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'City of Joy' inspiration still working for India's poor

05/26/23 11:25 AM

His life helping people in the mega-slums of Pilkhana formed the plot of Dominique Lapierre's 1985 book "The City of Joy", which was later turned into a Patrick Swayze movie.Born in 1937 to a Swiss working-class family in Geneva, Brother Gaston said he remembered deciding at six years of age to dedicate his life "to Christ and the poor"."The church would never have let me live in a slum with the poor, but my life was about sharing with the poorest."A trained nurse, Brother Gaston arrived in India in 1972 to work with a French priest in a small self-help centre in Pilkhana."It was the biggest slum in India at the time, they said in the world!"Having arrived on a tuk-tuk, he surprised the local residents by entering on foot."I didn't want to enter a place where there are so many poor people, on a rickshaw, like a rich person," he said."I went to places where there were no doctors, no non-governmental organizations, no Christians. That is to say, places that were completely abandoned."'Chicago on the Ganges'One day in 1981, Brother Gaston said he received a visit from Dominique Lapierre, who was "sent by Mother Teresa".The well-known French author, who wanted to write a novel "about the poor", convinced the ascetic of his sincerity.The two men became friends.Lapierre, who died last December, described Brother Gaston as "one of the 'Lights of the World' whose epic of love and sharing I had the honor of recounting in my book 'The City of Joy'."Translated throughout the world, Lapierre's novel, published in 1985, sold several million copies."He financed all my organizations at a rate of $3 million a year, almost all his royalties, for almost 30 years," Brother Gaston said.But the film adaptation of the novel, in which Swayze plays a fictional doctor, displeased him: "I frankly hated this film. 'The City of Joy' has become 'Chicago on the Ganges'."Surrounded by leprosyAt the time of Lapierre's visit, Mother Teresa was receiving medicine from all over the world.She donated large quantities to the self-help center, which Brother Gaston was able to use.He trained nurses and established a dispensary."I had the medicine, I didn't need anything else," he said."We quickly had more than 60,000 patients the first year, 100,000 the second. Three years later, we had a small hospital."As soon as he arrived in India, he decided to adopt the nationality."It took 20 years, of course," he said.Brother Gaston was born with the surname Grandjean.In India, he chose the surname "Dayanand", meaning "blessed (ananda) of mercy (daya)".He worked for a long time with Mother Teresa's brothers caring for people suffering from leprosy in Pilkhana."I stayed for 18 years, surrounded by 500 lepers, in a very small room," he said.Abdul Wohab, a 74-year-old social worker, said: "Gaston is a saint."'A board to sleep on'Now white-haired and confined to a wheelchair, Brother Gaston is still trying to help those in need in the northeastern province of West Bengal.Of the 12 NGOs he founded since moving to India, six are still active, including the ICOD, which has taken in 81 people of all faiths, including orphans and the elderly, as well as those suffering from disabilities and mental health problems.Brother Gaston said he spends "three-quarters of (his) days meditating" on his bed, facing Christ."I had never had anything else but a board to sleep on. Now I live like a bourgeois in a big bed," he said."But it's not me who wanted it," he added with a laugh."The worst part is that I accept it."The ICOD's co-founder and director, Mamata Gosh, nicknamed "Gopa", watches over the man who taught her to be a nurse 25 years ago."Before him, I didn't know anything," the 43-year-old told AFP."He is my spiritual father."Brother Gaston's day begins at 5:00 am with three hours of prayer, in front of a reproduction of the Shroud of Turin overhanging an Aum, the symbol of Hinduism, in his tiny oratory adjoining his room.Dressed all in white and barefoot, he sits in his electric wheelchair and visits each of the residents of the thatched hamlet, then returns to his room in the late morning.On his bedside table sits a Bible, a crucifix, his glasses and an old laptop that he uses to keep in touch with his NGO's donors."I will earn my bread until the last day of my life," he said.© 2023 AFP

'Don Goyo's angry': the legends behind rumbling Mexican volcano

05/27/23 11:56 AM

According to legend, the spirit of the volcano located 70 kilometers (about 45 miles) southeast of Mexico City is embodied by a man known locally as "Don Goyo."And when he gets upset, "El Popo" starts to rumble as it has for more than a week."Don Goyo's angry because they didn't put out his offering," said Jose Luis, a 55-year-old charcoal seller in Xalitzintla, the community closest to Popocatepetl.Some residents even report having seen the mountain incarnate appear before them.Jose Marcos said that when he was a child, Don Goyo -- full name Gregorio Chino Popocatepetl -- came to his house for a glass of water and a taco."We asked him 'who are you?' He said: 'Don't you know me? I'm Gregorio Chino Popocatepetl. I'm the volcano,'" the 77-year-old farmer said.Every year on March 12, residents mark the day known as Don Goyo's birthday.Hundreds of people approach the crater to offer typical dishes, liquor, flowers and clothes, and sing a traditional song.This year, however, authorities restricted access to the site due to the increased danger, dismaying locals who warned that it would anger the mountain's spirit."We've already asked Don Goyo to wait for us until next year," local mayor Gumaro Sandre Popoca told AFP.Tragic love storyLife in Xalitzintla, home to about 2,000 inhabitants, revolves around volcanoes.The walls are dotted with images of Popocatepetl and the neighboring Iztaccihuatl volcano.Mediums who claim to communicate with "Don Goyo" are influential figures in the community.One of them, Nazario Castro, blames people who enter the exclusion zone to take selfies for upsetting the volcano."They're provoking it because they go up" to take pictures and "it starts to thunder," Castro said.Isabel, a restaurant owner in the town, said that as an 11-year-old girl she also saw the man who embodies Popocatepetl."He comes down from the mountain. He's tall, with white hair and green eyes," she said."He scared me. I ran home and got under the bed," added the 54-year-old, who did not want to give her full name for fear of being called a "gossip."But she enthusiastically recounted a pre-Hispanic love story involving Popocatepetl and Iztaccihuatl.According to legend, Iztaccihuatl ("white woman" in the Indigenous Nahuatl language) was the daughter of a local chief who fell in love with a handsome warrior called Popocatepetl ("smoking mountain").But Popocatepetl was sent to war and a lovelorn Iztaccihuatl died of grief.When the warrior returned, he found her body and carried it to the mountain, where both were covered with snow and became majestic volcanoes.For the past week, "El Popo," which awoke from decades of slumber in 1994, has unnerved locals with several explosions and repeated emissions of ash, gasses and molten rock.Authorities increased their warning level to one step below red alert, which, if reached, would mean evacuation for thousands of people living near the volcano.While some residents have already left as a precaution, others prefer to stay."We're not afraid," said Eufemia de Jesus Ramos, who sells birds at an animal market in San Andres Calpan, about 25 kilometers from Popocatepetl."If we leave, the thieves will take advantage of it," the 65-year-old said.© 2023 AFP

'Tired' Pope Francis has fever, clears his schedule

05/26/23 3:57 PM

"Due to a feverish state, Pope Francis did not receive an audience this morning," said Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni, without giving more details.It was unclear who the pope had been expected to meet with, as his agenda was not made public on Friday, as is customary.Vatican Secretary of State Pietro Parolin blamed the pontiff's busy schedule, saying he was tired."The pope was tired, yesterday he had a very busy day, he saw a lot of people .. he wanted to say hello to them all," said Parolin, according to Italian news agencies."And probably at a certain point the resistence breaks down."Francis had eight meetings Thursday, according to his published schedule.The pope's morning audiences are usually reserved for heads of states, associations and clerics, while his afternoons are devoted to work and private meetings.Next on Francis' schedule is Sunday's mass at St Peter's Basilica to celebrate Pentecost, followed by the traditional Regina Coeli prayer.On Monday, he is scheduled to meet with Italian President Sergio Mattarella.Francis, who has been the leader of the world's 1.3 billion Catholics for a decade, has suffered increasing health issues over the past year, from persistent pain in his right knee to sciatica to his recent hospital stay for bronchitis.The episodes have sparked widespread concern and fueled speculation that he might choose to retire rather than stay in the job for life, a choice made by his predecessor, Benedict XVI.In late March, Francis was admitted to hospital in Rome after having breathing difficulties, and stayed for three nights.He was treated with antibiotics for bronchitis.As he left the Gemelli Hospital on April 1, the pope smiled and joked with well-wishers, quipping: "I am still alive!"He went on to participate in Holy Week and Easter services, the most important week in the Christian calendar.Good days, bad daysFor about a year, the pope has had to rely on a wheelchair due to recurring pain in his knee that he has said cannot be treated through surgery.Asked about his health in an interview with US Spanish-language network Telemundo broadcast on Thursday, Francis said it was "much better"."I can walk now. My knee has been mending. I could hardly walk beforehand, now I can. Some days are more painful than others, like today," the pope said.Francis added that doctors had caught his bronchitis infection just in time."If we'd waited a few more hours, it would've been much more serious. But I was out (of the hospital) in four days," he said.Despite his health issues, Francis continues to travel widely, and concluded a three-day visit to Hungary earlier this month.His next planned trip is to Lisbon from August 2-6 to attend World Youth Day, the Vatican announced on Monday.The pope acknowledged last July, however, that he needed to slow down."At my age and with this limitation, I have to save myself a little bit to be able to serve the Church," he said then."Or, alternatively, to think about the possibility of stepping aside."In March, however, he insisted that he had no current plans to quit.Benedict XVI, who died on December 31 aged 95, surprised the world in 2013 when he announced he was stepping down, a radical move not seen since the Middle Ages.© 2023 AFP

10 Killed In Avalanche In Northern Pakistan

05/27/23 8:35 PM

An avalanche killed at least 10 people in a remote area of northern Pakistan on Saturday, officials said, adding that poor weather and limited accessibility were hampering rescue efforts.

10 Killed, 10 Wounded In Apparent Gunfight At Mexico Car Rally

05/22/23 7:31 AM

Gunmen in a vehicle opened fire on people and other vehicles at the off-road rally in an area of Ensenada, Baja California, said officials.

11 Of The Best Things To Do In London This Mother's Day And Paddy's Day Weekend

03/17/23 9:02 PM

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17 Very British Tweets About The Very British Queue To See The Very British Queen's Coffin

09/24/22 5:25 AM

"If you’re British, this is the queue you’ve been training for all your life. The final boss of queues."View Entire Post ›

7 People Arrested In Spain Linked To Racial Abuse Cases Against Vinícius Júnior

05/23/23 8:53 AM

The arrests come after an outpouring of support for the Real Madrid player after he said he was abused in Valencia.

7 Photo Stories That Will Challenge Your View Of The World

01/18/22 4:25 PM

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7-Year-Old Set His Home On Fire With Parents Inside, Arrested: US Police

05/27/23 11:15 PM

A picture of the home engulfed in flames was shared on Facebook by the Jackson County Sheriff's Department.

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