29 January 2010

'Look up to the Lord with gladness and smilel your face will never be ashamed' (Ps 33:6).

'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.

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.

Jao Resari, a Columban Lay Missionary from the Philippines in Taiwan

Columban Father Joseph Bradley who died in Manila 28 October 2008.
Photo taken after the stroke that led to his death.

Columban pioneer in Mindanao

Fr Michael Sinnott and his sisters on his arrival in Dublin after being kidnapped in Mindanao, Philippines

A young friend who prayed her heart out for the release of Father Michael Sinnott

26 January 2010

'Concessions on abortion are no cause for rejoicing' - Bishop Robert Vasa

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.

Those advocating the change rightly pointed out that children should not be punished or stigmatized because of the sins or their parents. Nobody would advocate going back to the old days on this particular issue.

But at a more basic level many do want to regress to the past in a more radical way. They want to prevent 'unwanted' children from being born. Even in the old days nobody advocated that 'illegitimate' children should be killed. Not only are many advocating that 'unwanted' children should not be born, but they are advocating that the mother has the 'right' to have her pre-born child killed.

Bishop Robert Vasa of Baker, Oregon, USA, faces this in his weekly column in Catholic Sentinel, the Catholic weekly in the state of Oregon, dated 21 January. He writes in the context of the ongoing debate in the USA about the Health Care Reform Bill. Here is Bishop Vasa's article. I have highlighted some parts of it and made some [comments].

Concessions on abortion are no cause for rejoicing

By Bishop Robert Vasa

BEND — There has been a bit of jubilation over the claim that the Health Care Reform Bill would not use federal dollars to pay for abortion except in those very rare cases of a pregnancy resulting from rape or incest or when the life of the mother is in danger. Whether abortion funding will be limited to these remains to be seen. While including restrictions on federal funding for abortion except in these cases sounds very much like a Pro-Life victory it is important for us to recognize that it is not a victory at all. In truth, these exceptions are concessions which deserve no rejoicing at all. I am a realist and I recognize that the concession of these more difficult situations may be deemed necessary in order to gain a law which protects at least some of the pre-born community but such a concession is no cause for rejoicing.

Consider the cases of the following women. Woman A is with child, she is married but she and her husband find the timing for the child to be inconvenient. Woman B is with child, she is not married and she and her boyfriend never intended the child. Woman C is with child and the child’s father is also the child’s grandfather. Woman D is with child and the child’s father is her rapist. Woman E is with child and she is very ill with a pregnancy-related illness. Woman F is with child and her husband has unexpectedly become critically ill.

Which of these children can we sacrifice on the altar of political expediency?

It is common and expected to focus on the plight and anxiety of the women in these cases and the situations are undeniably heart-rending. The key question, however, is: “How are these children different from one another?” All of these children, without exception and in all that essentially matters, are identical. Each of these children is a human being. Each of these children is vulnerable. Each of these children is entirely dependent. Each of these children is completely innocent. Each of these children is beloved of God. Each of these children, without exception, possesses a human dignity. Each of these children has a God-given right to live. Each of these children has a soul. Each of these children is an entirely unique and irreplaceable member of the human family. The external circumstances under which these children were conceived certainly vary but those circumstances do not, in any way, touch the dignity or worth of the child. No one of these children should be viewed or treated any differently from any other of them. There is no justifiable reason to view the children conceived by rape or incest as somehow less worthy of protection than any other child. The Church, with its preferential option for the poor, cannot ever give even the slightest appearance of having abandoned or neglected these poorest of the poor.

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.

It may be politically expedient and even necessary to recognize that we may not be able to exclude rape, incest or the life of the mother from an insurance plan but we must never concede these or broker a deal with the children in these situations as the pawns. I am not suggesting that we adopt an all or nothing modality, only that we never rejoice over sacrificing one to save more. It is especially important that we never glibly dismiss the children with less than desirable beginnings or still worse, rejoice that we had to sacrifice only these unfortunates in order to save others. The politically expedient decision to carve out these exceptions belies the foundation of our Pro-Life stand. We are not Pro-Life because the circumstances surrounding a child’s conception are voluntary or societally acceptable. We are Pro-Life because every child has a right to life and the circumstances of his or her conception are irrelevant. [When people worked to get rid of the category of 'illegitimate children' they did not make any exceptions, recognising the dignity of each child.]

I want to repeat that: In terms of a child’s right to life, the circumstances of his or her conception are irrelevant!

This in no way implies that the woman’s distress or confusion are irrelevant in themselves. They are only irrelevant in that they in no way affect the humanity of the child.

There is also a danger in seeming to accept the exceptions. When these exceptions are incorporated into law, seemingly with ecclesial approval, then the impression is given that a woman’s individual circumstances determine whether abortion is morally justifiable or not. Each woman is then, in effect, given permission to determine if her circumstances are difficult enough to justify an abortion because abortion then is focused on the woman’s circumstances rather than on the individuality and personal right to life of her child. The circumstances of rape, incest and life of the mother are certainly factors which tend to cloud the ability to see and recognize the child as a unique “other” but these circumstances change nothing about that unique otherness of the child.

There is an ongoing educational initiative known as “No child left behind.” This same commitment certainly under girds the thoughts and efforts of all in the Pro-Life Community. Abortion is a tremendous source of and cause for extreme grief in our country. Recent efforts to improve the nature of health care in the United States shows a certain degree of appropriate concern for the underserved, the uninsured and those with compromised health. The pre-born children in every one of the examples I cited above need and deserve good pre-natal care. It is unconscionable that some of them are deemed worthy of health care while others of them, due solely to a circumstance entirely beyond their control, should be marked for death. Insult is added to injury when we consider that these left behind children are not only marked for death but marked for death at government, translated our, expense. [In what way is the policy of using state money to kill children different from that of the Third Reich where the taxes of the German people were used to exterminate Jews and other 'undesirable'? One difference is that the scale of killing is far worse in the USA and in some other countries that it was under Hitler. Close to 50,000,000 pre-born Americans have been legally killed since Roe v Wade in 1973, many of them during the process of birth.]

Anyone who rejoices that a health care bill may be achieved and that its achievement may only cost the lives of the pre-born children conceived in rape or incest fails to properly value human life. I hope that some good can come from this massive health care reform work but I have great reservations for a number of reasons the major of which is that, at its very foundation, the effort fails to take full account of human worth and dignity. It was intended to cover every abortion as a right and Pro-Life efforts got that reduced but the lack of reverence for life has not changed. Any law which excludes, intentionally leaves behind or, God forbid, pays for the killing of any child, is not a cause for rejoicing.

23 January 2010

Three young witnesses to the faith

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:

MY VOCATION IS LOVE! Yes, I have found my place in the Church and it is You, O my God, who have given me this place; in the heart of the Church, my Mother, I shall be Love. Thus I shall be everything, and thus my dream will be realized. But how will she prove her love since love is proved by works? Well, the little child will strew flowers, she will perfume the royal throne with their sweet scents, and she will sing in her silvery tones the canticle of Love. Yes, my Beloved, this is how my life will be consumed. I have no other means of proving my love for you other than that of strewing flowers, that is, not allowing one little sacrifice to escape, not one look, one word, profiting by all the smallest things and doing them through love.

St. Therese tells the story of Pranzini, a man who had murdered two women and a young girl and had been sentenced to death. All reports were that he was going to his death angry and bitter and unrepentant. Therese, only fourteen at the time, committed herself to praying and offering up sacrifices for his conversion. The day after his execution she secretly read the newspaper account of his death. Here is how she wrote about it:

Pranzini had not gone to confession. He had mounted the scaffold and was preparing to place his head in the formidable opening, when suddenly seized by an inspiration, he turned, took hold of the crucifix the priest was holding out to him and kissed the sacred wounds three times! Then his soul went to receive the merciful sentence of Him who declares that in heaven there will be more joy over one sinner who does penance than over ninety-nine just who have no need of repentance!

Young Therese called Pranzini her "first child."

This is "The Little Way" of St. Therese which Blessed Mother Teresa also followed: to do everything as an act of love for God, to offer all the little (and big) hardships of life for the conversion of sinners.

Imagine St. Therese arriving in heaven after her death at the age of twenty-four. Who do you think was the first person to meet her? Her mother Zelie? Her father Louis? Perhaps the first person to meet her on her arrival in heaven was a man with a big smile on his face who could hardly wait to thank her for the role her prayers and sacrifices played in getting him there... a murderer named Pranzini.

St Thérèse as a child

I told the girls, many of whom have suffered deeply, about the sacrifices of these girls, the same age as many at the Mass, had freely made for the sake of others. They showed that our suffering, in whatever form it comes, doesn't have to be wasted but can bring life - eternal life - to others. I could see that they were listening intently.

Though I rarely ask any of the girls about what they have been through - they get proper professional help - they are very much aware that I know something of their suffering.

The three young girls whom we remembered at our Mass last evening are persons who can bring hope into the lives of so many today. They also had a deep sense of the reality that God calls each of us to be a saint, incuding every child. I remember how the words of St Paul, Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church (Col 1:24), once hit me like an arrow through the heart after a retreat many years ago. They have been words of hope to me ever since.

I thought I'd include the full painting by El Greco, which he did between 1597 and 1799, from which the detail of St Agnes above is taken. It's called The Virgin and Child with St Martina and St Agnes. St Martina was a Roman virgin martyred in 226. There are many stories about her but not much, if any, factual history.

St Agnes, whose name is a Greek word meaning 'chaste' is associated, as in El Greco's painting, with lambs, as the Latin word for lamb is agnus. Yesterday, the feast of the saint, as happenes every year, the pope blessed the lambs the wool of which will be used to make the palliums that are given to newly-consecrated metropolitan archbishops on the Feast of St Peter and St Paul.

22 January 2010

'A Poem of Purity: Blessed Laura Vicuña, patron of those who have been abused

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.

Although she was only twelve when she died, Laura Vicuña had grown to a maturity of faith well beyond her years. Fr John Murray sees the life of this young girl whose feast is 22 January as an inspiration.

Throughout his pontificate, Pope John Paul II endeavored to offer to the Church and the world at large, models for Christian living: people we can imitate and learn from, as we try to make our own way through the maze and pitfalls of life. In an age of sexual license, when often girls and young women can be at the mercy of sexual predators, the life of Laura Vicuña has something to say in our own day.

Painful experiences

Laura was born in Santiago, Chile, on 5 April 1891.Soon after her birth, her father had to flee the country because of political upheavals, and when she was only three he himself passed away. Bereft of support, her mother, Mercedes, sadly entered into a relationship with a local ranch owner, one Manuel Mora.

He offered to pay for the care and schooling of her children at a Salesian boarding school, if Mercedes became his mistress. Laura attended the Salesian mission school with her sister, Julia. With a maturity beyond her years, Laura often helped the younger children with their tasks, and acted almost like a mother to them, combing their hair and mending their clothing.

Even then, Mora would try to molest her, especially when he was drunk. She made her First Holy Communion when she was ten, but was always afraid of Mora, because of his lewd desires on her. When she fought off his first assault, the ranch owner refused to pay for her school tuition, but despite that the Sisters continued to educate her.

Offering up her life

Despite her young age, Laura was conscious that her mother was not living as God would want, and she had already decided to offer her life to God for her mother’s conversion.

At this stage, her own health was delicate, and in the winter of 1902 Mercedes left the Mora’s hacienda in order to care for her ailing daughter.

At this time, they were living in Argentina.However, in January 1904, Mora arrived on their doorstep to demand that Laura surrender to his lusts. When she refused him, he whipped and kicked her, and then threw her brutally across the saddle of his horse to carry her back to his ranch. Aware that the local people were watching him, he dumped her body in a ditch and left. Laura lingered on until 22 January, when she died of severe internal injuries.

Just before she died, she told her mother that she had given her life to bring about a conversion in her. ‘Mama,’ she said. ‘I am dying, but I’m happy to offer my life for you. I asked our Lord for this’. After Laura’s death, Mercedes made a good confession, left Mora, and became a devout Catholic again.


In September 1988, Pope John Paul II beatified Laura, calling her a ‘Eucharistic flower . . . whose life was a poem of purity, sacrifice and filial love’. In many ways, her life parallels that of St Maria Goretti, whose life and death may be better known to many people. She too fought off the advances of a young man with lustful desires.

Maria died but was able eventually to achieve the conversion of her murderer, and when she was later canonized in 1950, he was present at the ceremony. (Note: I saw a TV documentary on St Maria Goretti on EWTN recently and it stated that he wasn't present, though he was still alive at the time and living in a Capuchin friary in Italy as a member of the Capuchin Third Order.)

Like Maria, Laura did not let the sordidness of Mora destroy her innocence, nor did she allow her heart to become embittered. Instead, she prayed for her mother and also for her lover. We can but hope that Mora too experienced the conversion which Laura prayed for her mother. Her life is a testimony to the words of St Paul: ‘However much sin increased, grace was always greater’ (Rom 5:20).

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

A little incident in Ireland that gives me hope

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

Pediatrician-sister of Cardinal Arns of Brazil dies in Haiti earthquake

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 Haiti

Zilda Arns, an Expert in Reducing Infant Mortality

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, JAN. 14, 2010 (Zenit.org).- Zilda Arns, Nobel Peace Prize nominee and founder of the International Pastoral da Criança, was killed Tuesday in the 7.0-magnitude earthquake that struck Haiti.

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.

May this wonderful woman, whom I had never heard of until now, rest in peace and may her work for mothers and children flourish.

15 January 2010

Desperate situation in Haiti

'Bottlenecks and infrastructure damage have been holding up aid efforts in Haiti, where a devastating earthquake has left as many as 45,000-50,000 dead' reports the BBC about the earthquake in Haiti last Tuesday.

The overwhelming tragedy wrought by the few brief seconds of the earthquake’s duration is poignantly summarised by a photo taken in the rubble of the cathedral in Port-au-Prince: Jesus hangs on the Cross in the midst of his people. (H/T to Fr Tim Finigan).

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

Baptism of our Lord Jesus Christ: 'God takes delight in his people'


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'.

Nevertheless, many grow up with the idea that love can only be earned and that idea of God taking delight in his people nevere crosses the mind or heart of most of us, I think. The image that comes to my mind is that of proud parents showing their child to their relatives and friends.

Renante and Cristina Uy of Bacolod with their first child, Keifer Thomas (used on the cover of Misyon, November-December 2007)

07 January 2010

'That our sacrifice may be pleasing to God' - letter of Archbishop Soc Villegas

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].


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


Archbishop of Lingayen Dagupan

06 January 2010

What next for the priesthood? Three Irish priests interviewed by Irish Times

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

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 lifehelping 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.


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].


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.