26 September 2023

Isang espesyal na kaarawan sa Pilipinas - A special birthday in the Philippiines

Lala, with Jordan

I try to mark Lala's birthday every year. Fewer and fewer persons with Down Syndrome are being born in European countries. This is because more and more children with Down Syndrome are being aborted. Below is what I posted last year.


I first wrote this post in October 2008 and used it again in 2011 under the title Lala and Queen Elizabeth II. I have re-posted it a number of times, with variations, because Lala's story is one that should be told over and over again. This year I am re-posting what I posted last year and also four years ago, with a couple of updates on ages. It is also the first time I have referred to Queen Elizabeth as 'the late Queen Elizabeth'. On the 27th Lala will be celebrating another birthday. No doubt, the occasion will be marked at Punla, Ang Arko, where Lala lives, the only L'Arche community in the Philippines, in Cainta, Rizal, part of the metropolitan sprawl of Manila. 

The Pope's Universal Prayer Intention for September 2014 was: That the mentally disabled may receive the love and help they need for a dignified life. The truth is that persons with mental or learning disabilities can teach the rest of us about the dignity of life, as the photo above of Lala helping Jordan with his meal shows.

Let us show our service to the poor, then, with renewed ardour in our hearts, seeking out above all any abandoned people, since they are given to us as lords and patrons. (St Vincent de Paul, used in the Office of Readings for his feast day, 27 September.)

St Vincent de Paul, (24 April 1581 - 27 September 1660)
Simon François de Tours [Wikipedia]

Lala has have two birthdays, the real one and the official one, as did Queen Elizabeth until this year. Lala’s official birthday is 27 September, the feast day of St Vincent de Paul, and she turns 46 this year. Queen Elizabeth’s official birthday was celebrated in 53 Commonwealth countries, but not on the same date. Only the Falkland Islands observed her official birthday on her real one, 21 April. In the United Kingdom her official birthday could be on the first, second or third Saturday in June. She turned 96 on her most recent birthday, to be her last. May she rest in peace.

Queen Elizabeth II [Wikipedia]

While there’s no confusion about the date of birth of Queen Elizabeth, there is about that of Lala. The young Princess Elizabeth was born in a palace in London. Lala was found shortly after birth in a trashcan in Cebu City in the central Philippines. Those who found her took her to the Asilo De La Milagrosa, the orphanage of the Daughters of Charity there. The Sisters noticed that the little girl had Trisomy 21 (Down Syndrome) and took her in and raised her. Since they didn’t know who her parents were they had to choose a name for her.

The Sisters chose 'Vicente' as her family name, in honour of St Vincent de Paul, and 'Louella' as her Christian name, in honour of St Louise de Marillac. The two saints founded the Daughters of Charity in France in 1633. Lala, as all her friends know her, probably has something else in common with St Louise. She was almost certainly born out of wedlock, as the saint was, and, like St Louise, never knew her mother. I suspect that Lala’s mother, probably very young and unmarried, panicked – her panic possibly added to when she saw that her daughter wasn’t 'normal' - and left her baby where someone could find her and take care of her.

And the Sisters made the feast of St Vincent de Paul, 27 September, Lala's official birthday.

St Louise de Marillac (15 August 1591 - 15 March 1660) [Wikipedia]

I first met Lala in Cebu in 1992 at a Faith and Light celebration. We had just begun a community there, after a retreat given by the co-founder of the movement, Jean Vanier, a Canadian layman, in Holy Family Retreat House, Cebu City, in October 1991. During the retreat he gave a public talk in the auditorium of St Theresa’s College, as I recall, and a group of interested people got together after that. The gathering at which Lala was present included members of Faith and Light from Manila who had come to tell us more about the movement.

I could see immediately that Lala had a special gift: she’s a natural 'ice-breaker'. Though she seldom says anything, she lights up any group into which she comes, unless she’s in a bad mood, which happens from time to time.

Lala became a member of our Faith and Light community in Cebu but I lost contact with her when I went to Lianga, Surigao del Sur, in 1993 as parish priest and to Manila the following year to become vocation director of the Columbans. But one day when I visited the L’Arche community in Cainta, Rizal, known as 'Ang Arko', I was surprised to see Lala there. L’Arche, the French for 'The Ark' as in Noah’s Ark, was founded by Jean Vanier, in 1964 when he invited two men with learning disabilities, Raphael Simi and Philippe Seux, who had been living in an institution, to join him in a small cottage he had bought and was renovating in the town of Trosly-Breuil, France. Jean had no intention of founding anything, but he realized very quickly that he had made a commitment to these two men. One of them, I forget which, chose to live independently some years later, something he could never have done had he stayed in the institution and not met Jean. Out of these small beginnings has grown an international movement of about 130 residential communities where those with learning disabilities are enabled to live in a family-type situation and to develop their abilities to the greatest extent possible.

Jordan and Raymon, another young man, were welcomed by Ang Arko when they were very young. Both have physical as well as learning disabilities. Others have also been welcomed down the years. The original house was in Manila but the community moved later to Cainta.

Lala and Hachiko, each looking more content than the other!

Sadly, this beautiful dog died not long afterwards, choking on a chicken bone.

In Holy Week 2001 I attended the international pilgrimage of Faith and Light to Lourdes as chaplain to the group from the Philippines. Lala was one of the twelve or so Filipinos.

The Easter Vigil was celebrated in the underground basilica. Some of the Old Testament Vigil readings were dramatized. During the account of creation when the words God created man in his image; in the divine image he created him were read, a spotlight shone on a young man in a wheelchair. But what moved me most was when Lala was part of a group dramatizing the reading of the Exodus.

I simply marveled at the fact that a young woman who should never have been born, according to the 'wisdom' of so many, left after birth among garbage, was on the other side of the world helping to proclaim the Word of God to thousands of people, many like herself, and doing so with the joy that permeates her soul.

Queen Elizabeth, Queen of Canadain Toronto in 2010 [Wikipedia]

Ever since I was a small child I've just loved the scarlet jackets of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the 'Mounties'. I used to draw Mounties with crayons but never developed into an El Greco or a Van Gogh!

Queen Elizabeth was blessed by God with a long and healthy life in which she continued to serve her people with dignity until her death. Though she was among the richest people in the world, Lala, also with her two birthdays, enjoys even greater riches, because the words of Mary’s prayer, the Magnificat, have been revealed in her life: 'God has lifted up the lowly'.

The Visitation 
El Greco [Web Gallery of Art]

Magnificat, (Luke 1:46-55)
form Catholic Television of Nigeria

The version above is an adaptation of the text of the prayer. Below is the translation in the Breviary used in the Philippines and in the USA during Evening Prayer (Vespers).

My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,
my spirit rejoices in God my Savior
for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.
From this day all generations will call me blessed:
the Almighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his Name.
He has mercy on those who fear him
in every generation.
He has shown the strength of his arm,
he has scattered the proud in their conceit.
He has cast down the mighty from their thrones,
and has lifted up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has come to the help of his servant Israel
for he has remembered his promise of mercy,
the promise he made to our fathers,
to Abraham and his children for ever.

'The clouds parted and Your light, oh Lord, shone down upon us.'

22 September 2023

'In five hours I will see Jesus.' Sunday Reflections, 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A


The Grape-Picker
Bernhard Keil [Web Gallery of Art]

The kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house who went out early in the morning to hire labourers for his vineyard (Matthew 20:1; Gospel).

Readings (Jerusalem Bible: Australia, England & Wales, Ireland, New Zealand, Pakistan, Scotland)

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

Gospel Matthew 20:1:16 (English Standard Version Anglicised, India)

Jesus said to his disciples:

“The kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house who went out early in the morning to hire labourers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the labourers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard. And going out about the third hour he saw others standing idle in the market-place, and to them he said, ‘You go into the vineyard too, and whatever is right I will give you.’ So they went. Going out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour, he did the same. And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing. And he said to them, ‘Why do you stand here idle all day?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You go into the vineyard too.’ And when evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the labourers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last, up to the first.’ And when those hired about the eleventh hour came, each of them received a denarius. Now when those hired first came, they thought they would receive more, but each of them also received a denarius. And on receiving it they grumbled at the master of the house, saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?’ So the last will be first, and the first last.”


Léachtaí i nGaeilge

Jacques Fesch - A Murderer's Conversion

Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) is one of the top soccer teams in Europe. It gets its name from the suburb of Paris where it is located, Saint-Germain-en-Laye. It gets its name from Saint Germain (Germanus), a bishop of Paris who died in 576. It is also the birthplace on 6 April 1930 of Jacques Fesch. He died on 1 October 1957 in Paris. In 1987 Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger, Archbishop of Paris, opened a diocesan inquiry into the life of Jacques and in 1993 formally opened the process for his beatification. 

Police Officer Jean-Baptiste Vergne
Murdered on 25 February 1954
Widower and father of a four-year-old daughter

[Source of photo; it has been replaced by a different one]

This caused considerable controversy in France because Jacques Fesch had been executed by guillotine for the murder of Jean-Baptiste Vergne, 35, a widowed policeman and father of a daughter aged 4, on 25 February 1954. There was no doubt whatever of Jacques Fesch's guilt nor did he show any remorse at his trial or after being sentenced.

How did this man come to be proposed for beatification by a French cardinal who was born Jewish and whose mother was murdered by the Nazis in Auschwitz in 1943?

During the more than three years that he was in prison, in solitary confinement, Jacques Fesch experienced a profound religious conversion. We know this from the letters he wrote and from the diary he kept during the last months before his execution. Two persons who influenced him were the prison Catholic chaplain, Fr Devoyed OP and his lawyer, a devout Catholic, named Baudet who expressed his concern for his client's immortal soul.

Jacques Fesch's conversion - he had been baptised a Catholic as an infant - was a gradual one, beginning with reading a book about Our Lady in October 1954 and coming to fruition by the following March, Around that time he wroteAt the end of my first year in prison, a powerful wave of emotion swept over me, causing deep and brutal suffering. Within the space of a few hours, I came into possession of faith, with absolute certainty. I believed … Grace came to me. A great joy flooded my soul, and above all a deep peace.

The Prophet Isaiah in the First Reading today speaks precisely to the situation in which Jacques Fesch found himself through his own sins: Seek the Lord while he may be found; call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon (Isaiah 55:6-7).

In the light of that we can interpret the parable in today's gospel as telling us that God's mercy extends to all who will accept it, even to the eleventh hour, to the very end of our lives. This is not something to take for granted so that we can carry on sinning until the last moment. That is the sin of presumption. But neither is it something to see as impossible, that we are beyond God's mercy. That is the sin of despair.

A month before his death Jacques wroteThe Lord continues to fill me with gifts and I feel my heart overflow with love, and my lips with thanksgiving. Shortly before his execution he wrote: In five hours I will see Jesus.

Kyrie Eleison, Missa Luba
Setting by Fr Guido Haazen OFM
Sung by Les Troubadours du Roi Baudouin

Kyrie eleison, Christe eleison, Kyrie eleison

Lord, have mercy; Christ, have mercy; Lord, have mercy

Traditional Latin Mass

Seventeenth Sunday After Pentecost

The Complete Mass in Latin and English is here. (Adjust the date at the top of that page to 09-24-2023 if necessary).

Epistle: Ephesians 4:1-6. Gospel: Matthew 22:34-46.

Apostle Paul in Prison
Rembrandt [Web Gallery of Art]

I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called . . . (Ephesians 4:1; Epistle).

15 September 2023

'They realised that they were both children of the same God.' Sunday Reflections, 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

St Peter in Penitence
El Greco [Web Gallery of Art] 

Readings (Jerusalem Bible: Australia, England & Wales, Ireland, New Zealand, Pakistan, Scotland)

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

Gospel Matthew 18:21:35 (English Standard Version Anglicised, India)

Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.

“Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’ So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt. When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place. Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”


Léachtaí i nGaeilge

Stretcher Bearers, Passchendaele, Belgium, 1917

Today's gospel brings us in touch with what is perhaps the most difficult demand for Christians: to forgive. El Greco's painting shows us St Peter praying with hope and trust in God's merciful and forgiving love.

An example of forgiveness is found in an extract from a letter of Fr William Doyle SJ, an Irish priest who died in August 1917 in Passchendaele, Belgium, while serving as a chaplain in the British Army in World War I. The extract is taken from a post on the website The Father Willie Doyle Association, the official site for the canonisation cause of the Servant of God Fr Willie Doyle SJ. 

Father Doyle wrote to his father in Dublin about events of 5 September 1916 during the Battle of the Somme in France [emphasis added]:

In the bottom of one hole lay a British and a German soldier, locked in a deadly embrace, neither had any weapon, but they had fought on to the bitter end. Another couple seemed to have realised that the horrible struggle was none of their making, and that they were both children of the same God; they had died hand-in-hand praying for and forgiving one another. A third face caught my eye, a tall, strikingly handsome young German, not more, I should say, than eighteen. He lay there calm and peaceful, with a smile of happiness on his face, as if he had had a glimpse of Heaven before he died. Ah, if only his poor mother could have seen her boy it would have soothed the pain of her broken heart.

To Father Doyle no German soldier was an enemy. Indeed, one of the remarkable things in the literature that came out of the Great War, as the First World War was known until the Second World War began, is that soldiers didn't seem to have hatred for the official 'enemy'. It was more often against their own generals and bullying corporals. Photos and videos from the war show prisoners of war, especially wounded ones, being treated with the same kindness and consideration as others.

Father Doyle's description of the British and German soldiers holding hands in death illustrates poignantly and powerfully what Jesus asks of us in this Sunday's Gospel. Pray for the souls of all who died in that terrible conflict.

The Banks of Green Willow
Composed by George Butterworth
Played by the Academy of St Martin-in-the-Fields
Conducted by Sir Neville Marriner

George Butterworth, an officer in the British army, was killed in the Battle of the Somme. 5 August 1916, a month before the event described by Fr Willie Doyle in his letter to his father. Pray for the souls of all who died in that terrible conflict, The Great War / First World War.

Madonna of Mercy
Blessed Fra Angelico [Web Gallery of Art]

Traditional Latin Mass

Sixteenth Sunday After Pentecost

The Complete Mass in Latin and English is here. (Adjust the date at the top of that page to 09-17-2023 if necessary).

Epistle: Ephesians 3:13-21Gospel: Luke 14:1-11.

The Preaching of St Paul at Ephesus
Eustache Le Sueur [Web Gallery of Art]