From 1 to 8 February I'll be giving a retreat to some junior professed sisters of the Missionaries of Charity. Please keep them and me in your prayers. I probably won't be doing much, if any, blogging.
29 January 2010
'Look up to the Lord with gladness and smile; your face will never be ashamed' (Ps 33:6). Communion antiphon for the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time.
26 January 2010
When I was young and still living in Ireland many were advocating a change in the law that labelled children born outside of marriage as 'illegitimate'. Some coined the slogan 'There are no illegitimate children, only illegitimate parents'. The law was eventually changed.
By Bishop Robert Vasa
The late Stephen Cardinal Kim Sou-Hwan of Korea with a young friend. The cardinal's paternal grandparents were sentenced to death during a persecution in Korea. His grandfather was killed but the persecutors spared his grandmother because she was pregnant. The child in her womb was the Cardinal's father.
23 January 2010
Last evening I celebrated Mass with the Sisters and girls and young women at Holy Family Home here in Bacolod City. You can read about Holy Family Home here, here and here. We were celebrating the feast of Blessed Laura Vicuña about whom I posted yesterday. This was our third year to do so. Blessed Laura is the patron of those who have suffered from abuse.
I link the celebration with that of St Agnes, whose feast was the day before, and who was martyred at the age of 12 or 13. Blessed Laura, who died exactly 1600 years and one day after St Agnes, was just a few months short of 13. Two years before her death she had offered her life to God for the conversion of her mother. God listened to her prayers.
St Agnes, El Greco (detail)
As I was telling the stories of these two young girls who had given their lives to God, I recalled what had happened in the life of the great Thérèse of Lisieux when she was 14. The website of the Apostleship of Prayer gives this account of the story which the saint recounted in her autobiography, Story of a Soul:
St. Therese joined the Apostleship of Prayer on October 15, 1885 when she was twelve years old. The practice of the Daily Offering planted the seeds for her great spiritual doctrine known as "The Little Way." In her autobiography, she wrote that she had great desires: to be an apostle, a missionary, even a priest, and a martyr. But how could she fulfill these desires? She was a cloistered Carmelite nun. She wrote:
22 January 2010
Today is the feastday of Blessed Laura Vicuña, patron of victims of abuse. In the January-February 2008 issue of Misyon, the Columban online magazine in the Philippines that I edit, we published an article on this young girl by Fr John Murray, a parish priest in Belfast, Northern Ireland. The article first appeared in The Sacred Heart Messenger and was used with permission. As today is her feastday and since there are still so many young people, both boys and girls, being abused by adults, we are posting the article again. I also posted it on this blog a year ago.
This evening, as I began doing two years ago, I will celebrate Mass at Holy Family Home here in Bacolod where so many of the girls and young women there have suffered from abuse by adults. We link the feast of Blessed Laura with that of St Agnes, a girl of the same age, martyred in 304, whose feast was yesterday.
I first became aware of Blessed Laura while giving a retreat in a Salesian retreat house near Manila some years ago.
20 January 2010
Fr Loughlin Campion SSC
1930 - 2010
Fr Loughlin Campion died suddenly while visiting his sister in Kilkenny on 14 January 2010.
He was born on 20 March, 1930 in Bayswell, Johnstown, Co. Kilkenny. He was educated in Crosspatrick NS, and St. Kieran’s College, Kilkenny.
He came to Dalgan Park (the former Columban seminary in Ireland) in 1948 and was ordained on 21 December 1954. Lot, as he was better know among Columbans, was appointed to a war-torn Korea.
Following language studies in Seoul he was assigned to the southern diocese of Kwangju where he was to spend nearly all of the next fifty years.
Kwangju, Republic of Korea
The devastation of war meant that relief work and rebuilding were the order of the day. One of his earliest appointments was to the island of Cheju in 1958 but for the rest of his life he worked in developing parishes in many parts of the province of Chollanamdo.
From the beginning of the 80s the rebuilding effort was followed by mass urbanization of the population. In ten years the percentage of people living in towns jumped from 20 to 80 percent. The city of Kwangju, the provincial capital, grew rapidly to over four million inhabitants. This led to a change of focus from rural parishes to new areas on the edge of the cities and it turned out to one of the most significant contributions the Columban Society could have made to Korea. Poor, displaced, and disorientated families were gathered again into Christian communities and Columbans put in touch with the good and the bad of a tiger economy.
Lot spent the last twenty years of his ministry in Korea developing these communities around the city of Kwangju. Areas like Kwangchondong, Ochidong, Unamdong owe much to his care and commitment. A newsletter of the time describes his Hwanggap, his 60th birthday in Unamdong like this: “Decked out in his colourful ‘hanbok’ (traditional dress) and armed with a two-foot long Korean pipe he looked so at ease one would assume that this was his costume when he went to primary school in Ireland”.
Lot had the gift of being comfortable in difficult situations. His calmness and patience stood him good stead in his final years when his deafness brought its own isolation yet never managed to dampen his spirit. His sudden death will be mourned both here and among the people he served so well in Korea.
May he rest in peace.
19 January 2010
Fr Michael Sinnott
My Columban confrere Fr Michael Sinnott arrived back in Manila last Friday. I haven't met him yet. Indeed, it's almost a year, as far as I can recall, that our paths crossed and I'm not sure if it's almost two years. When He'll go back down to Pagadian City where he was kidnapped last October I'm not sure.
Our superior in the Philippines, Fr Patrick O'Donoghue, who travelled home to Ireland in December with Fr Sinnott, told us of an incident there that touched me and gives me hope. They flew to an Ireland that was reeling from the revelations of the Murphy Report on the abuse of children by priests in the Archdiocese of Dublin. This was only months after the Ryan Report on the abuse of children in institutions run by religious men and women, most of the children having been entrusted by the State to them.
Leinster House, Dublin
Before Christmas, Frs Sinnott and O'Donoghue visited Leinster House in Dublin where both the Dáil (parliament) and Seanad (senate) meet. They were warmly welcomed by members of all parties. It happened that a group of girls from a Catholic secondary school in Longford - where St Mel's Cathedral was burned in the early hours of Christmas Day - were on a field-trip to Leinster House. They recognised Father Sinnott, as many people on the streets of Manila had done after his release, and excitedly surrounded him, producing their mobile phones to have their photos taken with him. Father Michael, a humble man who has never sought the limelight and who turned 80 on 17 December, took all this in his stride.
A few days later this dedicated missionary priest received a package in the mail. It contained a personal card from each one of the girls he had met in Leinster House.
This little incident gives me hope. These young women were well aware of what was in the Murphy Report and of how some priests had so badly betrayed their Lord, had betrayed the children entrusted to them, and had shaken the faith and trust of so many good people, yet they clearly recognised the true face of the priesthood of Jesus Christ in this simple, prayerful man whose only desire was to return to Mindanao to serve the special children of Hangop Kabataan (Reaching out to the children), all of whom have disabilities, some being deaf, some with learning difficulties, and nearly all from a background of poverty, the mission he started when he was already moving into old age.
May the Lord continue to bless Father Michael and may the work he has begun flourish in the years ahead.
17 January 2010
Zilda Arns, the 75-year-old sister of Paulo Evaristo Cardinal Arns OFM, retired Archbishop of São Paulo, Brazil, was one of the victims of last Tuesday's earthquake in Haiti. She was the founder of International Pastoral da Criança (Pastoral of the Child).
Zenit reports the death of the doctor:
Nobel Nominee Killed in HaitiZilda Arns, an Expert in Reducing Infant Mortality
The 75-year-old Brazilian pediatrician and aid worker was killed while walking the streets of Port-au-Prince alongside two soldiers. She was in Haiti studying the implementation of her program -- which is one of the world’s most successful at reducing infant mortality -- on the island.
Born to German immigrants, Arns was the 12th of 13 children. Her brother, Cardinal Paulo Evaristo Arns, retired archbishop of São Paulo, Brazil, was one of five siblings who had priestly or religious vocations.
In a note, Cardinal Arns stated, "I received with sorrow the news that my very dear sister has suffered with the good people of Haiti the tragic effects of the earthquake."
He continued: "May God in his mercy receive in heaven those who on earth fought for children and the defenseless. It is not the moment to lose hope."
A mother of five and a widow since 1978, Arns dedicated her life to Christian charity. In 1983, shortly after she lost her husband, she started the pastoral care of children program at the request of the Brazilian bishops' conference.
The program has one of the greatest success rates worldwide in reducing infant mortality rates. It currently has some 261,000 volunteers in Brazil (the majority women), who take care of more than 1.8 million children (from birth to 6 years of age), and 95,000 pregnant women, in more than 42,000 communities and 4,066 municipalities.
In a previous interview with ZENIT, Arns explained that the program teaches families "very simple things -- they are generally people with very little education -- but indispensable for the children's health: nutrition of pregnant mothers, breast feeding, oral hydration, vaccinations."
She continued: "We take care of the education of 1.6 million children from birth to 6 years of age. Moreover, every year we teach 32,000 adults, almost always mothers, to read and write."
Due to the program's success, representatives from other countries visited Brazil to learn about its methods in order to develop a similar model for their own homelands. The International Pastoral da Criança network now includes 20 countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America and the Caribbean that have implemented the program. (The website of the International Pastoral da Criança notes that the Philippines is one of the countries that has introduced a smiliar programme).
She had been visiting Haiti to discuss plans about implementing the program in the poor communities there.
Arns also helped the bishops' conference develop a pastoral program for AIDS victims, which currently cares for 100,000 patients, supported by 12,000 volunteers from 579 municipalities in 141 dioceses of 25 Brazilian states.
In response to Tuesday's tragedy, the conference sent its secretary-general, Bishop Dimas Lara Barbosa, to Port-au-Prince.
In 1997, Arns received the Humanitarian of the Year prize from the Lions Club International. She was honored by Rotary International with the "Paul Harris" medal in 2001. The following year she was chosen by the Pan American Health Organization for the "Public Health Hero of the Americas" prize.
15 January 2010
I have often wondered how priests and religious seem to survive disasters such as this, though there are often individual casualties. But Father Finigan shows that it is otherwise in Haiti, qhoting Papal Nuncio Archbishop Bernardito Auza:
I have just returned this morning. I found priests and nuns in the streets, without homes. The Rector of the seminary survived, as did the Dean of Studies, but the seminarians are under the rubble. Everywhere, you can hear cries from under the rubble. The CIFOR - Institute of Studies for the Men and Women Religious - has collapsed with the students inside, participating in a conference. The nunciature building has withstood the earthquake, without any injuries, but we are all amazed! So many things are broken, including the Tabernacle, but we are more fortunate than others. Many family members of the staff were killed, their homes destroyed. Everyone is calling for help. We will have problems of water and food before long. We cannot enter or stay inside the house much, as the earth continues to shake, so we are camped in the garden.
Father Finigan further quotes Mgr John Dale, National Director of Missio for England and Wales:
Haiti’s loss at the moment is made even more difficult because so many clergy, Religious and seminarians are amongst the dead and so cannot give the pastoral care that is so urgently needed at this time.
Missio has always supported the Church in Haiti, helping it to grow and develop in its own distinctive way. We will remain in the country, helping it to rebuild and find hope. Missio is not an emergency aid organisation, but just as we have been present for the Haitians in the past, we will be there for their future as they try to reconstruct their homes and lives. In the present, the people of Haiti are in our thoughts and prayers. We pray for those who died and may those who survived the earthquake be given all the comfort, strength and help that they need.
Among the countless victims of the earthquake in Haiti on 12 January was Archbishop Joseph Serge Miot who died instantly when he fell off a balcony when the quake struck.
The Vatican-based Agenzia Fides carries a report that quotes the Papal Nuncio to Haiti, Archbishop Bernardito Auza, extensively. (I tried to copy and past the report but for some reason each time I attempted this Internet Explore simply closed down.
I phoned the CICM missionaries (also known as the Scheut Missionaries and, in the USA, Missionhurst) here in the Philippines this morning to ask if their missionaries in Haiti were safe. A message they received yesterday from their Superior General said there were no reports of any casualties. but their headquarters in Port-au-Prince were destroyed.
In the May-June 2007 issue of Misyon, which I edit for the Columbans in the Philippines, we carreid an article, Witnessing to Hope in Haiti, by two young Filipino priests, Fr Andrew Labatoria CICM from Zarraga, Iloilo, and Fr Edito Casipong CICM of Victorias City, Negros Occidental. We're in the process of putting all our back issues online but haven't reached that issue yet. Please remember them in your prayers.
09 January 2010
New American Bible (Philippines, USA)
Jerusalem Bible (Australia, England & Wales, Ireland, Scotland)
Gospel (New American Bible)
Lk 3:15-16, 21-22
The people were filled with expectation,
and all were asking in their hearts
whether John might be the Christ.
John answered them all, saying,
“I am baptizing you with water,
but one mightier than I is coming.
I am not worthy to loosen the thongs of his sandals.
He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”
After all the people had been baptized
and Jesus also had been baptized and was praying,
heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended upon him
in bodily form like a dove.
And a voice came from heaven,
“You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”
For me an astonishing thing is that Jesus lined up with sinners. Probably none of the others in the queue knew who he was. Here is God-made-Man, totally sinless, pure love. I remember last April there was consternation when it was discovered that Jacqueline Aquino Siapno, the Filipino wife of the president of the parliament of East Timor, flew with their 5-year-old son to Manila where she was met by her mother. They took a bus to her native Dagupan City, five hours away, and from the bus terminal there hailed a tricycle to take them to her parents' home. This was beyond the comprehension of the authorities in the Philippines. If we think about it, it should be all the more beyond our comprehension to imagine Jesus standing among a crowd of sinners letting others think he was a sinner too.
But he came to show us how much God loves us.
Two texts in the readings this week pointing towards the words of the Father. One was from the first reading last Tuesday: In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as expiation for our sins (1 Jn 4:10). The other was the response in the responsorial psalm today, Saturday: The Lord takes delight in his people (Ps 149).
So often we see ourselves as having to earn God's love, when it is pure gift, pure grace, pure blessing. Most of us learned from our parents and teachers that we had to 'earn' love: we were often rewarded if 'good' and punished if 'bad'. Here in the Philippines many children learn that they are 'maldito' or 'maldita'. The online Merriam-Webster Spanish-English Dictionary defines those words as adjectives meaning 'cursed, damned, wicked'. They don't have that force in their Philippine usage, where they usually mean something like 'naughty'.
07 January 2010
Archbishop Socrates B. Villegas at his installation as Archbishop of Lingayen-Dagupan, 4 November 2009
Photo by Mr Noli Yamsuan
Sometimes I fantasise that if I were a bishop, a most unlikely happening, one of the first things I would do would be to address the priests about the liturgy, especially the celebration of Mass, or 'the Holy Mass', as Filipinos usually say. Archbishop Socrates B. Villegas has fulfilled my fantasy to a large degree in a pastoral letter he issued on 31 December to the priests of the Archdiocese of Lingayen-Dagupan on the celebration of Mass. But what he wrote needs to be heard by lay people too. Some might wonder why he deals with very basic rubrical matters but in my experience after 42 years as a priest this is, sadly, essential.
At a deeper level Archbishop Villegas makes the connection between liturgy and life. After all, the Mass in the source and summit of our Christian life, as Vatican II teaches.
I have highlighted some parts of the letter and made some [comments].
"THAT OUR SACRIFICE MAY BE PLEASING TO GOD"
Fraternal Letter to my Brother Priests
My beloved brother priests:
On the day of our ordination as priests, the bishop asked us, "Do you resolve to celebrate faithfully and reverently, in accord with the Church’s tradition, the mysteries of Christ, especially the sacrifice of the Eucharist and the sacrament of reconciliation, for the glory of God and the sanctification of the Christian people?"
Although we have many duties and functions as priests, in the mind of the ordinary Catholic faithful, we are priests because we can preside at the Eucharist and absolve sins in the confessional. [These are at the heart of the life of the priest]. We are priests called to bring to the Lord the sacrifice of thanksgiving from His worshipping people. We are priests called to bring the blessings of God to His chosen people. We are caretakers of the mysteries of God.
The faithful, reverent, dignified and solemn celebration of the mysteries of Christ is a mandate imposed on us by ordination. It is a solemn duty. [The archbishop is confronting sloppy celebrations as having no place in our lives].
Good liturgy does not just happen. It is made to happen. Good liturgy calls for fervent preparation and attentive care.
Within this spirit, I wish to raise some issues in our Catholic parishes and communities to help bring about a more inspiring and truly edifying liturgical worship.
Cleanliness is next to Godliness.
I encourage you to maintain the cleanliness of our sacred vessels particularly our chalices and ciboria. God deserves the best. [Shades of Malcolm Muggeridge, Blessed Mother Teresa and 'Soemthing Beautiful for God'.] Sacred vessels need regular metal plating to maintain their luster befitting the divine worship.
The altar linens—corporal, purificator and finger towel—are not interchangeable. The corporal is named such because it receives the "corpus" crumbs that may fall from the host when we break the Host at Lamb of God. The corporal must be laid out on the altar only at the presentation of bread and wine and folded back after the purification of the vessels. It must not be left on the altar. [A pet peeve of mine is sacristans, very often Sisters, who put the corporal on the altar before the Mass begins. I also know priests who do this. This may be a throw-back to the older form of the Mass, now known as the extraordinary form. If the rubrics there call for the corporal to be placed on the altar before Mass then that shoulod be followed. But in the Novus Ordo, the ordinary form, introduced after Vatican II, the corporal is placed on the altar only at the offertory.] According to traditional practice, the corporal is "starched" after washing so that it will be stiff when used at the altar. The "starched stiffness" facilitates finding the crumbs that may fall on it during the Eucharist. The purificator is used to wipe the chalice for droplets of water and wine during the preparation of the gifts and for purifying the chalice, paten and ciborium after Communion. Traditionally, the purificator has an embroidered cross which rests on the mouth of the chalice or some liturgical symbols on the sides. The finger towel is used for drying the hands after washing. To distinguish it from the purificator, the embroidered cross of the finger towel is usually on the corner and not in the middle. Please instruct your sacristans and altar servers to observe the proper use of altar linens. [The archbishop clearly sees attention to detail as respect for the God we worship].
We must take special care that our Mass vestments are clean and dignified. [I remember the late editor of Misyon, Fr Niall O'Brien, telling me how upset he was when he celebrated Mass in a parish in Ireland where the vestments were filthy, even though the parish priest was a well known, dedicated and courageous priest.] Cleanliness and dignity need not be expensive. Dignity and cleanliness in the choice and use of liturgical vestments is not optional. It is imperative on account of the dignity of the liturgy we celebrate. Please dispose of old, tattered and faded vestments properly by burning them.
The church and its surroundings must be kept clean too from trash candy wrappers, soiled missalettes and even stuck chewing gums on the church flooring. [I remember about three years ago celebrating Mass at a convention of Catholic teachers. One middle-aged man was chewing gum right through the Mass.] Cleanliness is next to Godliness. The church must be the cleanest place in the community. [There's a challenge for us!]
He Who Sings Well Prays Twice.
Singing is a form of worship. Singing together also promotes the spirit of unity and communion. Please encourage the choirs to undertake their task as a ministry and not as a performance for public adulation. It is important that the community is animated to join the choir in singing our songs during the liturgy. Secular love songs, even if they have religious themes, do not have any place in the divine liturgy. [Weddings here in the Philippines are occasions when totally unsuitable songs are used. It's even worse when they are poorly sung, as they often are.] In obedience to the instructions of the Holy See and until the rules pertaining to dancing within the liturgy have been approved by the Episcopal Commission on Liturgy, please refrain from the practice of having children or young people dance in the parish sanctuary. [He seems to be saying 'no "liturgical" dancing'. He doesn't mention the aisle. I was at a Mass some years ago at a conference of vocation directors when a group of young girls appeared from nowhere at the offertory to do a 'liturgical dance'. They immedately disappeared to nowhere. Vatican II says clearly that the litrugy is the source and summit of our Christian life. Those girls were being told, 'No, it's a chance for you to perform and take the spotlight from the Lord'.]
And the Greatest of These is Love.
Love is best expressed in silence. Where silence is observed, fervor is maintained. Let me offer to you these words from Saint Charles Borromeo on whose feastday, I was installed as your pastor: "You must realize that for us churchmen, nothing is more necessary than meditation. We must meditate before, during and after everything we do. Would you like me to tell you how to give God more pleasing worship? Stay quiet with God. Do not spend your time in useless chatter."
Please teach the flock again about the Catholic practice of genuflecting before the tabernacle, the observance of prayerful silence in the church, modesty in dress and the discourtesy of chewing gum or using cell phones in the church. [I don't know how many times I've tried to get the people - mostly adults - at the chapel where I celebrate weekday Mass to genuflect. From time to time too I remind them of the importance of silence. I always have periods of silence during the Mass, which is supposed to be the norm, but on occasions such as the Misa de Gallo have to remind the choir that they're not supposed to fill up every moment with song. It seems to me that most priests I know cannot bear silence at Mass or at a Holy Hour. Yet when I have introduced people to long periods of silence in adoration before the Blessed Sacrament they have welcomed it.
Some years ago i celebrated Mass at a convention of Catholic teachers. I couldn't help but notice that one middle-aged man chewed gum right through the celebration.
It can happen that we forget to turn off our cell phone. once while doing a wedding I heard my own go off, though the ringtone wasn't loud. But I have seen people on occasions such as wedding, funerals and baptisms showing utter discourtesy by flaunting their cell phones.]
Finally, liturgy is not just obedience to the rubrics and instructions. Good liturgy must make us more loving. Good liturgy cannot save. Only the power of love can bring us to heaven. As a fruit of the faithful and reverent celebration of the mysteries of Christ, we must become more caring and attentive to the needs of the least, the last and the lost. Good liturgy can sanctify only to the extent that it leads us to serve, imitating the example of Him who stooped down to wash the feet of His disciples. Sunday must not only be the dies Domini ['day of the Lord']. May it become too our dies caritatis ['day of love'].
May Saint John, the Beloved Disciple, our patron, help us to grow in holiness and lead us to share the same gift of holiness to all those entrusted to our care.
From the Cathedral of Saint John the Evangelist, December 31, 2009
+SOCRATES B. VILLEGAS
Archbishop of Lingayen Dagupan
06 January 2010
Fr Michael Kelly, St Agnes's, Crumlin, Dublin. Photo: Matt Kavanagh
Yesterday's Irish Times carried an article by Rosita Boland, What next for the priesthood? based on interviews with three Irish priests, one based in Dublin, one in County Cork and one in Galway City. The interviews were done in the wake of the Murphy Report on the abuse of children by priests in the Archdiocese of Dublin.
I've highlighted some parts of the article and added some [comments].
After the annus horribilis that was 2009, three priests at different stages of their vocational lives talk to ROSITA BOLAND about how their views of the church have changed and what they think the future will hold
FR MICHAEL KELLY (34)
Diocesan priest in Dublin, based in Crumlin, One year ordained
It was always at the back of my mind that I wanted to be a priest. I looked up to priests when I was a child. I was seven when I first started thinking about it.
In my late teenage years, I fell away from the church, and didn’t attend Mass that often. I dropped out of school after my Junior Cert [a state exam taken after three years in high school, followed by the Leaving Ceritifcate two or three years later], and started up a rock’n’roll band with my brother. We called it Whyne. We thought that was a cool name!
I volunteered at the Capuchin homeless centre in Blanchardstown, which developed my faith life – helping people who were having a difficult time in their life. It made me start reading the Gospel on my own. I have a friendship with Jesus as well as knowing he is my Lord and Saviour.
After the band, I’d worked at Motorola and then at St Luke’s Hospital, where I was a ward orderly – helping people again. I decided I wanted to get to know Jesus. When it comes down to it, I became a priest because I believe that’s what God called me to do. Everyone in my family was quite shocked, especially my brother I’d been in the band with, but they were supportive. There were 16 of us who started in my year. Only seven were ordained.
I wasn’t even born when the abuse in the church went on, so I don’t feel guilty – but I do feel a collective sense of shame. The people named in the reports should resign. I’m angry. I’m upset. When trust has been broken the way it has, it’s very difficult to rebuild it. There has been so much hypocrisy in the church, and people can’t get past that.
It’s not easy. I’ve been called a child rapist on the street. It has affected my faith: I’ve been spending more time in prayer. It has made me question and look at the structure of the Catholic Church. There was so much deceit and cover-up. It’s time for big changes. In one way, it is a great challenge to be a priest now, because the church faces such challenges; I have to see it as an opportunity. [The word 'crisis' means something like that].
Those priests who abused children studied moral theology when they trained. I just don’t know how you can be a Christian and do the things they did.
FR JAMES McSWEENEY (40)
Diocesan priest in Cork; chaplain at Cólaiste Choilm, Ballincollig, Co Cork Fifteen years ordained
I was 18 when I went into Maynooth [St Patrick's National Seminary and the only seminary in Ireland still open]. The world is a very different place now from when we were going to school; faith was accepted, a part of everyone’s life then. Back in the 1980s, the priesthood was an option that was just there as something to do after school. I thought: why not try it out? Looking back now, it was definitely way too young. In those days, people went straight from school to Maynooth. But you need a gap. [It was the norm for young men to go into seminaries after finishing secondary schooling, which was then five years in Ireland. There is now an optional extra year before the final year when the emphasis is more on working on subjects or topics you like rather than on the academics you will be taking in the Leaving Certificate. But not everyone who came to the seminary n my time after having worked for some years persevered].
I came into the priesthood as vocations were peaking. [Numbers in the seminaries had already dropped considerably by the 1980s. The peak was in the 1960s. But from Father McSweeney's perspective the 1980s were peak years because the many seminaries were all still open]. There were 72 with me in the class when I started; 27 of them finished. That was still a big number. There’s been nothing like those numbers since – they’ve tumbled.
In the school, the students are aware of the stories about the church, but it’s outside their world. The institutionalised church means nothing to them. They have abandoned the church formally, but in terms of their own inspiration, they’re in a great place, and are very open to all forms of spirituality. [This is what I find heart-breaking. I believe that in abandoning the Church they have also abandoned the Christian faith, though many are willing to make greater sacrifices for others, at least in the short term, than we were. This abandonment of the Church, as I see it, is not a direct consequence of the abuse that had been going on and that most were not aware of. But the scandal is helping accelerate this abandonment of the Church and of the Christian faith].
The stories about the church really started coming out in 1995, and they’ve been coming constantly since. Personally, I’ve found it very, very difficult. At times, I’ve felt very lonely, and very isolated. Isolated in the sense that there’s that thought that you’re tarnished with the same brush. People feel genuinely hurt and let down, and I share people’s horror and disgust. There are no words to describe the anger, horror, betrayal, everything . . . There are no words to describe the horror of this story. [One image that has been in my mind lately is a story I read just after the old Czechoslovakia became tow separate republics, the Czech Republic and Slovakia at midnight at the beginning of New Year's Day 1993. An airline pilot who had taken off from one part of a united country before midnight and landed in the other part, now a separate republic, after midnight, said on arrival that he felt like a man without a country. He felt lost. When I think of how Ireland has changed since I first left it in 1968 I see a different country, but to a large degree in continuity with what was there before. As a missionary I welcomed the influx of foreigners to Ireland since 2000. But the shame of what has been revealed has brought about something quite different and very hard to accept].
I do think people should resign. Absolutely. I would certainly say that. There has been too much holding on to power, too much hiding behind the institution of the church. There has been a lack of openness and honesty. They let so many people down and I feel angry about that.
If I saw what was ahead when I was starting out, no way would I have gone into the priesthood. Not a hope. [This statement is honest and sad. Yet 12 or 13 novices joined the Dominican Friars in Ireland this year and three Redemptorist priests were ordained around the time the Murphy Report was published]. That’s just being honest with you. There have been times when I felt: “Why bother? Why stay?” I would have been there. I would have thought of moving on..
Faith is obviously still important to me, that’s what keeps me here. But the church is in huge transition. It can never ever go back to where it’s been. It’s going to take years and years to rebuild openness and trust.
The reason I’m still in the priesthood is the young people, who give me great inspiration and hope. We need to tap into that. The liturgy and the way the church speak to people doesn’t connect with people – people have walked.[Although Fr McSweeney acknowledges that many have 'walked' and that the young have abandoned the Church, he finds hope in the goodness he sees in the latter].
In the future, we’ll be looking at smaller faith communities. The days of big numbers are long gone. People won’t come back to the church. [I have hope that migrants from places such as the Philippines, Poland, Kerala in India, Nigeria will continue to bring some new life to the Irish Church. But I have a fear that their children will be overwhelmed by the secularism and the unwillingness to make commitments that are so much part of the contemporary West. But why do people still go to the church for funerals? I heard an older woman being interviewed on Irish radio the other day who acknowledged that religion played no part whatever in her life now - but she wanted to be buried from the Catholic church because its ceremonies give her some comfort. She was brough up a Catholic and clearly showed no resentment whatever towards the Church. But religion means nothing to her now. Funerals are still occasions when priests can preach the Good News because people are open to it, I think. and it is noticeable that on occasions of funerals after tragedies, the Irish media very often quote the parish priest].
FR DICK LYNG (59)
Augustinian parish priest, Galway city. Ordained 35 years
Idealism. That’s why I wanted to be a priest. [I still see that idealism in so many priests I know. One outstanding example is my Columban confrere, Fr Michael Sinnott, kidnapped for a month some time ago and coming back to the Philippines this month after a holiday in Ireland]. I wanted to do something useful with my life. I was born into a Catholic culture, and priesthood was the obvious channel in those days for finding expression for idealism. I went into training straight from school, when I was 18 – 95 per cent of people did that. At the time it was considered the most normal thing to do – you went into medicine; you became a priest. I had faith, but for that time it was normal. It was no different to the faith of fellas sitting beside me at school. [That was my experience too. I'm seven years older than Father Lyng].
It is almost impossible for me to comprehend that fellow priests were damaging small children. I was shocked to the core. [I never heard of such things until the 1980s. More recently, Padraig Harrington, Ireland's greatest golfer, who has been playing with Tiger Woods for many years, was dumbfounded when the other side of Tiger's life becake known recently. But some of what has come to light in the Murphy Report has led me to ask if some of the priests ever had any faith and if, indeed, they were validly ordained for lack of faith].
But if it didn’t shock people, that would be more shocking still. A priest who doesn’t feel tarnished, contaminated – to use all the diseased terms there are – is living in cloud cuckoo land. [Yet, at present, there seems to be a denial in Ireland of the claimes of groups such as One in Four that a quarter of children are abused. The SAVI Survey claims that abuse by priests/ministers/religious is 3.2 percent. In other words, there's little concern being expressed at present, it seems, for the other 97 percent. I recognise an additional element of betrayal by one who is, by ordination, 'configured to Christ'].
Older people feel very contaminated by what happened. My parishioners tell me their faith is safe, but that they are extremely hurt and confused. Confused is the word I hear most. They are extremely supportive of priests on the ground, but anger is articulated to me privately. There is huge confusion and disappointment. I have had parishioners asking me should they have demonstrations. I tell them: only the victims can call for rallies. It will be the victims who make that decision.
There is already a missing generation in the church. My parishioners are old. Whenever I do a wedding, I think: where are these young people on a Sunday morning? The young generation was gone already from the church, but all this will accelerate it further.
We’ll be dealing with this for the rest of my lifetime, and for generations after me. There is no quick fix.
The contracts of trust are gone. [This is one of the worst consequences. Not only were the children betrayed but, in a different way, so were so many others. The recent dismissal of an Irish judge of a character reference by a parish priest is indicative of this]. We’ll have to be a very different church. The church that encouraged secrecy and deceit – that will all have to be flushed out. The future church will be a very small.church, a very shrunken church. [Has Ireland already become like Quebec, Belgium, the Netherlands, France? Will it become like North Africa did not long after the death of St Augustine, a once flourishing Catholic Christian area that was overtaken by Islam? When I went home to Ireland from the Philippines for a visit in 2007 I decided for a number of reasons that I would wear my clericals most of the time, something I hadn't done for many years except when going to the church. Ironically, perhaps. one of the reasons was seeing so many Muslims in Ireland wearing garb that indicated their faith. I had some very positive experiences and no negative ones for wearing my clerical garb. But I'm asking myself, what will I do when I go home in July? Maybe its the question of a coward]..
Would I have joined the priesthood if I had known what lay ahead for the church in Ireland? That’s impossible to answer. I wouldn’t even attempt to answer. I did what I did. I believed at the time what I was doing was right.