27 March 2008

My Dad born 95 years ago today

My Dad, John, who died in 1987, was born on Easter Thursday the last time Easter fell on 23 March - 1913. (Or it might have been Easter Wednesday. He was never quite sure if it was the 26th or 27th but we settled for the latter). So he would have been 95 today had he lived.

Here's a photo I took of my parents, John and Mary, in the summer of 1968. Mam died less than two years later. At the time of the photo Dad was 55 and Mam 53.

I inherited my Dad's taste in popular music. He liked a good tune, particularly when played on the piano. His favourite pianist was Charlie Kunz, an American who made his home in England and who died on 16 March 1958. I found this video of Charlie playing one of his medleys in 1934. Note how immaculately dressed he is.

One of the most popular singers in Britain in the 1930s, when Dad was a young man, was Al Bowlly, born of Greek and Lebanese parents in Mozambique. One of the bands he sang with in London in the late 1920s was that of Fred Elizalde from Manila, a member of a wealthy Spanish-Filipino family. When I came to the Philippines in 1971 Fred had a regular programme on TV.

Here's Al Bowlly singing a Ray Noble song that has been recorded by many singers, 'The Very Thought of You'.

Al Bowlly recorded another Ray Noble song with Ray's orchestra in 1931, 'Goodnight Sweetheart'. Someone put footage of a Charlie Chaplin movie to it with amusing results. Sadly, Al was killed during the Blitz in London in 1941, aged only 39.

We lived about 20 minutes walk from Dalymount Park, the main soccer stadium in Dublin, and Dad often brought me there. On big occasions the St James's Brass and Reed Band would be there and one of their standbies was 'Old Comrades', 'Alte Kameraden'. Their figure-marching wasn't quite as good as this:

The sporting highlight of Dad's life was the 1948 FA Cup Final in Wembley Stadium when Manchester Untied beat Blackpool 4-2 in what was said to be the greatest final ever until then. It's a tradition to sing 'Abide With Me' before the FA Cup Final and also before the Rugby League Cup Final in Wembley. We sang it at the end of Dad's funeral Mass.

Dad went to Mass every day of his life right until the day of his sudden death. He had a heart attack while watching cricket on TV. I wonder if he was the first to have had that experience! Someone said that when the English stopped believing in eternity they invented cricket. In Dad's case I truly believe that that final cricket match was but the prelude to eternal life.

Thank you, Dad!

26 March 2008

Colombian President prays Rosary to avert war with neighbours

'The President is a man of faith, he always carries with him a wooden Cross and a Rosary. I have heard him pray several times in the motorcade or on the presidential airplane. He always tries to be coherent with his faith in his work, pleasing God with what he does.' Thus El Tiempo, a Colombian newspaper, quotes Fr Julio Solórzano, Chaplain of Colombia’s Presidential Palace.

The story of how Colombian President Alvaro Uribe recently prayed the Rosary with his staff and members of his cabinet to avert war with neighbouring Venezuela and Ecuador is carried by Catholic News Agency. The crisis started on 1 March when Colombian soldiers went after Marxist rebels just over the border in Ecuador, having been ordered to do so by President Uribe.

The president insisted that the Rosary be prayed to Mary under her titles as patroness of Colombia, Venezuela and Ecuador : Our Lady of Chiquinquira, Our Lady of Coromoto and Our Lady of Mercy, respectively. Clearly he had the good of the people of the three nations in his heart, praying to the Mother of All.

The report seems to be a translation from Spanish but the English, though inelegant, is clear. You can read more here, in Spanish, in El Tiempo.

22 March 2008

'One-hour friends'

I came across an article on the spiritual needs of persons with intellectual disabilities. Among other things, it speaks of 'one-hour friends', persons who genuinely welcome someone with an intellectual disability to their church, for example, but who invite everyone except that particular person to social functions. There's no malice whatever - rather the contrary - but the one left out can be deeply hurt.

Jean Vanier, through L'Arche and through Faith and Light is very consicous of this. This time seven years ago I was in Lourdes on the International Faith and Light Pilgrimage that takes place every ten years. Faith and Light grew out of a special pilgrimage to Lourdes in 1971 for persons with intellectual disabilities. It had been organized because of the experience of some such persons and their families not being allowed to join other groups of pilgrims.

Many old people with various forms of dementia can also be unnecessarily isolated, as I discovered when involved between 2000 and 2002 with the Pastoral Care Project, founded in 1995 by Frances Molloy in the Archdiocese of Birmingham, England.

Every human being is made to 'know, love and serve God', is unique, has something to give that no one else can give and has unique needs. Many are born with learning disabilities. Many others, when they grow, old lose to some degree their mental faculties. But they have their personal history, their memories. The latter may be dormant but can be awakened by a piece of music, for example, that stirs up emotional memories.

Death of Chiara Lubich, Foundress of Focolare

Chiara Lubich, foundress of Focolare, died on Friday, 14 March, at the age of 88. The Focolare Movement has had a profound affect on the lives of many Catholics and other Christians.

You can read about Chiara and Focolare here.

'The Master of the House Washed My Feet!'

Here is a story from The Far East, the magazine of the Columbans in Australia and New Zealand about a Hindu, Nomo, who proclaimed the gospel after a Holy Thursday experience. What struck me is its similarity to the story of the Samaratan woman at the well, who also became a missionary by telling the people in her town that she had discovered the Messiah. Father Walker is editor of The Far East.

Pray for the soul of Nomo.

The Master of the house washed my feet

By Father Gary Walker

An Easter story comes from Sindh province in Pakistan where the Columban Fathers work. The extraordinary experience of a Hindu man who was caught up in the Holy Thursday liturgy and had his feet washed by the parish priest, Irish Columban Father Tomas King.

Matli is a town in Sindh where the Columbans have worked for over 30 years. At Easter Catholics come to town from many areas to celebrate the Easter Triduum; they stay in the Catholic compound while they are in the town. At the same time a Hindu man by the name of Nomo came to Matli to visit his relatives from Nagar Parkar a town right on the eastern extreme of Pakistan near its border with India. These are tribal people, Parkar Kholi people, who are Hindu and Christian as well as Muslim.

Nomo was several hundred kilometers from home and invited to the Holy Thursday night liturgy by a Catholic friend. Fr Tomas King the resident priest at that time randomly arranged for some men to have their feet washed at the altar. It just happened that Nomo was chosen and totally unaware of what was going to take place sat up in front of the altar with the other men. But when he saw that Fr Tomas was washing their feet, the poor fellow tried to run away - but they managed to persuade him to stay and Fr Tomas washed his feet.

This ritual washing had an extraordinary effect on him and he told others after Mass, " Now I have seen a true religion - I came into this house, a total stranger and the master of the house has washed my feet! Imagine the master of the house washing a stranger's feet."

He returned to Nagar Parkar and related this story, not only to his family but also his neighbors and friends. Nomo was a well known figure and a prominent person in the Hindu community in Nagar Parkar. Even though he was not baptized he proclaimed this message of love and service as he experienced it at the hands of a Catholic priest.

Sadly he died in questionable circumstances. Some Catholics in the area believe that he was poisoned while trying to bring peace and reconciliation between two parties that were at odds with one another. He had accepted the gospel as his way of life.

21 March 2008

'The hour has come for the Son of man to be glorified'

Bishop Robert Vasa of Baker, Oregon, concludes his weekly column in the Catholic Sentinel dated 21 March in with these words:

There are some who are very reluctant to equate the teaching of the Church with the “will of God.” Yet, for myself, I find it very difficult to assert that God’s will for me in a particular matter, and perhaps even in a very small matter, is directly opposed to the manifestation of “His will” through the Church. Even when, or perhaps especially when the “will of God” as expressed by the Magisterial Church seems to run contrary to what I personally feel or desire I must strive to submit my own will and desire to that manifest will of God. When the teachings of the Church bump up against my own will and my own desires then what am I to say: ‘Father, save me from this hour’ or ‘Father, this teaching is unacceptable’ or ‘Father, you are simply wrong’?

As a part of our Easter celebration we focus on the Creed in a slightly different form. We take up that creedal dialogue connected with Baptism and answer a personal, ‘I do’, to each tenet of our Creed. To the question: “Do you believe in the Holy Spirit, the Holy Catholic Church, the Communion of Saints, the forgiveness of sins, the Resurrection of the body and life everlasting?” we answer, “I do.”

Included in that answer, included in our weekly Profession of Faith is a commitment to accept the teachings of the Church as a part of the manifest will of God for us.

More and more I'm convinced of the truth of what Bishop Vasa says. We can never go wrong by accepting the official teaching of the Church. Bishop Vasa's words on God's will remind me of the that great spiritual classic, Abandonment to Divine Providence by Fr Jean-Pierre de Caussade SJ.

You can find the book online here. John Beevers's more recent translation is available in a number of editions. Kitty Muggeridge, wife of Malcolm, published a translation under the title The Sacrament of the Present Moment, a term associated very much with De Caussade. Blessed Charles de Foucauld said of it, ‘It’s one of the books that most influences my life’.

'Good Friday People'

Juan L. Mercado is a Cebu-based columnist who is published in a number of Filipino newspapers. He is the uncle of Fr Jun Mercado OMI, whose reflections on the Seven Last Words I've just posted. Though we've never met, Johnny, as he is known, and I have been exchanging occasional emails since I contacted him about a reference in the Irish Examiner in 2005 to something he wrote. I came across that while on the internet in Haines Junction, a small town in the Yukon Territory, Canada. The wonders of modern communications!

Johnny writes from the perspective of his Catholic faith, though not as a spokesman for the Catholic Church. We desperately need more people like him.

Dr Sheila Cassidy, an Englishwoman quoted by Johnny as the one who coined in phrase 'Good Friday People', was in the Columban house in Santiago, Chile, during the early days of the Pinochet dictatorship in the 1970s when soldiers or police broke in and shot dead the housekeeper. They took away Dr Cassidy and tortured her. (Interesting that former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher befriended Pinochet.)

Juan Mercado's Viewpoint in Wednesday's Philippine Daily Inquirer begins:

INQUIRER captioned the photo: "The unbearable wait." It depicted two gaunt women staring at an exhumed coffin sealed in blue plastic. "Mothers of missing UP students Erlinda Cadapan and Concepcion Empeño view the casket containing the remains of a female," the caption explains. DNA testing at the Philippine General Hospital may show if she was one of their daughters.

"'Good Friday People" is a phrase I coined for those who find themselves called to powerlessness and suffering," writes Sheila Cassidy in her book which bears the same title. A hospice director in England today, she was tortured by Chilean soldiers for treating wounded rebels. "(These) are men and women, broken in body and assaulted in mind--deprived not merely of things we take for granted," she adds. "God calls them to walk the same road that His Son (trod)."

Juan Mercado's column for me links Calvary with torture and murder in Chile, in the Philippines and in Nazi Germany. Some perpetrators have been punished but many not. Here in the Philippines it is clear that all kinds of crimes are being carried out with impunity by people in power and nobody is being punished.

Viewpoint recalls the experience of Elie Wiesel witnessing a child being hanged in a Nazi camp and someone asking, 'Where is God?' Wiesel says, 'And I heard a voice within me answer him: "Here He is - hanging on these gallows."'

Read the whole article, which is one of the hope that Good Friday/Easter brings.

Good Friday: the Seven Last Words

Here in the Philippines the Seven Last Words are celebrated in para-liturgies throughout the country by Catholics and by Protestants, though not together. Here are some reflections on the Seven Last Words by Fr Jun Mercado, an Oblate of Mary Immaculate based in Cotabato City, Mindanao.

Short Meditation on the Seven Last Words

By Fr Jun Mercado, OMI

First Meditation:

"Father Forgive them for they do not know what they are doing."Jesus experienced abandonment in his moments of trials and difficulties. His own friends abandoned him and fled for safety. One of his chosen ones betrayed him for 30 pieces of silver. His own people disowned him. And they hauled him to a foreign power to be tried and condemned to die. In all his pains and sufferings, he lovingly looked at them and even as he heard their jeering, he said: "Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing." When we feel betrayed and abandoned... may we remember Jesus' words...and learn to forgive.

Second Meditation:

"Today, you will be with me in paradise..." One of the thieves nailed to the cross with Jesus, exclaimed: "Lord, remember me when you enter into your kingdom." And Jesus replied: "Amen I say to you, today, you will be with me in paradise. "We are all sinners... Paradise is NOT a reward of our hard work our strivings. No, we do NOT merit the kingdom of God! Paradise is NOT earned...! It is a GIFT! We pray for that gift... and like the thief at his side, we cry to God: "Lord, remember me... "Yes, God remembers us always... and God remembers us with loving compassion. Likewise, we are invited to remember God always... May God's name and compassion be always in our lips and hearts.

Third Meditation:

To his mother, Jesus said: "woman, here is your son". And to his disciple: "here is your mother." In his agony, Jesus saw the pain of his mother... he looked at her withlove and entrusted her to his disciple: "woman, here is your son". And to his disciple standing by the cross, Jesus said: "here is yourmother." Tradition has it that Jesus, on his way to Golgotha where he would be crucified, met his mother. There are three important scenes depicted in the traditional Stations of the Cross. The first was the meeting of mother and son on the way to Calvary. Second was the scene where Mary, the women and his beloved disciple were standing at the foot of the cross. And third was the scene when Jesus was taken from the cross and laid on his mother's lap. This last scene had inspired great artists and the most prominent was the great Michelangelo that gave us the famous Pieta. Yes, Mary was always there in the life and work of her son... In this meditation Jesus is speaking to us and gives us his mother... to be our mother, too! He speaks to her mother and tells her... that we, now, are her sons and daughters! And today, Mary - our mother is always there, too, in our life...

Fourth Meditation:

"I am thirsty. "Nailed on the cross, Jesus felt thirst... and he cried out: "I am thirsty." This cry of anguish echoes the cry of the poor. In many places in the world - in urban and rural settings, we find the poor who cry out, as well, in their loud voice: "I am thirsty." Often this is a cry of the real physical thirst - no drinking water, no washing water, no toilet facilities. At times, this is a cry of anguish, because they find "no exit" from the "hole" of poverty that is akin to a quicksand that drowns them. At other times, this is a cry that seeks solidarity from people - looking for a helping hand... an extra shirt or a walk of an extra mile! Jesus in his thirst expresses his solidarity with us... it is the thirst that invites us, also, to be in solidarity with our neighbor... But who is our neighbor? Is this not the very question that the doctor of the law asked Jesus in the parable of the Good Samaritan?

Fifth Meditation: "Eloi, Eloi, Lama Sabbactani" My God, My God, Why have you forsaken me. "Towards the end, Jesus experienced a near despair! He was abandoned; He was in extreme pain; and He could not understand the tragedy that was unfolding... He cried out to his father: "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me..."This cry reminds of the song, Foot Prints in the Sand. It was thesame experience of being abandoned in times of great pain and difficulty... Speaking to Lord, the person asked: "Lord, why have you abandoned me... for I see only a set of foot prints?" The Lord answered, "no my child, when you see only a set of foot prints... those were the times that I carried you in my arms... "God is there... God carries us in his arms... when we, too, see only a set of footprints... they are God's and not ours...!

Sixth Meditation:

"Father, into your hand, I commend my spirit..."The end has come and Jesus, totally trusting his Father, cried out: "Father, into your hands, I commend my spirit." There are things we do not understand... The tragedy and grandeur of life, often, escape us. In fact, to understand life... we need to bend our knees... and like Jesus in the cross, we, too, need to completely put our trust in God. When everything is said and done... it is only God's mercy and love that endure... Yes, we need to make that leap of faith... "Father, into thy hand,s I commend my whole life!"

Seventh Meditation:

"It is finished."Before breathing his last, Jesus said: "it is finished." Yes, he completed his mission to the last...! He paid the full price for our freedom to become God's sons and daughters. He was the "ransom" for our freedom! Romans 8: 31- 39, beautifully, expresses that new dignity purchased by the blood of Jesus Christ: "What then shall we say to this? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, will he not also give us all things with him? Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies; who is to condemn? Is it Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised from the dead, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us? Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress,or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, "for thy sake we are being killed all the day long;we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered." No, in all these thingswe are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth,nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord."

17 March 2008

So-called 'Celtic Spirituality'

On the traditional date of St Patrick's Day, today, 17 March, I came across an article that debunks a lot of the rubbish written about 'Celtic Spirituality'. Last year I was in a coffee shop on the Hill of Tara, which St Patrick possibly visited and which was the seat of the High Kings of Ireland in those days. It is within sight of the seminary I studied in, St Columban's, and in the parish where my maternal grandmother grew up. The coffee shop had a bookstore. Most of the books were about New Age and so-called 'Celtic Spirituality'. The coffee and food were great but the bookshop left me feeling profoundly sad.

The author of the article is Fr Liam Tracey OSM, Professor of Liturgy at St Patrick’s College, Maynooth, Co Kildare, Ireland. He teaches courses in liturgy at undergraduate and postgraduate level and has a particular interest in Irish liturgical evidence.

Father Tracey shows how the the Church in the early days of Christianity in 'these islands' - many Irish people don't like the term 'British Isles' for Britain, the Isle of Man and Ireland and the smaller islands off their shores - is not isolated from the life of the Church in mainland Europe. Indeed, it influenced the latter, particularly in the practice of the sacrament of penance.

As a member of the Missionary Society of St Columban I found his references to that saint very interesting. He refers to St Columban(us) in a number of places and in the conclusion of his article:

For many Irish Christians, the command of God to Abraham in the Book of Genesis to leave his own place and set out for the land that God would give him and his descendents (Gen 12:1), was a command they too were called to follow. Some went in search of a more solitary life, others left to evangelise peoples who had not yet heard the Christian Gospel and some seem be searching for a promised land. It is hard to underestimate this important motif of pilgrimage for these early missionaries. It is Columbanus (+615) who perhaps most epitomised this figure of a missionary monk, part of the great movement of peregrini. Looking to the example of Patrick, they sought the salvation of many and a solitary spot of their own.

The lessons of the past for the people of today

Yes, there is much that we can learn from the prayers, the writings, the hymns and the stories of the Irish. But we must be careful to see that this tradition is rooted in a wider Christian tradition. Only by paying close attention to the world in which these people lived and the texts that they have left us, do we truly honour their memory and truly meet them and not a product of our own dreams. David Perrin notes that

[…] in Christian Celtic spirituality, God, or perhaps, more accurately, the Divine presence, was recognized intensely in the workings of nature and was easily discerned in the landscapes of Ireland, Scotland, and England. For the Celts there was a sacredness to everyday place. The opposite is true in many cultures and settings today.

Perhaps we could best honour Ireland's patron saint by imitating him as St Columban and others did, 'Looking to the example of Patrick, they sought the salvation of many and a solitary spot of their own'. We don't have to be overseas missionaries to do the former or monks or nuns to do the latter, but by virtue of our baptism each of us is responsible for seeking the salvation of others and in order to do that each of us needs a 'solitary spot' in our life where we can pray.

But God continues to call some to be overseas missionaries, some to be monks and nuns, and some to be both.

'His beautiful witness of fidelity to Christ'

Yesterday, 16 March, Palm Sunday, Pope Benedict spoke of his distress at the death of Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho of Mosul, Iraq, who was kidnapped on 29 February and found dead during the week. The archbishop's driver and two bodyguards, each with a wife and three children, were shot dead during the kidnapping, outside of Holy Spirit church, Mosul, where the archbishop had just conducted the Way of the Cross.

The translation of the Pope's words is by Joseph G. Trabbic of www.zenit.org

At the end of this solemn celebration in which we have meditated on Christ's Passion, I would like to recall the late Chaldean archbishop of Mosul, Monsignor Paulos Faraj Rahho, who tragically died a few days ago. His beautiful witness of fidelity to Christ, to the Church and his people, whom he did not want to abandon despite numerous threats, moves me to cry out forcefully and with distress: Enough with the bloodshed, enough with the violence, enough with the hatred in Iraq! And at the same time I make an appeal to the Iraqi people, who for five years have endured the consequences of a war that has provoked upheaval in its civil and social life: Beloved Iraqi people, lift up your heads and let it be you yourselves who, in the first place, rebuild your national life! May reconciliation, forgiveness, justice and respect for the civil coexistence of tribes, ethnic groups and religious groups be the solidary way to peace in the name of God!

The Mission of St Joseph

I was on the team giving Worldwide Marriage Encounter here in Bacolod, Philippines, from Friday evening until yesterday afternoon. Happily, we celebrated the Mass for the solemnity of St Joseph on Saturday. I was particularly struck by the Preface of the Mass which says of St Joseph:

He is that just man,
that wise and loyal servant,
whom you placed at the head of your family.
With a husband's love he cherished Mary,
the virgin Mother of God.
With fatherly care he watched over Jesus Christ your Son,
conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit.

There is a theology of the family there. The husband is called by God to be the head of the family. This headship is one of total service, even to the giving of his life out of love for his wife, just as Jesus gave his life on Calvary for us. St Paul teaches us that Christian marriage reflects God's love for us. Jesus loves his Bride, the Church. Husband and wife reflect that love: Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives, be subject to your husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. As the church is subject to Christ, so let wives also be subject in everything to their husbands. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. Even so husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no man ever hates his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. "For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh." This mystery is a profound one, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church; however, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband (Eph 5:21-33).

The Preface of St Joseph puts his vocation as husband of Mary ahead of his fatherly care of Jesus. The feast itself is that of 'St Joseph, Husband of Mary'. It was as husband of Mary that St Joseph took fatherly care of Jesus. In Jewish law he was the legal father of Jesus since he named him: Behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, "Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit; she will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins" (Mt 1:20-21).

There is a very old theological principle, Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi: As We Worship, So we will Live. Above all, the liturgy of the Church is not only the worship of God but it is also forming us according to God's will. And so in the Preface of St Joseph we find God's own understanding of the sacrament of matrimony.

Deacon Keith Fournier has a fine article on Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi and how worship forms us.

14 March 2008

St Joseph, Husband of Mary

The Church honours St Joseph above all as 'the Husband of Mary'. That is the title of his solemnity, normally on 19 March but this year tomorrow, 15 March, becaus of Holy Week.

Babes Tan-Magkalas is a Filipina living in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, who has a website devoted to St Joseph.

May St Joseph, the Husband of Mary, pray for all husbands that they may always love their wife more than anyone else, even their children, and that by doing so they will be loving fathers. Some married couples long for children but can't have any. St Joseph, who never fathered a child but was called by God to be the legal father of Jesus, God-Who-became-Man, surely has a specail place in his ehart for childless couples.

St Patricks' Day and 'liturgical schizophrenia'

Because Easter falls so early this year, 23 March - 22 March is the earliest possible date - two solemnities on the universal liturgical calendar of the Church and one on the liturgical calendar of certain countries, eg, Ireland, Australia and Nigeria, have had to be moved, since Holy Week and Easter Week take precedence over everything.

St Joseph is being celebrated today, 14 March, in Ireland whereas everywhere else his solemnity will be tomorrow, 15 March. But in Ireland the liturgical celebration is tomorrow while the civic celebrations will be on Monday, 17 March, the regular date and also Ireland's national day. The solemnity of the Annunciation has been moved to 31 March.

Not to many Irish people know that St Patrick is the Patron of Nigeria, most probably because of the great impact Irish missionaries have had there.

A couple of facts about St Patrick, none of them perhaps that important:

He wasn't Irish; we're not sure where he was from. Some say France, some Dumbarton in western Scotland. However, most scholars think he was probably from the western part of Britain.

He never drove snakes out of Ireland. I've no idea of the origin of that myth but we have no snakes in Ireland.

You can read an extract from St Patrick's Confession here.

Here's an Irish Blessing for St Patrick's Day. The Irish scenery is just so beautiful and you can hear the Irish tin whistle - the least expensive of instruments - play the traditional tune, Down by the Sally Gardens.

My own prayer is that St Patrick, surely one of the greatest of all missionaries, taken as a slave to Ireland when he was only about 16, re-discovering his faith while in captivity there, returning to bring the Gospel to the very people who had so ill-treated him, will obtain the grace of a renewal of the Catholic faith for the people of Ireland who are rapidly losing that faith.

Christians besieged in Iraq

Frances Harrison, BBC News Religious affairs correspondent, reports: Of the 1.5m Iraqi refugees in Syria it is assumed around 20% are Christian, but firm figures are hard to come by. That means, as a proportion, Christians are massively over-represented in the Iraqi refugee population. Christians form only about 3% of the population.

BBC News has a further report on the death of Archbishop Rahho which quotes Vatican Spokesman Vatican spokesman, Father Federico Lombardi: The most absurd and unjustified violence continues to afflict the Iraqi people and in particular the small Christian community, whom the Pope holds in his prayers in this time of deep sadness.

This same article has a link to another that asks: Who are the Chaldean Christians?

St Patrick and Creation

Here is an article by my Columban colleague, Fr Seán McDonagh, from http://www.columban.com/ , the website of the Columbans in Ireland.

St Patrick and Creation (Original format here.)

Fr Seán McDonagh SSC

St Patrick’s Day is normally celebrated on March 17th. However, this year, because it falls on the Monday of Holy Week, the feast has been moved to the previous Saturday, March 15th. St Patrick’s Day is celebrated, not just in Ireland, but in the English speaking countries where Irish emigrants settled in the 19th and 20th century. In more recent years, it is celebrated in almost every corner of the globe.

Those who keep the religious observance of the Feast will hear sermons on the life of Patrick as told in his Confessions. Some preachers may highlight his conversion and willingness to return as missionary to the land where he was enslaved. Others may focus on his commitment to Christ and his life of prayer. In Ireland, many preachers may hone in on the fact that the faith which he preached so successfully is under significant pressure in contemporary Ireland. Few, I fear, will speak about the sensitivity to the presence of God in creation which is a hallmark of early Irish Christianity.

We get a glimpse of that sensitivity in the prayer-poem, The Cry of the Deer. Legend has it that on Easter morning, Patrick lit the Easter Fire on the Hill of Slane in County Meath before King Laoghaire had lit the royal fire at Tara which is also in Meath. Patrick and his companions were summoned to appear before the High King and explain why they had usurped the right of the High King to light the first fire.

On the journey between Slane and Tara, druids and their supporters lay in wait to ambush Patrick and his followers. At the point where they were passing their would-be assassins, Patrick and his companions appeared as a doe followed by fawns. This is why the hymn they were chanting on their way was called, The Cry of the Deer. It is often referred to as St Patrick’s Breastplate.

Did St Patrick write the poem? Most probably he did not and, furthermore there is no historical evidence that Patrick ever visited Tara. By the late 7th or early 8th century, it would have suited the O’Neill family, who were High Kings of Ireland at the time, to have Patrick visit Tara to give his legitimacy to their reign. Nevertheless, according to Thomas Cahill, the poem is Patrician to the core in its devotion to Christ and its sensitivity to God’s presence in all creation.
It is obvious from reading the poem that the author experiences himself as a person of the Universe. He is supported by the Light of sun, Radiance of moon, splendour of fire, Speed of lightening, Swiftness of wind, Depth of the Sea, Stability of earth, Firmness of rock.

He does not experience himself as an insignificant individual, cast adrift and alone amid the boundlessness of space, as is the plight of some many people today. The support he experiences from God’s creation does not prevent him from trusting totally in God. He prays for divine guidance in maneuvering safely through some of the difficult journeys of life. Dangers included in this list include dangerous journeys, poisoning, drowning, the incantation of false prophets and the craft of idolatry.

The author’s confidence is buoyed up by, God’s strength to pilot me; God’s might to uphold me, God’s wisdom to guide me, God’s eye to look before me, God’s ear to hear me, God’s word to speak to me, God’s hand to guard me, God’s way to lie before me, God’s shield to protect me, God’s host to save me,

In the second last section we get a glimpse of his commitment to Christ and of his understanding of the protective nature of Christ’s presence, Christ in me, Christ before me. He also affirms the presence of Christ in the lives of those he meets, Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me. This is as relevant for Christians today as itwas when the poem was first written.

In the final stanza, he draws strength from his belief in the Triune nature of God who is the Creator of Creation. The power of this Trinitarian love working its way through all creation is captured by the poet, Patrick Kavanagh in his poem, The Great Hunger.

Yet sometimes when the sun comes through a gap
These men know God the Father in a tree,
The Holy Spirit is the rising sap,
And Christ will be green leaves that will come
At Easter from the sealed and guarded tomb.


You can find the English translation of St Patrick's Breastplate by Mrs Cecil F. Alexander here.

The best-known part of the poem is below, this Irish version by Seamus Kelleher. In the seminaries of the Columbans this prayer used to be said in the chapel after each meal. In Dalgan Park, Navan, our Irish seminary, we always prayed it in Irish.

Lúireach Phádraig
Saint Patrick's Breastplate

Críost liom,
Christ with me,
Críost romham,
Christ before me,
Críost i mo dhiaidh,
Christ behind me,
Críost istigh ionam,
Christ within me,
Críost fúm,
Christ below me,
Críost os mo chionn,
Christ above me,
Críost ar mo lámh dheas,
Christ on my right hand,
Críost ar mo lámh chlé,
Christ on my left hand,

Críost i mo lúi dom,
Christ in my sleeping,
Críost i mo sheasamh dom,
Christ in my waking,
Críost i gcrói gach duine atá ag cuimhneamh orm,
Christ in the heart of all who think of me,
Críost i mbéal gach duine a labhráionn liom,
Christ in the mouth of all who speak of me,
Críost i ngach súil a fhéachann orm,
Christ in every eye that looks at me,
Críost i ngach cluas a éisteann liom.
Christ in Every ear that listens to me.

Kidnapped Archbishop Rahho found dead

Reuters reports that the body of Archbishop Paulos Rahho, kidnapped in Mosul, Iraq, on 29 February, was found half-buried yesterday in the city.

Here is a photo of the archbishop.

DETROIT (CNS) -- A Chaldean Catholic bishop said the United States must be held accountable for the death of Chaldean Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho of Mosul, Iraq. Full article here.

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Benedict XVI called the kidnapping and death of an Iraqi archbishop "an act of inhuman violence that offends the dignity of the human being and seriously harms the ... coexistence among the beloved Iraqi people." Full story here.

Malcolm Moore reports from Rome for The Daily Telegraph. The report notes: In June last year, Father Ragheed Aziz Ganni, the secretary of Mgr Rahho, was murdered in the city together with Basman Yousef Daud, Wahid Hanna Isho, and Gassan Isam Bidawed, all subdeacons.

Let us pray for the repose of the soul of this brave archbishop and for his three companions, each a married man with three children, murdered during the kidnapping two weeks ago. Please continue to pray for the people of Iraq, particularly the Christians, three percent of the population, most of whom are Catholic of the Chaldean Rite.

12 March 2008

'Really, this is a kind of mourning time'

11 March 2008
Catholic News Service (www.catholicnews.com)

"Either the archbishop is sick or injured or he has been killed and the kidnappers just want to get as much money as possible."

LONDON (CNS) - An Iraqi archbishop has expressed concern that Chaldean Catholic Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho of Mosul, Iraq, who was kidnapped for ransom, is sick, injured or has been killed.

Catholic Online carries the latest news that is available about the disappearance of Archbishop Rahho. The report quotes Archbishop Louis Sako of Kirkuk, Iraq: "Really, this is a kind of mourning time. There is nothing from the archbishop -- no sign. We don't know where we are heading with the process -- the future is totally unknown."

I think that Pope Benedict's prayer to our Blessed Mother in the closing paragraph of his encyclical on hope, Spe Salvi, can encourage us to pray for Archbishop Rahho and the suffering people of Iraq, especially our brother and sister Catholics:

50. So we cry to her: Holy Mary, you belonged to the humble and great souls of Israel who, like Simeon, were “looking for the consolation of Israel” (Lk 2:25) and hoping, like Anna, “for the redemption of Jerusalem” (Lk 2:38). Your life was thoroughly imbued with the sacred scriptures of Israel which spoke of hope, of the promise made to Abraham and his descendants (cf. Lk 1:55). In this way we can appreciate the holy fear that overcame you when the angel of the Lord appeared to you and told you that you would give birth to the One who was the hope of Israel, the One awaited by the world. Through you, through your “yes”, the hope of the ages became reality, entering this world and its history. You bowed low before the greatness of this task and gave your consent: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (Lk 1:38). When you hastened with holy joy across the mountains of Judea to see your cousin Elizabeth, you became the image of the Church to come, which carries the hope of the world in her womb across the mountains of history. But alongside the joy which, with your Magnificat, you proclaimed in word and song for all the centuries to hear, you also knew the dark sayings of the prophets about the suffering of the servant of God in this world. Shining over his birth in the stable at Bethlehem, there were angels in splendour who brought the good news to the shepherds, but at the same time the lowliness of God in this world was all too palpable. The old man Simeon spoke to you of the sword which would pierce your soul (cf. Lk 2:35), of the sign of contradiction that your Son would be in this world. Then, when Jesus began his public ministry, you had to step aside, so that a new family could grow, the family which it was his mission to establish and which would be made up of those who heard his word and kept it (cf. Lk 11:27f). Notwithstanding the great joy that marked the beginning of Jesus's ministry, in the synagogue of Nazareth you must already have experienced the truth of the saying about the “sign of contradiction” (cf. Lk 4:28ff). In this way you saw the growing power of hostility and rejection which built up around Jesus until the hour of the Cross, when you had to look upon the Saviour of the world, the heir of David, the Son of God dying like a failure, exposed to mockery, between criminals. Then you received the word of Jesus: “Woman, behold, your Son!” (Jn 19:26). From the Cross you received a new mission. From the Cross you became a mother in a new way: the mother of all those who believe in your Son Jesus and wish to follow him. The sword of sorrow pierced your heart. Did hope die? Did the world remain definitively without light, and life without purpose? At that moment, deep down, you probably listened again to the word spoken by the angel in answer to your fear at the time of the Annunciation: “Do not be afraid, Mary!” (Lk 1:30). How many times had the Lord, your Son, said the same thing to his disciples: do not be afraid! In your heart, you heard this word again during the night of Golgotha. Before the hour of his betrayal he had said to his disciples: “Be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (Jn 16:33). “Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (Jn 14:27). “Do not be afraid, Mary!” In that hour at Nazareth the angel had also said to you: “Of his kingdom there will be no end” (Lk 1:33). Could it have ended before it began? No, at the foot of the Cross, on the strength of Jesus's own word, you became the mother of believers. In this faith, which even in the darkness of Holy Saturday bore the certitude of hope, you made your way towards Easter morning. The joy of the Resurrection touched your heart and united you in a new way to the disciples, destined to become the family of Jesus through faith. In this way you were in the midst of the community of believers, who in the days following the Ascension prayed with one voice for the gift of the Holy Spirit (cf. Acts 1:14) and then received that gift on the day of Pentecost. The “Kingdom” of Jesus was not as might have been imagined. It began in that hour, and of this “Kingdom” there will be no end. Thus you remain in the midst of the disciples as their Mother, as the Mother of hope. Holy Mary, Mother of God, our Mother, teach us to believe, to hope, to love with you. Show us the way to his Kingdom! Star of the Sea, shine upon us and guide us on our way!

11 March 2008

Where's kidnapped Archbishop Rahho?

Kidnapped Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho of Mosul, Iraq, seems to have disappeared off the radar screen of the world's media. I can find nothing new about his disappearance anywhere. But Deacon Keith Fournier asks passionately in an editorial on 6 March on Catholic Online, Why No United States Outcry over the Kidnapping of Archbishop Rahho?

Deacon Fournier writes, Now, almost a week later, authorities are no closer to finding him or even identifying who kidnapped this beloved Church leader. He walks his own way of the Cross, with the Lord,and with Christians throughout the world who walk the Way with him, in solidarity and prayer.

He further writes, Father Emanuel Youkhana of the Christian Aid Program 'Nohadra Iraq' told a reporter, 'You might release the bishop, but you cannot recover the confidence of the people...Within the last two or three months, the church is attacked and then the bishop is kidnapped, so how can people save their confidence?' Fr Mikhail is convinced, as are most observers, that these escalating acts of targeted persecution against Christians are about driving the Christian community from Iraq. He noted, 'There are some Muslims that want to put Christians out of Mosul . . . So through these criminals, they try to intimidate the relationship between Muslims and Christians.'

08 March 2008

Time running out for kidnapped archbishop?

Catholic World News asks this question in a report dated 7 March from Mosul, Iraq, where Archbishop Rahho was kidnapped on 29 February and his three companions shot dead.

Let us continue to pray for Archbishop Rahho.

07 March 2008

Update on kidnapped Archbishop Rahho of Mosul, Iraq

There is an update as of yesterday on the situation of Archbishop Rahho on the website of AsiaNews.

The same news agency carried a report on 1 March of the funerals of the three companions of Archbishop Rahho who were murdered during the kidnapping: Faris Gorgis Khoder, his driver, and Ramy and Samir, two of his bodyguards. All three were the fathers of families, each with three children.

Let us continue to pray for the safe return of Archbishop Rahho, for the wives and children of his three companions and for the repose of the souls of Faris, Ramy and Samir.

05 March 2008

'A Spring Flower': 12-year-old baptized on her death-bed

The March-April issue of Misyon, the publication of the Columbans here in the Philippines which I edit, has a very touching story of Keiko, a young Japanese girl, who became a Catholic on her death-bed in 1973. This touched me very deeply when I first read it and I've often told Keiko's story in retreats and homilies. It touched me deeply again when I was editing it for our latest issue, though very little editing had to be done.

The author, Fr James Norris, a Columban from New Zealand, spent 56 years working as a missionary in Japan before retiring to his home place where he died last year just a few months after celebrating his Diamond Jubilee as a priest.

Like kidnapped Archbishop Rahho of Mosul, Iraq, like murdered Father Raqeed in Iraq, Father Jim too was 'configured to Christ' in his long and faithful service as a priest-missionary in a country where very few are interested in learning about our Saviour, though Japan has its canonized martyrs and surely their blood will reap a harvest of faith some day.

Archbishop's kidnappers raise demands

The kidnappers of Chaldean Catholic Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho of Mosul, Iraq, have raised their ransom demands, according to AsiaNews.

Deacon Keith Fournier has an excellent special report on the kidnapping and on the suffering of the Chaldean Catholics, the predominant Catholic rite in Iraq and Syria, on Catholic Online. These are the descendants of the original Christians and are Arabs. We tend to think that all Arabs are Muslims. That isn’t true. The majority are but there have been Christian Arabs in the Middle East for the last 2,000 years. Islam began in the seventh cantury after Christ.

Deacon Fournier reports the dying words of Father Ragheed Ganni, the 35-year-old Chaldean Catholic priest murdered on Pentecost Sunday last year along with three of his sub-deacons, Basman Yousef Daud, Wahid Hanna Isho, and Gassan Isam Bidawed. the had just finished celebrating Mass in the Church where Archbishop Rahho had just finished leading the people in the Stations of the Cross last Friday. Just before he died, Father Rageed said, 'Without Sunday, without the Eucharist, the Christians in Iraq cannot survive'. AsiaNews is cited as the source of this.

Let us continue to pray for the release of Archbishop Rahho, whose health is poor and who needs medicine.

Pope John Paul in his wonderful Apostolic Exhortation of 25 March 1992, Pastores Dabo Vobis, speaks many times of the priest being 'configured to Christ'. We need to take heart from priests such as Archbishop Rahho and Father Raqeed who have lived this out in their lives and in the case of the latter, in his death.

01 March 2008

Archbishop kidnapped in Iraq

In my post of 21 February I wrote about Palestinian Christians living in fear.

Catholic News Service had a story yesterday on the kidnapping of Chaldean Catholic Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho of Mosul, Iraq. You can find the story here. The archbishop's three companions were killed. Father Ragheed Aziz Ganni and subdeacons Basman Yousef Daoud, Wadid Hanna and Ghasan Bida Wid were killed June 3 outside the same church.
Please pray for the safe return of Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho.

H/T to Father Tim Finigan.

The link above to Father Ragheed has a video of his funeral with a recording of him signing a hymn to our Blessed Mother in Arabic. Most of the Christians in the Middle East are Arabs and their Christian origins go right back to the time of the Apostles.

While studying in Rome, Father Ragheed stayed in the Irish College where he was known to the priests and seminarians as 'Paddy the Iraqi'. He also spent some time as a staff member at St Patrick's Purgatory (Lough Derg), Ireland, during the summers of 1997 to 2003. The website there has a page about him. His funeral Mass was celebrated by the kidnapped archbishop.

The gift of God

I came across something by Cardinal Newman in A Word in Season, a series of eight volumes of supplementary readings for the Office of Readings in the Breviary published by Augustinian Press. He write on the importance of recognising everything that is gift from God. Here are a few extracts.

Let us beware of dishonouring and rudely rejecting God's gifts, out of gloominess or sternness; let us beware of fearing without feasting . . . And let us not so plunge ourselvesin the sense of our offences, as not withal to take delight in the contemplation of our privileges. Let us rejoice while we mourn. Let us look up to our Lord and Saviour the more we shrink from the sight of ourselves; let us have the more faith and love the more we exercise repentance.

All the beauty of nature, the kind influences of the seasons, the gifts of sun and moon, and the fruits of the earth, the advantages of civilized life, and the presence of friends and intimates; all these good things are but one extended and wonderful type of God's benefits in the gospel.

Bishop Robert Vasa of Baker, Oregon, writes along similar lines in his weekly column for 29 February in the Catholic Sentinel, the Catholic weekly in Oregon: Each encounter with God can have spark of first one. He writes: The Samaritan woman came to the well hoping and intending to draw out some water for the sake of her very survival. When the Lord promised her "living water" her first thought was water which preserved this life, water which precluded the need to come to the well again. You can read the full article here.

You'll find all of Bishop Vasa's previous columns here and at the bottom of that webpage you'll find a link - which didn't work for me just now! - to enable you to subscribe to Bishop Vasa's column by email. He reflects as he drives around his large, mountainous diocese in a particularly beautiful but sparsely populated area of the United States.