26 September 2008

Ancient Martyrs in Syria and Contemporary Threatened Persecution in Australia

Basilica of Sts Cosmas and Damian, Rome

Today is the feast of Sts Cosmas and Damian, said to have been twin brothers from Syria and to have been physicians, who were martyred in 303 during the persecution of the Emperor Diocletian, along with their three brothers Anthimus, Leontius, and Euprepius and their widowed mother. I came across this item about them
Saints Cosmas and Damien were twin brothers born in Arabia (modern day Syria) around 270 A.D. They had three younger brothers; their father died, so their mother, Theodota, was left to raise all five of them herself. Cosmas and Damien were educated in science and medicine, and became physicians that were quite skilled and enthusiastic about their work. They offered their services primarily in the seaport Aegea (between Tarsus and Antioch), on the Gulf of Iskenderun in the Roman Province of Cilicia (modern day Turkey, south central coast). The following story of their work provides a meditation for our own lives:

Cosmas and Damien saw in every patient a brother or sister in Christ. For this reason, they showed great charity to all and treated their patients to the best of their ability. Yet no matter how much care a patient required, neither Cosmas nor Damien ever accepted any money for their services. For this reason, they were called anargyroi in Greek, which means "the penniless ones."

Every chance they had, the two saints told their patients about Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Because the people all loved these twin doctors, they listened to them willingly. Cosmas and Damien often brought health back to both the bodies and the souls of those who came to them for help.

When Diocletian's persecution of Christians began in their city, the saints were arrested at once. They had never tried to hide their great love for their Christian faith. They were tortured, but nothing could make them give up their belief in Christ. They had lived for him and had brought so many people to his love. So at last, they were put to death in the year 303.

Diocletian's edict in 303 demanded religious uniformity and the elimination of the Christian sacred literature. Christians who refused to cooperate could face death. It was said that Cosmas and Damien, after refusing to worship the Roman idols, had survived several devious means of torture and death, and were finally beheaded. These martyrs are named in the First Eucharistic Prayer of the Mass and in the Litany of the Saints.
The two saints are patrons of physicians, surgeons and pharmacists. At Mass this morning I told the people that while persecution of the Church similar to the time of the saints we honour today continues in places, there’s a different kind of persecution going on, for example, in the State of Victoria, Australia, where legislation passed recently by the lower house, the Legislative Assembly, but yet to be ratified by the upper house, the Legislative Council. If passed, this would try to force doctors, nurses and pharmacists to be involved directly in abortions. There is no attempt whatever to recognise the rights of conscience. We find similar movements in other parts of the Western world.

Archbishop Denis Hart of Melbourne has issued a very strong and clear pastoral letter and has called for a day of prayer on Sunday, 5 October. Here is the letter, with my emphases (and comments).


19 September 2008

Dear Friends,

Early this year, my brother bishops and I issued a Pastoral Statement on the proposed ‘decriminalisation of abortion’ and made the following key points.

A human being is to be respected and treated as a person from the moment of conception and all living human individuals are entitled to the equal protection of the law.

Every living human individual, including those imperfect physically or mentally, is equal to every other individual in respect of the right not to be directly or intentionally killed.

The Church does not condemn women who have had abortions and encourages them to find hope, forgiveness and healing in the mercy of God. Together with their children, they are the principal victims of this new culture of death. Often women resort to abortion for complex reasons, abandoned or under pressure, or led on by false information.

The motivation to decriminalise abortion seems to be to remove the “unlawful” stigma currently attached to “medical” abortion in virtue of the fact that it is named as an offence in the Crimes Act. But the Law is a great educator and if the Law approves something then people gradually accept a new understanding of what is right and what is wrong. People begin to think: “Abortion is lawful now, so it’s right.” This would betray the majority view in the community that the incidence of abortion should be reduced. (As a young priest I was studying in New York when the state passed a law allowing abortion on demand up to 24 weeks. I remember hearing a female student in the college where I was studying - in the process of rejecting its Catholic identity at the time - say, 'We now have another way to solve our problems'.)

Recent developments

In late August, when the Abortion Law Reform Bill was introduced into the Legislative Assembly, I again spoke out against the proposal in similar terms.

Sadly, the Bill passed the Legislative Assembly on 11 September 2008 without amendment despite courageous attempts by many to have the Bill defeated or to have its effects minimised. It will soon be introduced into the Legislative Council and, if passed, could be become law as early as 15 October 2008.

I write now with a deep sadness for mothers-to-be and children yet to be born, and with a profound sense of anguish at the draconian clauses in the Bill which attack long held religious beliefs and practice.

Make no mistake about it, the Bill goes beyond codifying current clinical practice, as its proponents claim, and will set an unfortunate precedent which other states may follow.

This Bill is a breach of fundamental human rights with some particularly disturbing features.

Abortion Law Reform Bill

The Bill if enacted:

applies to females of child bearing age;

allows a female to have an abortion up to 24 weeks gestation performed by any doctor, regardless of their expertise;

allows a pharmacist or nurse, without involvement of a doctor to supply or administer a drug to cause an abortion to a female up to 24 weeks gestation;

permits abortions from 24 weeks up to childbirth for a female if two doctors reasonably believe the abortion is appropriate having regard to the woman’s relevant medical and current and future physical, psychological and social circumstances;

repeals the offence of “child destruction”;
compels a pharmacist or nurse employed or engaged in a public or private hospital or day-procedure centre, if directed in writing by a doctor, to administer or to supply a drug to cause an abortion to a female who is more than 24 weeks pregnant; (Wouldn't Hitler and Stalin be proud?)

imposes a legal obligation on doctors, nurses, pharmacists and psychologists who have a conscientious objection to abortion to refer a woman requesting an abortion to another practitioner in the same profession whom the practitioner knows does not have a conscientious objection to abortion; (To use the Hitler context again, a German or Italian sheltering Jews because of their objection to the Nazi genocide policy would be compelled to hand over the Jews to those who agreed with it.)

and imposes a legal obligation on doctors and nurses, notwithstanding their conscientious objection, to perform an abortion on a female in an emergency where it is deemed that the abortion is necessary to preserve the life of the pregnant woman. (How depraved can you get? Jewish musicians being forced to play while their fellow-Jews were being hanged.)

Protection of mothers and unborn children

The Bill is seriously flawed as much by what it omits as by what it contains.

Notable flaws include:

the failure to provide any protection for unborn children right up to 40 weeks gestation;

the failure to ban partial birth abortions;

the failure to safeguard the health of women by permitting abortions to be performed by doctors who have no qualifications or training in obstetrics; ('backstreet' abortionists with 'MD' after their names).

and the failure to include informed consent provisions.
Many of the so called “safeguards” in the Bill fail to protect either the expectant mother or the unborn child. For example, an abortion will be possible from 24 weeks up to childbirth provided the doctor consults one other doctor who agrees it is appropriate.

The Bill does not require a consultation with the woman by the doctor to form a second opinion nor does it specify whether this colleague need have any expertise in the area or any specialist training or qualifications. In this way, it would not be difficult to gain the consent of one other colleague particularly if both worked in an abortion clinic. It would not matter that 5, 10 or more colleagues previously did not concur that the abortion would be appropriate.

Nor does the Bill offer any provision for professional counselling to women with unplanned or difficult pregnancies, provide them with accurate information about the likely effect of an abortion, protect women in vulnerable positions from coercion, or contain any other provision likely to reduce the number of abortions carried out in this state each year. On the contrary, the Bill is most likely to lead to an increase in the number of abortions, including so-called “social” abortions.

Freedom of religious belief in the 21st century

The Bill is an unprecedented attack on the freedom to hold and exercise fundamental religious beliefs. It makes a mockery of the Victorian Charter of Human Rights and the Equal Opportunity Act in that it requires health professionals with a conscientious objection to abortion to refer patients seeking an abortion to other health professionals who do not have such objections. It also requires health professionals with a conscientious objection to abortion to perform an abortion in whatever is deemed an emergency.

The Bill is clearly intended to require Catholic hospitals to permit the referral of women for abortions.

As one commentator has put it, it is an insidious irony that this coercion of conscience is being carried out in the name of choice. Parliamentarians are being afforded the opportunity to exercise their consciences to remove the right of health professionals to exercise theirs.

Nurses are in a particularly vulnerable position, since many would be under a duty to assist in an abortion if a doctor so requires, and determines that it is an “emergency”. I do not believe that our community wants to force nurses, many of whom have a conscientious objection, to assist in late term abortions. I do not believe that the community wants to force them and other health professionals to act contrary to the law, leave their professions or leave Victoria.

Catholic hospitals and the large number of Victorians they serve are also in a vulnerable position. Catholic hospitals will not perform abortions and will not provide referrals for the purpose of abortion. (Archbishop Hart is taking a very firm line here, unlike some bishops in the USA on abortion, and some in England on the matter of adoption by same-sex couples.)

If this provision is passed it will be an outrageous attack on our service to the community and contrary to Catholic ethical codes. It will leave Catholic hospitals and doctors with a conscientious objection to abortion in a position where they will be acting contrary to the law if they act in accordance with their deeply held moral convictions. This Bill poses a real threat to the continued existence of Catholic hospitals. Under these circumstances, it is difficult to foresee how Catholic hospitals could continue to operate maternity or emergency departments in this state in their current form. (This may be a form of 'institutional martyrdom'. 'If your right eye etc. . .)

This is a significant issue for the community at large having regard to the fact that Catholic hospitals account for approximately one third of all births and are seen by many as their hospitals of choice. In its report on Abortion Law Reform, the Victorian Law Reform Commission created a false dichotomy in relation to conscientious objections, a dichotomy between “adequate justification” and “mere prejudice”. This was subsequently relied upon in debate in the Legislative Assembly. The position of the Church is postulated as “mere prejudice” and without “adequate justification”.

The Church’s position which it has held ever since the first century is clear. The procurement of and complicity in abortion in every circumstance is a moral evil. (Calling Nancy Pelosi and Joe Biden.)

It is an affront to logic to suggest that a belief held over the life of the Church’s existence and which has been subject to rigorous examination by theologians over the centuries can be dismissed as a “mere prejudice”. If this argument were to prevail, the beliefs of all religious faiths could be similarly dismissed. The argument itself smacks of prejudice, is a direct attack on religious expression and unworthy of a place in a contemporary mature state which values diversity of thought.

Call to prayer and action

The time has come for all those who support life to rally in prayer and action to defeat the Bill. The challenge is daunting and every effort must be made.

I have declared Sunday 5th October 2008 as a Day of Intercession throughout the Archdiocese dedicated to the defeat of this Bill. I urge as many of you as possible to join me in an hour of prayer at St Patrick’s Cathedral at 12:15 pm on that day immediately following the 11:00 am Mass and stand in solidarity with women and the unborn who are directly at risk from this Bill.

I also urge you, as I have done, to make your concerns known to your representatives in the Legislative Council and when doing so, to act respectfully and argue from a position of reason. The addresses of Members of the Legislative Council are attached. Previous statements can be located on the diocesan web site together with more comprehensive information on the Bill.

Yours sincerely in Christ

+ Denis J. Hart

Let us join Archbishop and the people of Victoria, especially its doctors, nurses and pharmacists in prayer, through the intercession of Sts Cosmas and Damian. What is being proposed is the persecution of persons whose conscience does not allow them to participate in the killing of an unborn child. Not all of them are Catholics, not all are Christians.

24 September 2008

Our Lady of Ransom, Muslims and Mary

Our Lady of Ransom, Muslims and Mary

Today is observed in some countries as the memorial of Our Lady of Ransom. Under that tile Mary is especially venerated in Aragon and Catalonia in Spain and in parts of Latin America. However, it is a very old feast in England.

I came across a very interesting item by English writer and blogger Joanna Bogle. Her article appeared on 3 April this year but I came across it only last night while doing some research on Our Lady of Ransom. The last few paragraphs really caught my attention:

I find myself wondering. Should we not -- while recognising the delicacy of what we are discussing -- see in Our Lady of Ransom something tender, merciful, and important for today? We need her to ransom the West from its secular mindset; ransom us all from fear; ransom Christians under pressure from Islam (those suffering in Sudan today, for example).

We need to invoke her aid in giving back to Christians, especially in Europe, a sense of the truth that is at the core of Christianity -- God who became man, who took human flesh and became one of us, dying for us on the Cross -- and a recognition that we need to live this faith fully and be prepared to pass it on. And whether this is fashionable or not, we ought to understand that Christ died for everyone, including people born into Islam, and that Our Lady of Ransom might have something to say to us about that, too.

Millions of Muslims now live in Britain, and entire sections of our towns and cities are now culturally Islamic. Churches are closing and mosques are taking their places. Visit Bradford, or Preston, or Leeds, and see the minarets and walk among the veiled women in the shopping centers. Are we to assume that they are never to know the truth about Christ and what He won for them on the Cross? Evangelism is difficult, but prayer is not, and Our Lady of Ransom may achieve what seems impossible. We should invoke her aid, in our homes and in our parishes.

Perhaps we should not assume that all will be antagonistic. Mary is honored in Islam, and is a point of contact. Islamic women, raising families in modern Britain, have their own worries about the pressures on their young, and about their own hopes and fears for the future. A string of rosary beads, an image of Mary, a hymn invoking her aid in prayer, may not be as offensive as we think.

Perhaps it is time, gently but with courage, to pray with renewed fervor the prayer I remember in the rather different England of my youth: Our Lady of Ransom, pray for us.

Joanna Bogle writes her blog as Auntie Joanna. andyou can read her latest post here .

Fr Nicholas Schofield, archivist of the Archdiocese of Westminster, laments on his blog, Roman Miscellany, that the feast has been replaced in the liturgical calendar in England by the feast of Our Lady of Walsingham:

Today is the Feast of Our Lady of Ransom. It has a special relevance to England and Wales and used to be in our national calendar, until she was replaced by Our Lady of Walsingham in 2000. A pity that we couldn't celebrate both titles since the idea behind Our Lady of Ransom was praying for the 'ransom' of England as 'Our Lady's Dowry.' The Guild of Our Lady of Ransom continues to promote the work of England's conversion, which is today as necessary as ever.

Jackie Parkes writes about Our Lady of Walsingham in her blog today.

Two days ago the website of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines carried a story http://www.cbcpnews.com/?q=node/4805 with the headline MUSLIM ‘DATU’ EXPRESSES PERSONAL DEVOTION TO MARY. ‘Datu’ means ‘chief’ or something close to that and is probably the same as ‘Ratu’, the Fijian title for a man of chiefly rank.

The article reminded me of a broadcast I heard on BBC World Service in December 1993 when I was parish priest of Lianga, Surigao del Sur, a relatively remote town on the east coast of Mindanao. The speaker was a young English woman and a Muslim. She was speaking especially to Christians because Christmas was coming up. I remember two things in particular that the speaker said. She told us that Muslims believe in the Immaculate Conception of Mary and in the Immaculate Conception of Jesus. She also told a story about Muhammad when he and his followers were destroying images. But when they came across an image of Jesus and Mary he forbade them from destroying it.

Many Muslims, especially women, go to Lourdes (p.16). Tina Beattie wrote in The Tablet on 13 September of discovering that the British woman she was on duty with at the baths didn’t belong to a parish:

Afterwards, as we were putting on our outdoor clothes, I spoke to the woman I'd been on duty with. I asked her what parish she came from in the UK. She smiled. "I don't have a parish. I'm a Muslim," she said. She had visited Lourdes when her son was ill, and she had been going back ever since. She explained that Mary is honoured by Muslims, and she had no difficulty taking part in the ritual of the baths.

Here is the article by Datu Zamzamin Ampatuan.

Muslim ‘datu’ expresses personal devotion to Mary

DAVAO CITY, September 22, 2008—A well known Muslim “datu” in Mindanao has expressed his personal Muslim devotion to Mary Immaculate even as he suggested to make the Blessed Mother as national patron for Muslim-Christian unity.

Datu Zamzamin Ampatuan wrote in an article which was furnished to CBCPNews his great reverence to Mary, the Blessed Mother of Jesus.

Ampatuan recounted that his special devotion to Mary dawned upon him when he was traveling in Palawan from Brooke’s Point to Puerto Princesa. His driver, obviously tired and exhausted, seem to have failed to notice a mother with a baby crossing the street while they were entering the city center.

The pick-up vehicle of Ampatuan definitely headed to hit the two but he shouted out aloud the Muslim prayer for intervention, invoking “God Bless Muhammad and his progeny.” It was less than an inch that the woman and the baby were saved from being hit.
Ampatuan continued that when his driver asked him what was it that he shouted, he subconsciously answered, “It is the same as you say Hail Mary.”

From then on, Ampatuan said, “I realized that I am building a deeper sense of the Virgin Mary. I now feel a closer attachment to her. As time pass by, I get to feel that she is my subconscious patron.”

“My devotion to Mary compliments my attachment to the Prophet Muhammad and his progeny. I believe in the power of intercession. ….The divinely purified person such as Mary has the power to intercede,” added Ampatuan.

Ampatuan also said that he also believes that if the Virgin Mary is being invoked to intercede can be a source of great blessings like charisma, abundance in life, calmness of disposition, and safety from accident.

“My personal devotion to the Virgin Mary is closely attached to my love of the Prophet Muhammad and his household and progeny. I consider Virgin Mary and the persons I revere in Islam as one single continuum of God’s blessings—they are mercy to humankind,” he said.

Ampatuan even said that he is also following the Hail Mary prayer but with a slight change to suit his Islamic faith.

“To be very sure I am not misunderstood by my fellow Muslims, I wish to emphasize that my personal devotion to the Virgin Mary does not imply necessity for her picture or sculpture even as I do respect Catholics using these icons as expression of deep affection to this great and wonderful woman,” he said.

Ampatuan is currently the undersecretary of Department of Agrarian Reform’s Central Office here and of the Office of Muslim Affairs. (Mark S. Ventura).

This morning at Mass of Our Lady of Ransom, including the readings, from the Collection of Masses of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It’s No 43 and is from the Missal of the Mercedarian order .

Here is the Opening Prayer (Collect) :

God, the Father of mercies,
you sent your Son into the world
as Redeemer of the human race;
grant that we who honor his mother as Our Lady of Ransom may faithfully protect
and seek to spread to all peoples
the true liberty of your children,
which Christ the Lord merited by his sacrifice.

We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.

The National Proper for England has a most unusual alternative opening prayer for the Mass of our Lady of Ransom:

Times and seasons change,
centuries and ages pass;
you seem above them, Lord,
untouched and unmoved.

your Son entered in,
born of a woman,
crushed and crucified,
to ransom us.

Will you be deaf to our cries?
Can you ignore the appeals
of the creatures your Son embraced?
Can you refuse the prayer
of Mary, his Mother?

Let us know the freedom of your kingdom
where you live with your Son
and with the Holy Spirit,
one infinite Freedom,
for ever and ever.

Two Catholic politicians in the news - in Japan and the UK

Catholic politicians in Britain and in Japan are in the news today – and not for negative reasons.

Miss Ruth Kelly, the Transport Secretary in Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s cabinet, has informed him that she’s resigning. The report of James Kirkup and Jon Swaine in The Daily Telegraph speculates on the possible reasons for her decision:

She is understood to have had serious doubts about Mr Brown's leadership, and her decision to quit has reignited speculation about the Prime Minister's future.

However a source close to Miss Kelly inisted her decision was made on purely personal grounds, telling reporters she "thought the time had come to spend more time with her four young children."
In an attempt to minimise damage from the move, No 10 linked her departure to her religious objections to Government plans to liberalise stem cell research.

It was said that Miss Kelly, who is a Catholic, told Gordon Brown she could not reconcile her strict faith with the Government's Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill.

The minister has been linked to Opus Dei, the devout Catholic group featured in the novel The Da Vinci Code.

I find that last sentence rather inane, though not quite as inane as Jon Swaine’s statement in his profile of Ruth Kelly in today’s Telegraph:

Miss Kelly has also come under close scrutiny for her links to Opus Dei, the devout Roman Catholic group made famous by Dan Brown's novel The Da Vinci Code.

I haven’t read that novel or seen the movie, having gathered from reviews of both that they completely distorted Opus Dei. But I know that Opus Dei are grateful to Dan Brown for bringing many to inquire of the movement itself what it is about.

Whether Miss Kelly is resigning to take care of her children – she will continue as a backbench Member of Parliament, with a considerably smaller salary – or for reasons of conscience, or both, she is to be commended.
Ruth Kelly with Derek Gadd, her husband.

The other Catholic politician in the news is Taro Aso, the newly-elected head of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party in Japan who will replace Yasuo Fukoda who has resigned as prime minister. Mr Aso will be the first Catholic head of government in Japan, a country of 128,000,000 people of whom about 509,000, or 0.40 percent only, are Catholic.

The Vatican-based Agenzia Fides carried this report about Mr Aso two days ago.

ASIA/JAPAN - Taro Aso, Catholic, running for Premier

Tokyo (Agenzia Fides) – Taro Aso’s decision to run for Premier has sparked the curiosity and attention of Japanese citizens, the Christian churches, and the international press. Aso is currently serving as Secretary General of the Liberal Democratic Party in Japan. Elections are scheduled to take place at the end of October. Interest has arisen from the candidate’s personality, and most of all, from the well-known fact that he is a member of the Catholic Church, which in the city of Sol Levante has 1 million faithful, out of 128 million inhabitants. (This figure for the number of Catholics is twice as high as shown in the statistics for the dioceses of Japan here.)

As he goes campaigning, in the aftermath of the political crisis that the country has suffered, Aso has not given much importance to his religious affiliation, focusing on the fact that today the priority for Japan is economic growth and in its foreign policy, form a close alliance with the United States.
However, analysts have not ignored the fact that the Aso family, related to the royal family, has ancient Catholic traditions that date back to the island of Kyushu, site of the first Christian evangelization effort in the 16th century and later, in the 19th. (It would seem that Mr Aso's Catholic roots are very deep).

Aso’s Christian name is “Francis,” named after the great missionary St. Francis Xavier, the Jesuit who evangelized Eastern Asia and is one of the Patrons of the Missions.

The presence of a Catholic in the country’s governing could shed new light on the Catholic community, offering it the chance to be better known and to better fulfill its mission. The Church in Japan continues to bear witness in a society now marked by consumerism and new technology (see Fides 13/5/2008 and 26/7/2008). However, as several media sources have indicated, Aso will not be the first Catholic to occupy this position. Former Prime Minister Masayoshi Ohira (1979-80) was also Catholic. (PA) (Agenzia Fides 22/9/2008).

I would dispute that last statement. I am relying on my memory here but backed up by this item from a blog, posted yesterday:

The Western media has focused on Mr. Aso’s Roman Catholic faith. In fact, he will be the third Christian Prime Minister in post-WW II Japan, after Tetsu Katayama (1947-48) and Masayoshi Ohira (1978-80), non-Catholics both. That’s three Christians out of 29 PMs, not bad when you consider that only 2 million out of 130 million Japanese are Christians. Sokagakkai has what, 16 million members? And all they get is one measly Minister per Cabinet. I’m pretty sure that you won’t find any Christians among the pre-WW II PMs though.
I wasn't aware of Tetsu Katayama but I remember reading about Masayoshi Ohira and of his being a Christian. As I recall, he didn't belong to any particular denomination. But this is only my memory speaking.

Let us pray for Mr Aso that he will do a good job and that while he won't be working as an agnet for the Church that his decisions will be informed by his Catholic faith. And may his very presence in the country's highest political position make more Japanese aware of Jesus Christ and of the Catholic faith, as the Fides report above suggests it may do.

The Elephant Song

I grew up about ten minutes’ walk from Dublin Zoo. I remember on at least one occasion as a small child riding on Sarah the elephant, a most patient creature.

By chance, I came across two items today about elephants, one of them bizarre and tragic, the other a pleasant discovery. For many years I’ve been a fan of the Malaysian-born Sri Lankan Tamil singer Kamahl, who has been in Australia since 1953 when he went there to study. He has a magnificently rich baritone voice, a delight to listen to whether he’s singing or speaking.

I found a video put together by another fan of his to a recording made more than 30 years ago of a song called The Elephant. It looks at the world from the point of view of this creature that expresses something of the humour of God, an animal that has served humans in so many ways. It also echoes both accounts of creation in the first two chapters of the Book of Genesis, that God has places man in a relationship of care and responsibility with everything He has created.

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth . . . And God said, "Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the firmament of the heavens." So God created the great sea monsters and every living creature that moves, with which the waters swarm, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. And God blessed them, saying, "Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth." And there was evening and there was morning, a fifth day. And God said, "Let the earth bring forth living creatures according to their kinds: cattle and creeping things and beasts of the earth according to their kinds." And it was so. And God made the beasts of the earth according to their kinds and the cattle according to their kinds, and everything that creeps upon the ground according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth." So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them, and God said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth." And God said, "Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food." And it was so. And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was . . .

So out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all cattle, and to the birds of the air, and to every beast of the field

I found the tragic story of the death of a 49-year-old bus driver, Tomas Lopez, and of an escaped circus 40-year-old circus elephant named Hilda in a bizarre accident in Mexico.

23 September 2008

Prayer, Faith and Recovery

Vincent with his mother, Connie left, and Cora, right. Between them are John Vailoces and his cousin Olga Villa. The photo was taken at Ronald Reagan National Airport, Washington DC on 19 September.

I have known the Viado Family in Cebu City since the 1980s. I met Cora through the Teresian Association (Institución Teresiana) of which she is a member. She has been in Japan for some years now. When we began Faith and Light in Cebu towards the end of 1991 – see my post -Cora’s family were very much involved, since her youngest brother, Vincent, has Down syndrome (Trisomy 21).

The F&L community in Cebu didn’t last very long, partly because those who organized it moved away from there. We held one or two community celebrations in the home of the Viado Family.

Vincent got a job as a teacher’s assistant in a school for special children in Cebu. He had a horrific experience in the USA very recently but, thank God, has come through it. The prayers of many have helped. I’ll let three emails from Cora tell the story. They are a wonderful testimony of faith.

Prayers for my youngest brother Vincent

29 August 2008

Dear friends,

I would like to ask you to pray for my youngest brother, Vincent. He has been diagnosed with Stevens-Johnson Syndrome/TEN, a rare drug-induced allergic reaction, He has been taking an anti-gout medication (Allopurinol) for about 3 weeks and, it seems, that has caused this allergic reaction.

Vincent is in the ICU of the George Washington University Hospital in Washington, D.C. We were visiting Washington with Mama and Lucy and her family when he was admitted last Thursday night.

Lucy is back in New York. Manong Nardy has come from LA and will be staying for a couple of days. Ramy and his wife May are driving from Texas and will arrive this afternoon. I will be able to stay until I leave for Japan on Sept.19 and Peter, who is in LA right now, will come to be with Mama and Vincent. Thank God, we are a big family!

Vincent is sedated because he is on a respirator, although the doctors say that he is breathing normally. His vital signs are okay, thank God. He responds to us by slightly nodding or shaking his head, can also squeeze his hand a little and wiggle his toes.

The doctors are now looking for a Burn Center in Washington where we can transfer Vincent. The inflammation is all over his body and looks like it has 1st degree burns. Some parts are even starting to peel off.

We are allowed to stay inside the ICU and talk to him. One of us can also sleep in the room with him.

We are placing Vincent in the loving hands of God and trust in His Divine Will for Vincent. The doctors and medical team are doing their best, but we know God knows what's best for Vincent. We are praying for a miracle - that Vincent will recover, God willing.

May the Lord grant us the grace to live this experience with hope and trust in Him. Take care and God bless.

United in prayers,

Vincent.s Recovery
13 September 2008
Dearest everyone,Praise the Lord! Vincent is slowly recovering and will be transferred from the ICU to a step down burn unit as soon as a room is available. The respirator and feeding tubes were removed last Thursday, Sept.4, after 10 days. A wonderful belated birthday gift for me. He has been able to drink water and eat soft food since and can speak too. His skin looks much better and the swelling has stopped.

Since last week, his torso, arms and legs were wrapped in bandages and it took two hours to change the dressings and clean him every day. However, today only his wrists and hands and the portion below his knees up to his toes were in bandages and the nurse said that it took only one hour to change the dressings and to clean him.

Another beautiful gift from the Lord is an encounter with an 86-year old spanish nun of the Carmelitas de la Caridad de Vedruna, Sr.Manuela Vencela, who is a volunteer in the department of spiritual care in the Washington Hospital Center where Vincent is confined. When I told her I am a member of the TA she was so happy because her sister, Ma. del Carmen who passed away in 1978 in Guadix, was also a TA member. Sr.Manuela said that she and her sisters were educated in our schools (Jaen, Cordoba and Sevilla) and that she knew Fr. Poveda (San Pedro Poveda, founder of the Teresian Association) and Josefa Segovia. She even said that Josefa Segovia was there when she was born! Wow!!! Sr.Manuela showed me the letter of Angeles Galino to all TA members re the death of Ma.del Carmen, as well as other reports and commentaries about her.

Mama and I are really happy to be able to attend daily Mass in the hospital chapel (Sunday-Friday 12 noon). The hospital is near the Catholic University of America and the Basilica of the National Shrine of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception. We pass the basilica from the train station to the hospital every day. We are staying in the house of the brother-in-law of Philip's classmate in high school. He is also a Filipino and is a pastor of the River of Life Church, a Christian group. His youngest son who is a college student and a border are living with him. We are using his daughter's room.

My apologies for the delayed update. Mama and I leave for the hospital at 9:30am and come back at around 6pm. It takes about 1 hour and 30 minutes one way.I will leave on Friday next week, Sept.19. Peter will come from LA on Sept.17 to accompany Mama. I'll arrive in Japan on the 21st and my classes start on the 24th.Let us praise the Lord for the recovery of Vincent and continue to pray for him still. Thank you so much for all your prayers. Take care and God bless.

Love and prayers,Cora

Praise the Lord!
23 September 2008

Nagoya, Japan

Dear friends,Praise the Lord! Vincent was discharged from the Washington Hospital Center last Wednesday, Sept.17 and Mama and I were able to bring him to Los Angeles two days later, Friday, Sept.19. Vincent was transferred from the Medical ICU on Friday, Sept.12 and we didn't know when he would be discharged until Tuesday morning. He is still on steroids for the next three weeks, although it is being tapered down (3x a day for the first 7 days, then twice a day for the next 7 days, and finally only once a day for another 7 days). This is the only medication he is taking. Aquaphor ointment has to applied all over his body three times a day to keep his new skin moist. He also has to avoid direct sunlight and use sunblock whenever he goes out.

Vincent was first diagnosed with Stevens-Johnson Syndrome/ Toxic Epidermal Necrolysis (SJS/TEN) and later Drug Reaction with Eosinophilia and Systemic Symptoms (DRESS). The drug involved is the anti-inflammatory Allopurinol he as taking for his gout. He had been taking it for about a month before he was taken to the ER on Aug.21 on our first day in Washington, D.C. He was in the ICU for three weeks and on a ventilator and feeding tube for ten days. With God's grace, your prayers and the expertise of the medical staff, Vincent has survived and is recuperating at my eldest brother Nardy's place in Los Angeles. Mama is also with him and both of them will stay in the US until January.

Vincent can walk slowly, although it is still difficult for him to climb up and go down the stairs. He had been lying down for almost a month and his knees are still a little weak. My family and I would like to thank you for your prayers and support. These have been a great source of consolation and support to all of us. The Lord has blessed us with His peace and we have lived this experience with hope and trust in His Providence and care.God bless you always.

With prayers,


P.S. I am back in Nagoya and will start my classes for the second semester tomorrow.

'Under the Acacia' - my new weekly column, 22-23 September 2008

I've been invited to write a weekly column by the Negros Times, a new newspaper here in Bacolod published every Monday, Wednesday and Friday and aimed mainly at business people.

As you can read below, I'm taking up something I did before when I was based in Cebu City.


The author is a Columban priest from Ireland who has been in the Philippines most of the time since 1971. Since October 2002 he has been based in Bacolod City as editor of Misyon www.misyononline.com, the magazine of the Columbans, and also has a personal blog at www.bangortobobbio.blogspot.com.

"When I was in Tangub City, Misamis Occidental, from 1978 till 1981, I often found myself chatting with people under the big acacia outside the old convento that was built by Japanese carpenters before World War II under the direction of the then parish priest, an American Jesuit. I’m sure the Japanese carpenters sat in the shade of that tree, as did Jesuit parish priests from the USA and Columban priests from that country and from Australia, England and Ireland down the years, chatting with their parishioners.

The Columbans took over the parish of St. Michael in the town of Tangub in 1938 under Australian Father Francis Chapman who later led the first Columbans in Negros in 1950 in what is now the Diocese of Kabankalan. He died in Cagayan de Oro in 2004. I happened to be the last Columban parish priest in Tangub City, holding that position for less than three months. However, I stayed on there for two more years in the newly-established Paul VI Formation House set up by the bishops of the “DOPIM” area – Dipolog, Ozamiz, Pagadian, Iligan and Marawi for their post-college / pre-theology seminarians. The one-year program there was moved to St Mary’s Seminary, Ozamiz City, in 1982.

When my late father John, who spent all of his working-life as a carpenter and as a foreman on construction sites, visited the Philippines in 1981, he spent about a month with me in Tangub. Though he didn’t have a word of Visayan and those who spoke English couldn’t understand him because of his accent, he was able to communicate friendship, especially to children, sitting on one of the benches under the big acacia, even though he was basically shy. His visit, in particular, made me aware of the acacia as a meeting-place.

When Juanito V. Jabat, then editor, now publisher, of The Freeman in Cebu invited me in the late 1980s to write a weekly column, I chose the title Under the Acacia. I wrote every week for about nine years. Editor-in-chief Edwin Karl G. Ombion of Negros Times has kindly invited me to appear every Monday in the paper and so after a break of nine or ten years I take my place “under the acacia” once again.

Until 1994, when I moved from Lianga, Surigao del Sur, to Manila, I relied on a sturdy typewriter which I had used for more than twenty years. Lianga didn’t even have a single telephone that time and I knew nothing about computers. I left my old typewriter with a parishioner who was trying to make ends meet by typing term-papers for students. She had been using an old machine in the convento, as I recall. I was delighted at not having to take my typewriter to yet another location. But I was even more delighted that it could help a hardworking person to earn an honest living.

I visited Ireland between Lianga and Manila in the summer of 1994 and took a short course in computers for missionaries. Our instructor was a religious sister who had worked in an African country for many years. She wasn’t great at teaching computer-skills but was a great motivator, telling us stories of lives that had been saved because of modern communications. I’m grateful to her for that. I learned how to use the computer mainly by practice, often feeling frustrated, as I still do on occasion when I’m trying to learn some new procedure.

When I started as editor of Misyon six years ago, we had only dial-up service on the internet and often it was impossible to connect. Broadband has been a blessing, not only in terms of speed and accessibility, but for research and, at times, even crisis counseling with persons on the other side of the world. I’ve also found the PLDT service here far more reliable than in Manila, especially at weekends.

The editor, like the editor of The Freeman before, hasn’t asked me to write on any specific topics. My column before wasn’t a “religious” one nor will it be now. I believe in the opening words of Gaudium et Spes, The Church in the Modern World, issued by Pope Paul VI and the world’s bishops on December 7, 1965, at the end of the Second Vatican Council: “The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the men of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ. Indeed, nothing genuinely human fails to raise an echo in their hearts”.

Each of us has many layers of identity. When I travel abroad I identify myself as an Irishman living in the Philippines. I’ve spent nearly all of my adult life here and so have developed a different identity in some ways from that of my brother, who has never lived outside of Ireland. But he and I, as the sons of the same father and mother, share an identity that goes far deeper than being Irish.

A basic part of my identity is being a priest. Holy Orders touch and change a man at the heart of his being. But even more fundamental than that identity, because without it I could not be a priest, is being a Catholic Christian, by virtue of my baptism, a son of God the Father.

It is my hope that whatever I write, on any topic, will somehow reflect that basic identity and the words of St Paul: “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Col 3:17). undertheacacia@gmail.com.

22 September 2008

Benedict or Baroness Warnock? Human Dignity or Utilitarianism? Life or Death? Hope or Despair?

Benedict or Baroness Warnock? Human Dignity or Utilitarianism? Life or Death? Hope or Despair?

On 15 September, during his pilgrimage to Lourdes on the occasion of the 150yh anniversary of the apparitions of the Blessed Mother to St Bernadette Soubirous, Pope Benedict celebrated mass with the sick anointed ten persons, young and old. His homily was a message of hope.

He spoke of the smile of Mary: Today Mary dwells in the joy and the glory of the Resurrection. The tears shed at the foot of the Cross have been transformed into a smile which nothing can wipe away, even as her maternal compassion towards us remains unchanged. The intervention of the Virgin Mary in offering succour throughout history testifies to this, and does not cease to call forth, in the people of God, an unshakable confidence in her: the Memorare prayer expresses this sentiment very well. Mary loves each of her children, giving particular attention to those who, like her Son at the hour of his Passion, are prey to suffering; she loves them quite simply because they are her children, according to the will of Christ on the Cross.

He spoke of the sacrament of the sick, of the suffering in the life of St Bernadette and of the fact that she had received the sacrament four times: Here and now, though, it is possible to entrust oneself to God’s mercy, as manifested through the grace of the sacrament of the sick. Bernadette herself, in the course of a life that was often marked by sickness, received this sacrament four times. The grace of this sacrament consists in welcoming Christ the healer into ourselves. However, Christ is not a healer in the manner of the world. In order to heal us, he does not remain outside the suffering that is experienced; he eases it by coming to dwell within the one stricken by illness, to bear it and live it with him. Christ’s presence comes to break the isolation which pain induces. Man no longer bears his burden alone: as a suffering member of Christ, he is conformed to Christ in his self-offering to the Father, and he participates, in him, in the coming to birth of the new creation.

Benedict spoke of the dignity of the sick: In the smile of the most eminent of all creatures, looking down on us, is reflected our dignity as children of God, that dignity which never abandons the sick person. This smile, a true reflection of God’s tenderness, is the source of an invincible hope.
On 19 September The Daily Telegraph had a report about Baroness Warnock, an ethicist and former teacher, now aged 84, just a little older than Pope Benedict.

Her message was rather different: The veteran Government adviser said pensioners in mental decline are "wasting people's lives" because of the care they require and should be allowed to opt for euthanasia even if they are not in pain.
She insisted there was "nothing wrong" with people being helped to die for the sake of their loved ones or society.

The 84-year-old added that she hoped people will soon be "licensed to put others down" if they are unable to look after themselves.

'Putting down' is what you do with an old or severely injured dog or cat.

John Smeaton, Director of the Society for the Protection of the Unborn, has some interesting comments on this in his blog : Even more interestingly, the Wikipedia entry on Lady Warnock says:"She never knew her eldest sibling, Malcolm, who was severely mentally handicapped with autism and cared for in a nursing home, spending his last days in a Dorset Hospital."Perhaps if she had known Malcolm, she would have been exposed at a formative age to the humanity of caring for the disabled, and the disabled of today would not be burdened by her inhuman ideas.

Maybe if Lady Warnock were to meet my friend Bololoy she would have a change of heart.

Which of these two persons in their eighties brings a message of hope?

21 September 2008

Church Suffers in India

Two stories from UCAN show how Christians, especially Catholics, are suffering in central India right now due to the actions of some fundamentalist Hindus. Please pray for all who are affected.

INDIA Nun Says Police Beating Helped Her Appreciate Her Faith
By T.S. Thomas

September 19, 2008 MANGALORE, India (UCAN) -- Sister Selma (photo) says the beating she endured at the hands of policemen has helped her appreciate the persecution her forefathers suffered for their Catholic faith.

Bethany Sister Selma in a hospital in Mangalore, India, on Sept. 18, after police beat her for protecting a church from attacks by Hindu fanatics.

The Bethany nun and eight other members of her congregation were among some 40 women injured on Sept. 15 when policemen baton-charged Catholics at two separate gatherings in Mangalore, Karnataka state. The Catholic men and women were protecting their churches from attack by Hindu fanatics while protesting earlier attacks on other churches in this southern Indian state.
During the past month, Hindu militants in Karnataka have vandalized churches and prayer halls, destroyed bibles, prayer books, crosses and crucifixes, and desecrated the Blessed Sacrament. Hindu radical groups accuse Christians of converting Hindus through force and allurement. Full story.

INDIA Christians Protest Arson Attack On Central Indian Cathedral

September 19, 2008 JABALPUR, India (UCAN) -- Christians in central India have taken to the streets in protest after some people tried to set their cathedral ablaze.

The damaged Sts. Peter and Paul Cathedral altar in Jabalpur, central India, that arsonists set fire to on Sept. 18.
Two unidentified men entered 120-year-old Sts. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Jabalpur, a town in Madhya Pradesh state, and set fire to its altar on the evening of Sept. 18, Father Joseph Christuraj told UCA News. The priest, spokesperson for Jabalpur diocese, said the fire was put out before it could spread to other areas.
Several hours later, in protest, Christians peacefully blocked traffic on a main street in the town, 815 kilometers south of New Delhi. Christian schools there did not open on Sept. 19. Full story.

20 September 2008

The Korean Martyrs

Today the Church celebrates the Korean Martyrs under the title, 'Memorial of St Andrew Kim Taegon, priest and martyr, St Paul Chong Hasang, martyr, and Companions, martyrs'. These are a representative group of 103 martyrs killed during a number of vicious persecutions in the 19th century.
St Andrew was the first Korean priest. His father, Ignatius Kim, was martyred in 1839, seven years before his son, and beatified in 1925.

Among the 1839 martyrs were St Columba Kim Hyo-im, an unmarried woman of 26, and her sister, St Agnes Kim. Though they were disrobed in prison they were not molested. One of our Korean Columban lay missionaries in the
Philippines is named Columba Chang Eun-Yeal and has been working among the very poor in the Manila area for 17 or 18 years now. You can read more about the Korean martyrs here.

Catholics in Korea are given a Christian name along with their Korean personal name. In Ireland and Britain, especially Scotland, we're more familiar with St Columba of Iona, better known in his native Ireland as Columcille, 'the dove of the chapel'. I made a retreat in Iona in 2002 and met the person in charge of the restored abbey there. There's an ecumenical community there but it has a strong Presbyterian influence, as far as I know. The then director was surprised when I told him that there was a Korean St Columba - and a woman at that. I presume that St Columba Kim was named after St Columba of Iona. I made my retreat at Cnoc a'Chalmain, 'The Hill of the Dove', the Catholic house of prayer on the island. 'Columba' means 'dove'.

Cnoc a'Chalmain (above right)

The Columbans have been working in Korea since 1933. During the Korean War seven gave their lives.


Killed by North Korean soldiers on 27 June 1950. North Korean forces had crossed the 39th Parallel, the dividing line between North and South Korea, on June 25. Tony was in charge of the second Columban parish in Chunchon city, not many miles south of the 38th Parallel. He, Monsignor Tom Quinlan and Frank Canavan had been urged by a U.S. Army officer to leave Chunchon on 26 June but they decided to stay. Tony was taken into custody, briefly interrogated and then shot dead. He was 37 years old. Quinlan, Canavan and later Phil Crosbie were taken into custody and the three of them took part in the notorious "Death March" to the far north of Korea. Along with them were many U.S. POWs and some civilians (many of them missionaries); the death rate from the hardships of the march was appallingly high. Consult PHIL CROSBIE'S book THREE WINTERS COLD and CAPTIVE IN KOREA by Philip Deane. Tony was born in Clogherhead, Co. Louth, on 20 June, 1913. Educated in C.B.S., Drogheda, 1921-1926; St. Patrick's College, Armagh, 1926-1931. Came to Dalgan 1931 and ordained there 1938. Went to Korea 1939.

Killed in Korea 4 July 1950, two days after North Korean troops occupied Samchok, his parish on the east coast, about 50 miles south of the border between North and South Korea. In the week between the outbreak of war and the occupation of his parish he had been urged by his people to leave but he refused to do so. He was 38 years old. It was not until March 1952 that his grave and body were located by Fr. Brian Geraghty. Jim was born in Bute, Montana, USA on 15 November 1911. Educated in St Mary's Newcastle, Co Down and St Malachy's, Belfast. Came to Dalgan in 1929 and ordained 1935. Went to Korea 1936.

Killed by North Korean soldiers on 29 August 1950 near Mukho, his parish, not far south of the border. He had gone to hide in the house of a catechist on June 28 or 29, when the North Korean army occupied Mukho. The catechist's house was about 5 miles northwest of the town. After 26 days the North Koreans discovered Paddy's whereabouts. He was arrested and taken to the police station in Mukho. The exact details of his death are unknown. His body was found on a mountain path by an old man gathering wood. He had been shot through the chest. Paddy was 35 years old. Paddy was born in Drumraney, Co. Westmeath, on 21 October 1915. Educated Drumraney N.S. 1920-1929, and St. Finian's College, Mullingar, 1929-1934. Came to Dalgan 1934 and ordained there 1940. Did pastoral work in diocese of Clifton, England, 194 1-1946. Went to Korea 1947.


Monsignor Patrick Brennan, an American and Prefect Apostolic of Kwangju, Korea, was taken into custody, along with Tom Cusack and Jack O'Brien, by North Korean troops on 24 July 1950. They were attached to the Columban Mission in Mokpo, in the south of the country. They were taken to Taejon prison and are presumed to have perished in the general massacre of prisoners there on the night of 24 September 1950. Their bodies were never found. Pat Brennan was 49 years old. Pat Brennan was born in Chicago on 13 March 1901. Educated at St. Rita's High School 1915-19 17; Quigley's Preparatory Seminary, Chicago, 19 17-1922; Mundelein Seminary 1922-1928. Ordained for archdiocese of Chicago 1928. Joined the Columbans in 1936 and went to Korea in 1937. Repatriated to U.S.A. as an enemy alien (by the Japanese) In 1942. Served as U.S.Army chaplain in Normandy, Germany and the Ardenne and was awarded the Soldier's Medal for bravery. Returned to Korea in 1946. Member of General Chapter of the Society 1947. Appointed Director of China region in 1947 and resided in Shanghai. A year later they Holy See appointed him Prefect Apostolic of Kwangju, Korea.

Killed during Korean War In Taejon on 24 September 1950. See Patrick Brennan above. He was 40 years old. Born Ballycotton, Liscannor, Co. Clare, on 23 October 1910. Educated Ballycotton, N.S., 1914-1924; St. Mary's College, Galway, 1924-1928. Came to Dalgan 1928 and ordained there 1934. Went to the Korea 1935.

Killed during Korean War in Taejon on 24 September 1950. See Patrick Brennan above. He was 31 years old. Born in Donamon, Co. Roscommon (Elphin diocese), on 1 December 1918. Educated Kilalla N.S. 1924-1925; Ballinrobe N.S. 1925-1931; St. Nathy's College, Ballaghaderreen 1931-1936. Came to Dalgan and ordained Dalgan (Navan) 1942. Served as British Army chaplain 1943-1948. Went to the Korea In 1949.

Died in North Korean prison camp on 6 December 1950 as a direct result of hardships experienced on notorious Death March of prisoners. See Anthony Collier above. He was 34 years old. Born Headford, Co. Galway, on 15 February 1915. Educated Headford Convent School 1919-1922; Headford N.S. 1922-1929; St. Mary's College, Galway, 1929-1934. Came to Dalgan in 1934 and ordained there 1940. Served in Galway diocese 1941-1948. Went to Korea in 1949.

In the 1960s the Columbans made a movie dcalled, I think, Path to Glory, which depicted the history of the Church in Korea. The 'narrator' was Fr Anthony Collier but the voice was that of Gregory Peck. I remember showing it to a group of sixth grade kids in Immaculate Conception parish, Irvington-on-Hudson, New York, some time in 1970-71 when I was residing there while studying. At least one student was alert as he asked me at the end, 'How could Father Collier be narrating when he was dead?'

19 September 2008

Faith and Light Pilgrimage 2008, Manila

Last Sunday, the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, I attended the annual pilgrimage of Faith & Light in Manila. Faith & Light grew out of a special international pilgrimage to Lourdes in 1971 after a number of families had been rejected by groups of ‘normal’ people. I’m certain that this rejection was more out of fear of the unknown than anything else, unlike the reaction of some in the USA to the fact that the youngest child of Sarah Palin, Trig, has Down’s Syndrome, or Trisomy 21, as it is often being called now, and that Mrs Palin chose to give birth to Trig rather than abort him. (It seems that ‘pro-choice’ people can tolerate only one choice.) She has spoken of her son as a blessing.

Marie-Hélène Matthieu and Jean Vanier built on the experience of the 1971 pilgrimage to found Faith & Light, a ‘first-cousin’ of the L’Arche movement, which owes its origins to Jean Vanier. L’Arche has residential communities, whereas Faith & Light communities meet together at least once a month.

Faith & Light, though not only for Catholics, has a strong Marian ethos and in each area where there are a number of communities they have a pilgrimage on or near the Birthday of our Blessed Mother. We had ours in Our Lady of Guadalupe Minor Seminary of the Archdiocese of Manila. Gaudencio Cardinal Rosales, Archbishop of Manila, Faith & Life's reference bishop in the Philippines, was the main celebrant at Mass, as he has been in the last few years.

For me, one of the most beautiful things about both L’Arche and Faith & Light is that, while there are many persons involved who are totally dedicated, there is room for person like me who are very much on the fringes. I hoped start a community in Cebu in 1991 but it fizzled out after a couple of years, largely because those organizing it moved to other places. During a three-year stint in Manila from 1994 to 1997 as a Columban vocation director I was chaplain to the community in Mandaluyong, Metro Manila. I have been at most of annual pilgrimages since 2003. Below is an article by the current National Coordinator of Faith & Light which I published in Misyon in July-August 2006. Cardinal Rosales is always present. Indeed, last year he was our host at his resident, the Arzobispado in Intramuros, Manila, the oldest part of Spanish Manila.

I’ll come back to F&L in another post.


By Maggie Rivera

The author is the National Coordinator of Faith and Light Philippines. Faith and Light is a movement of communities made up of people with an intellectual disability, surrounded by family members and friends, who meet at least once a month to pray, share and celebrate the friendship of Jesus. There are twelve F&L communities in Metro Manila. http://www.foietlumiere.org/ is the website of Faith and Light International.

Faith and Light Philippines (F&L) is very blessed in having Cardinal Gaudencio Rosales, Archbishop of Manila, as its reference bishop. In spite of his very busy schedule, he finds time for us. He attends some of our meetings to be with and get to know the members of the community.

Even before becoming our reference bishop, Cardinal Rosales was close to people with mental disabilities. One of his friends is Bololoy, a member of Sampaguita F&L in Mandaluyong. He is about 50 and has Down Syndrome. For years, whenever the Cardinal would visit the Little Sisters of Jesus in Mandaluyong, he’d meet Bololoy, also a friend of the Little Sisters. Last September, they met again on the annual F&L pilgrimage that takes place around the Birthday of Mary. They were able to talk and share ‘high fives.’ When Bololoy was performing during the program I overheard Archbishop Rosales telling a priest beside him, ‘Yan si Bololoy, kaibigan ko yan.’

Maybe the Cardinal also told him about the time he went for lunch to the Little Sisters. Bololoy usually eats with the Sisters, as he considers himself a member of their community, and has his own fixed place at table. When he saw that the Archbishop had sat in this place he whispered to him, ‘Monsignor, your driver wants to talk to you outside.’ When the Archbishop came back he could only laugh when he realized that Bololoy had taken his place. But there was room for everyone.

As Bishop of Malaybalay, Cardinal Rosales attended a retreat in Cebu in October 1991 given by Jean Vanier, the Canadian layman who founded Faith and Light with Marie-Hélène Mathieu.

Our new cardinal agreed to be F&L Philippines’ reference bishop in April 2002. As such he is our overall spiritual shepherd, inspiring all our members, especially our chaplains in their important role, and encouraging other priests to join. He is also called to help facilitate the integration of persons with mental disabilities, with their family members and friends, into the wider Catholic community.

Since 2002 Cardinal Rosales has attended our annual pilgrimage in honor of the Blessed Mother and has been the main celebrant at the Mass. Those in 2002, 2003 and 2004 took place in Sto Tomas, Taal and Sto Tomas again, all in Batangas, Archdiocese of Lipa. As archbishop there from 1992 till 2003, Archbishop Rosales helped choose these venues and got involved in the preparation so that the people of the archdiocese would become more familiar with F&L. Though already Archbishop of Manila he still went to Sto Tomas in September 2004. As Archbishop of Manila he facilitated our having our pilgrimage last year in Our Lady of Guadalupe Minor Seminary, Makati City. As always, he found time to eat and mingle with the members of the community, particularly with our special friends and their parents.

Archbishop Rosales met up again with Jean Vanier in Lipa in May 2004 when he gave a retreat for Faith and Light, L’Arche, and other friends of the community.

In October 2004 and October 2005 our reference bishop invited the F&L National Council to his home at the Arzobispado, Manila, where he celebrated Mass with us, had lunch with us and spent the afternoon with us.

Cardinal Rosales is much more than a ‘reference’ bishop. His baptismal name, Gaudencio, comes from the Latin word gaudium, meaning ‘joy,’ ‘delight,’ ‘happiness.’ Particularly to his mga kababayan like Bololoy, he reflects the truth of God’s word in Psalm 149, ‘God takes delight in his people.’

In the cover photo above, then-Archbishop Rosales, shortly after his transfer to Manila, with Tess Villegas during the 2003 pilgrimage to Sto Tomas, Batangas, Archdiocese of Lipa, for which the Cardinal was originally ordained and where he was archbishop for some years.

Above left: Father Rolly Agustin of the Diocese of Parañaque, national chaplain of F&L, with Bololoy, Cardinal Rosales’ friend