31 October 2012

'Blessed are . . .' All Saints' Day

For All the Saints
Words by William Walsham How, music by Ralph Vaughan Williams

Williams gave the name Sine Nomine, 'Without a Name', to the melody.

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

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

Gospel Matthew 5:1-12a (Revised Standard Version – Catholic Edition)

Seeing the crowds, Jesus went up on the mountain, and when he sat down his disciples came to him. And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying:

"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

"Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

"Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

"Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

"Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.

"Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.

"Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

"Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven.

26 October 2012

'What do you want me to do for you?' Sunday Reflections. 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B

Christ healing the Blind Man, Eustache Le Sueur 
[Web Gallery of Art]  

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA) 

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

Gospel Mark 10:46-52 (Revised Standard Version – Catholic Edition)

As Jesus was leaving Jericho with his disciples and a great multitude, Bartimaeus, a blind beggar, the son of Timaeus, was sitting by the roadside. And when he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out and say, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!" And many rebuked him, telling him to be silent; but he cried out all the more, "Son of David, have mercy on me!" And Jesus stopped and said, "Call him." And they called the blind man, saying to him, "Take heart; rise, he is calling you." And throwing off his mantle he sprang up and came to Jesus. And Jesus said to him, "What do you want me to do for you?" And the blind man said to him, "Master, let me receive my sight." And Jesus said to him, "Go your way; your faith has made you well." And immediately he received his sight and followed him on the way.

Fr John Burger is an American Columban who has just finished six years as a member of the Columban General Council. He spent the early years of his priesthood in Japan and tells a wonderful story about a blind man who was a member of a prayer group in a parish where he served. Each week the group met to share on the following Sunday’s gospel and to pray. Father John was a little nervous when this Sunday’s gospel came up, wondering how his blind friend would respond.


He and the others were astonished when the man shared that this was one of his favourite passages in the gospels. Why? Because Jesus asked Bartimaeus, What do you want me to do for you? The blind parishioner went on to say that he was quite happy as he was. He had his own apartment and he knew his way around. But if the Lord were to ask him directly, What do you want me to do for you? He would tell him that there were parts of his life where he would like Jesus to shed his light, even though he would hesitate to ask him to do so.


Probably the blind Japanese man had experienced people, with every good intention, wanting to help him when he needed no help. On a pilgrimage to Lourdes in Easter Week 1991 with a group of persons with physical disabilities I shared a room with our leader, Joe, able-bodied, like myself, and Tony and Tom who weren’t. Both needed help in some very personal matters. However, I learned very quickly from Tom not to do something for him when he could do it himself. That was a very good lesson for me.


Jesus didn’t presume that Bartimaeus wanted his sight back. He asked him, What do you want me to do for you? The blind man, who had shouted Jesus, Son of David, a title indicating he was the Messiah, answered, Master, let me receive my sight.


Do I allow Jesus to ask me, What do you want me to do for you? And if I allow him do I have the faith of Bartimaeus to tell him what I want him to do for me? Jesus responded to the faith of the blind man: Go your way; your faith has made you well. And the blind beggar’s response to this was a further expression of his faith: And immediately he received his sight and followed him on the way.


On 11 October in his homily at the Mass marking the opening of the Year of Faith and the 5oth anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council Pope Benedict said, The Year of Faith which we launch today is linked harmoniously with the Church’s whole path over the last fifty years: from the Council, through the Magisterium of the Servant of God Paul VI, who proclaimed a Year of Faith in 1967, up to the Great Jubilee of the year 2000, with which Blessed John Paul II re-proposed to all humanity Jesus Christ as the one Saviour, yesterday, today and forever. Between these two Popes, Paul VI and John Paul II, there was a deep and profound convergence, precisely upon Christ as the centre of the cosmos and of history, and upon the apostolic eagerness to announce him to the world. Jesus is the centre of the Christian faith. The Christian believes in God whose face was revealed by Jesus Christ. He is the fulfilment of the Scriptures and their definitive interpreter. Jesus Christ is not only the object of the faith but, as it says in the Letter to the Hebrews, he is “the pioneer and the perfecter of our faith” (12:2).

Bartimaeus seemed to have grasped something of this, calling Jesus by a Messianic title, Son of David, putting his faith in him and following him on the way.


Father Cyril Axelrod CSsR  is the only deaf-blind priest in the world. He was born profoundly deaf but became blind more than ten years ago from Usher Syndrome. He ministers to people who are deafblind and to people who are deaf. You can read about him here. In this video Father Cyril speaks to seminarians

When I was in secondary school we studied some of the poetry of John Milton, most of which I disliked. But his sonnet On His Blindness was an exception.


Bernadette Goulding of Rachel's Vineyard Ireland with Sr Maria Forrestal FMM, an Irish Sister based in the Faroes. Bernadette was speaking about Rachel's Vineyard during a visit two years ago.

Please pray for the Rachel’s Vineyard retreat this weekend in the FaroeIslands, where I worked in the summer of 2000. It is an outreach of Rachel’s Vineyard Ireland

The carving of Our Lady of Kirkjubøur is a copy of the original carving
which is to be found on one of the Kirkjubøur benches,
and currently on display in the National Museum.
This carving is the handwork of parishioner, Ole Jacob Nielsen,
and is carved in Faroese wood.

25 October 2012

Archbishop Tagle of Manila appointed cardinal

Yesterday Pope Benedict announced the names of six new cardinals. One of them is Archbishop Luis Antonio Gokim Tagle of Manila, known to all as 'Archbishop Chito'. Filipinos rarely use their proper names and it is possible to know someone for years without knowing his baptismal name, as I have discovered. 

The other new cardinals are  Archbishop James Michael Harvey, Prefect of the Pontifical Household (from the USA),  His Beatitude Bechara Boutros Rai, Patriarch of Antioch of the Maronites (Lebanon), His Beatitude Baselios Cleemis Thottunkal, Major Archbishop of Trivandrum of the Syro-Malankars (India), Archbishop John Olorunfemi Onaiyekan, Archbishop of Abuja (Nigeria) and Archbishop Ruben Salazar Gomez, Archbishop of Bogotá (Colombia).

A young Father Tagle meeting Pope John Paul II and the then Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI

I met Archbishop Tagle once, in February 2003, at a meeting of priests organised by Worldwide Marriage Encounter. At the time he was Bishop of Imus, just to the south of Manila, a position to which he was appointed in 2001. During his talk to us the young bishop was commenting on a then recent survey of the religious beliefs of young Filipinos. What he was predicting would happen within twenty or thirty years - their falling away from the faith - was what had been happening in Ireland.

On 13 October last year Pope Benedict appointed Bishop Tagle Archbishop of Manila to succeed Gaudencio Cardinal Rosales who was then 79. I learned later from the Missionaries of Charity who have a house they use for retreats of their own Sisters in the Diocese of Imus that late on the afternoon of 13 October Bishop Tagle came and asked if he could celebrate Mass in their chapel. He started Mass at 6pm and at the end told them he had been appointed Archbishop of Manila. The official announcement had been made in the nunciature in Manila at 6pm.

The new cardinal has an international reputation as a theologian and was still giving classes while Bishop of Imus. He spoke at the International Eucharistic Congresses in Quebec City in 2008 and in Dublin this year.

Cardinal-elect Tagle is totally at home in this digital continent, as Pope Benedict has called it, the world of modern communications. He has a regular Sunday TV programme, The Word Exposed, which is also available on YouTube. Here, in a programme broadcast some months ago, he speaks about St Pedro Calungsod, a young Filipino catechist-martyr whom Pope Benedict canonised last Sunday.

Collect for the Mass of San Pedro Calungsod

All-powerful and eternal God, 
you made Saint Pedro faithful in the preaching of the Gospel 
even to the point of shedding his blood. 
By his merits and intercession, 
grant that we may also be strong in faith to persevere until death. 
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, 
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever.Amen.

May Cardinal-elect Tagle, like San Pedro, continue to be faithful in preaching the gospel, even to the point of shedding his blood, if that may be ever necessary, something symbolised by the red he will wear.

23 October 2012

'Aaron' - Fighting for First Birthdays

The story of Aaron and his parents can be told by many if they are enabled to do so. One such place where women and men can tell this story is Rachel's Vineyard.

After this video was made Vanessa Ore, who plays Aaron's mother, told her own story.

The video was published on LifeSiteNews.com.

22 October 2012

The Palm Branch and the Lily

By Hannah Carter

Yesterday Pope Benedict canonised seven saints in the Vatican. Hannah Carter wrote the article below, which appears in the current issue of Misyon, the online magazine I edit for the Columbans in the Philippines. 
A young Filipino martyred in Guam in 1672 when he was maybe 17, Blessed Pedro Calungsod, who is shown in portraits holding the palm of martyrs, and a young woman of Mohawk-Algonquin parentage born in 1656 in what is now New York State, Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha, known as the Lily of the Mohawks, who died in 1680 in what was then New France, now part of Canada, will be canonized together by Pope Benedict XVI on 21 October. The author, an American with close family ties to the Philippines, sees the connections between their lives and with that of her teenage son.

File:Pedro Calungsod in Plaza Colon.jpg
Statue of San Pedro Calungsod in Plaza Colon, Cebu City

We have great cause for joy in the canonization of the teenage martyr Blessed Pedro Calungsod on 21 October. His devotion, courage and zeal to share his faith as a catechist are a shining and attractive example for all of us. St Pedro’s youth makes his story all the more poignant. Our teens are blessed to have such a model as they strive to live the Catholic Faith in a secular world, often hostile to the message of the gospel. I am the mother of an older adolescent and I have witnessed my son’s struggles, surrounded by these negative influences. It is hard to be a young person in today’s world, although the grace of Our Lord always suffices.

Young Pedro Calungsod studied with the Jesuits in the mid 1600s, during years when the Society of Jesus was expanding its missionary activity throughout the world ‘to the greater glory of God’. It was just over 100 years since the foundation of the Society, and its singular purpose drove many of the members to heroic virtue and even martyrdom. The lay persons associated with their mission often shared the same life and death in far-flung outposts. So it was that Pedro Calungsod accepted the invitation to accompany the Superior of the Jesuit mission to Guam and the other Mariana Islands, Blessed Diego Luis de San Vitores. Pedro may have been only 12-15 years old when he left his native Visayas to travel as a missionary to the Chamorro people. As a mother, I wonder about things like his parents' reaction to this dramatic departure. I wonder if Pedro shed tears of homesickness into his pillow during the voyage.

This week I knelt on holy ground. I visited the National Shrine of the North American Martyrs in Auriesville, New York, where three French Jesuit missionaries were martyred between 1642 and 1646. This sacred place is called America's reliquary because the remains of one martyr were buried in the now silent ravine, and the other two battered and precious bodies thrown into the nearby Hudson River. Auriesville is surely one of the ‘thin places’, as some describe points of contact between heaven and earth. The parallels between the sacrifice of St Pedro, that of Blessed Diego and these martyrs are powerful. They lived in the same time period, though on opposite sides of the world. Both groups served selflessly in the Company of Jesus.

We have repeatedly heard the words of Tertullian (c.160 – c.225), ‘The blood of martyrs is the seed of the Church’. After the martyrdom of St Pedro and his superior, Blessed Diego, the Chamorro people of Guam and the Marianas became firmly Catholic and have remained so to this day. At Auriesville, St Kateri Tekakwitha, a Native American of the Mohawk tribe, was born ten years after the martyrs' deaths in her own community and just a year after St Pedro Calungsod’s birth. Kateri reached an amazing height of sanctity in a very short period, baptized at 20 and dying at 24. She will be canonized at the same ceremony as Pedro Calungsod this October.

It is a deep joy for me to celebrate these two heavenly friends raised to the honors of the altar on the same day. I have prayed at the spot of St Pedro’s martyrdom in Tumon, Guam, and been immersed in the warm crystal-blue waters of Tumon Bay where his sacred relics were cast after his martyrdom. I have prayed many times, most recently last week, at the tomb of St Kateri in Canada. Her beautifully simple marble sarcophagus reads ‘Precious Kateri Tekakwitha’ in Mohawk. Pedro and Kateri, canonized together . . . the palm branch and the lily. Beyond coincidence, this gift of God is ‘hulog sang langit’.

I reflected at greater length on these connections and their meaning. These two children of divine predilection were born within a year of each other in the long-ago 17th century. Both would grow to be courageous and holy young people, answering a wholehearted ‘yes’ to the call of God. They would be linked to and deeply influenced by the missionary outreach of the Society of Jesus. Finally, after lives of heroic virtue, they will share the honors of the altar on 21 October. St Pedro and St Kateri are tied to specific and dramatic historical moments which remove them from our daily experience, but their Christian witness endures for our inspiration and imitation.

St Pedro died at the side of Blessed Diego whom he refused to leave when they were attacked for baptizing the daughter of a hostile chief. St Pedro’s devotion in offering his ultimate gift in reverence for the priesthood and witnessing to the sacrament of baptism makes us examine our lives: do we pray for the priests who serve us in the name of Jesus? Is baptism a profoundly transforming event in our lives? Do we realize the sacred duty of godparents beyond the purely social aspects? St Pedro and St Kateri lived through daily privation without complaint. They suffered extreme heat and cold, respectively, along with myriad other discomforts. Surely we can endure our small inconveniences more cheerfully in their honor.

Joseph, 2nd from right, with his cousins David and Bethany and their friend Amy

I brought my 16-year-old son Joseph to Auriesville this past week. His dad (Visayan like St Pedro) hails from Ilog, near Kabankalan City, Negros Occidental. Joseph’s middle name is Lorenzo, and he has heard about his patron St Lorenzo Ruiz since early childhood. Now he is learning about the second Filipino saint, Pedro Calungsod. At Auriesville I was able to introduce Joseph to the North American Jesuit martyrs and to Kateri. Joseph is proud of both his Filipino and French-Canadian heritage and as an older teen can appreciate the witness of these saints so close to his own age. At Auriesville I watched him walk the grounds with his teenage cousins. The young people were subdued and reverent, considering the courageous sacrifices poured out on the very soil beneath their feet. The example of St Pedro Calungsod will be equally moving and empowering for our youth once his story is more widely known.

A favorite hymn of the Filipino choir that sings at my parish is the Prayer of St Ignatius, founder of the Society of Jesus, ‘Take and Receive’. Our young saints exemplified the spirit of this prayer so earnestly that we do well to think on the lyrics and echo them in our hearts. Let us pray these words with gratitude for the gift of our new saints:

‘Take and receive, O Lord, my liberty
Take all my will, my mind, my memory
All things I hold and all I own are Thine
Thine was the gift, to Thee I all resign.

Do Thou direct and govern all and sway
Do what Thou wilt, command, and I obey
Only Thy grace, Thy love on me bestow
These make me rich, all else will I forego.’

(Translation and music by Fr Manuel Francisco SJ).

19 October 2012

'Whoever would be great among you must be your servant . . .' Sunday Reflections, 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B

File:Rembrandt - Sankt Jakobus der Ältere.jpg
St James the Elder, Rembrandt

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

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

Gospel Mark 10:35-45 [42-25] (Revised Standard Version – Catholic Edition)

[James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to Jesus, and said to him, "Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you." And he said to them, "What do you want me to do for you?" And they said to him, "Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory." But Jesus said to them, "You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?"  And they said to him, "We are able." And Jesus said to them, "The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared." And when the ten heard it, they began to be indignant at James and John.]

And Jesus called them to him and said to them, "You know that those who are supposed to rule over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you; but whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of man also came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many."


Fr Nicholas Murray (1936 - 2011)

When I was reflecting on the gospel the late Fr Nicholas Murray came to mind. I knew him as a friend and as my superior, in the sense of the person in charge. He was Regional Director in the Philippines in the early 1980s when we started to invite young Filipinos to become Columbans. He appointed me as first vocation director here  and in 1984, on his recommendation and that of his council our Superior General, Fr Bernard Cleary,  put me in charge of our first group of Filipino seminarians in Cebu City.

Father Nick later found himself appointed to Ireland to do vocations work but before long he became Regional Director there. In 1988 he was elected Superior General and six years later was re-elected, the only Columban with that distinction. He and his council made one particular decision that didn't sit well with many, but he stood by it and made no excuses. He showed himself there especially to be the kind of person his classmate Fr Gerry French recalled after his death: 'He was the natural captain of every team'.

He then went to teach English as a second subject at a university in China where he was known as 'Mr Nick'. He wrote about his experience there in an article in Misyon, 'When you learn, teach; when you get, give'. He chose a certain obscurity after having been in senior positions of authority for so much of his life. He was also aware that no everyone saw what he was doing as proper missionary work. In his article he wrote:

The witness of presence can be particularly effective. As I have come to realize from personal experience. Some Chinese teachers of English, who employ journal writing as part of their course to the same students I teach, inform me that their students are deeply impressed by my life, work and values and have recorded such admiration in their journaling. One of those same students, actually the brightest in my own classes, one day shared the following reflection in my class. I was so deeply impressed that I asked her to write it out for me. Here is her sharing: ‘Never have I so seriously reflected on the power of religion (it is far from and alien to us Chinese). By sharing life’s journey with us, our Oral English teacher, Mr Nick, aroused my reflection on religion. Now I realize it’s not only a relief from anxiety, distress and grief, but also a motive for one who believes in it to strive to do good deeds; a way to have a noble heart and a remedy for spiritual barrenness. I feel that it is his beliefs that inspire Mr Nick to do what he has done. Now I’m thinking of converting to Christianity, though I’m quite at a loss about how to do it.’

'Mr Nick' with some of his students in China

Father Nick reflected further:

My travels and lifestyle did not escape her attention and reflection either. She went on to say, ‘I could see Mr Nick’s eyes shining and face glowing when he referred to the places where he traveled: the Philippines, Brazil, Japan, Pakistan . . . to name just a few, and now China . . . When his privacy was intruded by a question about his own family he smiled and said, “No one will marry a man who never has enough time for his wife and children.” Now Mr Nick is 65-years-old and forty years have passed since he embarked on his road of serving and helping people. He sticks to the life-long pursuit, the calling, at the price of hardship, marriage and his precious youth (I know how difficult it is to travel around and help people). I was deeply moved when I heard Mr Nick’s answer to the question, “Is there one day when you will stop doing all these things?” “Yes,” he said, “when my health won’t allow it.” I was seized by this simple answer and began to realize how profound the saying is, “When you learn, teach; when you get, give.”’

When Father Nick returned to Ireland he worked for a couple of years in his native Diocese of Clonfert but he eventually reached a point where he had to say to himself, as he had said to the student in China, My health won't allow it'. He died on Holy Thursday last year.

Father Nick never sought to be at the right or left hand of the Lord. But he accepted heavy responsibilities when the Lord sent them his way. He carried them out with full and cheerful responsibility. Father French said of him, I remember one of my colleagues saying of his election, 'Nick never thought of himself as superior or inferior to anyone else' - what a beautiful tribute. 

As we say in Irish, ‘Fear ann féin a bhí ann, 'He was a man at home with himself'. 

He also believed in individuals doing what they were supposed to do. I remember one time when he sent an article to the editors of the different Columban magazines he wrote in aa covering note in his humorous way: You lads are paid to edit! He trusted us to do a good job - and his articles needed very little editing.

The other ten apostles were indignant with James and John over their request. I'm quite sure that this was because each of them wanted positions of importance. They still had much to learn. Yest James was to become the first of them to die for the gospelm in AD44. St James is sometimes known as 'The Greater' or 'The Elder' to distinguish him from St James the Less, the son of Alphaeus.

Rembrandt paints a very different James from the one in this Sunday's gospel. We see a prayerful, humble man in the dress of a pilgrim. El Camino, the pilgrimage across northern Spain  to the saint's shrine in Santiago de Compostela, 'Santiago' being the Spanish form of 'St James', is one of the oldest in the Church.

As Superior General, Father Murray went on many a 'pilgrimage' visiting the different Columban missions and was very familiar with all of them, countries such as the Philippines, Chile and Peru that are predominantly Catholic, Korea where Christians have become prominent in public life, Japan and Pakistan where Christians are a small minority, Fiji, where the ethnic Fijians are all Christian and the Indian-Fijians mostly Hindu.

By choosing to go to China to teach and to be a missionary through his presence there he was living out the vision of our patron, St Columban, to be a peregrinus pro Christo, a pilgrim for Christ, following in the footsteps of Bishop Edward Galvin, Co-founder with Fr John Blowick of the Columbans who was expelled in 1952 from the China he loved and who once said to some fellow Columbans, You are not here to convert the people of China, you are here rather to make yourself available to God.’

Mission Sunday

San Pedro Calungsod [Wikipedia]

This Sunday is Mission Sunday and in Rome Pope Benedict will canonise seven new saints.

You can read brief biographies of some of the new saints on Zenit by clicking on their names: St Anna SchäfferSt María of Mt Carmen Sallés y Barangueras (Mother Carmen), St Giovanni Battista Piamarta, St Pedro Calungsod - and also here.

The current issue of Misyon carries an article by Hannah Carter, The Palm Branch and the Lily, that links the lives of two of these new saints who lived at the same time and both of whom died young, Pedro Calungsod, a young catechist from the central Philippines martyred in Guam, and Kateri Tekakwitha, the first native North American to be declared a saint.

Statue of St Kateri Tekakwitha, Santa Fe, New Mexico [Wikipedia]

17 October 2012

St Ignatius of Antioch, a martyr of the second century, and Shahbaz Bhatti of Pakistan, a martyr of the 21st

File:Ignatius of Antioch 2.jpg
St Ignatius of Antioch (c.35 - c.108), Feast Day, 17 October

Gospel for the Feast of St Ignatius of Antioch (John 12:24-26, RSV CE)

Jesus said to his disciples: Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If any one serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there shall my servant be also; if any one serves me, the Father will honor him.

From  the Letter of St Ignatius to the Romans, extracts from today's Office of Readings

Let me be food for the wild beasts, for they are my way to God. I am God’s wheat and shall be ground by their teeth so that I may become Christ’s pure bread. Pray to Christ for me that the animals will be the means of making me a sacrificial victim for God . . .

My desire is to belong to God . . .

I want only God’s bread, which is the flesh of Jesus Christ, formed of the seed of David, and for drink I crave his blood, which is love that cannot perish . . .

Pray for me that I may obtain my desire. I have not written to you as a mere man would, but as one who knows the mind of God. If I am condemned to suffer, I will take it that you wish me well. If my case is postponed, I can only think that you wish me harm.

I was very struck by the similarities between the Letter to the Romans of the second century martyr-bishop St Ignatius and the spiritual testament of a Pakistani Catholic politician assassinated last year, Shahbaz Bhatti.

(9 September 1968 - 2 March 2011)

Since I was a child, I was accustomed to going to church and finding profound inspiration in the teachings, the sacrifice, and the crucifixion of Jesus. It was his love that led me to offer my service to the Church. The frightening conditions into which the Christians of Pakistan had fallen disturbed me. I remember one Good Friday when I was just thirteen years old: I heard a homily on the sacrifice of Jesus for our redemption and for the salvation of the world. And I thought of responding to his love by giving love to my brothers and sisters, placing myself at the service of Christians, especially of the poor, the needy, and the persecuted who live in this Islamic country . . .

I do not want popularity, I do not want positions of power. I only want a place at the feet of Jesus. I want my life, my character, my actions to speak of me and say that I am following Jesus Christ. This desire is so strong in me that I consider myself privileged whenever – in my combative effort to help the needy, the poor, the persecuted Christians of Pakistan – Jesus should wish to accept the sacrifice of my life. I want to live for Christ and it is for Him that I want to die . . .

I say that, as long as I am alive, until the last breath, I will continue to serve Jesus and this poor, suffering humanity, the Christians, the needy, the poor . . .

I believe that the needy, the poor, the orphans, whatever their religion, must be considered above all as human beings. I think that these persons are part of my body in Christ, that they are the persecuted and needy part of the body of Christ. If we bring this mission to its conclusion, then we will have won a place at the feet of Jesus, and I will be able to look at him without feeling shame.


St Ignatius of Antioch is officially recognised by the Church as a martyr and his name has been included in The Roman Canon (First Eucharistic Prayer) for many centuries. On the occasion of the first death anniversary of Shahbaz Bhatti, Cardinal Keith O'Brien, Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh, Scotland asked that the possibility of his canonisation be considered. I had never heard of Shahbaz Bhatti until his death but I pray to him every day, as I believe that he has found a place at the feet of Jesus.

The blood of martyrs is the seed of Christians wrote Tertullian in 197. The blood of the martyrs still cries out.

You can read an interview here with Cherrie Anderson, the Filipino-British lead-singer of Ooberfuse, who wrote and recorded this song. Cherrie tells how they came to write it. (Thanks to Campion Project.)

16 October 2012

Feast of St Gall, companion of St Columban

Today is the feast of St Gall, one of St Columban's twelve companions when they set out around 585 from the monastery  in Bangor, in what is now Northern Ireland, on their Peregrinatio pro Christo, Pilgrimage for Christ. Their journey was to have an enormous impact on the history, culture and Catholic faith of Western Europe.

St Gall (c.550 - c.646)

Columban Fr Cyril Lovett, editor of Far East, the Columban magazine in Ireland and Britain, has an article in the current issue, 1400 Years of San Gallen, which gives some details of the story of St Gall, his relationship with St Columban and the Swiss town named after him. Here is the first part of the article:

San Gallen is a picturesque city, with 75,000 inhabitants, close to Lake Constance and represents the centre of eastern Switzerland. It takes its name from St Gall, a disciple of Columban and, according to Irish tradition, one of the original twelve who left Bangor with him around 585. San Gallen has been the site of a great monastery since the 8th century. Today it features the splendid baroque Cathedral of St Gallus and Otmar. The Abbey Library, a World Heritage Site, is Switzerland’s oldest, and holds a magnificent collection of early manuscripts and books, some dating back as far as 400 A.D. How did Gall come to settle in this beautiful place?
Fourteen hundred years ago, in 612, St Columban and his little band of monks had been expelled from Eastern France and from the great monasteries at Annegray, Fontaine and Luxeuil in the Vosges Region. He was preparing to leave the area of the Franks and his most recent foundation at Bregenz. Walafrid Strabo (808-849), whose manuscript of the Life of Gall can be seen in the Abbey Library, tells the story as it had come down in the monastery of San Gallen, “When the time of their departure was at hand, Gall suddenly fell ill of a fever. He threw himself at the abbot’s feet and said he was suffering from a severe illness and unable for the journey. Columban said to him, ‘Brother I know that now it seems a heavy burden to you to suffer further fatigue for my sake. Nevertheless, this I enjoin on you before I go, that so long as I live in the body, you do not dare to celebrate Mass’.” 

The decision seems very hard to us today. Even Walafrid Strabo felt that some excuse had to be made for it, as he added that Columban thought Gall was held back by love of the place where he had worked, and by fear of the fatigue of a long journey. Yet Columban was usually full of tenderness to his monks when they were ill. Not knowing the full circumstances of the incident we cannot presume to judge between saints. But it is another example of the fact that faced with a hard decision which he believed to be his duty, Columban would let no personal ties stand in his way

Collect for Feast Day of St Gall
Lord, our God, 
who drew Saint Gall to seek you in solitude,
and in the lofty splendour of the mountain 
revealed yourself to him; 
grant us by is intercession 
to follow the pattern 
of his meekness and unyielding faith 
and so enter with him into the joy of Christ our Lord 
Who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, 
one God, for ever and ever.
Agnus Dei by the choir and orchestra of the Cathedral at the Abbey of St Gallen