21 April 2016

'By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.' Sunday Reflections, 5th Sunday of Easter, Year C

Father (later Bishop) Edward Galvin  
Co-founder of the Columbans (1882-1956)
Photo taken in China between 1912 and early 1916

Fr John Blowick
Co-founder of the Columbans (1888-1972)
Photo taken around 1913, the year of his ordination

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

Gospel John 13:31-33a, 34-35 (New Revised Standard Version, Catholic Edition, Canada) 

When Judas had gone out, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. Little children, I am with you only a little longer.

I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
Frs Owen McPolin, John Blowick, Edward Galvin 
China 1920

On the evening of 29 January 1918 an extraordinary event took place in Dalgan Park, Shrule, a remote village on the borders of County Mayo and County Galway in the west of Ireland. At the time Ireland was part of the United Kingdom, which was engaged in the Great War. Thousands of Irishmen were fighting in the trenches in France and Belgium. Many, including my great-uncle Corporal Lawrence Dowd, never came home. There was a movement for independence in Ireland that led to the outbreak of guerrilla warfare in Ireland later in 1918. There was widespread poverty in the country, particularly acute in the cities.

Despite all of that, on 10 October 1916 the Irish bishops gave permission to two young diocesan priests, Fr Edward J. Galvin and Fr John Blowick to have a national collection so that they could open a seminary that would prepare young Irish priests to go to China. The effort was called the Maynooth Mission to China, because Maynooth, west of Dublin, is where St Patrick's National Seminary is, where Fr Galvin had been ordained in 1909 and Fr Blowick in 1913.

The seminary opened that late winter's evening with 19 students and seven priests. Many of the students were at different stages of their formation in Maynooth but transferred. The seven priests belonged to different dioceses but threw in their lot with this new venture which, on 29 June 1918, would become the Society of St Columban.

This Sunday's gospel was part of what the new group reflected on as they gathered in the makeshift chapel in Dalgan Park, the name of the 'Big House' and the land on which it was built. Among the seven priests was Fr John Heneghan, a priest from the Archdiocese of Tuam, as was Fr Blowick, and a classmate of Fr Galvin. Fr Heneghan never imagined that despite his desire to be a missionary in China he would spend many years in Ireland itself teaching the seminarians and editing the Columban magazine The Far East. But his dream was to take him to the Philippines in 1931 and to torture and death at the hands of Japanese soldiers during the Battle of Manila in February 1945, when 100,000 people, mostly civilians, were killed and most of the old city destroyed.

Fr John Blowick emphasised the centrality of the words of Jesus in this Sunday's gospel, I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. The second sentence there was written into the Constitutions of the Society, drawn up the following year.

To this particular Columban these words of Jesus from the Gospel of St John are the greatest legacy of Fr John Blowick to the many men from different countries who have shared his dream and that of Bishop Galvin to this day. 

And not only men, but women too, as Columban Sisters and as Columban Lay Missionaries

The Society of St Columban was born in the middle of the First World War because of the vision of two young men who saw beyond that awful reality and who took Jesus at his word. Down the years Columbans have lived through wars, in remote areas where their lives and the lives of the people they served were often in danger. Some have been kidnapped and not all of those survived. Among those who did was Fr Michael Sinnott, kidnapped in the southern Philippines in October 2009 when he was 79 and released safely a month later on 12 November.

Fr Michael Sinnott in Manila on the day of his release

With his sisters, Mrs Aine Kenny, left, and Mrs Kathleen O'Neill, right, at Dublin Airport, 3 December 2009

Father John Blowick's insistence on the words of Jesus in this Sunday's gospel becoming part of the very fibre of the being of Columbans sustained Fr John Heneghan, Fr Patrick Kelly, Fr John Lalor and Fr Peter Fallon, as Japanese soldiers took them away from Malate Church, Manila, on 10 February 1945, and their companion Fr John Lalor who was working in a makeshift hospital nearby who with others was killed there by a bomb three days later. 

Frs Lalor, Kelly, Francis Vernon Douglas, Fallon, Monaghan and Heneghan
Fr Douglas died, most probably on 27 July 1943,  after being tortured  by the Japanese in Paete, Laguna.

The words By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another are not only the hallmark of Columbans but of countless other groups, of countless families. They are meant to be the hallmark of every Christian.

First group of Columban priests [Names]

Fr John Blowick accompanied the first group of Columbans to China in 1920 but didn't stay there as he was needed in Ireland as Superior General and as a teacher in the seminary. 

Earthquake in Ecuador, 16 April 2017

In Memory of Sister Clare

Sr Clare Crockett, from Derry, Northern Ireland, died in the 7.8 earthquake that hit Ecuador last Saturday, 16 April at 7pm local time. She was 33. The death toll as I write this on 21 April is at least 570. Five postulants - young women preparing to be religious sisters - died along with Sister Clare. The video above is from the website of the Servant Sisters of the Home of the Mother Congregation to which Sister Clare belonged.

The young Clare Crockett was no angel. Her own words: 'I liked to party a lot. My weekends, since I was 16-17, consisted in getting drunk with my friends. I wasted all my money on alcohol and cigarettes.'

Before the age of 18 when she pledged to a life of servitude, Sister Clare has aspirations to be an actress. She joined an agency, presented television shows and even had a small part in a movie.
A self-confessed party animal she signed up for what she thought was a free trip to Spain only for her to later realise it was for a pilgrimage during Holy Week. It was during this trip that she realised the Grace of God and realised she had to change her ways. [Belfast Telegraph]

I thank God for the patience that He has had with me, and still has!!!! I do not ask Him why He has chosen me, I just accept it. I depend totally on Him and Our Blessed Mother and I ask them to give me the grace to be whatever they want me to be. [Sister Clare, quoted in Belfast Telegraph]

The Five postulants who died

When I entered as a sister in the Servant Sisters of the Home of the Mother I did so to dedicate my life to God and I knew that by entering into a religious community I was putting my life totally in his hands. And therefore I had to be open to whatever the Lord asked of me. So when I was told that I was going to go to Ecuador to do missionary work, then I put my life in God's hands and I totally accepted it. [Sister Clare, video 2:07 - 2:32]

Our life is completely safe in the hands of Jesus and the Father, Who are one, one love, one mercy, revealed once and for all in the sacrifice of the Cross. To save the lost sheep that is all of us, the Pastor became Lamb and let Himself be sacrificed to take upon Himself, and take away, the sin of the world. [Pope Francis, 17 April 2016]

Pope Francis arriving in Ecuador on 5 July 2015

By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.

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