water. That’s already an unacceptable situation—an immediate challenge to the way that we manage water supply and sanitation services.

Yet, our future food production is imperilled by the steady reduction in water in underground aquifers in so many places around the world. We are making the problem worse, not addressing the underlying issue.

Prof. Grafton said that the claim, “it’s just the drought”, totally misrepresents the situation that we are facing in Australia. Irrigation takes a steady supply,of water, but as there is a steady decline in input, so the residual water available to “the environment” (and our consummated usage) declines—at an alarming rate. Our federal policy makers appear to be resolutely deaf to these facts.

Water Justice is what is needed. This entails the fair and just distribution of water; a recognition of multiple values, not just market values; full participation by all people in decision-making relating to water; and the development of long-term sustainability.

Laudato si’ paragraphs 30 and 31 affirm that access to safe drinking water is a basic human right, and this right will be crucial in securing the future of humanity.

30. Even as the quality of available water is constantly diminishing, in some places there is a growing tendency, despite its scarcity, to privatize this resource, turning it into a commodity subject to the laws of the market. Yet access to safe drinkable water is a basic and universal human right, since it is essential to human survival and, as such, is a condition for the exercise of other human rights. Our world has a grave social debt towards the poor who lack access to drinking water, because they are denied the right to a life consistent with their inalienable dignity. This debt can be paid partly by an increase in funding to provide clean water and sanitary services among the poor. But water continues to be wasted, not only in the developed world but also in developing countries which possess it in abundance. This shows that the problem of water is partly an educational and cultural issue, since there is little awareness of the seriousness of such behaviour within a context of great inequality.

31. Greater scarcity of water will lead to an increase in the cost of food and the various products which depend on its use. Some studies warn that an acute water shortage may occur within a few decades unless urgent action is taken. The environmental repercussions could affect billions of people; it is also conceivable that the control of water by large multinational businesses may become a major source of conflict in this century

Prof. Grafton said that our commitment to one another means that we need to choose to stand in solidarity with the poor and vulnerable in the present, and to ensure a future for generations to come. This entails truth—humility—respect—wisdom—honesty—love—bravery (these are “the seven grandfathers, as articulated by an indigenous group in North America; see https://www.nhbpi.org/seven-grandfather-teachings/)

He ended by quoting St Francis of Assisi: “Start by doing what is necessary; then do what is possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible.”

Then, Prof. John Williams of the ANU (and the Uniting Church) spoke about food and clothing. He began by declaring: “What you eat and what you wear, has more impact on the creation than anything else you do.” We can see the impact on our current lifestyle in this diagram:

Agriculture has a huge impact on our biodiversity; it changes land use and impacts the supply of fresh water; it disturbs the valuable nitrogen and phosphorous cycles of the planet. We. Are choices about our agricultural practices; those choices are based on our values. Our faith feeds into the development of those values.

The projected increase in demand for all foods is 102%; that will require changes to our current practices. Achieving real sustainability in food production means going beyond an approach that simply minimises environmental impacts. That means a global transition, with significant social and ecological changes. There are powerful forces opposing the changes required. There is also indifference amongst far too many policy makers.

The vision that Prof. Williams presented, is for sustainable governance and management of ecosystems, natural resources and earth system processes, to ensure we are operating within a safe place globally.

His closing words were: “The creation, as a whole, is indifferent to the wellbeing of any particular individual person living within that creation. God, however, is a creative, loving God, who has joined with us within the creation and has an intimate interest, with us, in solving these issues.”

See also

https://johntsquires.wordpress.com/2019/03/09/laudato-si-mi-signore-1/

https://johntsquires.wordpress.com/2019/03/09/laudato-si-mi-signore-3/

https://johntsquires.wordpress.com/2019/03/09/laudato-si-mi-signore-4/

 

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