29 May 2008

Before, some were 'illegitimate' but now some are 'illegal'

Remember the cry in English-speaking countries a few decades ago, 'No illegitimate children, only illegitimate parents'? The legal stigma attached to children born out of wedlock was removed probably in all of those countries. In some urban areas in my native Republic of Ireland, where about 90 percent are still nominally Catholic, more than half of children now are born out of wedlock. It seems that the word 'spouse' has now become a 'four-letter' word. 'Partners' is now the polite term.

I'm not sure if China, soon to host the Olympic Games, has the category of 'illegitimate' children but it has 'illegal' children. Very generously, the authorities in China have agreed to grant some of these, but not all, legal status as a story in the International Herald Tribune reported a couple of days ago.

China's one-child policy has exemptions for quake victims' parents
By Andrew Jacobs Published: May 27, 2008

CHENGDU, China: In response to inquiries from grieving relatives, local officials announced Monday that parents whose only child was killed or grievously injured in the May 12 earthquake would be exempt from the country's one-child policy . . . The committee announced Monday that if a couple's legally born child was killed in the earthquake, an illegal child under 18 years could be registered as a legal replacement. If the dead child was illegal, it said the family would no longer be responsible for outstanding fines, although parents would not be reimbursed for penalties already paid.

An old English word beginning with 'b' that was used before to describe 'illegitimate children' comes to mind - but not to describe the 'illegal children' of the People's Republic of China.

Meanwhile, a British couple of Indian origin, the husband 72 and the wife 59, dumped their newborn twins, born after fertility treatment, because they are girls, as this story shows.

IVF couple 'dump twin girls'

Press Assoc. A couple who travelled to India for IVF treatment dumped their newborn twins at a British hospital when they found out they were girls.

Reports said the mother, 59, and father, 72, travelled to India for fertility treatment that would not have been allowed in Britain because of their age.

The parents, who were born in India but are British citizens living in Birmingham, reportedly told doctors they did not want the "wrong sex" babies immediately after the children were born by Caesarean section in Wolverhampton's New Cross hospital a fortnight ago.

The newspaper says the husband then asked medics how long it would be before his wife was fit enough to fly back to India for more IVF treatment in the hope of getting a boy to continue the family name

I know that the Feast of the Visitation is in two days time, followed in a few weeks by the Solemnity of the Birthday of St John the Baptist, but Zechariah and Elizabeth, as two God-fearing people, used to 'Dance in the Old Fashioned Way' as Charles Aznavour advised:

What does the Church have to say about who makes the basic decisions about having children? It belongs to the husband and wife together, not to the state. And they are meant, in God's plan, to do it in 'The Old Fashioned Way'. here is what Gaudium et Spes, The Church in the Modern World, singed by Pope Paul VI on 7 December 1965 during Vatican II, has to say in No 50:

Parents should regard as their proper mission the task of transmitting human life and educating those to whom it has been transmitted. They should realize that they are thereby cooperators with the love of God the Creator, and are, so to speak, the interpreters of that love. Thus they will fulfil their task with human and Christian responsibility, and, with docile reverence toward God, will make decisions by common counsel and effort. Let them thoughtfully take into account both their own welfare and that of their children, those already born and those which the future may bring. For this accounting they need to reckon with both the material and the spiritual conditions of the times as well as of their state in life. Finally, they should consult the interests of the family group, of temporal society, and of the Church herself. The parents themselves and no one else should ultimately make this judgment in the sight of God. But in their manner of acting, spouses should be aware that they cannot proceed arbitrarily, but must always be governed according to a conscience dutifully conformed to the divine law itself, and should be submissive toward the Church's teaching office, which authentically interprets that law in the light of the Gospel. That divine law reveals and protects the integral meaning of conjugal love, and impels it toward a truly human fulfillment. Thus, trusting in divine Providence and refining the spirit of sacrifice,(12) married Christians glorify the Creator and strive toward fulfillment in Christ when with a generous human and Christian sense of responsibility they acquit themselves of the duty to procreate. Among the couples who fulfil their God-given task in this way, those merit special mention who with a gallant heart and with wise and common deliberation, undertake to bring up suitably even a relatively large family.(13)

'What do you want me to do for you?'

An American Columban colleague of mine, Fr John Burger, now a councillor to our Superior General in Hong Kong – the Council recently moved there from Dublin – told a beautiful story about today’s gospel (Mk 10:46-52) in a video.

Father John had a prayer-group in his parish in Japan. Each week they read a gospel passage, shared their reflections on it and prayed. One week the story of Bartimaeus was the text chosen. My friend was a little anxious as one of the members of the group was a blind man. What would he have to say about this gospel?

As it turned out the blind man told the group that it was one of his favourite passages because Jesus asked Bartimaeus, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ Many of us, when we meet a blind person or a person with some other disability tend to think ‘How can I help this person?’ The person may not need any help at all. This blind man in Japan had often experienced unnecessary, though well-meant, ‘help’. But he was profoundly touched by the fact that Jesus didn’t presume to know what Bartimaeus needed but asked him first. As it happened, he answered ‘Lord, let me receive my sight’. Jesus responded to his request.

Father Burger’s parishioner went on to tell the others in the prayer group that he was quite content being blind. He had his own apartment and knew where everything was. But there were areas in his life where he hadn’t yet let Jesus in. If he allowed Jesus to ask him the question he had asked Bartimaeus he would invite him to enter those areas in his life.

I have often used this story at the beginning of retreats.

Mk 10:46-52., RSV. And they came to Jericho; and as he was leaving Jericho with his disciples and a great multitude, Bartimaeus, a blind beggar, the son of Timaeus, was sitting by the roadside. And when he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out and say, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!" And many rebuked him, telling him to be silent; but he cried out all the more, "Son of David, have mercy on me!" And Jesus stopped and said, "Call him." And they called the blind man, saying to him, "Take heart; rise, he is calling you." And throwing off his mantle he sprang up and came to Jesus. And Jesus said to him, "What do you want me to do for you?" And the blind man said to him, "Master, * let me receive my sight." And Jesus said to him, "Go your way; your faith has made you well." And immediately he received his sight and followed him on the way.

27 May 2008

'UQ President Calls for Pro-Life Referendum'

On 15 May I had a post under the title ‘Pro-Life Students muzzled in universities in Queensland and Wisconsin’. There has been a positive follow-up in the University of Queensland. ‘yBenedict’, a website connected with this year’s World Youth Day in Sydney, carries a story by Bridget Spinks dated 16 May under the headline ‘UQ PRESIDENT CALLS FOR PRO-LIFE REFERENDUM’:

In a dramatic turn-around, University of Queensland student union president Josh Young has now encouraged UQ Catholic students to campaign for a pro-life ‘referendum.’
Mr Young’s unexpected comments come following yesterday’s article in The Australian , which reported on the threatened disaffiliation of the Catholic Newman Society from the UQ Students Union for distributing literature displaying an image of an eight week old foetus earlier this month.

Mr Young explained that the union’s ‘pro-choice’ policy dated back to 1993 but was changeable.

"We've had a referendum that the union was pro-choice in 1993 which is concurrent until another referendum is held. The Newman Society or other bodies need to follow procedures to activate … [another referendum], which I encourage.”

Mr Young explained that the Newman Society's twelve month probation period was merely bureaucratic disciplinary action, which had to be taken to uphold a 'pro-choice' policy that as president of the union, he is constitutionally bound to uphold.

Mr Young continued by indicating that there were situations he had inherited this year as president that seemed outdated. “Because of this, we'll most likely be making sweeping changes," he said.

Earlier in the day, national president of ACSA (Australian Catholic Students Association), Camillus O’Kane threw his support behind the Newman Society, describing the UQ student union’s actions in threatening to disaffiliate the Newman Society as ‘outrageous.’

"It is a disgrace that this incident has occurred at one of Australia’s leading universities, a place of learning where we should be able to express our views freely," Mr O’Kane said.

The confrontation originally broke out when secretary of the Newman Society, Elise Nally, expressed dismay at the failure of the Union to properly articulate the problem.

"The image that we used was a scientific image - when pregnant women have scans they don't have problems with it - so we're still waiting for an explanation as to why such an image or wording is inappropriate," said Ms Nally.

"Our stall in no way had distributed information that suggested women could keep the child or put the child up for adoption but the union still chose to take disciplinary action against the society," said Ms Nally.

The UQ Catholic Newman Society and its members will be represented at World Youth Day 2008 at Universitas, the International Students Gathering to be held at Sydney University during the week of WYD2008.

For more information on the Catholic Newman Society or the Australian Catholic Students Association visit

Interestingly, nobody mentioned this in the comments under my post. But the whole episode shows that positive action can lead to more positive action.

Here is the media release of the Australian Catholic Students Association (ACSA) dated 15 May, which was before the story about Mr Young broke:

15 May 2008

Catholic students concerned over attack on free speech andsupport for pregnant women.

The Australian Catholic Students Association (ACSA), the peak body representing Catholicstudents in Australia, expresses its solidarity with the Newman Society at The University ofQueensland, which has been gagged in its efforts to support pregnant women through its campusactivities.

ACSA is concerned that the use of a 15-year-old referendum by the UQ Union to take disciplinaryaction against the Society raises serious concerns for students’ freedom of speech and theimplications this might have on other student groups at The University of Queensland.

ACSA National President Camillus O’Kane said that ‘if the truth becomes something we can simplyvote for, it becomes a weapon that can be used against others. This is why freedom of speech isone of the guiding principles of our society.’

ACSA notes that pro-life groups had been active at The University of Queensland for five yearsafter the referendum was passed in 1993, with no disciplinary action taken against them. Furthermore, it recognises that the referendum only established that UQ would be a pro-choicecampus, not that any particular viewpoint would be suppressed.

It is a shame that this incident has occurred at one of Australia’s leading universities, a place oflearning where we should be able to express our views freely,’ Mr O’Kane said.

ACSA fully supports Newman society members in their work, ensuring that students are made aware of the alternatives to abortion. It believes that by distributing pregnancy support information, the UQ Newman Society is contributing to a balanced environment that can offer women a genuinechoice.

ACSA National Treasurer Elise Nally, who is also Secretary of the Newman Society, said that ‘university can be a time when young women might be faced with the difficult challenge of anunplanned pregnancy. Those women not only deserve compassion, but also support.’

ACSA hopes the UQ Union will reconsider its decision to ban the display of pregnancy supportmaterial by the UQ Newman Society.

For further information or comment: ACSA President Camillus O’Kane 0407 538 044
ACSA Treasurer, Elise Nally 0421 004 092

19 May 2008

Not from 'shrivelled old celibates in the Vatican'

One of the most dismissive arguments against the Church’s teaching on contraception is, ‘What have shrivelled old celibates in the Vatican to say to married couples?’ Of course, this is ‘evading the issue’ in more than one sense.

At CatholicCulture.org I came across two excellent articles, neither written by a ‘shriveled old celibate in the Vatican’, but by happily married men who clearly understand God’s plan for marriage and who are living it.

Contraception and the Catholic Vision
by Dr Jeff Mirus, 16 May 2008

On May 10th, Pope Benedict XVI called Paul VI’s landmark encyclical On Human Life an act of courage which has “become a sign of contradiction.” He made his remarks at a conference on the fortieth anniversary of the encyclical held at the Pontifical Lateran University. While many Catholics still find Humanae Vitae’s condemnation of contraception difficult to understand and accept, it should be more than evident by now that the Catholic vision of life and love enunciated by Pope Paul VI is one of the great keys to reviving our dying culture.

Full article here.


A Catholic Physician Talks to Engaged Couples
by William G. White, MD

I've highlighted the second paragraph of Dr White's article because, unfortunately and incredibly, our 'enlightened' generation has decided to try to 'reinvent the wheel' by ignoring what nature has been teaching us since the first humans walked on earth. Legislators and judges in many countries are falling over themselves to push the agenda of those who ignore the millennia of human experience, not to mention modern science. Even societies that practise polygamy and polyandry recognise that marriage involves man and woman, even if not between one man and one woman. I'm not promoting either of these practices!

St. Thomas Aquinas wrote that in all we do, we seek happiness. The primary source of earthly happiness for human beings — more than work, hobbies, sports, politics or any other interest — is those who are most dear to us. For most people, these dear ones are our family members: husbands, wives, children, parents, etc. Therefore, the way we live our family lives is essential to our happiness. The prevalence of broken homes suggests that many families have not found a way to live happily together. Today we will discuss how to live marriage in a way that brings maximal happiness to both husband and wife and in turn to the children. We will address specifically those ways in which the husband and wife communicate with each other in their intimate relations.

But first, a preface. When we talk about marriage, we are talking about a union of one man and one woman. Whatever other kinds of relationships we see around us, whatever they are called, and whatever people do in those relationships, they are not marriage. Marriage arises out of human nature itself. It is recognized but not created by society. Marriage always has been and always will be between one man and one woman.

Full article here .

18 May 2008

A 'One Issue' Candidate?

From time to time I have heard people say when you bring up the question of pro-abortion politicians that we shouldn't be focusing on just one issue.

An issue of life and death is rather an important one. And there is often the implication that pro-life people don't care what happens to a child after birth. I'm not quite sure where that comes from.

I don't believe that Barack Obama is a 'one issue' candidate but an article from the National Catholic Register quoted extensively in LifeNews.com ends thus:

Ultimately, NCR points out that Obama would make promoting abortion his top priority and first act as president.

"The first thing I’d do as president is sign the Freedom of Choice Act,” he told Planned Parenthood last July about the bill that would overturn pro-life laws nationwide and legally enshrine abortion.

"That would make America more friendly to the abortion industry than any other country in the world," NCR says.

So Senator Obama sees the 'right' to abortion as a top priority issue, even if it's not his only issue.

The pro-abortion NARAL 'PRO-CHOICE' AMERICA endorsed Senator Obama on 14 May:

Washington, DC - Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, released the following statement today, announcing that her organization's political action committee proudly endorses Sen. Barack Obama for president.

"Today, NARAL Pro-Choice America PAC is proud to endorse Sen. Barack Obama for president. Sen. Obama has been a strong advocate for a woman's right to choose throughout his career in public office. He steadfastly supports and defends a woman's right to make the most personal, private decisions regarding her reproductive health without interference from government or politicians.

A note on NARAL from Wikipedia, the online encylopedia:

The group was founded in 1968 by Bernard Nathanson, Larry Lader and Betty Friedan as the National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws. Bernard Nathanson, like Sandra Cano a.k.a. "Mary Doe," is now a vocal pro-life activist. After Roe v. Wade, the 1973 case in which the U.S. Supreme Court declared a constitutional right to privacy in reproductive decisions including abortion, it changed its name to National Abortion Rights Action League, then to National Abortion & Reproductive Rights Action League, and in 2003 dropped the long form in favor of "NARAL Pro-Choice America."

It is to the credit of the citizens of the USA that so many of them see the importance of working to overturn the infamous Roe versus Wade decision by the US Supreme Court on 22 January 1973 that legalized abortion on demand. That decision has led to countless deaths. The fact that those on the pro-abortion side see retaining that decision as a priority shows in its own strage way that matters of fundamental morals do matter to the citizens of the USA.

15 May 2008

Burma situation 'overwhelming' - Caritas Australia

The report below came in today on the daily email of www.cathnews.com which is based in Australia and a very good source of Catholic news. It comes out Monday to Friday.

I posted the other day that the Columbans have donated US$100,000 to Caritas Myanmar to help meet some of the urgent needs of the survivors of the cyclone.

Burma situation 'overwhelming': Caritas 14 May 2008

Describing the situation in Burma as 'overwhelming', Caritas Australia CEO Jack de Groot has appealed to the Catholic community 'for as much help as possible'.

'Unlike many other organisations, we already have access to Burma, because of our contacts and networks on the ground and pre-existing partnerships,' Mr de Groot said according to a Caritas statement.

'We have already distributed food, water and shelter to three of the affected districts. Distribution is continually expanding.

'We have distributed medical supplies to 16,000 people. The number helped will rise soon.

'We are able to channel funds directly into communities through Catholic networks, by-passing blockages imposed by the military,' Mr de Groot said.

'The death toll is now so high, and threatening to rise because of water borne illnesses, that much more aid is needed than is currently pledged.

'We are the second largest aid agency in the world (second only to the Red Cross), and one of the top five Australian aid and development agencies," he added.

'We have leverage because we are working as a team with our international partners. We are a member of the Australian Council For International Development, (ACFID) and a registered charity.'

'Our accountability as Catholics is not to our questions and doubts alone,' he said.

'We must criticise negligence that arises from inaction but at the end our accountability is to the poor and suffering. (Emphasis added).

'That is what we as a country and Church are measured by. Donors need to probe but not resign from action – the people of the Burma do not have this choice at the moment,' Mr de Groot warned.


Burma Cyclone 'overwhelming': 'Please, please, please allow international access' (Caritas Australia, Media Release, 14/5/08.

Burmese dioceses setting up camps for people displaced by cyclone Nargis (AsiaNews, 14/5/08)

Caritas relief efforts to reach 40,000 people in Myanmar (Reliefweb, 14/5/08)


Caritas Australia

Pro-Life students muzzled in universities in Queensland and Wisconsin

Three emails came in today, from Italy, Australia and the USA, all dealing with the dignity of the life of those not yet born.

The email of the Vatican-based Agenzia Fides carried a report of Pope Benedict’s talk to members of the Italian Movement for Life on 12 May. The occasion was the 30th anniversary of the legalization of abortion in Italy. Here are some points the Holy Father made. Highlighting is by your blogger.

‘It is necessary to bear concrete witness to the fact that respect for life is the first form of justice that must be applied. For those who have the gift of faith this becomes an imperative that cannot be deferred.’

‘Looking back on the past thirty years and considering the present situation, we cannot but recognize that, in practical terms, defending human life has become more difficult today, because a mentality has been created that progressively devalues human life and entrusts it to the judgement of individuals. A consequence deriving therefrom is lessened respect for the human person, a value that lies at the foundation of any form of civil coexistence, over and above the faith a person may profess.’

Considering the many causes that lead to such an unfortunate decision as abortion, the Church ‘never ceases to repeat that the sacred value of the existence of every man finds its origins in the design of the Creator,’ the Holy Father said, while also encouraging ‘every initiative in support of the woman and the family in creating favorable conditions for the acceptance of life, and the protection of the institution of the family which is based on the marriage between a man and a woman.’

Benedict XVI also recalled that, ‘The possibility of terminating a pregnancy not only has not resolved the problems afflicting many women and no small number of families, but it has opened another wound in our societies, already so afflicted by profound sufferings.’
The Holy Father also acknowledged that in spite of the great effort carried out during these years, and not only by the Church, in trying to remedy the needs and difficulties of families, ‘diverse problems continue to afflict our modern-day society, impeding many young people from nurturing the desire to marry and form a family, due to the negative conditions in which they live. The lack of job security, laws that often lack a consideration for motherhood, the uncertainty of being able to support children, are among some of the obstacles that seem to stifle the demands of a fruitful love and open the door to a growing sense lack of confidence in the future.’

Two separate incidents in universities, one in Australia and one in the USA, illustrate what Pope Benedict said: ‘we cannot but recognize that, in practical terms, defending human life has become more difficult today’.

The Australian reports Student body forbids 'anti-abortion' poster. The particular poster, put up by the Newman Society, a Catholic organization, ‘did not mention abortion but featured a photograph of an eight-week old fetus in the womb. The campaign was pitched as being "pro-women" and "pro-pregnancy"’.

Apparently students are not allowed to express pro-life views at the University of Queensland because of a student referendum in 1993 in which only 3,500 out of 30,000 voted. 1,900 voted in favour of abortion on demand.

You can also read this story at CathNews .

Meanwhile, www.lifenews.com reports that a student leader at the University of Wisconsin ‘allegedly’ trashed a pro-life display on campus. However, a video at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t5NeLyMZUYM ('embedding disabled by request') shows what happened. The pro-life students in Wisconsin got a much more positive response from the authorities that did those in Queensland.

Critical pregnancy: baby boy safely delivered

On 7 May I posted this urgent request that I had received from a Welsh/Filipino couple in Wales:

Mary, our very good friend, and God Mother to Therese Maria, is in her 31st week of pregnancy and is currently in intensive care in Cambridge due to complications. She will need to stay in hospital until the baby is delivered by caesarian. This is her first child. Please pray for her, and also her husband, Joachim, at this most difficult time.

This morning I received the following email from the same couple:

Just to let you know that Mary was delivered of a baby boy on Monday morning by caesarean. He weighed 1.9 kg (4.19 lbs), so not a bad weight for a premature baby. Of course, he is in the special care baby unit at the moment, so prayers are still needed. Don't know yet how long Mary will be kept in - her blood pressure was still up after the birth.

Thank you for your prayers. Let's continue to pray for the son of Joachim and Mary.

14 May 2008

Two women, each, like Matthias, 'a witness to the resurrection'

‘One of these men must become with us a witness to his resurrection’ (Acts 1:22). So we heard in today’s Mass for the feast of St Matthias, the one chosen to replace Judas.

The news the last couple of days has shown two women each of whom has been truly ‘a witness to the resurrection’. I had never heard the name of one of them until this morning or of the other until a couple of days ago.

I read this morning of the death of Irena Sendler, under the headline ‘Mother of Warsaw’s holocaust children dies’. You can read her inspiring story here. Irena died in Warsaw on Monday at the age of 98. During World War II the Nazis tortured her and sentenced her to death in her native Poland but she continued to save Jewish children from death.

I wrote about Margaret Mizen yesterday.

Both of these women are surely following in the footsteps of St Matthias, each a powerful 'witness to his resurrection'.

St Thomas More Comprehensive School, which he attended, has a tribute to Jimmy Mizen, Margaret's murdered son, on its website.

13 May 2008

'We've got such lovely memories of Jimmy and they will have such sorrow about their son'

Last Friday Jimmy Mizen, 6’4” (193 cms), who lived in London, turned 16. The following day he was dead, the victim of a frenzied attack by a total stranger in a bakery store where he had gone to buy a lottery ticket. The Daily Mail describes Jimmy as ‘a devout Catholic’. He had six brothers, Danny, 26, Billy, 28, Tommy 26, Bobby 24, Harry, 18, and George, eight. His two sisters are Joanne, 35, and Samantha, 21. The murdered boy’s parents are Barry and Margaret.

Thanks to Fr Tim Finigan.

The BBC also carries reports.

Today’s Daily Telegraph has a column by Andrew O’Hagan, Bakery murder: Bravo to Jimmy Mizen's mother for rejecting revenge. Though no one knows yet who the young man was who killed Jimmy, Margaret Mizen said, ‘I just want to say to the parents of this other boy, I want to say I feel so, so sorry for them. I don't feel anger, I feel sorry for the parents. We've got such lovely memories of Jimmy and they will have such sorrow about their son. I feel for them, I really do.’


Fr Edward Perera, the parish priest of the Mizen family, quoted Mrs Mizen as saying on the day of the murder, 'I will be there in the morning for Mass because I need my faith. The parish is my family and I need the support of the family'.

We are all part of the Mizen Family's parish and they need the support of our prayers, as does the young killer and his family.

12 May 2008

Nuala Ó Faoláin RIP

Irish journalist/writer/broadcaster Nuala Ó Faoláin died in Dublin last Friday from cancer at the age of 68. She had been interviewed by Marian Finucane on RTÉ Radio One some weeks before her death. She spoke there about the reality that she was dying.

19 or 20 years ago, when Nuala was writing a weekly column in The Irish Times, I corresponded with her a number of times, though we never met. I remember, after she wrote a column about women pilots, I think, sending her a copy of an essay a student of mine in Cebu wrote about the reaction of her family and relatives when she told them she wanted to be a pilot. They just laughed. Nuala’s column, as I recall, had a remark about the height requirements for pilots in the Irish Air Corps. Her comment was more on the ‘officialese’ than the actual requirements. You would have to be like Kelly the Boy from Killane to get in. This old Irish ballad describes Kelly in these terms: Seven feet was his height with some inches to spare. I’ve never figured out which ‘side’ of seven feet that is.

In one letter to Nuala I questioned her holding up Madonna, as I saw it, as a role model for young women. In her reply she told me that what she admired in Madonna was her self-confidence, not her behaviour. She also mentioned her own sense of insecurity.

Nuala had an ability to see the significance in ‘insignificant’ events. She wrote in one column about being in a butcher’s shop in Dublin. There were two women in front of her, one clearly prosperous, the other an elderly poor woman. The butcher gave as much attention to the poor woman as he did to the other. Nuala’s analysis was that he, like the vast majority of Irish people up to our generation – Nuala was born three years before me – was familiar with poverty, either at first-hand or second-hand. The majority of those in the next generation aren’t. She wasn’t criticizing the younger generation, just expressing a reality.

Nuala also wrote about her re-discovering the importance of the Irish language and of learning it again as an adult. In Ireland, unlike the Philippines, it’s rare to have a conversation where two languages mix and blend, often in the one sentence. Language in Ireland was, and maybe still is to some degree because of our history, such an emotionally contentious issue that bilingual conversations weren’t really ‘permitted’. However, she was delighted to find herself being welcomed into such conversations on the train on her way to an Irish-language festival in the west of Ireland.

In her interview with Marian Finucane, Nuala said she didn’t believe in an afterlife but wasn’t quite sure about the existence of God. She mentioned her baptism, her First Communion, her membership of the Legion of Mary in her young days. She didn’t refer to any of these in a critical or negative way. She saw the importance of the Church in Irish society, how it had formed Irish culture, as is clear from her Irish Times columns. Yet her interview with Marian Finucane shows her Catholic upbringing, something she never tried to throw away, that came out iunconsciously in her 'Catholic language'.

Nuala will be buried from a Catholic church in Dublin and there will be a funeral Mass. There’s an ambiguity in this.

Ar dheis Dé go raibh a hanam – may her soul be on the right hand of God.

10 May 2008

Pentecost and Spring

Though I’ve lived in the tropics most of the time since 1971 when I came to the Philippines, I grew up in the temperate climate of Ireland and still experience the four seasons every year at a psychological level. I’ve been able to go through them in reality a number of times since 1971. I discovered that in southern Canada and in the northern states of the USA the seasons are more sharply defined than in Ireland or Britain.

In the spring of 1982 I spent forty days on retreat at the Jesuit Retreat House in Guelph, Ontario. There’s beautiful countryside around and I went on many long walks. I could see the progress of the buds on the trees in a way I had never seen it in Ireland, though I was always struck by the beautiful beech trees in the grounds of St Columban’s, Dalgan Park, near Navan in Ireland during my seminary years. Every spring they came out in a glorious shade of green every May, except for one – an even more glorious copper beech.

When I was in Guelph we were all meditating on the Passion of Jesus as we followed the Exercises of St Ignatius. That part of the retreat, however, clashed with Pentecost Sunday, which fell on 30 May in 1982. So we observed Trinity Sunday that day and finished our retreat a week later with our celebration of Pentecost, a bit like the Newfoundland Time Zone, as one of the directors observed, which is thirty minutes ahead of the Atlantic Time Zone.

Pentecost for me is very much a spring or early summer feast. This year the Office of Readings for this great feast reinforced that, it includes the magnificent psalm of creation, Ps 104 (103):

From your dwelling you water the hills;
earth drinks its fill of your gift.
You make the grass grow for the cattle
and the plants to serve man’s needs . .
.(Grail translation).

The antiphon before and after the third section of the psalm is ‘Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created; and you will renew the face of the earth, alleluia’. That is also the response for the psalm at Sunday’s Mass. (The Mass on Saturday evening is that of the Vigil of Pentecost, with different readings and prayers, though it fulfils the Sunday obligation. In three parishes in Britain where I did mission appeals on Pentecost weekend, the priests seemed to be unaware of that).

The Scripture reading that follows Psalm 104 is Romans 8:5-27, which includes these verses:

because the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in travail together until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies (Rom 8:21-23, RSV).

I could see something of that in Guelph in the Pentecost spring of 1982.

In secondary school we studied some of the poems of the Jesuit priest Fr Gerard Manley Hopkins, who had spent some unhappy years in my native city of Dublin where, like Molly Malone of the famous Dublin ballad, Cockles and Mussels, he ‘died of the fever’ and is buried in the Jesuit plot in Glasnevin, the cemetery where my parents are also buried. I didn’t particularly appreciate Hopkins’ poetry in school but I have long since come to love some of his work. His sonnet, Spring, is most appropriate, I think, for Pentecost. You can listen to 32 Sacred Poems by Hopkins, including Spring, read by Walter Rufus Eagles here. Click on the poem you want to listen to.


by Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-1889)

Nothing is so beautiful as spring—
When weeds, in wheels, shoot long and lovely and lush;
Thrush’s eggs look little low heavens, and thrush
Through the echoing timber does so rinse and wring
The ear, it strikes like lightnings to hear him sing;
The glassy peartree leaves and blooms, they brush
The descending blue; that blue is all in a rush
With richness; the racing lambs too have fair their fling.

What is all this juice and all this joy?
A strain of the earth’s sweet being in the beginning
In Eden garden.—Have, get, before it cloy,
Before it cloud, Christ, lord, and sour with sinning,
Innocent mind and Mayday in girl and boy,
Most, O maid’s child, thy choice and worthy the winning.

09 May 2008

Columban aid to the people of Burma (Myanmar)

The message below was sent by Fr Eamon Sheridan, a member of the General Council of the Missionary Society of St Columban, to leaders of the Columbans throughout the world.

Dear Director/Coordinator,

We are all aware of the natural disaster that has hit Burma over the last few days. The enormous scale of the devastation and loss of life is only now becoming clear. In response to this terrible tragedy the General Council has authorized the bursar general to release US$100,000 from our fund for emergencies, to Karuna (Caritas) Myanmar to help them respond as best they can to the crisis.

Let’s keep that suffering nation in our prayers.

The Columbans have been involved in Burma for more than 70 years. The General Council of the Columbans recently moved from Ireland to Hong Kong.

This money is from our many supporters and benefactors throughout the world. As a Columban I am very grateful to all the people who have made our work of evangelization possible for the last 90 years.


'Karuna' means 'compassion. On 5 July 1996, during their ad limina visit, Pope John Paul II thanked the bishops of Myanmar for establishing Karuna: I am glad to know that, even without an abundance of material resources, the laity in your Dioceses generously devote themselves to the spiritual and corporal works of mеrсу, responding especially to the needs of orphans, the poor and the neglected. The establishment of Karuna Myanmar [Caritas] will give initiatives of solidarity a structure through which the various groups can work together more effectively for the well-being of all.

There are two Columban Priest Associates from Myanmar working in Peru, Fr Robert Khun and Fr Marino Nan Jha. Both prepared for their mission in the Philippines.

08 May 2008

Salzburg, Shanghai, Kentucky and the Vatican = Mozart

One of the highlights of my life was the summer of 1969 when I spent six weeks working in a rural parish in eastern Kentucky, USA, with a great priest, Fr Ralph Beiting, now in his 80s and still a parish priest..

Father Beiting had two great gifts, the ability to inspire young people and the ability to organize them. Every summer he’d have college students, and some high school students, from many states to be part of his summer projects. These included Bible classes for kids, summer camps for poor children, house-to-house visitation, and street-preaching. There were very few Catholics in the four towns and wide rural area under his care and that of his two assistants. There were still the remnants of anti-Catholicism to the extent that when he built a church in Mount Vernon, he had some clear windows stretching from the floor to the roof so that people could see that Catholics didn’t have cloven hooves, horns or tails and didn’t sacrifice children.

Yet most of the people were poor, read the Bible and were friendly. Nearly all welcomed the visitors from the Catholic Church to their doorsteps. We always went in pairs. We told them who we were and what the Church was doing and took it up from there. Over the years Father Beiting had helped break down many barriers.

At one of the summer camps, Cliffview, there was a little jetty that needed to be repaired. Two middle-aged carpenters who always addressed each other as ‘Mister’ did the job. They clearly took pride in their work. One of them was a Mister Brickie. He told me how he had found his way to the Catholic Church.

He had believed all the stories about cloven hooves and so on. And he lived in an area where classical music was rarely heard on the local radio stations. They played mostly country-and-western music. Yet he somehow developed an interest in Haydn and Mozart in particular. He found the music of both extraordinarily beautiful. Then, to his astonishment, he discovered that they were both Catholics. Haydn was a particularly devout Catholic all his life. Mr Brickie figured that if Catholics could produce such beautiful music they couldn’t be what he thought they were.

Mozart’s music is still serving God’s people. Zenit.org reports today on the Mozart concert given yesterday in the Vatican for Pope Benedict by Chinese musicians and singers, the Chinese Philharmonic Orchestra and the Shanghai Opera House Chorus.

Afterwards Pope Benedict noted, 'There is another aspect that I wish to emphasize. I note with pleasure the interest shown by your orchestra and choir in European religious music. This shows that it is possible, in different cultural settings, to enjoy and appreciate sublime manifestations of the spirit such as Mozart's Requiem which we have just heard, precisely because music expresses universal human sentiments, including the religious sentiment, which transcends the boundaries of every individual culture'.

Clearly this concert is part of the ongoing dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Chinese authorities, a variation on the ‘ping-pong diplomacy’ that preceded the USA’s recognition of the people’s Republic of China in the time of President Nixon.

But it is the beauty of Mozart’s music that is the key. Real beauty, in whatever form, ultimately comes from God and leads to God. And maybe it’s no coincidence that Mozart was from Salzburg, Austria, the most beautiful city I have ever visited. I was there exactly twenty years ago when it was spring, not yet hot but not cold, the sun shining but the snow still on the surrounding mountain-tops. The movie version of The Sound of Music was shot largely in that area.

The late Swiss Protestant theologian Karl Barth once said, ‘It may be that when the angels go about their task praising God, they play only Bach. I am sure, however, that when they are together en famille they play Mozart.’

Until Sunday you may be able to listen to this: Aled Jones presents music written to honour Mary, mother of Jesus. With works including a Regina coeli by Mozart and a Stabat mater by Nystedt and a Magnificat by Monteverdi. Go here and under 'Listen Again, A-Z of All Shows', click on 'The Choir'. I haven't been able to make a direct link with this programme.

And, probably till Saturday only, you may find ‘Music for Ascension Day: Catherine Bott presents a programme of music associated with Ascension Day, which includes works by Dufay, Biber, Rosenmuller and Gibbons’.

'Filipinos didn't want to go home, says priest'

The News Letter (Belfast, Northern Ireland) carries a follow-up story today, 8 May, to the one published yesterday (see posts for 5 and 7 May) on the Filipino fishermen who came home after allegedly being badly treated in Northern Ireland. As a Columban priest I'm particularly happy to know that one of my confreres was so helpful to these men.

The News Letter notes today that 'the devoutly religious Catholic fishermen' 'were widely respected by the entire Kilkeel community during their year living in the village'. Yesterday's story quoted local DUP Assemblyman Jim Wells: 'They had been here for about a year and were very highly respected in the local community,' he said.'They were deeply religious and local people say that you could have set your watches by them walking up to the chapel on Sunday with their Bibles.'

What is significant about this is that the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) is supported almost totally by Protestants and was founded by the Reverend Ian Paisley, now first Minister in Northern Ireland and violently anti-Catholic in his younger days. On 24 April I had a post, Ice-cream melts divisions, which showed how the silent witness of an Italian had done precisely that. Filipinos in Northern Ireland, mostly Catholics, are from outside Irish/British history and so bring something new. Their faithfulness as Catholics is admired by people, some of whom would not have been particularly well-disposed towards Catholics before.

The News Letter is the world's oldest English-language newspaper still in print, founded in 1737. Its readership would be almost totally Unionist, ie in favour of Northern Ireland remaining in the United Kingdom, and Protestant. But there is a new climate in Northern Ireland today. And the Filipinos living there, the vast majority of whom are happy to be working there, are part of that.

07 May 2008

Critical pregnancy: request for prayers

I got an urgent request for prayer in an email this afternoon from Wales:

Mary, our very good friend, and God Mother to Therese Maria, is in her 31st week of pregnancy and is currently in intensive care in cambridge due to complications. She will need to stay in hospital until the baby is delivered by caesarian. This is her first child. Please pray for her, and also her husband, Joachim, at this most difficult time.

(For those who may remember - Mary was a musician, and Joachim a reader, both at our wedding and at Therese Maria's baptism).

Thank you and God Bless, Sean & Mabel.

Sean is from Wales and Mabel from San Remigio, Cebu, Philippines.

Let us pray to Mary's namesake who went to be of assistance to her cousin Elizabeth when both of them were pregnant. And let us invoke Mary's parents, Sts Joachim and Anne. St Joachim surely is praying for his namesake.

Update on Filipino fishermen who 'fled abuse' in Ireland

Today's News Letter (Belfast, Northern Ireland) carries a story on the Filipino fishermen who arried home last Sunday after a bad experience with their employer in Northern Ireland. The story is based on an interview with Columban Father Donal Bennett who was closely involved in helping the fishermen in their plight.

What is good to see is the esteem in which Filipino workers are held. I can vouch for that from comments that people make to me when I go home to Ireland. The News Letter will have more in tomorrow's edition. Reporter Sam McBride came across my post of 5 May on this blog and contacted your scribe who tried to put him in touch with Father Bennett. But he managed to do that before I could respond.

06 May 2008

Cross-dressing 'saints' - 'an insult to the Blessed Mother'

Today’s Philippine Daily Inquirer reports that Cardinal Gaudencio Rosales, Archbishop of Manila, has come out strongly against parishes using ‘cross-dressing homosexuals to play female saints in religious festivals’.

'"The procession is religious. [But] what the [parishes] do is organize a parade," Rosales said over Church-run Radio Veritas. “That’s an insult to the Blessed Mother.”
“Instead of pious young women, gay men are paraded, which makes [the procession] ridiculous,” Rosales said in Filipino.'

May is the month for the Flores de Mayo and Santacruzan in the Philippines.

I’ve been in the Philippines since 1971 and am still amazed at the importance people give to ‘beauty’ contests. Back in the early 1970s, during the early years of the Marcos dictatorship, which was violently anti-Catholic despite the veneer of piety of Imelda Marcos, the country squandered resources on hosting the Miss Universe contest. I remember drawing it to the attention of people in Ozamiz Cathedral that a child had died in one of the city’s hospitals simply because it lacked basic resources while the dictatorship was busy diverting the people’s attention and money elsewhere on the Miss Universe nonsense.

In recent years there has been a growth in ‘Miss Gay’ contests. Two or three years ago here in Bacolod City a public high school organized such a ‘contest’, giving the students participating female names. Here in the Philippines the vast majority graduate from high school when they are 16, still minors. The school sent a press release to the local papers about this 'contest'. I wrote one of them and called what was going on ‘psychological castration’. I really saw it as a form of abuse. Two teachers from the school phoned me to thank me.

A few months ago I saw an item in the same paper about a ‘Miss Gay’ contest – involving adults – which would give some of the proceeds to a local Catholic orphanage. When I informed the Sisters they told me that they had no knowledge of this. One of the Sisters contacted the paper and the matter was clarified.

However, on one occasion I visited Sisters in another part of the Philippines who have a home for many children who come from broken or abusive backgrounds. The teenagers are all girls but the smaller children include boys. The young people put on a sketch depicting a story from the gospels but had a girl, with beautiful long hair, playing the part of Jesus. I discovered later that she was given the part precisely because of her hair. I think that one of my companions, another Columban, had a quiet word with the Sisters, though there was nothing untoward whatever adn the children get a wonderful formation in quiet prayer. I used to be amazed at their prayerful silence before Mass.

If I had my way I would get rid of all depictions of Jesus with long hair! I don’t know if there’s any historical basis for them.

05 May 2008

'I am bound in conscience . . . to suffer every kind of torture rather than deny a doctrine of the Church'

Father Tim Finigan in a post in his blog yesterday, 4 May, wrote about a visit to Tyburn Convent in London. He has a photo of an inscription with the last words of John Houghton, one of the Carthusian Martyrs hanged drawn and quartered at Tyburn on 4 May 1536. This was a particularly painful form of execution when the prisoner was disembowelled while still alive and his body then cut up. The 'crime' of John Houghton was that he wouldn't take an oath recognising King Henry VIII as head of the Church in England.

The feast of the Forty Holy Martyrs of England and Wales is observed in those two countries on 4 May.

John Houghton's last words as he stood on the cart with the rope around his neck were: I am bound in conscience and am ready and willing to suffer every kind of torture rather than deny a doctrine of the Church.

One can't help contrasting John Houghton's conscience with those of prominent 'Catholic' politicians who oppose the Church's teaching on the sanctity of human life from the moment of conception, who vote to allow unborn children to be killed in their mothers' wombs because this is a 'woman's right' and who announce to the press that they are going to receive Holy Communion at Mass celebrated by the Holy Father, as some did on his recent visit to the USA.

Father Finigan reminds us that Father Houghton, 'said these words with the rope around his neck - proving as definitively as could be that he could not only "talk the talk" but also "walk the walk"!'

Filipino fishermen abused in Ireland

It is embarrasing for someone like myself, an Irish priest who has been in the Philippines most of the time since 1971, to read about Filipino workers being maltreated in Ireland. But it is consoling to know that a brother-Columban, along with some of the Philippines community in Northern Ireland, were able to come to their aid.

The Philippine Daily Inquirer today (5 May 2008) carries a report of the Filipino crew of an Irish fishing vessel who returned home after being helped by the Filipino community in Northern Ireland. The Tagalog-speaking Irish priest mentioned, but whose name isn't given, is Columban Father Donal Bennett who worked for many years in Zambales, Philippines. You can read the full story at http://globalnation.inquirer.net/news/breakingnews/view/20080504-134499/11-seamen-who-fled-from-abuse-in-Ireland-repatriated

The police force mentioned in the story is the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI), as distinct from the police in the Republic of Ireland known as An Garda Síochána or the Gardaí (gardhEE). The figure of 11,500 Filipinos given by the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs, includes only the Republic of Ireland. The number in Northern Ireland is probably about half of that. The Filipinos best known to Irish people are nurses, whose presence is highly appreciated.

Columban Father Bobby Gilmore is in charge of the Migrants Rights Centre Ireland (MRCI) in Dublin. He has worked in the Philippines, Jamaica and in Britain where he was among those who worked hard for the release of the 'Guildford Four' and the 'Birmingham Six'.

Father Patrick O'Connell CSsR, another 'old Philippines hand', is chaplain to the Filipino community in the Archdiocese of Dublin, though he doesn't confine himself to there. These are his contact details:

Marianella, Orwell Rd. Rathgar, Dublin 6.Phone: 01 4067232 or 086 6049889

There is a monthly Mass for Filipinos in Dublin:

Blessed Sacrament Chapel: 3pm on 2nd Sunday of every month.

However, Filipinos are active in many parishes and in some they have started choirs.

Father Patrick O'Herlihy, a Columban who worked in the Philippines for many years, is chaplain to the Filipinos in the Diocese of Cork and Ross.

There is a Filipino Mass every First Saturday of the month in Our Lady Crowned Church, Upper Mayfield, Cork at 7pm.

Contact: Fr Pat O'Herlihy SSC. Tel: 021 4508610 or 087 2284284.
Email: columbancork@gmail.com

04 May 2008

' . . . deliver us some emails. Amen.'

Bishop Peter Ingham of Wollongong, Australia, has a YouTube video on behalf of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference (ACBC) on the theme, THE INTERNET, a world of possibilities & responsibilities.

The ACBC has an accompanying pastoral letter on Internet Safety.

Bishop Ingham's video message, and the pastoral letter, point out how young people today are influenced and formed by the internet and the bishop tells a little story to illustrate this, a story that gives the title to this post.

All this is on the occasion of the 42nd World Communications Sunday, which the Church observes on the Sunday after Ascensions Thursday. Many countries, including the Philippines, have transferred the Solemnity of the Ascension to the following Sunday, the Seventh Sunday of Easter, today.

You can read Pope Benedict's message for the day here. Its theme is The Media: At the Crossroads between Self-Promotion and Service. Searching for the Truth in order to Share it with Others. The Pope puts the whole question in a moral-ethical context:

4. The role that the means of social communication have acquired in society must now be considered an integral part of the “anthropological” question that is emerging as the key challenge of the third millennium. Just as we see happening in areas such as human life, marriage and the family, and in the great contemporary issues of peace, justice and protection of creation, so too in the sector of social communications there are essential dimensions of the human person and the truth concerning the human person coming into play. When communication loses its ethical underpinning and eludes society’s control, it ends up no longer taking into account the centrality and inviolable dignity of the human person. As a result it risks exercising a negative influence on people’s consciences and choices and definitively conditioning their freedom and their very lives. For this reason it is essential that social communications should assiduously defend the person and fully respect human dignity. Many people now think there is a need, in this sphere, for “info-ethics”, just as we have bioethics in the field of medicine and in scientific research linked to life.

Benedict XVI has a profound respect for man as man:

6. Man thirsts for truth, he seeks truth; this fact is illustrated by the attention and the success achieved by so many publications, programmes or quality fiction in which the truth, beauty and greatness of the person, including the religious dimension of the person, are acknowledged and favourably presented. Jesus said: “You will know the truth and the truth will make you free” (Jn 8:32). The truth which makes us free is Christ, because only he can respond fully to the thirst for life and love that is present in the human heart.

Our Holy Father sees the area of the media as one that calls for the kind of witnesses that the readings for the Ascension call for:

Let us ask the Holy Spirit to raise up courageous communicators and authentic witnesses to the truth, faithful to Christ’s mandate and enthusiastic for the message of the faith, communicators who will “interpret modern cultural needs, committing themselves to approaching the communications age not as a time of alienation and confusion, but as a valuable time for the quest for the truth and for developing communion between persons and peoples” (John Paul II, Address to the Conference for those working in Communications and Culture, 9 November 2002).

Though the pope's message doesn't mention it, it's an interesting fact that one of the great apostles in the use of modern mass communication - print and radio - was St Maximilian Kolbe who gave his life in 1941 in the Nazi concnentration camp in Auschwitz for a young married Polish soldier whom he didn't even know.