30 June 2010

'There can be no reconciliation without justice': President Benigno Aquino of the Philippines

President Benigno C. Aquino III before his inauguration

I don't as a rule watch television when I'm eating with someone but I made an exception today while having lunch with Charlie Jamilla, my general factotum, as we both watched the noontime inauguration of President Benigno 'Noynoy' C. Aquino III as President of the Republic of the Philippines.

I think that there is a sense of a genuine new beginning in the Philippines, though there will be no overnight change in this country that is plagued with poverty and corruption. Rightly or wrongly, there is a perception that corruption became worse than ever during the nine-years of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. She, with the support of many, overthrew President Joseph Estrada, whose real name is Jose Marcelo Ejercito, in 2001. She was then vice-president. She later promised that she wouldn't run for president in 2004 but changed her mind. There is some evidence that she won that election through massive cheating, though cheating is endemic here, unfortunately. She was linked with other scandals, as was her husband, Miguel Arroyo, though nothing has been proven.

President Aquino gave his inauguration speech mostly in Filipino, the national language that is, in theory, evolving from the various regional languages but is, in reality, practically the same as Tagalog, the language of Manila and surrounding provinces. One thing he said in English was, 'To those who are talking about reconciliation, if they mean that they would like us to simply forget about the wrongs that they have committed in the past, we have this to say: there can be no reconciliation without justice'.

I was happy to hear this and I believe that the new president will try to implement this. There is far too much meaningless easy 'reconciliation' not only in the Philippines but elsewhere. We're all far too familiar with 'apologies' from public figures along the lines of 'I'm sorry you feel that way' which utterly fail to acknowledge personal responsibility. 

The new president's father, Benigno 'Ninoy' Aquino Jr, was murdered at Manila International Airport on 21 August 1982, just after being escorted of a plane by soldiers. The airport is now called 'Ninoy Aquino International Airport', or 'NAIA'. Filipinos love to use acronyms.

23 August 1983. The body of Rolly Galman, the alleged killer lies on the left. He too was murdered and very few believe he killed Ninoy Aquino, whose body is being carried by two soldiers.

I met Noynoy Aquino very briefly in Cebu City a few days after his father's assassination. His mother, Cory, became president in 1986 after defeating the dictator Ferdinand Marcos. She died on 1 August last year and it was the feelings around her death and burial that created the momentum for her only son to be pushed to run for president.

President Corazon 'Cory' C. Aquino

Please pray that President 'Noynoy' Aquino will bring some hope to the Philippines along with a sense of decency and responsibility, qualities so lacking in public life in recent years. He is not and cannot be a messiah but he needs and deserves our prayers. He carries no baggage of association with corruption. That is a plus. May God bless his presidency, his team and, through them, the people of the Philippines.

Incoming President Aquino with outgoing President Gloria Arroyo, before setting off for the inauguration

21 June 2010

A Song of Life

Years ago I asked a six-year-old girl in a parish in Mindanao where I worked how many brothers and sisters she had. She told me that they were three: 'My older brother, me and the one with Mama' - meaning the one not yet born. This song by Aaron Lines, I Haven't Even Heard You Cry, reminded me of that incident. I found the link to the video in an email from LifeSiteNews.com. I had never heard of Aaron Lines before.

Watch the video to the very end!

15 June 2010

Report on funeral of Columban Fr Thomas 'Tanvir' O'Hanlon in Karachi

This report was sent by Fr Tomás King, Columban coordinator in Pakistan. Father Thomas O’Hanlon’s family nickname was ‘Tommy’. Shortly after Father Tommy arrived in Pakistan in 1982 an old man gave him the name ‘Tanvir’, ‘Enlightened One’, and that is the name by which he is best known in Pakistan.


Fr Tanvir O'Hanlon, 1945-2010. Photo by Fr Gary Walker after Easter 2010

Fr Tanvir O' Hanlon was laid to rest in St Columban's Parish, Greentown, Lahore, on Thursday, 10 June, after the Funeral Mass in Sacred Heart, Cathedral, Lahore. He lies beside Fr Pat McCaffrey who was laid to rest three weeks previously to the day.

Bishop Joseph Coutts of Faisalabad


The main celebrant was Bishop Joseph Coutts of Faisalabad Diocese, a long time friend of Tanvir and the Columbans. Two of Tanvir’s siblings traveled to Lahore for the funeral: Ned from his home place in Tarbert, County Kerry, Ireland, and Michael who is based in England. They managed to secure visas quickly through the help of Fr Pat Raleigh. (Fr Raleigh is Columban Vice-Director in Ireland and went with the first group of Columbans to Pakistan in 1979 after serving for eleven years in the Philippines).

It was a moving ceremony that was a fitting celebration of Tanvir's life and his passion for justice which evolved and integrated into a passion and care for all of Creation. At the introduction to the Mass, Gloria Canama described the life, faith and missionary journey of Tanvir. (Gloria Canama, from Tangub City, Misamis Occidental, Philippines, is a Columban lay missionary who has been in Pakistan since 1990). The homily was given by Fr Tomás King.

The gifts and symbols brought up in the offertory celebrated his life and mission in Ireland, Philippines and Pakistan.

Kerry jersey on the left. Photo taken 13 June 2010 as Kerry deafeated archrivals Cork by one point in a Munster Championship replay.

Kerry football jersey: Tanvir first expressed his passion for life as a footballer. He was captain of the Kerry minor team that won the All-Ireland Minor (Under-18) Football Championship in 1963. His football jersey symbolizes his gifts and talents and his ability to work in a team.

Neem tree

Neem Tree and Candle: These symbols represent healing, life and light. Tanvir was a healing and life giving presence in our midst.


Rural scene, Pakistan

Soil represents the places where Tanvir spread the good news through his life. We have gathered this soil from Mariamabad, Shekhupura, Shadbagh, Green town and brick kiln. This soil represents his entire life with the earth community, especially in Pakistan. We pray that the seeds he planted in this soil will flourish. The soil from his home place was thrown on his coffin while the soil from the places he worked was used by his brothers to plant the neem tree at the graveside.

County Kerry, Ireland

Globe: Tanvir's life reached far and wide. In the Philippines he was involved in building Basic Christian Communities. Here in Pakistan he reached out bringing new hope to the lives of many.




Cage and Dove: Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation were the passion of his life. He worked tirelessly for justice especially for those on the margins of society, brick kiln, women and sanitary workers. The cage was opened and the bird freed after the Eucharistic celebration.


Earth from spcae with Pakistan in centre
Earth Community Banner: Earth is our home and all the lives that live on her are our cosmic family. We are just one tiny species of this family. The love, care and respect for creation were visible through his words and actions. It was his belief that we are from this universe and will return to this universe, so we need to take responsibility for loving, caring and respecting the universe.
Celebration of Mass in Pakistan
Bread and Wine are the symbols of God's goodness, which earth has given us and human hands have made. Tanvir offered his life and work to God.

After Holy Communion items of significance from Tanvir's life in Pakistan were presented to his brothers by Fr Joe Joyce and Fr Robert MaCulloch, including his breviary, a Pakistani stole and the banner that embodied the Earth Community. Michael spoke on behalf of the family who thanked the people of Pakistan for taking Tanvir to their heart.

Fr Tommy Murphy, Columban Superior General

Fr Tommy Murphy (Columban Superior General) also spoke words of thanks for all the people who expressed their support, in recent days and weeks, to the Columbans in Pakistan who had, in Fr Pat McCaffrey and Father Tanvir, suffered the loss of two committed and faithful conferees in a short space of time. He also said it was a privilege for the Society of St Columban to be on mission in Pakistan and it was committed to continue to be so.


When Tanvir’s coffin arrived at the St Columban’s parish centre there were many people waiting to pay their respects. People queued up for the ‘Last Look’ after which prayers were said. Fr Robert McCulloch led the prayers at the graveside.

Darkness had fallen by the time burial was complete. The grave was covered with rose petals and flowers. Candles were lit and incense sticks lit. As people stood in silence in the light of the candles, it felt surreal, just unbelievable that in the space of 21 days, that two close friends; two stalwart, passionate and committed Columban missionaries, were laid to rest side by side in the soil of the ‘land of the pure.’ Two separate deaths, but in many ways one intense moment of grief.

In the words of W. B. Yeats: things have ‘All changed, changed utterly: a terrible beauty is born.’

May they rest in peace.

10 June 2010

Funeral of Columban Fr Thomas 'Tanvir' O'Hanlon in Lahore today

Fr Thomas O'Hanlon. Photo taken after Easter by Fr Gary Walker.

Fr Thomas 'Tanvir' O'Hanlon will be buried today in Lahore, Pakistan. He died there last Sunday night after a stroke. My classmate Fr Patrick McCaffrey died suddenly in Murree, Pakistan, on 18 May. Father Tommy O'Hanlon was at Father Pat's funeral only a few weeks ago. Today's funeral Mass will be in the same church, Sacred Heart Cathedral.



This message was sent by Fr Tomás King, Columban coordinator in Pakistan: Fr Tanvir (Thomas) O' Hanlon will be laid to rest, along side Fr Pat McCaffrey, in St. Columban's Parish, Lahore on Thursday 10th June, after 3.00pm Funeral Mass at Sacred Heart Cathedral, Lahore. Today, Tuesday his two brothers Ned and Micheal were granted visas in the Embasy in Dublin and will travel to Lahore for the funeral.


The following death notice appeared in Irish newspapers:

The death has occurred of Fr Tommy O'HANLON of The Columban Fathers, Pakistan. Late of The Philippines and Dooncaha House, Tarbert, Kerry.

After a brief illness, in Lahore, Pakistan. Beloved son of the late Patrick and Mary O'Hanlon. Funeral Mass and burial in Lahore, Pakistan tomorrow, Thursday, June 10, 2010. Memorial Mass in St Mary's Church, Tarbert on Saturday, June 26, at 11am.



Views of St John the Baptist Church, Jimenez, Misamis Occidental, Philippines, where Father O'Hanlon served in the 1970s.

09 June 2010

'Ephphata! The Deaf Person, Herald and Witness of the Proclamation of the Gospel'

'Until they pointed it out to me, I didn’t even notice that Christ is speaking in sign language from the cross, saying “I love you.”' (Cardinal Seán's Blog).

Marge Tucker, a member of the Catholic Deaf community in Boston, presenting Cardinal O'Malley with the crucifix pictured at the top


I have been involved to a limited degree in working with the Deaf since 1992, after the death of Columban Father Joseph Coyle - we were not related - who was a pioneer in working with and for the Deaf in the Church in the Philippines. I regularly celebrate Mass in Sign Language. One of the tragedies in the Philippines is that young Deaf people are a very specific target of fundamentalist Christian groups with their roots in the USA. Young Deaf people here are easy targets for the simple reason that the Catholic Church has so far done very little to minister to them. This is not by design. Church leadership is generally on the side of the poor and those on the margins. So many are on the margins in the Philippines because of widespread poverty but the Deaf, most of whom are from poor families, are on the margins of the margins..


Cardinal Seán O'Malley OFMCap, Archbishop of Boston, celebrates Mass with the Deaf thereZenit.org carries this report on the recent Congress on the Deaf held in the Vatican. I've highlighted some parts and added [comments].


A congress on ministry with and for the Deaf was held in the Vatican recently and there are a couple of reports below.



Conclusions of Vatican Congress on the Deaf


"Herald and Witness of the Proclamation of the Gospel"

VATICAN CITY, JUNE 7, 2010 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the executive conclusions adopted by the Congress on the Pastoral Care of the Deaf entitled "Ephphata! The Deaf Person, Herald and Witness of the Proclamation of the Gospel," which ended Sunday in the Vatican.


* * *


At the end of this Congress on Pastoral Care, entitled "Ephphata! The Deaf Person, Herald and Witness of the Evangelical Proclamation," organized by the Pontifical Council for Health Care Ministry, the instruments were defined for the realization of some priorities in the ambit of the integration of deaf persons in ecclesial life and more generally in society. [Deafness cuts off a person in a way that another disability doesn't. A person born deaf has no common language with his parents or with the community, including the Church community, unless he and they learn Sign Language. In my experience, the only 'native signers' I have come across are the hearing children of Deaf parents. The isolation of a deaf person is added to if his family lives in a relatively remote area and is very much added to by poverty.]

In this second stage of the dicastery's commitment to those affected by deafness, recommendations were received and began to be implemented which arose at the end of the International Conference "Ephphata! The Deaf Person in the Life of the Church," held last November in the Vatican. This result was obtained thanks to the active participation and support of exponents of the pontifical council and of other Vatican offices, of the Italian episcopal conference and of the dioceses of Rome, Bari, Brescia, Foggia, Chieti, Crotone, Padua, Patti, Vicenza, Bologna, Palermo, Sulmona, Aquila, Imperia, Agrigento, Teramo, Assisi, Florence, Foligno, Frosinone, Salerno, Milan, Trani, Modena, Tursi-Lagonegro, Venice, Messina, Perusa, Terni, Rimini and Pordenone. Added to them are the religious personnel, specialists and volunteers. A great contribution was also made by the representatives of the Church in America, Spain, Ireland, and Germany, who came to Rome for the Congress. [No Asian countries mentioned.]

These are, in synthesis, the priorities and instruments delineated during these working days:

1. To offer local and particular churches the instruments to begin to work "for and with" deaf persons, [Deaf people are not persons 'to be helped' but to be enabled, with their full cooperation, to become fully active members of the Church and of society, both giving and receiving] beginning both from specific elements for pastoral programming as well as multimedia subsidies. Among the latter, visual DVDs, which contain the translation in sign language, which will be used as an aid in the course of formation and participation in the life of the ecclesial community. [Hearing people need to be made aare of the needs of the Deaf and to be enabled to communicate with them.]

2. To take care and spread with particular commitment the "formation of formators," in the first place of future priests, of religious personnel and of all pastoral agents. [Some countries have Deaf priests and some have hearing pirests involved in full-time ministry with the Deaf. There are no deaf priests in the Philippines and very few priests in full-time work with the Deaf. By 'deaf priests' here I mean priests who were born profoundly deaf or became so while young, not priests who have grown deaf, ie, hard of hearing, as they grow older. though that can be isolating too its a different reality from that of the person born deaf.]

3. As it emerged in this congress, it is considered of essential importance that, for example, in seminaries it be possible to come close to the reality of deaf people by learning: the basis of sign language, their historical and personal experience, that is, the difficulties they meet in society and in school, as well as in the Church. Such an outline of formation, with the due adaptations, can be used everywhere. [I don't think that the average seminarian, or the average priest, has any idea of the situation of Deaf persons. This is not a condemnation of them but an observation. There are some priests and lay persons who consider a signing interpreter at Mass as a 'distraction'. When there are regular Masses with a priest who sings or with an interpreter hearing people gradually come not to notice while the Deaf are made part of the worshipping community.]

4. To make permanent, in the Pontifical Council for Health Care Ministry, the study group announced during the international conference. This organism will make possible the necessary qualities and uniformity of work carried out in this realm.

5. To create an Internet reference space, useful for the diffusion of initiatives, as well as for communication and exchange among those who work in the pastoral care of deaf persons. [The internet is a place where a deaf person can function on equal terms with hearing persons.]

6. To promote an ad hoc certification for those in the ecclesial realm translating into sign language. It is considered essential that a distinction be made between the "translator" and the "facilitator." The latter must have sufficient religious competencies to enable him to follow correctly, for example, the course of a Eucharistic liturgy, the course of the religious function.

Finally, all the participants in the congress committed themselves to see that these operative conclusions are quickly made concrete, in response to what has been requested by merit of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI and recalled during the opening of the works of this congress by the president of the dicastery, Archbishop Zygmunt Zimowski.

Vatican City, June 6, 2010

[Translation by ZENIT]



Some of the Deaf giving the Sign of Peace, which we also use in Worldwide Marriage Encounter

Zenit.org also carried a report on 7 June, Archbishop: The Deaf Have a Place in the Church.


One paragraph in this reports reads: The prelate (Archbishop Zygmunt Zimowski) pointed out that it is important that Christians "recall the mandate received at baptism and work for the diffusion of the Gospel through personal commitment and witness, becoming true 'heralds and witnesses,' even if they cannot hear or are close to persons affected by deafness." [In other words, the Deaf have the same obligation as hearing persons to witness to the Gospel. but as tings are now, especially in the Philippines, hearing people have to enable the Deaf to claim their rightful place in the Church].

The crucifix given by the Catholic Deaf community in Boston to Cardinal Seán O'Malley

All photos from Cardinal Seán's Blog.

07 June 2010

Death of Columban Father Thomas O'Hanlon in Pakistan


Fr Thomas O'Hanlon (above and below) died in hospital in Lahore last night, Sunday 5 June, at 10:54 local time. He had a mild stroke on 25 May but four days later had a relapse and ws admitted to the ICU.

Father Tommy, as most of us knew him, was from County Kerry, Ireland, and entered the Columban seminary late in September 1963. He was a few weeks later than his classmates. However, he had a good reason to be late: on the thrid Sunday of September he captained the Kerry Minor (under-18) Gaelic Football team to victory in that year's Minor All-Ireland championship. He was ordained in December 1969 and went to Mindanao, Philippines, in 1970. He served there till 1979 when he went with the first group of Columbans to our new mission in Pakistan.



Father Tommy was given the name 'Tanvir' by an elderly man shortly after his arrival in Pakistan. The name means 'inner light'. Father Tomás King, the Columban coordinator in Pakistan, said of our late confrere, 'Tanvir has passed on but his light burns in the lives and memories of the people he encountered and touched. he was passionate for justice which in later years evolved into a passion for the care of the Earth.' He had a doggedness about him too that could be exasperating at times but was never obstructive or negative. Something of his passion is captured in the photo above, which appeared in the American Columban magazine, Columban Mission, in 1996, as did the other photos here.


Fr Pat McCaffrey

Father King wrote of his death: 'Tanvir died peacefully in the presence of Columban Lay Missionaries, Sisters and Fathers after anointing and while the rosary was being recited.'

Coming so soon after the sudden death of my classmate, Fr Pat McCaffrey (photo above) in Pakistan on 18 May, this is devastating for the Columban priests, Sisters and lay missionaries in Pakistan. Father Tommy was 64 or 65 and Father Pat 66. I know you will keep them all in your prayers.

04 June 2010

Will President Aquino of the Philippines receive 'the grace of office'?

President-elect Benigno C. Aquino III of the Philippines

Ma. Ceres P. Doyo, one of the top journalists in the Philippines, raised this question in a front-page story in the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the most widely read broadsheet in the country, on Sunday 23 May. Her article also appears on her blog, Human Face by Ceres. Human Face is the name of her weekly column in the same paper:

IN SPIRITUAL LANGUAGE it is called “the grace of office.”


Could presumptive president-elect Sen. Benigno Aquino III and the nation that has apparently elected him by a landslide count on that?

It is said that when God invites or calls an individual to undertake a task, He also provides him the grace to carry out that task or calling.

“The grace of office” has often been used in the context of a religious vocation, especially for those in leadership positions, their imperfections, weaknesses and reluctance notwithstanding.

Biblical times and even contemporary history have seen ordinary persons rise to the task, strengthened only by their belief in God’s calling and their faith in the accompanying grace that would help them carry out their destiny.

There were those who rose and fell, as there were those who fulfilled their mission with humility and obedience.

You can read the full article, with the comments of various theologians in the Philippines, here.

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I don't recall anyone raising the question of 'grace of office' when David Cameron was chosen as prime minsiter of the UK after the elections there on 6 May, four days before the elections here in the Philippines. Mr Aquion, known as 'Noynoy', has not been officially declared the winner but there is no doubt whatever that he is the choice of the people. Though he didn't reach 50 percent he got more votes than the second and third candidates together.

St Thomas More (1478-1535)

Politicians are often held in disdain and in many cases there is good reason for that. But the Christian politician, like everyone else, is called to become a saint. the patron saint of politicians and lawyers is St Thomas More. Here in the Philippines most elected officials at higher level are lawyers while teachers sataff the polling booths. In Ireland a huge percentage of members of the parliament and senate are teachers by profession.

Above left, Alcide De Gasperi (1881-1954), right, Robert Schuman (1886-1963)
Below, Julius Nyerere (1922-1999)

I'm aware of at least three 20th century politicians whose causes of beatification have been initiated, President Julius Nyerere of Tanzania, Alcide De Gasperi, post-war prime minister of Italy, and Robert Schuman, post-war prime minister of France, the latter two considere the founders, with Konrad Adenauer of Germany, of the European Economic Community that grew into the European Union.

Robert Schuman once said of St Columban, from whose life journey this blog takes its name, that he was 'the patron saint of all who seek a United Europe'.

Gaudium et Spes, the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, one of Vatican II's most important documents, speaks at length on the place of politics in the life of the Christian and the Christain community. Here is one brief extract from No 73: It is clear, therefore, that the political community and public authority are founded on human nature and hence belong to the order designed by God, even though the choice of a political regime and the appointment of rulers are left to the free will of citizens.

God has certainly called Noynoy Aquino to serve the people of the Philippines as president for the next six years. This does not mean that he cannot make any mistakes. It simply means that the Holy Spirit will guide him if he asks for that guidance - and if we ask for that grace for the new president.