28 February 2009

First Sunday of Lent; National Migrants' Sunday, Philippines

Above is the cover of Misyon for September-October 2006 featuring Tony McAvoy, lay chaplain of the Apostleship of the Sea in Teesport in the northeast of England, and Vincent, a Filipino seafarer. Vincent was the ‘poster boy’ of the AOS for their annual appeal in the dioceses of England and Wales in July 2005, when I did some appeals for the Columbans in Westminster and Nottingham.

Fr Arsenio Redulla, a Filipino diocesan priest who worked for a while with the Columbans in Ireland, told me a beautiful story of something that happened about twenty years ago. He was doing mission appeals for the Columbans in the Diocese of Waterford and Lismore. Waterford is a port city in the south-east of Ireland. Early on a Sunday morning he was driving from the city to a parish outside when he saw a young Filipino man, the only person on the streets, thumbing a lift. Being the only Filipino priest in Ireland at the time Father Arsenio, of course, stopped.

The young Filipino was a seaman whose ship had just docked and he was hoping that someone would help him find a church where he could attend Mass.

I told that story during my homily in a church in Westminster where I saw the poster with Vincent. After Mass a young member of the Royal Navy, a West Indian, approached me and thanked my.

It is persons such as the young seaman in Waterford that Fr Edwin Corros CS, executive secretary of the Episcopal Commission for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People, has in mind in the statement below for National Migrants’ Sunday, observed in the Philippines every year on the first Sunday of Lent.

As the second reading in the Mass for Ash Wednesday reminded us, ‘So we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us’ (2 Cor 5:20).

When I go home to Ireland I inevitably hear from friends about the kindness they found in Filipino nurses, either while they were patients or while visiting someone in hospital. One friend, whose wife died after a long stay in hospital, brought me to meet the nurses who had taken such loving care of her. One of the typically Filipino things they had done was to have a little party on what was to be her last birthday, even though she was totally unaware of it.

Politicians here speak of ‘OFWs’ (Overseas Filipino Workers) as our ‘modern-day heroes’. Very few politicians here care about the people so their words are empty. Some people suggest that those who stay at home with less pay are the real heroes.

Some sacrifice family life totally in order to build a better house for their family and send their children to good schools. But is it worth it? Husbands and wives are separated. Children grow up not knowing one or other parent, sometimes not knowing either, as they are left in the care of grandparents or of uncles and aunts.

OFWs are ambassadors for Christ, says CBCP (Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines) official

MANILA, February 27, 2009─Overseas Filipino workers are not only “modern heroes”, as the government would like to cite them for the money they bring, but in the eyes of the Church, they are ambassadors for Christ.

Fr. Edwin Corros, CS, executive secretary of the Episcopal Commission for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People (ECMI) said OFWs are evangelizers in their own right and as such can be regarded as ambassadors for Christ.

“That is a beautiful word to describe the migrants, that they are actually ambassadors for Christ. Imagine, as ambassadors you are carrying with you the values of Jesus,” said Corros, adding:
“Think about the roles of our ambassadors, our diplomatic officials. They carry with them the culture, the values [of their native land]. That is how you are supposed to present yourself to your host. St. Paul as ambassador for Christ, carried with him such responsibility, such value that wherever he goes as a missionary to the gentiles, he presented not himself but Christ,” he explained.

Cited by Pope John Paul II as modern-day missionaries, Filipinos working overseas practiced the Catholic faith in their adoptive country more fervently than in their own native land.
They find solace in their faith in the midst of deprivation, loneliness and exploitation in the workplace.

The 23rd National Migrants Sunday celebration on March 1 has taken the theme “The sacrifices of the Filipino migrants mirror the journey of St. Paul.”

Corros said the chosen theme is very opportune not simply because the Church celebrates Pauline year but that OFWs can relate very well with the Apostle’s own experience of travails and uncertainties.

“Our migrants are sacrificing [a lot] for the sake of their [families’] future. St. Paul always reminded the communities he founded to think of other Christians, other communities who need help,” Corros said.

Despite poverty and difficulties Filipino migrant workers can still think of reaching out to others in need, said Corros

“The Filipinos are very generous; they are always expressing their philanthropic [acts] either in goods or in cash. I remember when a landslide occurred in Quezon in 2004 [and the] province was inundated by flash flood. I called up our chaplain overseas. In a matter of one month I was able to gather I million plus of donation. This is for me a testament to the generosity of our Filipino migrants,” said Corros. (Pinky Barrientos, FSP)

Please pray for all migrants and refugees.

First Sunday of Lent, Jesus in the Wilderness

Christ in the Wilderness, Ivan Kramskoy, 1872

Mark 1: 12-15
The Spirit immediately drove Jesus out into the wilderness. And he was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels ministered to him. Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent, and believe in the gospel."


Chuir an Spiorad Íosa amach faoin bhfásach é agus bhí sé daichead lá san fhásach á phromhadh ag Sátan. Agus bhí sé in éineacht leis na beithígh allta; agus bhí na haingil ag freastal air. Tar éis Eoin a bheith tugtha ar láimh, tháinig Íosa go dtí an Ghailíl ag fógairt soiscéal Dé agus ag rá: “Tá an tréimhse caite agus tá ríocht Dé in achmaireacht. Déanaigí aithrí agus creidigí sa soiscéal.”

Tagalog (Biblia ng Sambayanang Pilipino)

Kayat itinulak siya ng Espiritu sa disyerto, at apatnapung araw siyang nanatili sa disyerto. Tinukso siya ni Satanas; kasama niya ang mga hayop, at pinaglingkuran siya ng mga anghel.
Pagkadakip kay Juan, pumunta si Jesus sa Galilea. Doon niya ipinahayagang magandang balita ng Diyos sa pagsasabing “Sumapit na ang panahon; magbagong-buhay at maniwala sa magandang balita; lumapit na nga ang Kaharian ng Langit.’

Saturday after Ash Wednesday, The Call of Levi/Matthew

Caravaggio painted The Call of St Matthew in 1599-1600. The account of this event from St Luke 5:27-32, read today at Mass, uses the name ‘Levi’ for the tax-collector.

After this Jesus went out, and saw a tax collector, named Levi, sitting at the tax office; and he said to him, "Follow me." And he left everything, and rose and followed him. And Levi made him a great feast in his house; and there was a large company of tax collectors and others sitting at table with them. And the Pharisees and their scribes murmured against his disciples, saying, "Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?" And Jesus answered them, "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance."

William Russell Maltby was a Protestant clergyman and author who wrote an imaginary letter from Levi/Matthew to Zacchaeus, another tax collector featured in St Luke 19:1-10. (I have found that the story of this little man appeals very much to young people here in the Philippines.) I haven’t been able to find any information about Maltby except that he published a book, Christ and His Cross, in 1936.

I came across this letter in a book called Machnaimh don Charghais (Reflections for Lent) by Fr Caoimhín de Líon of the Archdiocese of Dublin. I’m translating from his Irish (Gaelic) translation of the original.

Dear Zacchaeus

This very day I had Jesus, the prophet from Nazarath, here for dinner. I’m excited about him . . . He was so easy to listen and speak to. I told him how I came to be a tax collector . . . he listened to me and looked at me so kindly as if he understood everything. The more I looked at him the more I wanted to start my life anew. At the end of the meal he left and my gaze fo9llowed him till he was out of sight. It was all I could do not to run after him. I understand that he’s heading for Jericho. Be sure to see him. Don’t let anything get in your way.

PS We’re on the wrong road, Zacchaeus. But, since Jesus was here, I’m thinking that God hasn’t given up on us yet. ‘Do you think that we can both make a fresh start?’

Detail of the face of Christ from Caravaggio's painting

26 February 2009

Ash Wednesday and Lent

Yesterday I had two Ash Wednesday Masses, one in the chapel across the road from where I live and where I celebrate Mass from Tuesday to Saturday, the other at Holy Family Home, run by the Capuchin Tertiary Sisters of the Holy Family, for girls who come from dangerous or deprived situations. For the first time in years I used the traditional ‘Remember, man, you are dust and to dust you will return’ rather than ‘Turn away from sin and be faithful to the gospel’ (Mk 1:15).

Each Lent I remember growing up in Dublin in the ‘50s and the packed churches every morning of Lent, workers and students, all going to daily Mass without anyone forcing them to. Now the churches in Ireland are bereft of adolescents and young adults on Sundays.

I don’t know why there has been such a colossal falling away from the faith in the last 40 years. What I do know is that there was much more participatio actuosa, or active participation, in the Mass when I was young than now, when there is often more activity, but less participation. In the 1980s a classmate of mine, the late Fr Desmond Hartford, was appointed apostolic administrator of the Prelature of Marawi in Mindanao, one of very few church jurisdictions in the Philippines with a majority of Muslims – about 95 percent. A group of us went to meet him at the airport in Cagayan de Oro. Father Des had made it clear that he wanted a ‘low-key welcome’. Due to a miscommunication he didn’t arrive at all and one of my companions said ‘You can’t get more low-key than that’.

Well you can’t get lower participation in Mass when nobody attends.

One of my memories from my young days is the ‘acclamation of faith’ after the consecration and elevation. It wasn’t called such nor mentioned in the rubrics but it was a powerful expression of faith – the cough of the whole congregation releasing its tension knowing that something truly awesome had just happened.

Father Desmond replaced Bishop Bienvenido Tudtud, who died in a plane crash in 1987 and who, with the full encouragement and blessing of Pope Paul VI, pioneered what he called ‘Dialogue of Life’ between Christians and Muslims in an area where there had been centuries of hostility and sometimes outright war. He started Duyog Ramadan, ‘Accompanying Ramadan, to heighten the awareness of Christians about the holy season of Muslims and to ask them to pray for them. Since then some attempt has been made, I think, to encourage Muslims to engage in a form of Duyog Cuaresma, or ‘Accompanying Lent’.
But surely there’s an anomaly when, on the one hand, we have become more aware of the religious practices of others and are respectful of them, but, on the other hand, we have ditched our own. The Lenten fast means little now, though I was pleasantly surprised while in Britain from 2000 to 2002 that there was still some awareness of Lent as a Christian observance.

We know that Muslims and Jews don’t eat pork and we would never offer it to them. But in our ‘wisdom’ we have dropped Friday abstinence, a common act of penance throughout the year that was universal except, I think, in the former Spanish Empire, where there had been a dispensation.

Archbishop Charles J. Chaput OFMCap, in his homily for last Sunday – you can find the link to the audio here - reminds his people that going out for lobster on Friday during Lent is not quite in the spirit of Lenten abstinence.

However, as this morning’s readings (Thursday) remind us, we can still choose to make Lent a time for personal renewal and for the renewal of the whole Church as we prepare to celebrate the Resurrection.

24 February 2009

Death of Cardinal Kim of South Korea

The late Cardinal Stephen Kim Sou-hwan of Seoul was highly respected in the Republic of Korea. The Archdiocese of Seoul has more than 1,200,000 Catholics out of a population of more than ten million.

A report on Ucanews shows how people saw him as a true pastor, even when he opposed them. More than 400,000 paid their respects during the Cardinal’s wake. Among them were some former presidents, including the country’s first, and I think only, Catholic president, Thomas More Kim Dae-jung. I didn’t know until now that his baptismal name was ‘Thomas More’. I wonder if his parents imagined that their son, carrying the names of the patron of politicians and lawyers, would one day be president? He too, like his illustrious English namesake, spent time in prison when Cardinal Kim used to visit him. However, unlike the saint, he survived.

The Columbans have been in Korea since 1933 and many of them knew Cardinal Kim well. He was aware of the importance that sport plays in the lives of Irish Columbans. The major Gaelic Football and Hurling competitions are between the 32 counties, ironically divisions created by the English. The Dublin teams in these two sports, along with their followers, and indeed all natives of the city and county, are known as ‘Dubs’. On one occasion when he was going to Ireland one of my confreres, a fellow ‘Dub’, instructed the Cardinal to convey the message ‘Up the Dubs’ when he visited our headquarters in Ireland. He faithfully carried out his mission.

The Ucanews report shows a bishop in touch with the lives of ordinary people and one who gained the respect of politicians to whom he stood up in the matter of human rights.

May this faithful priest rest in peace.

Photos: Cardinal Stephen Kim Sou-hwan celebrating Mass for people with leprosy at St Lazarus Village in Anyang on 29 May 2005 and, two weeks earlier, visiting Holy Family Child Adoption Center in Seoul.

The UCANews report has links to related stories about the death of Cardinal Kim.

Benedictine Sister, environmentalists, harassed by Philippine soldiers

Benedictine Sister Stella Matutina (right) in a press conference on Feb. 19 in Davao City, Southern Philippines. She said armed soldiers wearing camouflaged uniforms harrassed her and two environmentalists after they organized a village forum on mining-related issues.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) have a miserable record in the area of human rights. Most officers sold their souls to the dictatorship of President Marcos when he declared Martial Law in September 1972, the year after I arrived here. Many thousands died at the hands of soldiers, the excuse being that the victims were ‘Communists’, ‘leftists’ and ‘subversives’. No doubt, some victims were but it was never a capital crime to be such. Some of these too had blood on their hands, especially members of the New People’s Army (NPA).

The military redeemed themselves to some degree after the ‘People Power’ revolt in Metro Manila in 1986 that toppled the Marcos regime after the rigged counting of votes in the election where the people voted for Cory Aquino to be president.

The AFP has far too many generals and quite a few of them get high-paying government jobs for which they’ve no qualifications, eg, ambassadorships, when they retire from the military.

About two years a general linked by a government report with many killings was singled out for praise by President Arroyo in her state-of-the-nation address. In an article about that same general in a widely read newspaper he was quoted as saying ‘I have no conscience’. Just last night in an article on conscience by Fr Vincent Twomey SVD, a former student of Pope Benedict, in the October issue of Inside the Vatican Hermann Goering is quoted as saying ‘I have no conscience, Hitler is my conscience’.

A story from UCANews shows the military, or at least some members of it, in bad light. A quote from the regional military spokesman shows an utterly idiotic understanding of the mission of the Church and of that of Sisters. The Missionary Benedictine Sisters of Tutzing – Tutzing is near Munich – aren’t nuns, despite the headline, but religious sisters. Nuns are contemplatives, living in monasteries and aren’t involved in pastoral work. The Tutzing Benedictines, among other things, run schools. They live in community, wear habits and pray the Liturgy of the Hours as part of their daily life. So they do have aspects of the life of nuns.

The AFP spokesman prefers ‘Hollywood nuns’, totally removed from the mission of the Church and from reality.

Many parts of the Philippines have been destroyed by mining companies and by loggers. Members of the military have been involved in illegal logging, as I know from the parish in Mindanao where I served in the early 1990s. Visiting students from Sweden discovered illegally-cut logs in the watershed in the mountains in the area. I met with some soldiers in the house of a parishioner involved with a group trying to protect the forests and to observe the laws of the Philippines. The soldiers wanted the group to take down a banner. The military men were polite with me but they were engaged in a form of harassment against ordinary people trying to have the laws of the land implemented.

On one occasion I celebrated Mass in the military camp where the soldiers, officers and men, lived in fairly primitive conditions. Before the Mass I read a statement condemning the illegal cutting of trees issued by the head of the AFP. The officer whom I knew to be involved in illegal logging in the area was present before I read the statement but not when Mass ended.

In the last couple of weeks the first reading in the weekday Masses was from the Book of Genesis and included both accounts of creation. God’s own Word demands that we respect what He has created and that we take good care of it, including all of God’s creatures, most of all man, made in God’s image and likeness.

Sister Stella and her companions are engaged in a mission of life. God hasn’t called her to be in the convent 24/7 but to engage in active ministry in the Church.

Below is the report.

PHILIPPINES Nun, environmentalists complain of harassment after forum

By Frinston Lim February 20, 2009

DAVAO CITY, Philippines (UCAN) -- A Benedictine nun and two environmental activists said soldiers harassed them after they held a forum on mining and sustainable agriculture in a southern Mindanao village.

"Armed men barged in and roused all of us at gunpoint," Sister Stella Matutina, 40, said in a press conference in the southern Davao City on Feb. 19. "They demanded to see the documents and materials used during the forum."

The group, invited by local officials, had finished an "anti-mining forum" and talk on sustainable agriculture in Taytayan village on Feb. 15. They were sleeping in a village hall when the incident allegedly took place.

The Sisters' Association in Mindanao condemned the incident. "The Armed Forces of the Philippines is sending out the chilling message that no Religious can disrupt their plans of protecting the interests of logging, mining and big businesses," read their statement presented at the press conference.

Sister Matutina, together with Panalipdan, a broad alliance of environmentalists and peoples' organizations, has helped in documenting mining activities in Mindanao's Davao Oriental province, including those of the world's largest mining company BHP Billiton.

Panalipdan's Davao Oriental chairman Wenceslao Mapa and Councilor Maria Fe Matibo from the provincial capital of Mati joined Sister Matutina to conduct the forum.

However, masked gunmen wearing camouflaged military uniforms woke them up before 4 a.m. the next day.

Sister Matutina said the men introduced themselves as soldiers and told her she was not supposed to be there. The nun and the environmentalists were held for hours, until Mati diocese sent Father Edmundo Escobal to negotiate for their release.

Major Randolph Cabangbang, regional military spokesperson contacted by telephone, denied any harassment had taken place and described the incident as propaganda by groups linked to Maoist rebels.

He said soldiers went to the area "to check reports of suspicious-looking and armed men."

"Our soldiers did not know the nun was there," he said. "What was she doing there? She was supposed to stay in the convent. What she did there wasn't related to her Church work." (Comment: What an idiotic statement.)

At the news conference, Mapa told reporters that the gunmen had pointed two rifles at him and he felt "traumatized." Matibo said she felt embarrassed about the way the nun and Mapa were treated.

Sister Matutina said the incident infuriated her, but she was most concerned about how soldiers would treat "ordinary people who cannot defend their rights."

Panalipdan reported it documented more than 100 applications for mining exploration permits submitted to the provincial government as of December 2008.


19 February 2009

'In sickness and in health . . .'

I said in my previous post that I wouldn’t be posting for some days. But when I came across this story on Life SiteNews.com I couldn’t but post it.

Catholic News Agency also has the story with a video.

This is what love is all about.

Husband of Woman in Coma for 17 Years Visits Wife Three Times Daily, Won't Give UpWill love his wife "until God has the last word"

By Matthew Cullinan Hoffman

SANTIAGO, February 18, 2009 (LifeSiteNews.com) - In a story that stands in stark contrast to the Eluana Englaro and Terri Schiavo cases in Italy and the United States, a Chilean man has been visiting his comatose wife for 17 years, and says he won't give up on her.
Carlos Abarca has always visited his wife regularly, and now that he has retired from the national police force, he is able to come three times a day. He says that caring for her is his whole life.

"My affection will always be focused on her, I have never doubted it," he told the Chilean daily El Mercurio, which broke the story. "I don't seek for more from life than caring for her. There is nothing more to do."

The affection he has for his wife, says Abarca, is "stronger than ever. I want to protect her, care for her, make sure she is well, that she lacks nothing."

Erika Sotelo has been in a coma since 1995, when the anesthesia given to her for a hysterectomy caused her heart to stop beating. By the time doctors revived her, Sotelo's brain had suffered damage due to oxygen deprivation. She has never recovered complete consciousness.
However, her husband has never lost hope in her, and recognizes signs of awareness in his wife, despite doctors' claims that she is in a "vegetative state."

Abarca says that he knows his wife can hear, noting that she stirs when spoken to.
"Sometimes when one speaks to her in her ear she begins to cry, so I have better reason to believe that she can hear. Sure, the doctors always contradict it, but I believe that it is to prevent one from hoping, so that one doesn't delude one's self, but I know better than everyone."

Abarca says he will continue to love his wife, "until God has the last word. In the end, if tomorrow she must go, our conscience will be clear." However, he adds, he is not ready for that yet.

"Many people say, 'you're accustomed to this,' but no, day by day it's different and one can't become accustomed to it. I'm not ready for her to leave."

Latin American news sources reporting on the case have noted the stark difference between Abarca's attitude of patience and commitment, and that of the father of Eluana Englaro, an Italian who recently dehydrated his daughter to death after she fell into a minimally conscious state following a car accident in 1992.

Similarly, Terri Schiavo was starved and dehydrated to death in the United States in 2005 by her husband Michael, who had begun to live with another woman and had obtained a substantial damage award in a malpractice suit related to his wife's case. Schiavo's parents and brother and sister, however, fought to the end for her life, but in the end custody was given over to her husband, who issued the order for the death by dehydration.

In Chile the wife retains her own surname.

World Federation of Catholic Medical Associations' Statement on Obama


17 February 2009. Sources: Zenit and CatholicCulture.org

The FIAMC is the World Federation of Catholic Medical Associations. They issued this statement on 11 February, World Day of the Sick and the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes. Strangely, the federation's own English-language website doesn’t carry the statement. Their latest statement there is one of good wishes for Christmas 2008. They surely need to do something about this.

I have highlighted one paragraph in the statement as there is a growing pattern of lack of respect for the consciences of medical personnel, eg, Australia .

President Obama didn’t hide his extreme pro-abortion views during his campaign but so many refused to take on board what he was saying, what he has done and what he promised to vies. Can you trust any politician, black, white or brown, who in the first couple of days of his administration decides to fund the killing of pre-born babies in developing countries?

The election of Barak Obama as President of the United States marked an important watershed in American history and culture. Running for office in a time marked by economic and geo-political turmoil, Obama promised to be a force for positive change, political reconciliation and effective government. Unfortunately, President Obama has begun his term with actions that will undermine respect for human life, human dignity and religious freedom. We call upon Catholic physicians and health care providers, and all people of good will, to spare no effort in convincing President Obama to reverse these decisions.

During the 2008 campaign, some Catholics and self-identified Catholic advocacy groups endorsed Barak Obama for President based in part on his support for economic justice and foreign policy, and in part on his pledge to try to reduce the number of abortions by increased social spending on support for pregnant women. Yet as a legislator and as a candidate, Obama had taken positions utterly opposed to respect for human life. For example:

-- Obama has long been an advocate of abortion on demand, and has touted his 100% approval rating from Planned Parenthood, the largest provider of abortion in the United States;

-- Obama opposed every limitation on abortion, including laws requiring parental notification and consent before minors could obtain abortions;

-- Shockingly, as a state senator, Obama actively opposed any protections for infants born alive after failed abortion procedures and misrepresented his record on this issue during the 2008 campaign;

-- Finally, during the campaign, Obama proudly proclaimed his support for the “Freedom of Choice Act” (FOCA) -- the most radical expansion of abortion license in the world -- and promised to sign the law as President.

In addition to his unqualified support for abortion, Obama has promised to provide federal funding for stem-cell research that destroys human life at the embryonic stage.

Since taking office, President Obama has engaged in a series of actions that indicate that he is prepared to implement his prior support for abortion.

-- Within the first few days of taking office, Obama overturned the “Mexico City Policy,” a U.S. government policy that denies federal funding to international agencies that promote or perform abortion as a means of birth control;

-- More ominously, when overturning this policy, President Obama indicated his willingness to provide financial support to the United Nations Population Fund, an organization that lost U.S. government funding after it collaborated with the Chinese government’s coercive “one child” population policy.

-- President Obama is filling his Cabinet and Administration positions with supporters of abortion, including Hillary Clinton, Secretary of State (who has long been a proponent of abortion “rights” in the United States and around the world); Rahm Emanuel, White House Chief of Staff (who had a 100% voting record with the National Abortion Rights Action League as a member of Congress and a reputation as an aggressive pro-choice politician); Dawn Johnsen, nominee for Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Legal Counsel (who was the Legal Director for NARAL and part of the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project); Eric Holder, Attorney General (who has been a longtime supporter of abortion “rights”); Melody Barnes, Chair of the Domestic Policy Council (who has been a member of the boards of directors for both Planned Parenthood and Emily's List); Ellen Moran, White House Director of Communications (who is the current executive director of Emily's List); and Thomas Perelli, nominee for Associate Attorney General (who collaborated with pro-euthanasia attorney George Felos to successfully starve Terri Shiavo to death).

-- While he has made no move to encourage the passage of FOCA, many are still concerned that the provisions of FOCA will be added piecemeal to other bills and legislative acts.

-- Finally, President Obama has declared his opposition to the new HHS rule that protects the conscience rights of health care providers. The rule was enacted in the last days of the Bush administration in response to many threats to the conscience rights of physicians, pharmacists and health care providers in the United States.

In light of these actions and appointments, we are issuing an urgent appeal to President Obama to reconsider his support for abortion and research that can succeed only by destroying innocent human life. In addition, we offer our prayers, encouragement and appeals to Catholic physicians in the United States to educate the public and to oppose these efforts to promote abortion. Finally, we appeal to all members of FIAMC to be vigilant in opposing the new threats to human life and dignity that could now come from the Obama administration officials in foreign policy positions and at the United Nations.

Dr. José-Maria Simón, President
Rome, February 11, 2009

I won't be blogging for the next three or four days as I will be attending the national board meeting of Worldwide Marriage Encounter, Philippines.

Eight Franciscan Sisters in Indonesia Killed in Road Accident

UCANews carries a heartbreaking story today of eight Franciscan Sisters of Charity and their driver dying instantly when their minivan plunged into a river while they were on their way to the funeral of the mother of another member of their congregation.

I’ve been unable to find any information online about the congregation but the Archdiocese of Palembang , where the provincial house is and where the Sisters will be buried, had about 76,000 Catholics, 0.7 percent of a population of nearly 11,000,000, in 2004. There were 236 Sisters in the archdiocese at that time.

Four of the Sisters who died were in their early 20s. Please pray for their eternal rest and for their congregation and families, all of whom must be utterly devastated.

Pope uses meeting with pro-abortion politician as a moment of grace

Pope Benedict yesterday met Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the House in Washington DC. A self-described ‘ardent Catholic’, like many other ‘Catholic’ legislators in the USA and elsewhere, she is strongly pro-abortion.

Some Catholics criticised Pope Benedict for meeting the Speaker. As a head of state, the pope has to meet many leaders with whose views he cannot agree. As a pastor he has to teach. In this brief meeting yesterday, he surely fulfilled both roles with grace.

Here is the Vatican statement about the meeting:

'Following the General Audience the Holy Father briefly greeted Mrs Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, together with her entourage. His Holiness took the opportunity to speak of the requirements of the natural moral law and the Church’s consistent teaching on the dignity of human life from conception to natural death which enjoin all Catholics, and especially legislators, jurists and those responsible for the common good of society, to work in cooperation with all men and women of good will in creating a just system of laws capable of protecting human life at all stages of its development.'

Here is Nancy Pelosi’s statement, issued later than the Vatican one, after the meeting:

'It is with great joy that my husband, Paul, and I met with His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI today. In our conversation, I had the opportunity to praise the church’s leadership in fighting poverty, hunger and global warming, as well as the Holy Father’s dedication to religious freedom and his upcoming trip and message to Israel. I was proud to show His Holiness a photograph of my family’s papal visit in the 1950s, as well as a recent picture of our children and grandchildren.'

Source for both statements: Catholic Online

Interesting that Pope Benedict focused on the dignity of human life from conception to natural death, while Mrs Pelosi’s statement doesn’t mention this at all. I wonder if she sees the inherent contradiction in her proudly showing photos of her children and grandchildren to Pope Benedict while she votes to deny the children and grandchildren of others the right to be born.

18 February 2009

Italian missionary priest returns award to Italian President

Padre Aldo Trento, Italian missionary priest in Paraguay

Missionary Rejects Award in Protest of Italy's Euthanasia Ruling

A report from Zenit

ASUNCIÓN, Paraguay, FEB. 16, 2009 (Zenit.org).- Father Aldo Trento has been caring for patients like Eluana Englaro for years, so when Italy refused to protect her life, he protested by returning one of Italy's highest honors. Since 1989 Father Trento has been one of the best-known missionaries of the Priestly Fraternity of St. Charles Borromeo in Paraguay. He is 62 years old and is the head of a clinic for the terminally ill in Asunción.

On June 2, the Italian president, Giorgio Napolitano, conferred the title "Knight of the Order of the Star of Solidarity" on Father Trento. Last Wednesday, the priest returned the honor to Napolitano in the wake of the latter's refusal to sign the special decree that would have saved the life of Eluana Englaro, who had been in a coma since 1992, and whose father had succeeded in a legal bid to have her feeding tube removed.

The priest asserted, "How can I, an Italian citizen, receive such an honor from you, who, with your action, permitted the death of Eluana in the name of the Italian Republic?" "I have more than one case like Eluana Englaro," Father Trento told the Italian newspaper Il Foglio.

Padre Aldo, as he is known, gives a name to each of the persons he is taking care of.

He continued: "I think of little Victor, a child in a coma, who clenches his fists. All we do is feed him through a tube. Faced with these situations, how can I react to the case of Eluana?

"Yesterday they brought me a girl who was naked, a prostitute, in a coma, who had been dumped in front of a hospital. Her name is Patricia and she is 19. We washed her. Yesterday she started to move her eyes.

"Celeste is 11; she suffers from a very grave form of leukemia; she was never taken care of and they brought her to me just to bury. Today she is walking. And she laughs."

The missionary said: "I have taken more than 600 of these sick people to the cemetery. How can we accept something like what happened to Eluana?

"Cristina is a little girl who was left in a garbage dump, she is blind, deaf, she trembles when I kiss her, she lives with a feeding tube like Eluana. She does not respond except for the trembling but little by little she will regain her faculties. "I am the godfather for many of these sick people. I'm not bothered by their decaying bodies. If you could see with what humility my doctors care for them."

Father Trento says that he feels "immense sorrow" for Englaro: "It is as if you were to say to me: 'We're going to take away your sick children now.'" For the missionary, "man cannot be reduced to chemicals." He added: "How can the president of the republic offer me a Star of Solidarity? I took it and returned it to the Italian embassy in Paraguay."

Clearly, Padre Aldo has the same kind of loving commitment to outcasts as Father Damien had.

Father Damien to be canonised. Too many founder-saints?

Zenit reports that ten ‘blesseds’ will be canonised soon. The best known of the ten is Blessed Damien de Veuster SSCC (1840-1899), ‘Father Damien’, the Belgian priest who ministered to the lepers of Molokai, Hawaii, becoming a leper himself. When I was still in kindergarten in Stanhope Street, Dublin, Sister Margaret Stanislaus of the Irish Sisters of Charity, now known as the Religious Sisters of Charity , often spoke to us about Father Damien.

Seven of the ten founded religious congregations. I don't doubt in any way the Church's decision that these ten people are worthy of being called saints but I wonder if the Church hasn’t been canonising too many such people.
Is founding a religious congregation the predominant model of holiness?

12 February 2009

SAINT Valentine's Day

This weekend I’ll be in Cebu city as part of a team giving a Worldwide Marriage Encounter weekend. St Valentine’s Day falls in the middle of it. Shortly after I started my blog just over a year ago I posted an item about putting the ‘saint’ back in St Valentine’s Day. Some of my WWME friends are probably sick of my reminding them that 14 February is 'SAINT Valentine's Day', not 'Valentine's Day'.

What is certain is that there is a St Valentine, martyred on 14 February either in AD 269 or 270. Though he is no longer on the universal calendar of the Church he is still honoured. There is a shrine to him in the church of the Carmelites (OCarm), Whitefriar St, Dublin, and their website tells us everything that there is to know about the saint . It also gives the texts for the Mass of St Valentine

The core of the stories about St Valentine is that this young Roman priest, what we would now call a diocesan priest, was martyred for officiating at weddings when Emperor Claudius II, ‘the Cruel’, forbade them because he was engaged in so many wars.

Here in the Philippines St Valentine’s Day is almost always referred to as ‘Valentine’s Day’. Indeed the ‘St’ is left out in most English-speaking countries. For many young people it is simply a day to express innocent friendship. For many married couples it is a day for renewing their love for one another. But for many unmarried young adults it is, quite frankly, a day for fornicating.

Marriage is more and more under attack in the west. I can think of no better patron for priests and married couples involved in strengthening marriage than St Valentine.

And I also think that the Church should put more emphasis on marriage than on the family, since the sacrament of matrimony is the foundation of the family and the vocation to be a spouse is more fundamental than the vocation to be a parent. In God’s plan, parenthood is meant to be a consequence of the two, husband and wife, becoming one.

The statue in the photo above is in the shrine of St Valentine in the Carmelite Church in my native city, Dublin.

May I wish everyone a Happy SAINT Valentine's Day!

11 February 2009

Pray for victims of bushfires in Victoria

St Mary's Catholic Church, Kinglake, Victoria

Today I had an email from an English Columban based in our Australian headquarters in Essendon, just outside of Melbourne. He wrote, ‘Yes, the bushfires have left everyone in shock here and the stories that are unfolding of the biggest natural disaster to befall this country are heartbreaking. I have done appeals in the areas greatly affected and Marysville is (was) the loveliest little town you could imagine.’

The Daily Telegraph, London, reported today: In the town of Marysville, which has a population of 519, it is believed one in five residents died when the Black Saturday fires passed through. Police are preventing residents from returning to the town because they say it will be too traumatic.

CathNews reports : Among many churches hit by Saturday's Victorian fires, the Catholic churches at Kinglake and Marysville were destroyed.

Melbourne Archdiocese Vicar-General Les Tomlinson said there would be no services at Marysville any time soon.

"There's nowhere to have it, and probably no people there to gather," Monsignor Tomlinson told The Age.

Fr Julian Langridge, parish priest at Lilydale, Healesville, Marysville, Dixons Creek, Yarra Glen and Toolangi, said so far he had been able to contact only one of about 25 Marysville parishioners.

ABC has a video showing the destruction of Marysville.

I have done appeals in Britain, Ireland and the USA for the missionary work of the Columbans and hope to do so later in the year in Victoria, Australia. I know well the generosity of ordinary people in those countries in supporting not only Columbans but many other missionary groups. And listening to Radio Australia today and checking out news websites there I was struck by the extraordinary and creative generosity of the people of that country and of their initiative. One musician, Emma Ayres, who presents Classic Breakfast on ABC Classic FM from Monday to Friday – a programme well worth listening to – told today of how she and some others had raised Aus$2,500, I think, by busking, playing classical music on the street. She mentioned a number of other classical musicians who were doing the same. She also read an email from someone who had lost everything and who found being able to listen to classical music after all the destruction brought her some peace.

Please pray for the people of Victoria. As a Columban missionary I owe so many of them so much for supporting our work down the years.

09 February 2009

Newest and oldest Filipino Sister in her congregation

Newly professed Sr Antonieta Navarro Napone TC

Yesterday, Sunday, Sr Antonieta N. Napone TC became both the newest and the oldest Filipino professed sister in the Capuchin Tertiary Sisters of the Holy Family . At 57 she is also the oldest ever in the congregation to take her first vows. Sister Tonet, as she is known, came to Bacolod to work with the Sisters seven years ago as a house mother to the college students whom they look after in Holy Family Home. Most of the college girls live in a house in the city proper. You can read about this aspect of the Sisters’ work in Misyon, the Columban online magazine I edit, here and here .
Sister Antonieta’s experience with the girls prepared her for the great surprise of being asked directly by the Sisters if she would like to join them. And it happens that we have a mutual friend who took her first vows as a member of the contemplative branch of Blessed Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity on 12 December, the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, as Sister Mary Anthony MC. She too is in her 50s. So I was very happy to see three Missionaries of Charity at Sister Antonieta’s profession yesterday at Mater Dolorosa Formation House, Talisay City, just north of Bacolod City. (There’s another Talisay City just south of Cebu City.)
Sr Antonieta with her mother and other family members.
The Capuchin Tertiary Sisters came to the Philippines 27 years ago and on the occasion of their Silver Jubilee in March 2007 the delegation, as the unit was called, was raised to a vice-province that includes a community in Korea and one in India. There are now nearly 30 Filipino Sisters and more than twenty in formation as aspirants, postulants and novices.

With Sister Antonieta, center, Missionaries of Charity and Sr Reinalda Zapata, a Colombian, of the Franciscan Sisters of St Anthony.

As I have come to know them, the Sisters live a simple and joyful Franciscan life in community, give importance to both liturgical and personal prayer, wear a simple habit and get on with their work which, in the Philippines, is mainly with girls who are poor and many of whom have suffered deeply.

The choir consisted of girls from Holy Family Home and the lunch afterwards was prepared by some of the college students who are studying Hotel and Restaurant Management.

Sister Antonieta is from Medina, Misamis Oriental, Mindanao, a parish that was run by Columbans during her younger years.

The profession of Sister Tonet was a truly joyful event. In my homily I mentioned Fr Nicolaus Kao Se-tsien from China who, after 49 years as a diocesan priest joined the Trappists in Hong Kong, made his final vows at 100 and spent 35 years as a monk before peacefully passing on at the age of 110 in December 2007. I put before Sister Antonieta the hope of celebrating her Golden Jubilee!

Capuchin Terciary Sisters of the Holy Family with novices and aspirants after Sister Tonet's profession.

07 February 2009

Request for prayers from Columban Father Sean Anthony Dunne

Fr Sean Anthony Dunne is a Columban who was ordained in Ireland in December 1951 and is living now at St Columban's in Ireland. He has spent much of his life as a priest making movies about the work of Columbans in different countries. He also worked in the Philippines. I was unable to find a photo of Father Sean but have included one of his look-alike, James Cagney. The similarity has never proven to be a disadvantage to Father Sean!

He sent this request for prayers to his friends. I do not know the result of his consultation yesterday nor of Father Sean's final decision. I know that you will pray for him and for those taking care of him. I'm sure too that you will be strengthened in your faith by that of this dedicated priest.

On Thursday, January 22, accompanied by Fr Bernie Mulkerns, the director of our Columban Nursing Home, Geraldine one of our staff nurses, and my sister Mary Vaughan, I met at the Beaumont Hospital with Marie Theresa O’Callaghan, the speech and language therapist, Rosemary McMahon, the ENT oncology nurse and Dermot McDermott, who underwent laryngectomy five years ago and is now fully recovered and speaking using the TRACHEO ESOPHAGEAL PUNCTURE (TEP) METHOD which is how I will have to learn to "speak" again.

It was a worthwhile and productive meeting in which the operation and procedures involved after the operation were explained, illustrated and discussed in gruesome detail. It is, indeed, a very radical and life-changing operation and I could not but wonder if at my age, I was capable of enduring such an operation. I was assured that Professor Walsh would not advise this operation unless he was sure that it was the correct, and only solution to my problem, and that my general health, my mental disposition and my emotional outlook made me a suitable subject to undergo this operation.

Nevertheless, it is still a daunting decision to have to make and while at this point I am almost sure to go ahead with the operation, I still have lingering doubts to leave good enough alone and to let nature take its course.

I am depending on prayer, especially those Masses and prayers of family friends and confreres to help me arrive at the right decision and, if that be a laryngectomy, to sustain me through the operation and the aftermath. The bottom line has to be, and is, "Thy Will Be Done": complete and total trust in God and in the surgeon and team into whose hands and expertise, God entrusts me.

Again, I am deeply grateful for all the Masses and prayers; they have sustained me and will continue to do so.

01 February 2009

Philippine Bishops' Statement and Letter on Magna Carta for Women

Statement on the proposed Magna Carta of Women by the Episcopal Commission on Family and Life and the Office on Women of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines. (January 25, 2009)

Most Rev. Angel N. Lagdameo, Archbishop of Jaro, President of CBCP

MAN and woman share fulness of equality in dignity and rights, which should permeate all forms of human activity in all aspects of social life. Both are created in the likeness of God: “in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them” (Gen 1:27). That one is male and the other female does not put the one in conflict with the other; it simply underscores their mutual need and capacity to complement each other.

In the greatest divine enterprise after the creation, however, God asked a young woman rather than a man to be His distinct collaborator. He asked the young Virgin Mary, of her own free will, to become the Mother of His only begotten Son. It was upon the Virgin’s Fiat that the Word became flesh, and the Redemption of sinful man began. There is no greater proof than this of how high the woman stands in the eyes of the Most High.

For this reason, we welcome the present efforts of members of the two Houses of Congress to enact An Act Providing for a Magna Carta of Women. We pray that they succeed in enacting a good law that would not only eliminate all forms of discrimination against women and reaffirm their fundamental equality with men but above all enhance their ability to contribute to the highest common good, according to the light of the Gospel.

However, certain ideas and innovations in language threaten to put the common good at risk, despite the many unquestionably good things in the present Bill. One such word is “gender”, or “gender development.”

From the dawn of time, a person’s sex has always been determined by nature. And a person is either male or female, according to that nature; nobody is neuter. The new concept of gender, however, argues that a person’s sexual identity is not limited to male or female, but may be expanded by personal choice and social construction. Thus, one could be either a male or a female heterosexual, a homosexual, a lesbian, a bisexual, or a transgendered individual, depending on one’s sexual preference or orientation.

This is an avoidable disorder which needlessly distorts a divinely instituted truth about man. We need to pray and work individually and together so that everyone may realize their full potential as men and women, regardless of any psychological and other differences which culture may induce or bring about. But while Christian charity encourages us to be understanding and compassionate to those whose physiologico-social qualities may not be the same as everyone else’s, we have to take exception to a Bill which, despite its obvious merits, seeks to replace a person’s divinely ordained sexual identity with a self-constructed gender arising from one’s sexual preference or orientation.

We humbly propose that in opening unlimited opportunities for the development of a woman’s personality and profession, a Magna Carta of Women, to be worth its name, must first of all protect and uphold her natural calling to marriage, family life and motherhood.

The law would be a sham if one of its purposes is to discredit the work of women in the home, as if the time spent in bringing up children and attending to the family’s basic human needs were time unjustly taken away from the work women should be doing in some office, some factories or elsewhere.

A Magna Carta of Women should, in our view, recognize household work as professional work and should encourage its further professionalization, while promoting various other professional skills for women.

Our legislators seek to anchor their proposed Magna Carta of Women on the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1979. This, we believe, must be approached with an abundance of caution.

In principle, our government is bound to implement all international documents adopted by the UN, which are not in conflict with our Constitution. But not every provision of CEDAW is in accord with our Constitution. The Holy See itself has expressed certain reservations about certain provisions of CEDAW.

While our Constitution is unabashedly pro-life and pro-family, CEDAW tends towards the opposite direction. In fact, the CEDAW Committee has tried to pressure our government to modify its laws on reproductive health. It has – in many cases successfully --- pressured various other governments to abolish “Mother Day” celebrations, decriminalize prostitution, legalize abortion where it remains illegal, and improve access to abortion where it has been legalized.
It would seem to us not right or prudent to let in all of CEDAW’s initiatives through the front door or even the back door. The most prudent course for our legislators, it seems to us, would be to safely anchor their Magna Carta of Women on the letter and spirit of our Constitution, and refer to CEDAW only when necessary, to the extent that it is in full accord with the Constitution. This would serve to assure our people that our legislators are legislating for Filipinos rather than for an external audience.

One last-minute amendment to the Senate version of the bill reads: “No one shall invoke religious beliefs or customary norms as a means of evading compliance with this Act or preventing another person from exercising her rights.”

This is an unnecessary and regrettable assault on religious freedom. Article III, Section 5 of the Constitution provides: “No law shall be made respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. The free exercise and enjoyment of religious profession and worship, without discrimination or preference, shall forever be allowed.”
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights provides: “Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.”
Under that Senate provision, religious belief and practice will now have to bend to the Magna Carta; the State will now decide what religious beliefs the people can practice, which are not in conflict with this proposed Act. This is unconstitutional and unnecessarily diminishes the merit of the Bill.
We humbly submit that women’s dignity and equality with men cannot and must not be procured at the expense of God, or anybody’s right and duty to worship God. We therefore call on the members of Congress to enact a law that recognizes first and foremost the Divine mystery as the first and ultimate source of the true dignity of every man and woman.
May Holy Mary, our hope, seat of wisdom, guide our legislators in their deliberations.

- E N D -

26 January 2009

Honorable Juan Ponce Enrile
Senate President
The Philippine Senate Pasay City
Dear Mr. President:

We have the honor to transmit to you herewith a copy of our Statement on the proposed Magna Carta of Women, issued by the Episcopal Commission on Family and Life jointly with the Office on Women of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference. Like all statements of this nature, this will be disseminated for the information and guidance of the Catholic faithful. We trust that you and your distinguished colleagues will find it both constructive and helpful in your effort to come up with a genuinely good legislation for women.

With renewed assurances of our highest esteem, we remain

Sincerely yours in Christ,

Archbishop of San Fernando, Pampanga
Chairman, Episcopal Commission on
Family and Life

Bishop of Lucena
Chairman, CBCP Office on Women


Archbishop of Jaro
President, CBCP