Sunday, July 28, 2013

Parting the red sea

Rainy, overcast skies are not keeping me apart from the surf at the summer house this Sunday morning.

The high bacteria count is.

This week the Rhode Island Department of Health closed Fogland State Beach in Tiverton.

The sparkling Sakonnet River’s blue-green waters are now an unappealing reddish color.

Scripture documents one of the first recorded occurrences of a red tide, the first of the ten plagues of Egypt in the Book of Exodus:

“By this you shall know that I am the Lord. Behold, I will strike the waters which are in the river with the rod that is in my hand, and they shall be turned to blood… The fish that were in the river died, the river stank, and the Egyptians could not drink the water of the river.”

According to the Rhode Island Sea Grant Fact Sheet, “There are millions of microscopic plants (phytoplankton) that exist in almost every drop of coastal seawater. With the right conditions, (sunlight and proper nutrients), these plants photosynthesize and multiply, creating a bloom. Most of these blooms are harmless, but a few species of phytoplankton cause red tides that are poisonous to marine animals and to humans.”

So, as I wait for nature to flush out the toxins near our seaside home, my thoughts are 5,000 miles away at another windswept, rain-drenched beach in Brazil.

Hundreds of thousands of young people from around the globe gathered at Copacabana Beach for World Youth Day 2013.

Pope Francis told them to imagine that they were with Jesus on the seashore.

As a religion writer, I have great interest in the pontiff’s first trip abroad and even more so because he is with Portuguese kin.

I am full-blooded Portuguese. All my forebears arrived in New England at the turn-of-the-twentieth century, emigrating from the island of St. Michael in the Azores.

Yet I also have ties to Brazil.

My mother’s godmother Dina left here to return to her husband’s homeland, settling in Sao Paulo. I have cousins living there that I have never met.

According to news reports, a wrong turn in downtown Rio De Janeiro brought Pope Francis into a crowd of Brazilians who swarmed his vehicle.

Unconcerned for his own safety, Pope Francis waved to the people through open windows and even kissed a baby as he passed.

A modern-day prophet parts the sea.

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