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Thursday, July 10, 2008

Finally, you get to see some photos!

Good Evening to All,

I finally have managed to upload photos to Photobucket and send them to this blog. It took a couple of hours on an unfamiliar and slower PC, in the Parish Office in a country where there is no indoor heating; so it's like sitting outdoors around 8 degrees minus the wind....

Anyway, here they are, but I'm afraid they're not in much order. There are photos taken the day of our departure, during the flights, in between flights in airports, on arrval, and all along the way.... up until our white water rafting last Monday - it's now Thursday evening here. In future, I will try to keep photos in separate folders for each day so the PC doesn't scramble them. Why PC's do such things I'll never understand, but there you are.


Fr. Gilles

WYD 2008 St Luke Pilgrims Photos 002

Photobucket Album

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Two years of anticipation - we finally meet our host families - Days 6-7

As we their team leaders observe our marvelous youth - and we are very proud of them, of their attitudes, of their behaviour, wherever we go - we are glad to see that so far our pilgrimage has been an adventure that manages to keep ahead of their expectations and is generally at a pace to match their youthful enthusiasm and boundless energy.... I can attest to that, no longer being so youthful myself!

I started numbering our pilgrim days at 0 for Wednesday and Thursday July 2-3 our travel days, with our first day on the ground here "down under" in New Zealand being Day 1. So then yesterday Wednesday July 9 was day 6 and we were off again to an early start, reporting at the breakfast area / conference room with our bags. The bus wasn't there and some of us became a little panicky, just a little, wondering whether we had gotten the time wrong, but no, David had gone with the bus to fuel up with diesel.

Many of the pilgrims bought the breakfast for NZ$13 and all who had it two days earlier got a $5 credit because they didn't actually provide enough bacon for everyone.... The rest of us opted to have breakfast from supplies we had accumulated these past few days. We were all in a good mood, in varying degrees of wakefulness, despite the third night in a row at or below zero, but we had gotten the knack of making the best of the room heater and layers of clothing. Some used their sleeping bags over their bed. Finally we were off exactly at 8:30 as scheduled, and our team leaders, guide, and driver were very happy about that, because we had an appointment to visit the Waitomo Caves at 11:00 a.m.

It was a long drive of over 2 hours away, and we observed magnificent landscape. In the far distance dark green tree covered mountains... at their feet rolling towards us energetic rolling hills covered with moist green grass kept quite short by flocks of sheep scattered all over the hill sides and tops, and around Rotorua, herds of dairy cows.... valleys and gulleys in between the hills and in some places brooks and little rivers, with sheep fences all over the place, and pretty little homesteads dotting the landscape here and there.

We pass through little villages and bigger towns, with picturesque and quaint homes.... We are told that in and around Auckland even modest 3 bedroom homes go for at least NZ$350,000. Nothing very big exists for less than that, unless you go into the countryside, but even there, it is hard to find anything for what we would consider a decent price. The cost of living is relatively high here. At first this was a shock to our pilgrims as we went out for meals or shopped at a food market for the fixings we needed to make a meal. However, since we rarely go out for three meals a day, we are remaining within the $35-50 range we originally told our pilgrims, which translates into NZ $45-65.

The Waitomo Caves are known worldwide because their ceilings are covered with glow worms that glow constantly as they burn their waste - they leave no droppings - and lower long sticky filaments with which to catch passing unsuspecting insects, which they then draw up to eat much as a fisherman draws up a fish caught on a fishing line hook. We had stopped just before arriving at the Caves because of the constant winding turns we were taking in the bus as we drove up into the hills, which caused a few to feel a bit noxious.... On arriving, we gathered outside the bus and lined up to await our guide.

I may not have mentioned before, but this is a good spot to do so... Whenever we have found ourselves waiting in line or in between activities, or for others to get back from something, our pilgrims naturally do as they do at home. They "swarm" together... in circles or in a row to chat, sit or lie down together, even nap together, like so many kittens or puppies in a litter.... When they are feeling more energetic, the "Haki Sak" enthusiasts gather in a circle of 5 to 8 or more to try to keep in the air without touching with their hands a little cloth bag the size of a golf ball, only it is soft and half filled with little beads.... It's really quite amazing to see them go at it for an hour on end, like when the first group had returned from white water rafting and had showered and changed and we awaiting the second group to return. The second group had hiked up the trail to observe the first group come over the 7 meter waterfall - not a 90 degree drop but more like a 45 degree rapid that goes down 7 meters - but once the first group was done, some hiked up the trail to observe the second group do it, while others just wanted to get out of their wet suits, boots, spray jackets, and fleece underneath it all....

Getting back to the caves, it was amazing to walk through the caves, up and down staircases put in after they were discovered, explored, and first opened for tours in 1889. Most of the caves are huge, as long as 40 kilometers - your eyes are not deceiving you - while the biggest one we got into here was a mere 80 or so meters long and 35 meters high. It is called the cathedral and has amazing acoustics since the limestone absorbs all the sound and leaves no echo. A number of famous singers have been here to sing in it: the Beatles, Tom Jones, and now St. Luke's Youth Choir! We kept going further down until we came to the home of the glow worms, and took two turns getting into one of two large aluminum boats capable of holding 25 or so. We sat down, did as we were told and kept very quiet and flashed no lights and took no pictures; so as not to spook the flow worms, lest they turn off their little lights.

It was so eerie and peacefully quiet down there, as we slowly drifted under ceilings of glow worms that looked like starry night skies.... When we finally emerged from the caves and walked back down the short trail to the bus, I couldn't help but notice the beautiful large trees in the gully dropping down fairly steeply on our left... for a moment I saw myself in one of the many scenes in The Lord of the Rings where the hobbits travelled through strange forests filled with living, moving trees.... It was so still, so calm and peaceful, so eerie in the half light of the shade under the canopy formed by the branches of the tall trees in the gully and the fern trees on the right.... I walked slowly, quietly, drinking in the sights, colors, stillness, fragrant moist air mixing the perfumes of the trees and plants all around....

One of those timeless moments you know will stay with you for a long time.... It was a kind of feeling mellow, as Helene said when we slowly walked away from the Polynesian Spa where we had soaked in that wonderful series of hot pools the other day... Well, that mellowness lingers with me, with us, and this is one of those moments where I was pleasantly aware of my whole body again in that mellowness, just from the sensory symphony of impressions in this place of marvels....

I believe that each pilgrim has been soaking up such experiences, and many have taken the opportunity to share their impressions with others in twos, threes, fours, etc. etc. and when we are all together....

We finally got ourselves back on the bus and drove back to Otorohangha, I think it was, where we had stopped earlier, only this time it was for lunch. We walked off in little flocks... Matthew wanted to join the others up ahead I could tell, and I accompanied him, as do all the mentors paired with younger pilgrims, and left him with Louis, knowing that this was one time I just couldn't bring myself to eat fast food - Subway - as comforting as it is for them to find something familiar. So I backtracked and found another little flock had gathered in a local grocery store open onto the street in a market like full view entrance and picked up bananas, cream cheese, a pear and made my way back to the bus to get some left over whole wheat bread, a tomato, and an opened jar of pitted olives stuffed with red pepper. When David got back and opened the bus I got those items and sat down at first at a picnic table in the shade and realizing it was around 10 degrees moved into the sun near a coffee shop. Pleasant to eat when you're hungry and warming up in the sun.....

Gradually, all the sheep gathered around the shepherd, Michael, chatting with contented tummies and smiling faces, in little groups, taking photos, and made our way back into the bus for our long drive to Pukekohe and St. Patrick Parish, where we would meet our host families. On the way Helene gave us a singing practice of the French Canadian songs in our songbook that we will sing for our hosts this week. We had a lot of fun not only singing them, but carrying on lively conversations about all that we have been experiencing. It's a wonder that Helene was able to carry on the practice at all, with all the chats going on, and she called on Philippe McAnany, Catherine Millette, Patrick Renaud, and others to help....

As we approached the town, the excitement level noticeably rose and Michael asked us to put on our Canadiens shirts. On arrival Laura Ieraci representing the Catholic Times and the Diocese of Montreal set up her tripod and camera and then we all filed out. There was a delegation of all generations waiting for us on the steps of their Parish Hall and we sang "He Reigns - Awesome God" for them. An elderly Sister from the Convent next door sang a Maori welcome song for us. Words were exchanged, and we were welcomed into the Hall for afternoon tea. How civilized and proper! We got our things off the bus and brought our bags into the Hall and mingled and enjoyed tea, which means tea, coffee, or other drinks such as juices, and cakes and cookies.

After a time, we had a little singing practice and at the same time sang for our hosts, inviting them to join in. Some of their youth also going as pilgrims to WYD 2008 in Sydney joined us. We sang the WYD 2008 theme song "Receive the Power" and several other songs. It's fair to say we raised the roof and warmed many hearts. Then our host families arrived and we were called by name and assigned to our hosts and sent to a table to retrieve our Auckland diocesan Pilgrim kit and an instruction sheet. Once everyone was assigned and announcements made, we all went off to our respective host homes. Seven other pilgrims and myself, including Louis, were assigned to the Tyburn Benedictine Monastery of contemplative Sisters, where they conduct what is called Continuous Adoration, i.e. not perpetual because they aren't enough to cover the week.

We had a lovely supper once we got our things into our rooms and after supper settled in. We joined the sisters for Compline, Night Prayer, at 8:00 p.m. and then went to our rooms. From what I hear, all of the pilgrims are encountering cultural differences of all kinds, from entering into homes without central heating and just electric space heaters in their room, to different diets and different ways of going about domestic activities, to the different climate. It's already dark at 5:30 or 6:00 pm and doesn't get light till around 8:00 am.

This morning we got ourselves breakfast and prepared to be picked up - we are the farthest from the church at around 15-20 minutes - and we gathered around and then went into the church for morning Mass. I went to the sacristy and was warmly welcomed by Fr. Ikenasio Vilaliano, originally from Samoa. I was thankful I kept my woolen sweater I bought a few days ago but regretted taking off my jacket which I could have kept under my alb. I must remember to bring my church cap I wear at St Luke in winter -my head and hands were bitterly cold in this unheated church - it must have been only 5 degrees if that. Still, Mass was lovely, and Jesus was here for us.... The pilgrims broke out in lively chatter and flocked together in the aisle after Mass.

We gathered together outside, the pilgrims chatting and sharing stories, while the leaders briefly met to discuss a few issues experienced overnight. Then we all trooped off for a 15-20 walk (not far our host coordinator Vicky said, just two blocks). She neglected to tell us it was two New Zealand blocks..... to a park where we helped the local Council plant some plants and trees along the sides of a brook to beautify the park, which they have worked very hard over a few years to clean up. The youth and leaders really got into this labor, the first real work we've had to do since we left Montreal. Carly and others also got to hold Vicky's baby before and afterwards in the still moments. A few got their shoes and pants muddy, but nothing that can't be easily remedied, and we were then treated to hotdogs (local sausage) on buttered brown bread we heated on the grill ourselves. Two local young men had grilled and prepared the sausages and napkins. Simplicity, with ketchup, but so satisfying after a good work shift!

There were also lots of bananas, apples, and cookies. Everyone had their water bottles and extra had been provided for those who didn't before we came to the park. Then our group did what they do so well, gathering around, sitting, chatting, playing Haki Sak, a few even climbed a tree to sit and chat... Our youth have enjoyed taking in the local youth and pilgrims.... And now, they have been at the school across the street for a singing practice, which must be over by now. I will continue trying to upload some photos, which is currently happening, and transfer new photos to my memory flash stick.

God bless you, one and all..... Union de priere. Desole que tout est en anglais....

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Day 5 - As we prepare to leave Kiwi Paka and meet our host families

Paul Di Libero

Jesus is truly present with us.

Catherine Millette

This is truly the most amazing felling in the world. There are no words to explain how we feel and the beauty of the group that surrounds us. God bless you all!

Jessica Pereira

New Zealand is FANTASTIC! It's impossible to describe the beauty and the greenery and the magnificence that surrounds us every minute of every day. Though we cant describe entirely the beauty of it all, we are becoming more and more grateful to the Lord as each day passes, as we are taking it all in. The power, the glory, the love and the infinite grandeur of God is so apparent to us now as we are journeying together. Thank-you Lord Jesus Christ!!!

Fr. Gilles

Day 5 has been exhilarating for the whole group.... After our Spaghetti Bolognese with garden salad prepared by Franca, Mario, Louis, Laura, Helene, and a host of others, we opened up this blog and several contributed posts.... Then we were off for a good night's sleep and awoke to, believe it or not, -2 degrees Celsius!!!! Even the bus had frost on it. I've been finding it hard to recover from the throat irritation and both yesterday and now today the second half of the day I have increasingly difficulty to speak without coughing, a dry cough. Several have offered help with their various remedies....

We were off to an early start at 7:15 this morning with breakfast at McDonald's and then on to the Agrodome where we enjoyed a gift shop of various sheep and wool related items of clothing and souvenirs, and then a show demonstrating the 19 different varieties of sheep in New Zealand, sheep shearing, lamb bottle feeding, cow milking, and a demonstration of sheep dog talent.... It was really very informative and entertaining.

We went on from there to Rainbow Springs - a sort of zoological garden where we observed in a nature park the various animals, birds, trees, and plants native to New Zealand and a wonderful setup for various trout that come up to spawn. I've never seen such humongous trout up to 30 inches long and some 8 inches or more in height... and over 5 kilos I'm sure.... in a beautiful pool with great vantage point views at poolside and up above it....

We went back to the mall and the food court for lunch and then on to Skyline Skyrides and Gondola / Luges where we rode gondolas up to the top of a mountain, what a view, and three brave souls rode the Sky Swing, a ride taking them up 100 feet by cable and then they pulled the cord themselves and were dropped, swinging in a huge arc back and forth until they stopped.... breathtaking! Just about everyone rode little luges down the mountain and went back up for a couple more rides.... They all had a lot of fun, and of course several of the youth played Haki Sak, or however it's spelled, in groups up to 8 in a circle.... Whenever they have a few moments in between acitivity.... They're getting to be very agile and a second group has begun.

We had supper back at Kiwi Paka and then a Prayer Service, given that my voice has just about given out and I can't speak without coughing, and Divine Providence made this a wonderful opportunity for the youth to celebrate Evening Prayer and share their thoughts and feelings as the Lord spoke to them in the reading, Psalm, and Gospel of Jesus calming the storm. How very deeply these young adults and adolescents live their lives and faith, responding deeply to all that happens to the members of their families, to their friends, to school and work colleagues.... Some of them shared how they came to faith or to know the Lord, or how Jesus has comforted them, and how intensively they desire those they know and love to come to know Him and taste his consolation too....

They then prayed for all of these people they mentioned, for Pope Benedict who himself faces many obstacles in his way as he prepares to come to meet us in Sydney, for our host families preparing to receive us tomorrow, for all the other Catholic youth of the world preparing to come and for those unable, and for all Christian and other youth and all people facing the challenges of life in our time.... They also remembered with affection and gratitude our families, friends, and all the parishioners who have been so supportive and who are in spiritual communion with us in prayer and joyful anticipation of the grace the Lord is pouring out upon us all in these days of grace. Pope Benedict is praying for and anticipating that these World Youth Days will be for the young pilgrims and for the whole Church a new Pentecost for a renewed period of evangelization that more and more people in our world may come to know Jesus, accept Him as their Saviour, and love Him, and in this way come to know the joy, peace, and love we who believe in Him have come to know....

Well, off to bed... after we pack our bags for another early departure.... Please pray for us, and for me that I may recover my health and voice....

Monday, July 07, 2008

Day 3-4 News, comments, notes from our pilgrims....

Julia K
Soaking in New Zealand's natural hot springs today, we had the oppurtunity to appreciate this county's beauty at it's fullest. Though all the pilgrims were reluctant to leave the springs, we were greatful for the chance to witness the beauty of this country, and greatful to God for guiding us here. We look forward to what each new day will bring.

Amber Adaszkiewicz
This trip has been such an amazing adventure. The amazing scenery is beautiful and the memories were share together would be a longterm rememberance. I'm so grateful to God for allowing me to share this wonderful experience with my second family. This will be a trip that we will never forget.

Patrick Renaud
Ce voyage est pour linstant une experience absolument incroyable a vivre. Bien entendu le paysage est paradisiaque et ce, a perte de vue; cest beau et tu sens cette beaute transcender tout ton etre. chaque journee est un collier assemblant des moments-perles inoubliables. Je remercie sincerement tous et toutes ceux qui ont contribue dune facon ou une autre a la gigantesque organisation de ce pelerinage. jespere seulement que les temoignages et les photos que vous trouverez sur ce blog vous inspira la meme senerite.

Ryan Alfred
This trip is a once in a lifetime experience and I'm so grateful God has given me the strength to go on this grand pilgramage. A big part of this trip for me is the actual faith journey, it has helped me to connect to God a lot more so far. Experiencing this trip with some of my best friends only makes this hourney so much more exciting sng wonderful. I miss everyone back home and am praying for you. WYD is only the beginning of this pilgrimage I'm on.

Erin Johnston
Wow. Through all the rain, wind and cool New Zealand air, God's work and beauty is so vibrant and amazing here. So far, the scenery has been amazingly beautiful. Though we have had our many cold days, God has blessed us with a safe trip here as well as a wonderful opportunity. I have a feeling that this experience will definitely help all 46 of us to grow deeper in our faith... and if a few hot springs are included on the way, all the better!
We all miss everyone back home and are extremely thankful and greatful for all of your help and support in sending us pilgrims to New Zealand and Australia this year for the trip and pilgimage of a lifetime!
I thank God for all that we have had the chance to see and do. It is amazing!

Matthew Rettino
Here we are at the other end of the world, and yet it feels like we could be home, though it is just the same entirely different. The Waikato region of New Zealand looks like we are in Vermont or the Eastern Townships save for the odd tropical plant. This is an entirely new experiance for me. Until now, I have never flown, never been to another continent, never been to another hemisphere, and never been to another radically climate. I have also never consdidered myself on a pilgrimage. This pilgrimage is the summit of the trials of the year, with finishing High School and all finishing writting a book just before. I am treasuring every single experiance in this new land and look forward to going to Australia and get that place stamped in my passport as well. I hope World Youth Day in Sydney will chan ge my way of thinking in some way before I return home. It is truly amazing here, a good country.

Fr. Gilles
Well, time to wrap it up for today / tonight. God bless us all, everyone, as Tiny Tim said so well in A Christmas Carol. Union de priere....

Greetings from Kiwi Paka **** Youth Hostel in Rotorua, New Zealand - Days 3-4

Greetings to All,

Sorry for the lack of posting yesterday, but it was quite a day. Saturday we celebrated a weekday Mass at the Armitage Hotel in Tauranga and we left there Sunday morning after such a hearty breakfast I have the impression it was really a Hobbit breakfast: sausages, eggs, fried mushrooms, beans, various fruit from preserves, fresh fruit wedges, cheeses, toast, coffee or tea, juice, and on and on.... poor pilgrims we were not in that wonderful moment!

On the road we went to visit Kiwi 360 which is a display farm like an eco museum combination arboretum displaying all the kinds of fruit and nut trees grown in New Zealand. It was an amazing tour on a little motorized train with a great guide. We stopped a few places to see close and touch the trees and kiwi vines that grow about 6 feet off the ground. Kiwi was the first local product of New Zealand fuelling their independence around 50 years ago and continues to drive the national economy. We got to sample green and golden kiwi fruit in the gift shop and also some local kiwi and other wines and liqueurs. (We were careful of our minors, don't worry.) It was very pleasant and most bought souvenirs, plastic bottles of kiwi juice, fresh kiwi fruit which are harvested over a 6 week period every year in April/May.

Our itinerary was tweaked by Michael and our team of leaders who then had our guide Margot and bus driver Dave bring us to a supermarket where we had time to stock up on items for lunch and perhaps another meal and snacks. We enjoyed the shopping too much and took more time than we had been allowed, so we only had 30 minutes to get back to Kiwi Paka 5 minutes away, prepare and eat our lunches and get back on the bus, but we made it! Margot was impressed that such a large group could actually make and eat lunch in 20 minutes flat! The reason was we had an appointment for a tour of the Maori Cultural Center, which is so busy with tours that we would have missed out had we been late.

Very fascinating culture, the Maori, who are a Polynesian people who came here some seven centuries ago. Like most indigenous peoples, they identify God as represented in the elements of the environment with which they relate and from which they derive their sustenance; so that the various tribes relate to the ocean, or the forest, or the mists, as do the locals here, who have settled in the area at the center of volcanic geysers and mists. The guide left a deep impression on us of a people with strong family and ancestral ties, a strong sense of honor and identification to one's tribe and family. We lingered a bit there and in the gift shop and by the time we made our way to Kiwi Paka and settled into our chalets, it was past six o'clock.

Until now, we shared rooms in twos - one adult with a minor - but now we were grouped in fours with two sleeping in beds on the ground floor and two on the upper level. Because we had not had the opportunity to have an exact time at which we would have wanted to celebrate Sunday Mass - we had planned to celebrate before supper but hadn't been able to communicate that in advance to the desk - it took a while for us to negotiate permission to use the only conference room from the group that had exclusively reserved it. In the end, we celebrated Sunday Mass at 9:30 until 10:15, and it turned out to be a very personally meaningful celebration. At the Offertory each pilgrim came to place a host for Communion in the paten and mentioned out loud an intention for which he or she particularly felt drawn to pray: a person, a place or people in the world, or a situation. I got to hear them all, and it was profoundly moving to see how deeply each pilgrim felt about the intentions, needs, hopes, and caring for others they carry within.....

Everyone seemed to get a good night's sleep, but we are all still learning to adapt ourselves to this winter climate. It was cold in our chalets despite the heater in each of them. You see, there are only single pane windows, this being a moderate and almost semi-tropical climate. When it's 10-11 degrees in the morning, it's 4-5 degrees during the night. So we find ways, sleeping with tuques, caps, scarves, whatever works.... We had breakfast - a very simple, even frugal buffet served up by the hostel - and were off to the Kaituna River 20 minutes from Rotorua with River Rats White Water Rafting for, you've got it, WHITE WATER RAFTING!!!! We hope at some point to post photos, if I can find a PC that's up to date enough to allow it. You'll definitely get to see them on our return. We hired two professional photographers who took lots of shots and gave us 5 CD's with infinite copy rights!

Three of us bumped or bruised out hose or head.... Isabelle Correa, who had been with us along with Laura Ieraci of the Catholic Times and also representing the Archdiocese, and Louis McAnany, and Stephanie Chehab, but all are well and glad for their experience..... It was quite the exhilarating experience, even for Laura and I and our Guide Margot who simply watched. Had it not been for my throat irritation and dry little cough, I would have been in there like a flash...

However, it was a delight to have lunch at a central food place in a mall where there were half a dozen food counters; so all 47 of us (40 St Luke + 4 Chinese Mission + Isabelle & Laura + our Guide Margot) could choose what we wanted without having to wait hardly at all. Matthew Rettino and I (we were grouped in our pairs for rooming) had fish and chips and they were so good we had a second helping, which we shared both times. Then we drove a relatively short distance to the Thermal Baths and had an exquisite time going from one thermal pool to another ranging from 38 to 45 degrees C..... Awwww... poor, poor pilgrims!!!!!!!!!

Well, let me tell you, considering all the cold we've endured, it was really divine providence that arranged us to be warmed, comforted, and consoled in these baths. Truly therapeutic in every way.... It's been some time since any of us have felt so relaxed, mellow, alive, great.... We came back, and with military precision, in minutes gathered in the conference room and prepared for the Holy Eucharist, and once again put our intentions along with a host into the paten.... and so prepared ourselves. The Lord spoke gentle words to us about how He is the One who as our loving Father and Creator provides all these powerful forces for our good and life, as Francis of Assisi was the first to so clearly proclaim it: Blessed are You O Lord our Creator for Sister Water, so fair and pure, for her power to cleanse and refresh us....

The gods identified by the Maori in the elements of nature are actually the servants of the God we have come to know and adore in Jesus, who alone reveals to us the Father. As in the Gospel Jesus touched and revived the little dead girl and the woman with the hemorrhage, so too does He call us to touch others in their need and bring them the same comfort and consolation with which He fills us with life and goodness.... Now it's time for me to let this go and join the gang in enjoying a pasta supper Franca just cooked up for 47!!!!!

We will now being to include pilgrims in this blog, as they come over to the PC and add their comments, observations, messages to you all..... Enjoy them.

Sandra Ouellet
Up to now, my journey is as colourful as a rainbow:
Red for all the warmth we can feel,
Orange for the glow of our light unto the world,
Yellow for having good weather or hoping to see the sun,
Green for being respectful and nice with others in ANY situation,
Blue for having a place where we can rest,
Indigo for having such faith to cross all boundaries,
Violet for hoping to have a better world.