25 September 2010

Mikko back home. Thanks for your prayers

Mikko, Miggy, Gee-Gee and Mica Dimayuga who live near Atlanta, Georgia, USA

Recently I asked you to pray for three-year-old Mikko who, not for the first time, was admitted to the ICU. I received this email from Gee-Gee Torres Dimayuga, the mother of Mikko and former assistant editor of Misyon, the magazine I edit for the Columbans in the Philippines, the other day:


Mikko is finally home. We got out of the hospital 9 minutes before midnight last Saturday. We're so happy to be homw already. Those two weeks of being in hospital were too much to take. Miggy stayed with Mikko for 10 days and I watched Mikko for 4 days.

Mikko is recovering well here at home. We still have to watch his oxygen and sodiu levels. Oh, Miggy and I are still so tired. Not being able to drive makes it more harder for us. (As they were both applying for their visas to be renewed they were unable to renew their driver's licences which had expired.) We have to ask friends if they are free or we take the taxi . . . Thank you for all the prayers.

Please continue your prayers for this lovely family whose faith in a loving God and our prayers for them are the sources of their strength.


Beatification of 18-year-old Chiara 'Luce' Badano today in Rome

Chiara 'Luce' Badano who will be beatified today


Chiara 'Luce' Badano, who died in 1990 just short of her 19th birthday, will be beatified today at the Shrine of Our Lady of Divine Love in Rome. You can read Richelle Verdeprado's article, The Saint Who Failed Math, in the current issue of Misyon, the online magazine I edit for the Columbans in the Philippines, here. You will find links to other sites and articles there. The new beata or 'Blessed' was a member of the Focolare Movement. You can find a website dedicated to her here.


Chiara 'Luce' during her final illness




24 September 2010

Pakistan Flood Disaster


The floods in Pakistan  seem to have slipped out of the news but millions are still suffering there. The video is a collection of photos sourced from Caritas Australia and UNICEF and put together by the Columbans in Australia and New Zealand.

Technical difficulty: I'm not sure how to get the video to fit properly. But if you have RealPlayer you can download the video and watch it there.

22 September 2010

Amnesia anyone? Former detainee reflects on Martial Law in the Philipines

Ferdinand Edralin Marcos

Cebu-based Juan L. Mercado is one of the most incisive commentators on events in the Philippines. He was one of many journalists arrested in the early days of Martial Law, proclaimed on 21 September 1972, an event that hardly seems to touch us anymore, when some of the architects of that awful episode in Philippine history are still being elected to high positions. Juan L. Mercado writes a syndicated column and writes from the perspective of a lived Catholic faith. I took this from The Visayan Daily Star, published in Bacolod City where  live


I have highlighted parts of this column but I would really want to highlight all of it. I came to the Philippines in October 1971 and remember vividly the killings and the constant lies of the years of Martial Law, the corruption of the Congress, the Courts, the military and the police and of the Constitution itself. I remember too the persecution of members of the Church who spoke out against the grave injustices perpetrated by the cohorts of Ferdinand Edralin Marcos.

 
From the website of the Negros Nine Foundation. This links you also to an article on the Kristianong Katilingban, Christian Communities, in the Diocese of Bacolod during the Martial Law years.
 

Amnesia anyone?

by Juan L. Mercado (photo)

(Next week, we mark the 38th anniversary of the imposition of martial law. This column offers a look back – and asks questions about the implications of how we remember. – JLM)

"Could all the journalists please follow me," Col. Generoso Alejo told detainees crammed into Camp Crame’s gymnasium. "You have a visitor." It was almost midnight, at the tail end of martial law’s first week. Outside, an eerie silence blanketed streets, emptied by the dusk-to-dawn curfew."

In the lower bunk, Evening News Luis Beltran groaned and rose. From the upper bunk, I shimmied groggily down. We followed Daily Mirror’s Armando Doronila, Philippine News Service’s Manuel Almario and Taliba’s, Benny Esquivel.

Ben David, Celso Carunungan and Luis Mauricio (now all deceased) preceded us into the barred reception room.

Arresting teams earlier nailed 22 of us with photocopies of Proclamation 1081 warrants. They bore the photocopied signature of martial law enforcer Juan Ponce Enrile

Our "midnight visitor" turned out to be our jailor: then PC Commander General Fidel V. Ramos. "Nothing personal, gentlemen," he said after the amenities. "I was just ordered to neutralize you. Please cooperate. And we’ll try to make things easy for you."

That was 38 years back. Have we cooperated – by forgetting? Eight out of 10 students today barely recall Benigno Aquino’s kangaroo trial before Military Commission No. 2, or why he was gunned down at the Manila airport tarmac.


Under the "New Society," the Philippines became a gulag of safe houses" where citizens were tortured, maimed and salvaged, "Amnesty International noted. The Metropolitan Intelligence Security group ruled as Marcos’ tortured chamber. The notorious Col. Rolando Abadilla and Lt. Panfilo Lacson (PMA) 71 were MISG "stars."


Today, do we care?


Forget martial law and let’s move on, Joseph Estrada whimpered. Protests erupted when he agreed to bury the dictator’s mummy in Libingan ng mga Bayani.

"We have very little collective memory of past," Ateneo University president (Fr) Bienvenido Nebres (SJ)told the Legacies of the Marcos Dictatorship conference. "We tend to live in a perpetual present. Thus, we can not see well into the future."

Detention did offer a window on how people react under pressure. Some crumble. Others withdraw into cocoons. For a few, prison burnishes the steel in them.

In our prison, women political detainees would sometimes be allowed an hour to chat with us. Among these were Haydee Yorac, Manila Times’ Roz Galang, painter Veronica Yuyitung (wife of Chinese Commercial News editor, Rizal, who was shanghaied by Marcos agents to a Taipei military jail). We’d swap stories –and smuggled foreign news clips.

Yorac’s backbone recalled Juvenal’s axiom: "The sole and only nobility is integrity." That feistiness showed in her subsequent jobs, from peace negotiator to Commission on Election chair.

Is amnesia simplex today’s response to Sen. Jose Diokno’s eloquent letter, written from his Fort Bonifacio prison cell in December 1972:

"I’ve been deprived of freedom, stripped of my dignity. A non person, I’m reduced to having to ask permission for such a simple pleasure, as to step outside my prison to feel the wind on my face and the warmth of the sun on my back."

But ‘we can, even now, scrutinize our past; try to pinpoint what went wrong; determine what led to his madness," he added." And how, when it ends, we can make sure it need never happen again."

Thus, Cebu media has marked, over the last 16 years without fail, Press Freedom Week. It is seven days of professional discussions, exhibits (A press musuem is being launched) to songs. But Imelda and soul mates, however, insist on rewriting history.

Martial law was ‘one of the best things that happened in Philippine history," Madame Marcos asserted in an earlier interview. "It was a peaceful provision to ensure peace for our country. Tayo ang nagligtas ng demokrasya." ["We saved democracy".]

Now, this woman, whose name became a byword for profligacy, is a congresswoman. And she heads the Lower House committee on Millennium Development Goals – objectives to tamp down penury and it’s high death toll.


Her son Ferdinand Marcos Jr. spent his time, as a congressman, grabbing back from erstwhile cronies loot Marcos Sr. stashed. He is a senator.


Textbooks in public schools scrub the national memory blank.


Read by over 8 million students, these books paper over militarization of society denigrate dissidents, ignore human rights abuses, and massive kleptocracy, Joel Sarmenta and MelvinYabot of the University of Asia and the Pacific note. They recycle the claim that jack-booted rule was the only way to save democracy."


"It should not surprise us the young people today are apathetic about the struggle for democracy," historian Ambeth Ocampo noted. "Martial law textbooks continue to miseducate."

Thus, "the trauma of Marcos terror became embedded in the Philippine institutional fabric," Prof. Alfred Mc Coy writes in "Closer Than Brothers." ‘The Philippines seems caught in a long nightmare between remembering and forgetting."

In his novel "1984", George Orwell depicted a country where truth, freedom and justice were shoved down a "memory hole." Amnesia institutionalizes injustice. History‘s falsification invites repeated abuse – and prevents healing. "Why should I apologize for godly acts?" a puzzled Imelda asks.

How we remember assets as a shared past. But "all of us…must open our hearths to human memory," Noble Laureate Elie Weisel insisted at Auschwitz memorial rites, "I do not want my past to become the future of our children."*

21 September 2010

Columban Sisters' response to flood victims in Pakistan

Columban Sisters' Rapid Response
on Your Behalf to the Flood Victims of Pakistan.

What happens when the adrenalin subsides and one has to face the reality?


This report posted on the website of the Columban Sisters on 4 September is also available on the website of the Columban priests in Ireland.


For weeks our adrenalin was pumping, wondering if the Mighty Indus would invade our house and surrounding area in Latifabad No. 7, Hyderabad, Pakistan or not, as it was branded as a 'red alert area' because it is low lying. Like everybody else who could afford money, we bought in non-perishable foods that would take us through the disaster and also helped many people to stock up rations for themselves in their homes. We cleared our ground floor but at least we had time to plan, as the floods arrival would be gradual so we had time on hands to wait and see, yet we were 'paralyzed' in the 'not knowing'.


Our Columban Congregation, families and friends kept vigil with us by phoning and texting us and we knew that we were not alone.



Looking for 'signs to see which way to go' is in us all, and as one looked at last Sunday's Eucharist readings, August 29th there was clear direction give all over the pages.


The gospel reading said:
'When you give a lunch or a dinner, do not ask your friends, brothers,relations or rich neighbours, for fear they repay your courtesy by inviting you in return. No, when you give a party, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind; that they cannot pay you back means that you are fortunate, because payment will be made to you when the virtuous rise again'.


Today is the day to move! This is an invitation for dinner


The Psalm (67) also had a message:


'When your people were starved you gave them new life.
It was there that your people found a home
Prepared in your goodness, O God, for the poor'.


The poor were to be invited.


These echoes were like a light shining in the darkness all around us, pushing us into action. Now it was time for us, Columban Sisters, Marie, Roberta, Perlita and Rebecca, together with some of our team members, Jawed Munawer, our Team Manager and Mujeed to leave our security behind and as we crossed the Mighty Indus we saw the power of its merciless torrents flash by, swallowing up everything in its sight. Some months ago we had a festive day when flowers were thrown into the Indus as an expression of respect and of showing the people's love for the River and here these past weeks we experience her destruction! How can she turn on her people like this?

On the highways and byways we sought out those who had genuinely lost all. These were to be our friends invited into the banquet of God's love.  They were everywhere… some begging for their daily bread, women with flocks of children around them distressed and despairing, babies in arms undernourished out under the sun with no shade but a tilted charpoi (string bed) which is moved around to protect them from the glaring sun.  It is still monsoon time and when it is raining they have no cover except for a hand made razai (bed-spread) to give them shelter and in turn shade from the sun and heat. Men were trying to fend for their families and many of these women now exposed to the elements may never have seen outside the four walls of their homes as many families in Interior Sindh keep 'purdah' (curtain).  This means they live literally behind the curtain and being exposed to the stares of those zooming along in cars on the super highway they cannot be but traumatized.
 

Eventually we focused on one group of very needy people on the Super Highway as our starting point. It was a painful sight to see. These people came from Larkana which is a distance of about seven hours away and it took them days to get here as their villages were completely flooded. They shared their story with us and our team manager, who could speak their language, Sindhi, made an assessment of their needs which consisted of: tents, food, children's clothes, pots, water cooler and water.



Thanks to the graciousness of you our benefactors we were able to move into action immediately. That evening, Sunday, cooked food was served to 109 people as they had had nothing to eat for three days. These people are the gentle of the Beatitudes and have experienced the let down of false promises from NGO's as they look for their daily food.


Monday was a day full of team spirit and on Tuesday we brought them their tents, non-perishable food stuffs, water and water coolers to quench their thirst under the scorching hot sun. There we found a young woman with her new born baby boy smiling at us and the baby yawning not realizing its horrendous circumstances. Also we came by an eighty year old woman begging for a water cooler. The young and the old are the most vulnerable under such conditions. One lady asked us if we were fasting because it is Ramadan, the Muslim fasting season but we said 'no, we are Christians' and immediately she wanted to make tea for us. Such hospitality!


Wednesday the rains arrived and our team manager and co-worker took torches to the families as they are out in the 'desert' fearful of snakes and other such creatures stealing in to visit them at night! They were grateful. Now for the first time they were under tents and as the rain lashed down on top of them they prayed for us all for being with them in their time of need. These tents were thanks to Jawed, our Project Manager who acted promptly and succeeded in getting and delivering them on time.



Thursday. Eid, the Muslim Celebration after the Ramadan fast will be on September 11th. It will be a season of newness like Easter is for us Christians. An appropriate gift would be clothes and so we as team decided to give them material so that they can sew their own clothes which is the norm here in Pakistan. We felt this would be therapeutic for them to lift them out of their depression and be active in their rehabilitation process. In preparation for this we bought three hand sewing machines: two for women and one for men.


Friday: Shops are open today as it is the last Friday before the end of Ramadan and so our people are coming in to Hyderabad to shop for the various coloured clothes that are part of their traditional dress.


As they return to their camps they will be given the three sewing machines, materials with their accessories and fresh vegetables with their accessories…garlic, chilies, ginger etc…. for taste!


Thank you for making it possible for us to reach out to these traumatized people. Some call this flood a slow sunami as one third of the country lies under water and twenty million are displaced. Our effort is like a drop in the ocean but we will continue to seek out those most in need…all we are, are your hands, heart and feet here in Pakistan and may the Lord bless us all in our efforts.


To be continued . . .


'Heart to Heart": a reflection on Blessed John Henry Newman


Yesterday, Sunday 19 September, in Birmingham, England, (Photo above) Pope Benedict beatified Cardinal John Henry Newman. Here is a reflection that Columban Sister Redempta Twomey wrote for Far East, the magazine of the Columbans in Britain and Ireland.

Blessed John Henry Newman

At the funeral, in 1890, of Cardinal John Henry Newman who is to be declared 'Blessed' on September 19th by Pope Benedict XV1, a wreath of flowers was sent by a woman with a card that read: 'A tribute of respect to a great Englishman, whose beauty of life shed its light and purity on his own century, but belongs to all ages.' Her insightful and prophetic words resonated down the years as Newman's spiritual influence continued to spread, even to our own time. His beatification confirms what many have felt – here is a genuinely holy man.

Something of that holiness seems to emanate from the portraits – the lean ascetic face, the quiet dignity, that quality of otherworldliness that so impressed his contemporaries. As one who heard him preach said, "No one has ever made us feel as he has done the detachment of the pilgrim from all earth's closest ties." Not that he was indifferent to the affairs of the world; on the contrary he kept abreast of what was going on and, in many ways was far ahead of his time. His search for truth cost him dearly, cost him friends and companions and a loved way of life. But with that honesty and humility so characteristic of him, he steadfastly walked the narrow road. "God," he wrote, "has created me to do Him some definite service, He has committed some work to me which He has not committed to another. I have my mission: I may never know it in this life, but I shall be told it in the next."

The crest containing Cardinal Newman's motto 'Cor ad cor loquitor', 'Heart speaks to heart'.


A great thinker, a writer and a man of prayer, Newman had the gift of being able to engage with his academic colleagues, 'nor lose the common touch.' Apologia Pro Vita Sua, one of the most profound biographies ever written, has both awed and guided the hearts of many. His sermons, his reflections on Scripture, his prayers still have power to move us today. And who has not been stirred by his poetry, not least the haunting verses of "Lead, kindly Light". Catholics and non-Catholics feel spiritually indebted to Newman; he attracts people of many faiths and cultures. For his motto, when, late in his life he was made a Cardinal, Newman chose the words: 'Cor ad cor loquitor', 'Heart speaks to heart.' At the end of his life this was what mattered, not his genius, not the brilliance of his work, not his great preaching or his marvellous writings, but that his heart would be in the right place. He knew, as St John of the Cross so pithily said, "In the evening of your life, you will be examined on love." As we rejoice in the beatification of this great Englishman, let us pray that our hearts too will be true and loving as we walk in the 'kindly Light' that guides us every day of our lives.

17 September 2010

'The Church does not seek to be attractive . . .' Pope Benedict

Pope Benedict arriving in Scotland

During his press conference on board his flight from Rome to Edinburgh Pope Benedict was asked the following question. I have highlighted parts of his answer.

Q. - The UK, like many other Western countries - there is an issue that you have already touched on in the first answer –it is considered a secular country. There is a strong atheist movement, even for cultural reasons. However, there are also signs that religious faith, particularly in Jesus Christ, is still alive on a personal level. What can this mean for Catholics and Anglicans? Can anything be done to make the Church as an institution, more credible and attractive to everyone?


A. - I would say that a Church that seeks to be particularly attractive is already on the wrong path, because the Church does not work for her own ends, she does not work to increase numbers and thus power. The Church is at the service of another: she serves, not for herself, not to be a strong body, rather she serves to make the proclamation of Jesus Christ accessible, the great truths and great forces of love, reconciling love that appeared in this figure and that always comes from the presence of Jesus Christ. In this regard, the Church does not seek to be attractive in and of herself, but must be transparent for Jesus Christ and to the extent that she is not out for herself, as a strong and powerful body in the world, that wants power, but is simply the voice of another, she becomes truly transparent for the great figure of Christ and the great truth that he has brought to humanity. The power of love, in this moment one listens, one accepts. The Church should not consider herself, but help to consider the other and she herself must see and speak of the other. In this sense, I think, both Anglicans and Catholics have the same simple task, the same direction to take. If both Anglicans and Catholics see that the other is not out for themselves but are tools of Christ, children of the Bridegroom, as Saint John says, if both carry out the priorities of Christ and not their own, they will come together, because at that time the priority of Christ unites them and they are no longer competitors seeking the greatest numbers, but are united in our commitment to the truth of Christ who comes into this world and so they find each other in a genuine and fruitful ecumenism.

The person of Jesus Christ is constantly at the heart of what the Pope teaches.

 
The oldest pilgrim at the Mass in Glasgow was a woman aged 106. She was interviewed briefly on the BBC which gave full and excellent TV coverage to the Pope's visit to Scotland.
 
Pope Benedict showed a deep respect for Scotland as a distinct nation. Britain, the main component of the United Kingdom, contains three historical nations, England, Scotland and Wales. The other component is Northern Ireland. The Union Flag, usually called the Union Jack, the flag of the United Kingdom, is a clear symbol of its Christian roots and identity since it is a combination of the crosses of St George, St Andrew and St Patrick, the patron saints respectively of England, Scotland and Ireland. The cross of St Andrew is commonly known as the Saltire. There were plenty in evidence today in Edinburgh and in Glasgow
 
The Saltire or Cross of St Andrew, national flag of Scotland and component of the Union Jack.


14 September 2010

'Mikko has turned the corner'

Mikko with his mother Gee-Gee

Miguel 'Mike' Dimayuga sent an email from Atlanta today with the good news that his three-year son 'Mikko has turned the corner':


'Thank you for your prayers. God hears us! Mikko has turned the corner. His x-rays look good today and his oxygen support requirements went down from a high of 12 liters per minute two days ago to 2 liters per minute today. The doctors have even begun to talk about him leaving the ICU in a couple of days and "graduating" to the regular floor'.

Let's continue to pray for Mikko's recovery and for his parents, Mike and Gee-Gee.

09 September 2010

Urgent request for prayers for three-year-old Mikko


Mikko with his mother Gee-Gee

Please pray for three-year old Miguel 'Mikko' Torres Dimayuga who has been suffering from pneumonia for the last week and has been in intensive care for the last four days, a place where he has frequently been, including last Christmas, since he was born with a number of serious disabilities on 22 May 2007.

His mother, Mary Geraldine, ‘Gee-Gee’, is the former assistant editor of Misyon, is from Bacolod City and his father Miguel, ‘Miggy’ or ‘Mike’, from Manila. I visited the family in Atlanta for a weekend just over a month ago while on a visit to Canada. I gave Miggy and Gee-Gee a short retreat some years ago at the end of which Miggy formally proposed marriage to Gee-Gee. In 2006 I officiated at their wedding in Manila.

Their second child, Milagros Catalina 'Mica', named after both grandmothers, was born 14 June 2008.

The driving licenses of both have expired and they can’t renew them until they do the necessary paperwork to renew their visas in the USA. However, Filipino friends are very kindly offering their services as drivers during these difficult days.

Mikko, Miggy, Gee-Gee and Mica

Miggy wrote in an email: It is distressing to see Mikko not recovering as fast as he did during his first pneumonia three months ago. In that episode, we only stayed in the ICU three or four days before ‘graduating’ to the regular floor in preparation for discharge.


It’s been a particularly stressful week. It is a terrible feeling for me to see Mikko sick. As a father, I would love to be able to wave a magic wand and make everything better. If I could trade all that I have to ensure his full recovery, I would do it without even blinking. Then I am comforted by the fact that if a simple man like me can love like that, God surely can and does love Mikko infinitely more.

Mikko with his mother Gee-Gee

07 September 2010

Update from Columban Fr Tomás King on floods in Pakistan

Pakistan: A brief update on the situation in Thata Area

by Columban Fr Tomás King, 5 September 2010
Father King is the Columban Mission Unit Coordinator in Pakistan. He is from Ireland.
The attached photos of the relief work being carried out in Kotri area are from Fr Mohan Victor OFM .


Children and the elderly are the most vulnerable

Greetings to All,

There is still serious flooding in Sindh (where Columbans are working), as you probably see from from TV pictures. The good news is that the water level though still very high is receding near the Kotri barrage on the opposite side of the river from Hyderabad city. (Columbans are working in the Diocese of Hyderabad). Hyderabad is safe and is out of danger. But further south, waters continue to flood from the river near Thatha. This has flooded the towns of Sajawal which is in Badin parish. Waters have reached to within 50 kms of Badin city and thankfully at this stage it looks like it will escape. The government has set up relief camps around Badin city.
Preparing a simple meal

Nearby is Jati, a small parish which is administrated from Hyderabad parish. It is where Columban Fr Robert McCulloch (an Australian) does some of his ministry and Fr Sabir Sadiq, a diocesan priest based in the Cathedral parish in Hyderabad. For the past week before the flood waters arrived to engulf the town of Jati and the surrounding lands, Father Sabir has being helping with the evacuation. The crops and homes of his family and all Christian and Muslim neighbours have been lost. They did manage to get their animals out. Tragically, when people were evacuating through the flood waters, four young children of one family were drowned when they fell into deep waters. So far their bodies have not been found. Jati people estimate that ti will be at least two weeks before they can begin to move back, as the flood waters are expected to linger that long. Most of the Christian community in Jati have evacuated to relatives in Karachi.
He lost everything, home, land and crops
 
Emergency relief and medical help are being provided from many sources. These include the parish team in Kotri parish led by Fr Mohan Victor OFM and staff of St Mary's Girl's High School in Hyderabad and the students. Columban Sisters and their team, Fr Felisiano Fatu (a Columban from Tonga) and the Badin parish team, Sr Rosey Yaqoob FMCK in Sukkur parish and the outreach team from St Elizabeth's Hospital in Hyderabad with Fr Robert McCulloch are working feverishly in emergency work. All of these have received funding that have come from Columban sources. This relief work will continue for some time. According to the Prime Minister this first phase of relief work will continue until end of October. That is a brief summary of the present situation.
 
Sincere thanks for your generous help and support.
 
Peace
 
Fr Tomás King on behalf of all the people you have helped.
 
 
Family waiting for help

Loading up relief supplies

Father Mohan OFM planning distribution

So happy to have received assistance

All that remains now

Where to now?

03 September 2010

Cost of following Jesus. 23rd Sunday of Ordinary Time Year C, 5 September 2010


Gospel (Luke 14:25-33) [New American Bible]

Great crowds were traveling with Jesus, and he turned and addressed them, "If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life,he cannot be my disciple.

Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.

Which of you wishing to construct a tower does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if there is enough for its completion?  Otherwise, after laying the foundation and finding himself unable to finish the work the onlookers should laugh at him and say, 'This one began to build but did not have the resources to finish.'

Or what king marching into battle would not first sit down and decide whether with ten thousand troops he can successfully oppose another king advancing upon him with twenty thousand troops? But if not, while he is still far away, he will send a delegation to ask for peace terms.

In the same way, anyone of you who does not renounce all his possessions cannot be my disciple."

+++
 

In today's gospel Jesus tells us that unless we renounce all our possessions we cannot be his disciples. What if someone has no possessions?


About six years ago I was visiting Holy Family Home in Makati City, the financial centre of the Philippines, run by the Capuchin Tertiary Sisters of the Holy Family. The home is for girls whose families live on the streetsor in extreme poverty. A 14-year-old girl who suffered from asthma and whose father was a blind beggar asked me a question that still astounds me: 'How can I offer my life to God?'