30 June 2012

'Give her something to eat'. Sunday Reflections, 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B

Christ Raises the Daughter of Jairus, Friedrich Overbeck, painted 1815.

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

Readings (Jerusalem Bible: Australia, England & Wales, India [optional], Ireland, New Zealand, Pakistan, Scotland, South Africa)

Gospel Mark 5:21-43 (Revised Standard Version – Catholic Edition)

When Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered about him; and he was beside the sea. Then came one of the rulers of the synagogue, Jairus by name; and seeing him, he fell at his feet, and besought him, saying, "My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live." And he went with him. And a great crowd followed him and thronged about him. 

And there was a woman who had had a flow of blood for twelve years, and who had suffered much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was no better but rather grew worse. She had heard the reports about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his garment. For she said, "If I touch even his garments, I shall be made well." And immediately the hemorrhage ceased; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. And Jesus, perceiving in himself that power had gone forth from him, immediately turned about in the crowd, and said, "Who touched my garments?" And his disciples said to him, "You see the crowd pressing around you, and yet you say, ' Who touched me?" And he looked around to see who had done it. But the woman, knowing what had been done to her, came in fear and trembling and fell down before him, and told him the whole truth. And he said to her, "Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease." 

While he was still speaking, there came from the ruler's house some who said, "Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the Teacher any further?" But ignoring what they said, Jesus said to the ruler of the synagogue, "Do not fear, only believe." And he allowed no one to follow him except Peter and James and John the brother of James. When they came to the house of the ruler of the synagogue, he saw a tumult, and people weeping and wailing loudly.  And when he had entered, he said to them, "Why do you make a tumult and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping." And they laughed at him. But he put them all outside, and took the child's father and mother and those who were with him, and went in where the child was. Taking her by the hand he said to her, "Talitha cumi"; which means, "Little girl, I say to you, arise." And immediately the girl got up and walked (she was twelve years of age), and they were immediately overcome with amazement. And he strictly charged them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat.

St Mark, Donatello, c.1411

Lyn was someone I met when she was about 15. Three years later, when she was only halfway through her four-year college course, she quit to marry Roberto. (I’m not using their real names). Lyn was madly in love with Roberto, who had a good job and came from a relatively wealthy family.  Lyn’s family could not be described as poor either. I celebrated the wedding Mass and attended the reception in a classy hotel. Here in the Philippines it’s the groom’s father who foots the bill for the reception. the young couple went to live in Manila, where Roberto was from. About a year later a daughter, whom I’ll call Gloria, was born. She had a mental disability. Another daughter, ‘Gabriela’, arrived a year or two later.

Then tragedy struck. Roberto discovered that his kidneys weren’t working properly and that he needed dialysis. Over the next couple of years Roberto and Lyn spent practically all they had on this and it ended in Roberto’s death. Meanwhile, Lyn’s parents both had serious illnesses and had to spend most of their resources on treatment.

Lyn returned to her own city with her two young daughters. She couldn’t find a job and had no qualifications since she hadn’t finished in college. With much embarrassment she came to see me and asked if I could give her an ‘allowance’. She was able to survive the next few years with help from her siblings and friends and eventually remarried.

I’ve met so many ‘Lyns’ in the Philippines who are like the woman in today’s gospel, who have spent all their resources on doctors and medicine and are still sick. I’ve met families who have pawned their little bit of land in order to enable an aged parent to have surgery that ultimately leaves the whole family impoverished and the person on whom, out of a perhaps misplaced love,  they had spent the money ending up in the cemetery.

Most Filipinos have little access to good health care. Even those who have government health insurance, unlike in Ireland or the United Kingdom, have to come up with ready cash if they go to hospital. They are eventually reimbursed but have to pay interest on money they have borrowed in the meantime. I’ve heard people in Ireland and in the UK complain about the poor health services they have and their complaints are often justified. I have also heard many unsolicited words of praise for nurses from the Philippines working in hospitals in those countries.

Bu the sad reality is that most of those nurses, if they were still in the Philippines, wouldn’t have access to the kind of care they provide in Ireland and the UK. They would be like the woman in the gospel.

I met a Filipina in Reykjavík in 2000 who told me that she had had a kidney transplant in Denmark, paid for by the taxpayers of Iceland, a country of only 300,000 people or so. Had she been at home she would probably have ended up like Roberto.

19 years ago in a parish in Mindanao I buried Eileen, like the daughter of Jairus,  a 12-year-old. Again, poverty was a significant factor in her illness and death, despite the efforts of the doctors and nurses in the small government hospital where she died.

So the two stories interwoven by St Mark are stories that many Filipinos have lived or are living.

But sometimes persons experience healing. I once gave a recollection day to a group of 11- and 12-year old children. We reflected on the story of Jesus staying behind in the Temple when he was 12 and that of the daughter of Jairus. Before the afternoon session a group of the boys and girls came to tell me that Maria, one of their classmates, had a bad toothache and asked if we could pray with her. Maybe Jesus would heal her as he had healed ‘Talitha’. They thought that that was the name of the girl in the gospel! We prayed with Maria – and her toothache disappeared. The children were delighted.

St Mark gives us illustrations of the humanity of Jesus more than do St Matthew and St Luke when they recount the same stories. Scholars tell us that St Mark’s was the first gospel to be written and that the other two drew on his in writing theirs. St Matthew omits the detail of Jesus perceiving in himself that power had gone forth from him. This shows us that Jesus wasn’t a ‘magician’. When he healed a sick person he gave of himself.

St Matthew leaves out another beautiful detail about the humanity of our Saviour. Jesus says to the people in the house, Give her something to eat. I can imagine the joy of everyone, including Jesus. I picture him with a smile on his face, a smile that reflects his joy – and his awareness that the girl’s family had forgotten the very practical detail that she was starving, as is anyone who has come through a serious illness. This detail of St Mark brings home to me the great reality that St John expressed in his gospel and that we pray in the Angelus, The Word became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14).

Missa Papae Marcelli (Mass of Pope Marcellus) by Palestrina

Kyrie (Lord, have mercy)

Sung by the Tallis Scholars directed by Peter Phillips

28 June 2012

Struggle to save ancestral land

Supreme Court of the Philippines grants Writ of Kalikasan to protect ancestral Lands.


The creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay (Romans 8:21).

And there are so many kinds of desert. There is the desert of poverty, the desert of hunger and thirst, the desert of abandonment, of loneliness, of destroyed love. There is the desert of God’s darkness, the emptiness of souls no longer aware of their dignity or the goal of human life. The external deserts in the world are growing, because the internal deserts have become so vast. Therefore the earth’s treasures no longer serve to build God’s garden for all to live in, but they have been made to serve the powers of exploitation and destruction. The Church as a whole and all her Pastors, like Christ, must set out to lead people out of the desert, towards the place of life, towards friendship with the Son of God, towards the One who gives us life, and life in abundance (Benedict XVI, Inauguration Mass, 24 April 2005).

Columban Fr Sean Martin (right) sends this report

Tomorrow , the Solemnity of Sts Peter and Paul, a clarification will be sought in the Supreme Court of the Philippines about a hearing that was to have been held in Cagayan de Oro City. It coincides with the fiesta in Father Sean's native parish in the Diocese of Meath, Ireland. May these two great saints intervene on behalf of the Subanen people who live in the Zamboanga Peninsula in western Mindanao, Philippines. 


Over the past recent decades the Subaanen people who have lived on the Zamboanga Peninsula since time immemorial have felt the scourge of mining threats upon their ancestral lands. The area of the Zamboanga Peninsula which they inhabit includes the slopes of a vast mountain range which, reaching as it does from north towards of the peninsula, provides a watershed for the entire area. Within this range with its rich ecosystem stands Mount Pinukis , the mountain which the Subaanens revere as sacred. Should mining be allowed in the Pinukis area, not only would the unique culture of the Subaanen people be undermined; the rich biodiversity of the area would be disastrously damaged.
Over many years, especially since the 1990s when the RIO TINTO - CRA mining company obtained permission to mine 600,000 hectares in the Mt Pinukis area, Subaanens and many of their Visayan neighbours have protested against this permission, and the Company’s beginning mining, as the following chart shows.

Baking Caporoso, one of those injured on 14 January while a hanging bridge was being repaired

 Tropical Exploration Philippines Inc. TEPI- RIO TINTO-CRA.  Registered 7 Sep  1995
May 25,27, 1996
Petition of Subaanen Cultural Community endorsed by DOPIM Bishops signed by 750 people.
June 6, 1996
MGB director forwarded petition to TEPI.
July 24, 1996
TEPI response to MGB.
Aug 18, 1996
Petition follow up from Subaanen Cultural Community
Sep 12, 1996
Petition follow up forwarded by Director MGB to President TEPI for response.
Sep 23, 1996
Consultative meeting held in DPC, Pagadian City- TEPI, MGB, OSCC (Office of southern Cultural Communities,) government and NGO’s   more than 100 Subaanens attended along with large numbers of Visayan.  Strong opposition to mining expresses. (Pagadian more than 2 hours by open truck)
Sep 26, 1996
Petition to President to Cancel TEPI  FTAA’s  from Priests, sisters lay assembly Pagadian.
Oct  10, 1966
Letter of concern from Diopim bishops. 
Oct 20, 1966
Petition follow up No. 2
Nov 16  1966
Endorsement letter of Bishop of Pagadian to Petition signined by 2,325 people in Zamboanga del Norte and Zamboanga del Sur against mining companies.
March 18, 1997
Rally in Midsalip against mining attended by Mayor, Bishop and thousands of people
May 3, 1997
Letter to Mayor from MGB  in response to petition signed by 555 people.
May 7, 1997
Letter of Bishop Jimenez of Pagadian read at shareholders meeting in London.
May 10,  1997
 Letter of Bishop Jimenez to Catholic Bishops of England and Wales. 
May 15, 1997
Response by chairman of RTZ
June  1997
Meeting in Pagadian strong opposition to Mining Summary describes people not being heard,  (Dialogued to death)
Sep 25, 1997
 Letter from MGB to vice Mayor stating  RIO TINTO had relinquished areas within Midsalip.  /Subject resolutions.   
October 1997
Subaanen timuays from Malindang, misamis Occidental, Pinukis, sibugay, bayog and Mt Paraya issued a statement against mining.  In P3 of Dialogie to Death.
November 1997
Rally in Dipolig – attended by 5,000 people
February 28 1998
A statement of concern on Mining act from CBCP,  includes support for those who oppose RTZ.
March 19, 1998
 Letter from MGB  to Secretary of TUPUSUMI stating an exploration permit had issued to TEPI area location – Naras Tinuyop, Bacungan, Zamboanga des Sur
April 1-8 1998
Jummy Tindao attended Asia, Europe Peoples Forum in London with 2 representatives from Tri People Partnership  for peace and development. Met with RIO TINTO.   Press release 31-3-98
April 1998
Anti mining Rally Manila – Press statement Bishop Jimenez. 
August 4 1998
Letter to Jimmy Tindao, Sec. of Tupusumi  from MGB listing RTE  Corporations with areas covered by FTAA and EPA  applications some with Forest Reserve Midsalip is excluded they stated. 
Nov 17 1998
 Forum on Mining issues – in  Pistahan, Pagadian. 
Nov 20, 1998 
Letter form gov. Real To Columban Justice and Peace stating that Rio Tinto are no longer active in pursuing claims in Zamboanga del Sur.
In a meeting in office of Rio Tinto in London, Rio Tinto informed Jimmy that they were willing to wait for 25 years, until the people were ready.

The petitions were clear and unambiguous.
“Our Ancestral land is the place prepared for us by God....   it is all God’s land.  He has given it to us to live on and to care for it.  This is central to the meaning of our life and culture as Subaanens.  It is difficult for a foreign mining company who are not part of this place to understand this.  Maybe it is because they do not understand, that they are able to say they respect our rights and our culture, while at the same time, they plan to mine the lands which God has given into our care”
“We therefore appeal to the President and the Government at all levels –to uphold the provision in RA 7942  which states.  “No ancestral land shall be opened for mining without the prior consent of the indigenous cultural community concerned”   “to recognize and respect the rights of our people to our Ancestral land to arrest further degradation of our environment to uphold the right to life of the Subaanen people to refuse to allow Tropical Exploration Philippines Inc. to operate on our land”.
Since 1997, one company after another has sought and obtained mining rights in the Zamboanga Peninsula, specifically in Mt. Pinukis and its neighbouring Mt Medau area.
One would think that the Subaanen and Visayan people who live and work in the land would be free to live in their land in peace.  Bishop Jiminez beautifully describes the vision of indigenous and poor people to the company share holders in London. [i]
In fact the opposite happened. The Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) disregarded the heart-felt plea of the indigenous and poor farmers and fishermen and divided their lands out for other companies to apply for mining.
The final report on Philippine Biodiversity Conservation Priorities published in 2002 states that the status of Mt Sugarloaf Conservation Priority Area covering an area of 87,963.43 hectares is of extremely high criticality.

How many times do the Subaanen people have to say 'No to Mining' before the government agents who have continually shown that they are mere puppets of mining companies who would unscrupulously destroy the environment for future generations, will begin to safeguard the environment as mandated by the Philippine constitution. Sec. 16 Art.II 
'The State shall protect and advance the Right of the people to a balanced and healthful ecology in accordance with the rhythm  and harmony of nature.
The MBG& DENR have obviously disregarded repeatedly the laws which protect the environment and the food production of grain and root crops along with thousands of tons of fish every year in the Zamboanga Peninsula alone. 
  • The MGB & DENR  have ignored the constitution and the forest Reserve and watershed areas which protect the livelihood of poor people in remote areas and provide food for all to eat [ii](G.R. No.191537) 
  • Forest reserves totalling over 400,000 hectares and overlapping key bio – diverse areas  along with IPRA  law which protects the lands of Indigenous peoples  has been handed over to mining companies for destruction.
  • The only flaw in the process to protect the sacred Mountains, rivers and seas is that the poor don’t have financial capacity to coax officials.
  • Speculation for Profit  for an elite group seems to be the name of the game.                                             Mining applications  secretly change hands as happened with Geotechniques and Mines Inc. (GAM)I  to MSSON Mining Corporation (MMEC) (which have not been ratified by the government and/or the DENR Secretary);   and also 168 Ferrum to Hua Ming Mineral Resourses Corporation without notifying people to be affected and disregarding Mining laws. No Free Prior Informed Concent (FPIC)  process was conducted[iii].
In August 2011 the Supreme Court of the Philippines granted a Writ of Kalikasan (nature) to protect the environment of the whole of the Zamboanga Peninsula. Having the highest court in the land hear the plea of the Subaanen people for over fifteen years was a source of strength and comfort for the people ( by Sr Ita Hannaway SSC and Fr Sean Martin).

[i] Letter of Bishop Zacarias C. Jimenez to shareholders in London.  'Archbishop and three other Bishops who are concerned about the sovereignty of our country and the lives of our people, have joined with me to appeal to our Government not to sign the contract with RTZ-CRA.  I, myself, have written personally to our President.
'It seems until now members of our government here, along with directors in your company, have not been able to hear our appeal.  We Filipinos love our country as you do yours.  We love our land, our mountains, our rivers.  Our tribal people have lived  on the land here for countless generations.  The land is sacred to them.  They are acquainted with the different species of plants and trees, birds and animals inhabiting the tropical forest here; they have cultivated their land and here they bury their dead.  The land is precious to all of us and we want to live here in Peace.
'Our country has a huge foreign debt so in order to attract foreign investments, our leaders made a mining law which greatly favours foreign companies.  In our region alone your company has applied for contracts covering over one half million hectares of the land of Filipino people.  Our leaders do not seem t take into account the fact that your company’s  investment will be for a short time only.  For this short time investment our sovereignity  as a nation and the future of our people is threatened.  Since the company have the right to expatriate all the profits, you, the shareholders, will probably earn some money.  However, many of our people who own the lands where all the minerals are will become paupers.   Our rivers and seas will become polluted, our mountains will become deserts and our ricelands poisoned.   Our forest birds and animals will become extinct.  The very existence of the Subaanen, a gentle and beautiful people will be put at very high risk.'
[ii]  Supreme Court, Second division, Notice, Please take notice that the Court, Second Division, issued a resolution dated 06 February 2012 which reads as follows.
 G.R. No. 191537 (Paulino M. Alecha, Felix B. Unabia, et al. vs. Jose L Atienza, Jr.,  The Departmen of Environment and Natural Resources [DENR],  et al.    …REQUIRE the OSG  and the Chief of Legal service of DENR  to SHOW CAUSE why they should not be disciplinarily dealt with or held in contempt for such failure, and to COMPLY  with Resolution dated 28 April 2010,  both within ten (10) days from Notice”  
iii    For more than 2 years the office of the Solicitor General has ignored the Supreme Court, with regard to the case of 168 Ferrum,  Inspite of the legal battle
There are Chinese nationals (living in the Mayor's house in Midsalip), personnel of Hua Ming Mineral Resources Corporation which by virtue of an (illegal) Memorandum Of Agreement between 168 Ferrum Pacific Mining Corp and the former  acts as the Option Holder/ project Implementor of 168 Ferrum Pacific Mining Corp.(according to documentation received from Mayor Leonida Angcap, Midsalip, Zamboanga del Sur May 23, 2012.)

26 June 2012

Manila-based Columban Fr Brendan Lovett writes on the Eucharist in The Irish Times

Meaning behind the offer to eat and drink Christ's body and blood

This article appears in The Irish Times, 26 June 2012. Father Lovett teaches at the Institute of Formation and Religious Studies (IFRS), Quezon City, Philippines.
The Last Supper, El Greco (painted c,1568)
RITE & REASON: ‘THIS IS a hard saying . . .” This response elicited in the context of John 6:51-9, marked the parting of the ways for many. But some disciples, already affected by the contagion of Jesus, decided to continue following him: they trusted him enough to be willing to wait for some future moment in which to understand the strange offer of his flesh to eat.
What is it, then, that makes this a hard saying? It has to do with the extent to which it evades being read either metaphorically or symbolically. Many scholars have drawn attention to the sheer physicality of the language here; Raymond Brown in The Gospel According to St John pointing out that “the Fourth Gospel makes no concession to Jewish sensibilities and insists stubbornly on the reality of the flesh and the blood” (page 283).
As far back as we can go, the Christian movement is understood to be a missionary movement. It assumes that it has something to say – better, something to be lived out – that is humanly attractive across all cultural boundaries.
The ancient Christian tradition of the Last Supper saw the action of Jesus in continuity with the specifically divine activity of shaping a people by covenant.
From the earliest strata of the Hebrew Bible, God is understood as forming “a people”. God responds to the cry of cruelly exploited people by shaping them into “a people”. Christian tradition introduced the term “covenant” into the narrative to acknowledge this uniquely divine activity as emanating from Jesus.
It is in and through experiencing his reconstruction of our humanity that we come to know who Jesus is. The experience of being enabled to realise our humanity in previously unimaginable ways is integral to faith’s recognition of Jesus.
Underlying Paul’s discussion of the Body in 1 Cor and elaborated in the closing chapters of Romans is his conviction that the relation of Christians to each other is one of “building up”: we are involved in Christ in constructing each other’s humanity. It helps to connect this with John 13.
Here we are told that to grow into Jesus’s “Lordship” is to become able to wash one another’s feet, that is, to welcome them as guests at the same table.
The New Testament, in speaking of the new creation, the new covenant in his blood, does not encourage us to think of this as being in simple continuity with the world as we have made it. On the contrary, the world as we have made it reacts with murderous violence to Jesus’s invitation to welcome the future God is bringing to God’s world and to the people God loves (Luke 4:28-9).
It would appear then that to grasp the event of Jesus as an act of God, the community must first understand its distinctiveness and separateness. Not, of course, separateness from the human race: that would miss the point.
Separateness, rather, from all communities and kinships whose limits fall short of the human race. This new way of realising our humanity is based on no pre-existing social structures but on sheer humanity, common creatureliness, our common capacity to grow into the likeness of Christ.
Even though we habitually think of the Eucharist in relation to the Last Supper, there is, in fact, a wider Eucharistic theme that is coextensive with the whole Gospel account of the flesh and blood way of being human enacted by Jesus in our world.
This theme of the Eucharistic Way of Jesus refers to his practice of welcoming all that God has let be as gift, and giving thanks for it. He gives thanks for the others; they are gift to him.
Challenged to a deeper humanity, to a level of relating that is inclusive of every scrap of the human, we easily become resentful, angry, dangerous. But since the challenge arises only through the experience of an immense love, we may yet be enabled to respond with Jesus’s own words: “my flesh for the life of the world”.

22 June 2012

'Many will rejoice at his birth'. Sunday Reflections for the Birthday of St John the Baptist

Birth of the Baptist, Andrea Pisano 1330 Gilt Bronze (panel of southern door), Baptistry,  Florence, Italy

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

Readings  (Jerusalem Bible: Australia, England & Wales, India [optional], Ireland, New Zealand, Pakistan, Scotland, South Africa)

Vigil Mass and Mass During the Day  [The readings for the Vigil Mass are on the upper part of the page, those for the Mass During the Day on the lower part of the page.]

Liturgical Note. The Solemnity of the Birth of St John the Baptist, like Easter and some other solemnities, has a Vigil, properly so-called. This is not an ‘anticipated Mass’ but a Vigil Mass in its own right, with its own set of prayers and readings. It fulfils our Sunday obligation. The prayers and readings of the Mass During the Day should not be used for the Vigil Mass, nor those of the Vigil Mass for the Mass During the Day. As a solemnity this celebration takes precedence over the 12th Sunday in Ordinary Time.

Gospel Luke 1:57-66, 80 (Revised Standard Version – Catholic Edition)

Now the time came for Elizabeth to be delivered, and she gave birth to a son. And her neighbors and kinsfolk heard that the Lord had shown great mercy to her, and they rejoiced with her. And on the eighth day they came to circumcise the child; and they would have named him Zechariah after his father, but his mother said, "Not so; he shall be called John." And they said to her, "None of your kindred is called by this name." And they made signs to his father, inquiring what he would have him called. And he asked for a writing tablet, and wrote, "His name is John." And they all marveled. And immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue loosed, and he spoke, blessing God. And fear came on all their neighbors. And all these things were talked about through all the hill country of Judea; and all who heard them laid them up in their hearts, saying, "What then will this child be?" For the hand of the Lord was with him. 

And the child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the wilderness till the day of his manifestation to Israel. 

The Visitation, El Greco, painted 1610-13

More  than thirty years ago I was chatting with a six-year-old girl in the parish in Mindanao where I was serving and asked her how many brothers and sisters she had. 'We are three', she replied in Cebuano Visayan, 'Manong, I and the one with our mother'. 'Manong' is an honorific for an older brother or a male older than yourself, in this case her older brother. 'The one with our mother' at the time was where St John the Baptist and Jesus are in El Greco's life-filled painting of the Visitation above, still in the womb. But the unborn infant was already a real, live sibling for my young friend. 

In another parish in Mindanao, nearly twenty years ago, I had a session one evening with people in one of the barrios. I was telling them how from the moment of conception every one of our qualities and characteristics, physical and intellectual, are already there. I could see that the people were fascinated, as I was myself.

What jumps out at me from the texts of both Masses for the Birth of St John the Baptist is that same sense of wonder at and awareness of new life that the little girl and the people in the barrio had. (I'll quote from the Jerusalem Bible and the Grail translation of the psalms). In the Vigil Mass Jeremiah tells us that the Lord said to him, Before I formed you in the womb I knew you; before you came to birth I consecrated you. In the Responsorial Psalm in the same Mass we pray, On you I have leaned from my birth, from my mother's womb you have been my help. In the gospel of the Vigil Mass the angel says to Zechariah, Your wife Elizabeth is to bear you a son and you must name him John. He will be your joy and delight and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord

The same theme is found in the Mass during the Day, Isaiah says, The Lord called me before I was born, from my mother's womb he pronounced my name. The response to the Responsorial Psalm is I thank you for the wonder of my being or I praise you for I am wonderfully made in the New American Bible lectionary. And in the psalm itself we pray, For it was you who created my being, knit me together in my mother's womb. I thank you for the wonder of my being, for the wonders of all your creation. Already you knew my soul, my body held no secret from you when I was being fashioned in secret and moulded in the depths of the earth.

Psalm 139 (138 in the liturgical books) puts the wonder of the creation of each human being in the womb in the context of the wonder of the whole of creation, something  we need to realise more. Pope Benedict in his Message for World Day of Peace, 1 January 2009, the them of which was If you want to cultivate peace, protect creation, wrote, Respect for creation is of immense consequence, not least because 'creation is the beginning and the foundation of all God’s works', and its preservation has now become essential for the pacific coexistence of mankind.

Those who wrote the scripture texts we use in the Vigil Mass and in the Mass During the Day had something of that respect, as had my young friend and the people in the barrio.

There are only three birthdays celebrated liturgically, that of St John the Baptist, that of our Blessed Mother on September 8 and that of Jesus at Christmas. The feast of the Annunciation is celebrated nine months before that. That and the Feast of the Immaculate Conception on 8 December, are celebrations of the very beginning of life. These celebrations, all connected to each other, affirm the wonder of the gift of life. One of the characteristics of the spirituality of Filipinos is precisely that. Every birthday is celebrated in some way, even by those with little or nothing. As a priest I have discovered that people can feel 'cheated' if they're not able to mark your birthday in some way.

Beneath all of this is a reflection of what is sung in the Preface for the feast we are celebrating: His birth brought great rejoicing; even in the womb he leapt for joy at the coming of human salvation. May each of us have a sense of God's own joy as we celebrate not only the birth of the Lord's cousin but recall our own birth and baptism.

The Preface continues, He alone of all the prophets pointed out the Lamb of redemption. 80 years ago on the Feast of the Birth of St John the Baptist a baby was born in Ireland two days before the end of the 31st International Eucharistic Congress in Dublin. The 50th ended there last Sunday. The 32nd Congress was held in 1934 in Buenos Aires, Argentina, where the infant born in Ireland was to die, only 26, on 21 January 1959, the feast of St Agnes. This was Alphonsus Lambe, known as 'Alfie'. He went to South America as an envoy of the Legion of Mary and became known as El Corderito, 'the Little Lamb'. Like St John the Baptist, he pointed out the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ.

Alfie's death on the feast of St Agnes is what I call an expression of God's 'thoughtfulness', something I have experienced on many occasions. Because her name, which in Greek means 'pure, chaste, sacred', resembles the Latin word for lamb, Agnus, the saint is always depicted with a lamb. Each year on the feast of St Agnes two lambs are presented to the Pope. Their wool is later used to make the pallium, which is worn only by the pope and metropolitan archbishops and is a symbol of the unity of the Church, usually given to new metropolitan archbishops on the Feast of Sts Peter and Paul.

Statue of St Agnes in the parish of St Agnes, Caloocan City, Philippines

 Prayer for the Beatification of Servant of God Alphonsus Lambe

God, who by your infinite mercy inflamed the heart of your servant, Alphonsus Lambe with an ardent love for you and for Mary, our Mother; a love which revealed itself in a life of intense labour, prayer and sacrifice for the salvation of souls, grant, if it be your will, that we may obtain, by his intercession, what we cannot obtain by our own merits. We ask this through Jesus Christ, Our Lord.  Amen.

with ecclesiastical approval