02 July 2015

'A spring flower in the desert.' Sunday Reflections, 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

Keiko Shemura on her First Communion Day, December 1971
Keiko died 27 April 1972, aged 14

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

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


Jesus left that place and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. On the sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. They said, “Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands! Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. Then Jesus said to them, “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.” And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. And he was amazed at their unbelief.
Cherry blossoms in Fukushima [Wikipedia]
Both the New American Bible and the Jerusalem Bible lectionaries read, He was amazed at their lack of faith. Jesus was among his own people, in the town where his brothers and sisters, ie, his cousins, lived. Perhaps his amazement was a form of frustration. Missionaries are men and women who are often 'amazed' at what seems to be their lack of 'success' in changing the situation, whether it is leading people to faith in Jesus Christ or working among baptised people for the justice that the Gospel demands but evidently isn't there.

Yet Jesus laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. In other words, he found some who responded in faith.

One Columban priest who found faith in Keiko, a very sick 14-year-old girl in Japan, was Fr James Norris, a New Zealander who died on 6 October 2007. Japan is still a country where fewer than one in two hundred are Catholics. He wrote about his experience in Far East, the magazine of the Columbans in Ireland and Britain, in 1973. Father Jim's article made a profound impact on me and I reprinted it in Misyon in March-April 2008. our last printed edition. It is a story that moves me each time I think about it. Maybe the few who believed and were healed consoled Jesus in his humanity. Maybe he felt something of what Father Norris describes in the closing paragraph of his article.

The story of Keiko and her parents shows us that our Catholic Christian faith is a gift from God, a gift for which we should thank him every day.

A Spring Flower
by Fr James Norris 

Cherry blossoms at the Tokyo Imperial Palace [Wikipedia]

There is a high school in our parish for nearly 2,000 girls conducted by the Sisters of the Infant of Jesus. Very few of these girls are baptized Christians. As a means of contact, I teach English to the junior high school pupils three times a week. My classes are very informal and I am afraid the young ladies don’t take me very seriously, possibly because I give them no homework or exams. My specialty is supposed to be pronunciation and intonation.

One day, early in November 1971, I received a summons from one of my little pupils, Keiko Uemura, aged 14. She was very sick in the hospital and wished to be baptized. I hadn’t noticed her absence at school. The nuns were full of apologies for not letting me know, but they hadn’t thought her illness was serious; moreover, she had never shown any real interest in religion but on the contrary, during religious classes seemed to take a delight in trying to tie the Sister up in knots with embarrassing questions.

When I visited her she seemed in good spirits. After ascertaining that she really did believe and had sufficient knowledge to realize what she was doing, I baptized her. A few days later I returned to the hospital with several books that explained the faith simply and would help her to pray. She began to prepare for her first Holy Communion. I discovered that despite her seemingly frivolous behavior during religion classes, she had retained quite a lot and what was more, in her present crisis could believe, simply and totally, with no reservations. 

In December she was moved to the University hospital, the largest in town and the best equipped. Keiko herself was not aware of it, but she was suffering from a rare type of bone cancer that sometimes afflicted children. The doctor gave her three months to live. Her parents were wonderful. One of them was always near her, day and night. In her case this devoted warm parental love was an actual grace that served to open out and expand her soul to receive the grace of God’s love. As Keiko responded to God’s love, the change in her thinking and outlook, her values, could not fail to impress her parents who in turn were drawn along by the girl towards God.

About Christmas time she made her first Holy Communion. She was radiantly happy that day, as is evident from the photo. Present for the occasion were her parents and some of the Sisters from the school. I made a tape recording for future use. Each week I took her Holy Communion. Her mother prepared the altar and with Keiko read the book on doctrine explaining the faith.

Home for the New Year
The girl was permitted to return home for three days over the New Year. As a result of an operation she had recovered so well that she could walk about slowly with the aid of crutches. She believed she was on the way to complete recovery; she was full of roseate plans for her future, a trip to Lourdes followed by a life of service as a nurse to crippled children. Her father hoped against hope for a miracle, but on the quiet he assured me that it was only a question of time.

Spiritual progress
During the next three months she made tremendous spiritual progress. Her mother told me that she herself was sometimes concerned by the flood of visitors, who often outstayed their welcome, even when Keiko was in pain. But the girl never showed it; she always put on a cheerful front and showed her gratitude to all-comers. Later when her mother grumbled about the inconsiderateness of some people, the girl stopped her with: ‘Mother, it may be alright for you to complain because you are not a Christian, but I am one now and must love everybody. Besides, the visitors come because they are interested in me and I am grateful for this.’ Apart from the occasional sigh or moan that escaped her lips, she never complained of the pain.

Shirakawa River [Wikipedia]

As the long winter faded, the cherry blossom trees along the Shirakawa River responded to the warm April sun and flooded the banks with a soft pink mist. I could see the blossoms from the window of her room, but the girl was too young to appreciate the pathos of their beauty – those petals whose destiny was to diffuse their delicate beauty for a brief span, only to be caught by the slightest breeze and flutter to the earth from which they sprang. Keiko never saw her own life and destiny in those blossoms.

About the middle of April she began to weaken. Within a week, she had lost consciousness and was given oxygen. She died peacefully on 27 April. The church was filled at her funeral. Her classmates were heartbroken and inconsolable, far more emotionally upset than her family. Indeed, I was surprised at how calmly her parents bore their great loss. I discovered it was because they had received the grace of the faith through the girl’s influence, even before they had begun any formal instructions. They were convinced that she still lived on in God and that they would meet her again.

Whole family converted
A week after the funeral her parents and her brother began their study of the doctrine. They were model catechumens. Every night before the family altar, united to Keiko in spirit, they said the rosary and read a chapter from the Scriptures. I baptized them on 6 November, the anniversary of Keiko’s baptism. There were tears of joy in their eyes that day as they realized they were united to their daughter by grace within the bosom of God the Father.

One of Keiko’s closest friends who was shattered by her death but very impressed by the spiritual change in the girl before her death, has resolved to follow in her footsteps and pursue the ideal of service Keiko set for herself had she lived. She is now under instructions and intends to become a nurse.

Fr James Norris after officiating at the joint wedding ceremony of three brothers in Japan

Testimony of her faith
There was nothing sensational about this girl’s short life. She did nothing that would merit notice in the mass media; her life created no more of a stir in society than a petal falling to the ground. But I am convinced her story is real news and a genuine success story. In these days of superficial sensationalism, even we Christians tend to forget that the real battles of life are won or lost within the depths of the heart where a man meets his God and says yes or no.

Moreover, in a country like Japan, a missioner seldom sees the grace of God’s action working so powerfully and swiftly in a soul. Such tangible evidence of God’s presence is almost a physical sign of His love which bolsters one’s hope no end, enabling the missioner to keep going. This slip of a girl was a candle in the darkness, a spring flower in the desert.

 Mater Dei, Mother of God, Japan
Unknown artist, c.1900-05, painting on silk

Ave Maria in Japanese
Composer: Saburo Takada; singer: Atsuko Azuma


22 June 2015

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

Raising of the Daughter of Jairus, Paolo Veronese,  c.1546
Musée du Louvre, Paris  [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)


When Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered around him; and he was by the sea.  Then one of the leaders of the synagogue named Jairus came and, when he saw him, fell at his feet and begged him repeatedly, “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.” So he went with him.
And a large crowd followed him and pressed in on him. Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years. She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse. She had heard about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, for she said, “If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.” Immediately her hemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my clothes?” And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, ‘Who touched me?’” He looked all around to see who had done it. But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth. 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, some people came from the leader’s house to say, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further?” But overhearing[ what they said, Jesus said to the leader of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.” He allowed no one to follow him except Peter, James, and John, the brother of James. When they came to the house of the leader of the synagogue, he saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. When he had entered, he said to them, “Why do you make a commotion and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping.”  And they laughed at him. Then 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. He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha cum,” which means, “Little girl, get up!” And immediately the girl got up and began to walk about (she was twelve years of age). At this they were overcome with amazement. He strictly ordered them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat.
David Vinckboons, 1600-10
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York [Web Museum of Art]


Because I will be on a pilgrimage to Malta from 24 to 30 June I am posting this early. This reflection, slightly edited, is what I posted three years ago for the same Sunday.

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. In the Philippines it’s the groom’s father who pays 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  they had spent the money, out of a perhaps misplaced love, ending up in the cemetery.

Most Filipinos have little access to good health care. Even those who have government health insurance have to come up with ready cash if they go to hospital, unlike in Ireland or the United Kingdom. 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 these nurses, if they were still in the Philippines, would not 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.

Twenty-two 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 in a Catholic school in Cebu City. We reflected on the story of Jesus staying behind in the Temple when he was 12 and that of the daughter of Jairus, also 12. 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 lived among us (John 1:14).

20 June 2015

'Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?' Sunday Reflections, 12th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston, USA [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)



On that day, when evening had come, Jesus said to his disciples, “Let us go across to the other side.” And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”




The very first pastoral visit outside of Rome of Pope Francis was to the small island of Lampedusa, the most southerly part of Italy. He went there on 8 July 2013 because of his concern about the plight many migrants and refugees trying to get from North Africa to Europe through Lampedusa and the many who died in trying to do so. The vast majority of these were exploited 'boat people' who had spent all they had, handing over their money to unscrupulous persons who were becoming rich by living off the poor and not caring whether they lived or died.

In his homily that day Pope Francis asked, 'Has any one of us grieved for the death of these brothers and sisters? Has any one of us wept for these persons who were on the boat? For the young mothers carrying their babies? For these men who were looking for a means of supporting their families?' 


The question the Pope asked in a way echoes that of the Apostles in the boat to Jesus: 'Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?' 


LÉ Eithne

Since 16 May LÉ Eithne, the flagship of the Irish Naval Service has been engaged, along with ships of navies of other European countries, in the Mediterranean in an effort to rescue 'boat people'. This one small ship has already rescued 1,620 men women and children. The Irish Naval Service has a total personnel of 1,144.

It is estimated that between 2000 and 2014 around 22,000 undocumented immigrants died trying to reach Italy from North Africa. In April alone this year it is reckoned that more than 1,000 died in a number of incidents.

Something similar is happening in South-East Asia with refugees and asylum seekers from Myanmar/Burma, Rohingya people who are Muslims, and from Bangladesh being shunned.

So this Sunday's gospel speaks to us of a situation that is all too common in the contemporary world.

The Apostles discovered that Jesus did care: 'He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!”' And he shows that same care to the refugees in the Mediterranean and in South-East Asia through the authorities, agencies and individuals who are trying to alleviate their immediate dangerous situation while others try to deal with the roots and causes of that situation.

There is an expression in the English language, 'We're all in the same boat', that indicates especially in a difficult or dangerous situation that all are equal and that all are responsible in some way for changing that situation. In his new encyclical, Laudato Si': On Care for Our Common Home, Pope Francis echoes this (No 13): 'The urgent challenge to protect our common home includes a concern to bring the whole human family together to seek a sustainable and integral development, for we know that things can change. The Creator does not abandon us; he never forsakes his loving plan or repents of having created us. Humanity still has the ability to work together in building our common home.' 

We can do two things. We can and should pray for all those caught up in the human tragedy of refugees and asylum seekers desperately seeking a better life as they flee from areas of conflict and hopelessness, being exploited ruthlessly by others in their plight - surely an expression of the reality of evil, of sin and of the Devil that Pope Francis frequently speaks about - and often losing their lives in the process.

And we can start reading the Pope's encyclical, whether online or in printed form, while reflecting on it, praying while doing so, and asking the Lord how he wants each of us to change the way we live so that the world, all its creatures and especially we humans made in God's image and likeness will become what God wills for us all.

'God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good' (Genesis 1:31). 


Responsorial Psalm [NAB - Philippines, USA]

19 June 2015

Columban General Council Welcomes Encyclical Laudato Si' On Care for our Common Home


Today, 18 June 2015, the Vatican released Laudato Si' , the encyclical letter of Pope Francis On Care for our Common Home. The date on which the Holy Father signed the encyclical is 24 May, Pentecost Sunday.

As is the tradition with papal documents it gets its title from its opening words:

LAUDATO SI’, mi’ Signore” – “Praise be to you, my Lord”. In the words of this beautiful canticle, Saint Francis of Assisi reminds us that our common home is like a sister with whom we share our life and a beautiful mother who opens her arms to embrace us. “Praise be to you, my Lord, through our Sister, Mother Earth, who sustains and governs us, and who produces various fruit with colored flowers and herbs”. 

Unusually, the opening words are in Italian rather than Latin, though it's not the first encyclical to deviate from the norm. Mit Brennender Sorge, the encyclical of Pope Pius XI in 1937 addressing the situation in Nazi Germany, has always been know by its German title, which means "With deep anxiety" and was written in German.

The General Council of the Missionary Society issued the following statement in Hong Kong today.

Columban Missionaries Welcome Pope Francis’ Encyclical on the Environment

HONG KONG, June 18, 2015.   Columban Missionaries welcome and celebrate Pope Francis’ newly released encyclical on the environment, Laudato Si: On Care for our Common Home.  This encyclical marks a historic moment in the Church as the first encyclical addressing the human relationship with all of God’s creation.  Laudato Si deepens the contributions of previous papal statements and documents which have addressed the relationship between humans and the natural world. 

Columban Superior General, Fr. Kevin O’Neill says of Laudato Si, “We thank Pope Francis for his visionary and pastoral leadership which invites us as faithful disciples of Jesus to an ongoing ecological conversion. Our lived experience speaks to us as we see the impacts of the exploited Earth and exploited peoples. We believe, as stated in our 2012 General Assembly, ‘that we are called to solidarity with marginalized people and the exploited Earth [which] are ways we participate in God’s mission’.”

Pope Francis invites us to new understandings, reflections, and actions when he says, “I urgently appeal, then, for a new dialogue about how we are shaping the future of our planet. We need a conversation which includes everyone, since the environmental challenge we are undergoing, and its human roots, concern and affect us all.”[1] 

We are reminded in Laudato Si of the interconnectedness of the human and natural worlds in these words, “Today, however, we have to realize that a true ecological approach always becomes a social approach; it must integrate questions of justice in debates on the environment, so as to hear both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor."[2]  For Columbans this interconnectedness and solidarity can be found in our own Constitutions which say, “The biblical perspective of stewardship inspires our attitudes and challenges our use of material resources.  It should lead to a lifestyle in keeping with Gospel values.”[3]

As pastoral leader Pope Francis calls us into communion when he says, “The human person grows more, matures more and is sanctified more to the extent that he or she enters into relationships, going out from themselves to live in communion with God, with others and with all creatures. In this way, they make their own that Trinitarian dynamism which God imprinted in them when they were created. Everything is interconnected, and this invites us to develop a spirituality of that global solidarity which flows from the mystery of the Trinity.”[4]

Internationally recognized eco-theologian, Columban Fr. Sean McDonagh says, “Laudato Si is an important step in the Church’s understanding of our human relationship with both the Creator and all of creation. We must continually learn from science, evolve our theology, and humbly situate ourselves in the wider creation story that began with the initial flaring forth 13.7 billion years ago to the world in which we live now and in to the future.  We must be open to encounter creation and learn from it.”




[1] Pope Francis. Laudato Si, par.14
[2] Ibid. par. 49.
[3] Missionary Society of St. Columban. Constitutions and Directory. C.401.
[4]Pope Francis. Laudato Si. par. 240. 

The Blue Marble [Wikipedia]
Photo of earth by crew of Apollo 17, 7 December 1972

Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.”
27 So God created humankind in his image,
    in the image of God he created them;
    male and female he created them.
God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.” God said, “See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good. 
[Genesis 1:26-31, NRSV, Catholic Edition]
The Heavens are Telling
from The Creation by Joseph Haydn


The Heavens are telling the glory of God,
The wonder of his work displays the firmament.

Today that is coming speaks it the day,
The night that is gone to following night.
The Heavens are telling the glory of God,
The wonder of his work displays the firmament.

In all the lands resounds the word,
Never unperceived, ever understood.
The Heavens are telling the glory of God, 
The wonder of his work displays the firmament.

12 June 2015

'The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground . . .' Sunday Reflections, 11th Sunday in Ordinary time, Year B

A Grove of Cedars of Lebanon [Wikipedia]

On the mountain height of Israel I will plant it, in order that it may produce boughs and bear fruit, and become a noble cedar (Ezekiel 17:23 - First Reading).

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

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

Jesus said to the crowds: “The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.”
He also said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.”
With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it; he did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples.

The Sower (after Millet)October 1889, Saint-Rémy, Van Gogh
Private Collection [Web Gallery of Art]


Below is part of what I posted three years ago for this Sunday.  It is now 73 years since my parents married and 'the youngest born last month' is now aged three. His father came through the medical procedure successfully, thank God.

The parables in this Sunday's gospel remind us that the faith has had many small beginnings. Perhaps the greatest is the Twelve Apostles. 

As a Columban priest I'm very conscious of our history. Fr Edward Galvin from Ireland went off to China with Canadian Fr John Fraser in 1912. Fr Fraser went on to found the Scarboro Missionary Society in Canada and Fr Galvin, with Fr John Blowick, was to set up the Missionary Society of St Columban within a few years, both societies working to bring the Gospel to the people of China.

The Columbans, along with all other Christian missionaries, were eventually driven out of China after 1949 but have a presence there again, in a different way. And a year ago, as I wrote for last Sunday, the first two Chinese students came to Manila to prepare to be Columban missionary priests. Another small beginning in the service of the mission that Jesus gave to the Church.

70 years ago my parents were married. Another small beginning in faith, a faith nourished, at least in part, by the Eucharistic Congress ten years earlier in their native Dublin. Without that beginning I would not be here. 

Today, Friday, I visited a friend in Cebu City whom I hadn't seen in more than twelve years. When we last met she was single. Today I met her husband and seven children, the youngest born last month. She and her husband have both lost their mothers in the last couple of months. Her husband will be going into hospital on Saturday for a procedure on one of his kidneys.The house they were living in before was burned down and they are now in a very small temporary house from which they will have to move soon. Yet I saw a house filled with love, the older children when they came home from school giving the mano po, the hand to the forehead, a sign of respect in the Philippines and in East Timor, to their parents and to me - and then going to kiss their two youngest brothers. And we shared bread together, pandesal, small pieces of bread that are very popular for breakfast and for snacks.

The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how.

We just don't know where the seed will be scattered and where it will bear fruit. I once met a young woman from Japan in Manila. She was moving towards the Catholic faith and the seed was being nourished in the predominantly Catholic Philippines. But the seed of her faith came to fruition in Thailand where she was baptised during an Easter Vigil. Thailand, like Japan, is a country where only about one person in two hundred is a Catholic. 


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Please continue to pray for the suffering Christians of Iraq and Syria: 

One Year After the Fall of Mosul, Iraqi Christians Remain in Painful Limbo