28 November 2008

Finding a Grave After 84 Years

Under the Acacia
Finding a Grave After 84 years

This was to have appeared in Negros Times last Monday, 24 November. However, the paper isn’t being published right now. The column contains some material from my post ‘In Flanders Fields’ but I focused on the finding of my great-uncle’s grave. We are still in the month when Catholics remember the dead in a special way.

One thing that Filipinos and Irish share is respect for the dead. I think that this comes mainly from the Catholic faith that prevails in both countries, though people of every culture and faith and none have their various ways of burying the dead and remembering them.

While working in Mindanao I noticed that many visited the cemetery on Mondays and each parish had a Misa Comun that day when the priest would offer Mass for the souls of all the dead whose names had been given in during the week ahead. People would bring an offering with their list. As far as I know, this is a custom among Cebuano-speakers, though it may be done by others too.

I would say that Filipinos are better than the Irish for visiting cemeteries. However, during the summer in Ireland many parishes or districts have a ‘Cemetery Sunday’ when Mass is offered for all who are buried in the particular place. This practice, as far as I know, is a relatively new one.

The Irish are very good at remembering the dead in speech, with expressions such as “May he rest in peace”, ‘Lord be good to her”, “The light of heaven on her”, when someone deceased is mentioned. It’s mostly older people who follow this custom now but you often hear these prayers, because that’s what they are, on radio and TV. They express a strong sense of the Communion of Saints, being one with the saints in heaven and the souls in purgatory, with the hope of joining them one day.

When I was a child my mother often mentioned her Uncle Larry Dowd who had died in the Great War, “the war to end all wars”, 1914-1918, later to be called World War I. However, she had no details apart from her father hearing the “banshee”, “bean sí”, or “fairy woman” with long hair whose wailing foretells a death in the family, according to folklore. Larry was my grandmother’s brother. However, even though she died only the year before my ordination Í never thought of asking her about him, something I deeply regret.

Some years after my mother’s death I asked her sisters about their Uncle Larry. One thought he
had died in Gallipoli, Turkey, but none of them had any details. By chance I came across a book with the names of all soldiers in Irish regiments of the British army who had died in the Great War and there found an entry for “Corporal L. Dowd” who died in Belgium, on August 6, 1917. The only thing that raised a doubt in my mind was that he was listed as having been born in Scotland. However, he had enlisted in the Royal Dublin Fusiliers. My research since has shown that only one person by the name of “L. Dowd” died in action in the Great War.

(Transfiguration, Raphael, painted 1516-1520)

In 2001, when I was based in Britain, I was asked by Joy, a friend from Mindanao to officiate at her Church wedding on September 8 to her husband, Stefaan, a Belgian. They lived near Ieper, or “Ypres” as it is known in French, a city that was utterly destroyed in the Great War but that was rebuilt with the help of the blueprints of the original buildings. There are many war cemeteries in the area, maintained beautifully by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. Stefaan took me to the In Flanders Fields Museum where I told an official what I knew about Larry. Less than a minute later a computer printed the details of where he was buried and we went to the cemetery immediately.

It was a very moving moment for me to be the first and only relative, 84 years after his death, to visit the grave of Laurence Dowd who had died in a war that for the soldiers on both sides was utter hell. I find some consolation in the fact that he died on the Feast of the Transfiguration.

So many of the headstones in the war cemeteries don’t have a name but simply ‘A Soldier of such-and-such a Regiment’. The vast majority were still in their late teens or early twenties.

The British built a monument in Ieper called the Menin Gate. On it are listed the names of more than 50,000 soldiers of the British Commonwealth whose remains were never found. They were from all over the British Empire – Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Newfoundland, India, which then included what are now Pakistan and Bangladesh, the African colonies and the Caribbean, apart from the great numbers from the United Kingdom itself, which then included the whole of Ireland.

Every might at 8.00 volunteer buglers from Ieper’s firefighters the Last Post at the Mennen Gate and traffic comes to a halt. The evening I was there a very old man, possibly a veteran of the Great War, placed a wreath. Beside me was a young woman with a baby not more than a week old. This brought tears to my eyes. Here was a woman passing on to her new-born the memory of the tragedy of the Great War, which everyone in that part of Belgium carries, in the presence of someone who probably had fought in it.

Joy and Stefaan promised they would visit the grave of my great-uncle Larry on Armistice Day, November 11, a public holiday in Belgium, which they did. The Great War ended at 11 A.M. on November 11 ninety years ago. May my Uncle Larry and all the other soldiers buried near the battlefields of Europe rest in peace.

The Confession of the Centurion (La Confession du Centurion)

James Tissot (1836-1902)

27 November 2008

Happy Thanksgiving Day to all Americans!

First known and last photos of President Abraham Lincoln

Thanksgiving Day is a great family day in the USA. It's a day when Americans, second to none in my experience in hospitality, welcome strangers to their home.

President Lincoln's proclamation below is surely a wise document.

Thanksgiving Proclamation — 1863
Abraham Lincoln, 16th President of the United States of America

It is the duty of nations as well as of men to own their dependence upon the over ruling power of God; to confess their sins and transgressions in humble sorrow, yet with a sure hope that genuine repentance will lead to mercy and pardon; and to recognize the sublime truth, announced in the holy scriptures and proven by all history, that those nations are blessed whose God is the Lord.

We know that by His divine law, nations, like individuals, are subjected to punishments and chastisements in this world. May we not justly fear that the awful calamity of civil war which now desolates the land may be a punishment inflicted upon us for our presumptuous sins, to the needful end of our national reformation as a whole people.

We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of heaven, we have been preserved these many years in peace and prosperity; we have grown in numbers, wealth and power as no other nation has ever grown

But we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us, and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own. Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us.

It has seemed to me fit and proper that God should be solemnly, reverently, and gratefully acknowledged, as with one heart and one voice, by the whole American people. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November as a day of Thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens.

25 November 2008

The Parable of the Old Man and the Young

The Parable of the Old Man and the Young

So Abram rose, and clave the wood, and went,
And took the fire with him, and a knife.
And as they sojourned both of them together,
Isaac the first-born spake and said, My Father,
Behold the preparations, fire and iron,
But where the lamb for this burnt-offering?
Then Abram bound the youth with belts and straps,
And builded parapets and trenches there,
And stretchèd forth the knife to slay his son.
When lo! an Angel called him out of heaven,
Saying, Lay not thy hand upon the lad,
Neither do anything to him, thy son.
Behold! caught in a thicket by its horns;
A ram. Offer the Ram of Pride instead.

But the old man would not so, but slew his son,
And half the seed of Europe, one by one.

Wilfred Owen (18 March 1893 – 4 November 1918)

Genesis 22 : 1-19 (Authorised or King James Version which the poet would have been very familiar with. Owen based his poem on this passage).

And it came to pass after these things, that God did tempt Abraham, and said unto him, Abraham: and he said, Behold, here I am.And he said, Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of.

And Abraham rose up early in the morning, and saddled his ass, and took two of his young men with him, and Isaac his son, and clave the wood for the burnt offering, and rose up, and went unto the place of which God had told him.

Then on the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes, and saw the place afar off.And Abraham said unto his young men, Abide ye here with the ass; and I and the lad will go yonder and worship, and come again to you.

And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering, and laid it upon Isaac his son; and he took the fire in his hand, and a knife; and they went both of them together.

And Isaac spake unto Abraham his father, and said, My father: and he said, Here am I, my son. And he said, Behold the fire and the wood: but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?And Abraham said, My son, God will provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering: so they went both of them together.

And they came to the place which God had told him of; and Abraham built an altar there, and laid the wood in order, and bound Isaac his son, and laid him on the altar upon the wood.And Abraham stretched forth his hand, and took the knife to slay his son.And the angel of the LORD called unto him out of heaven, and said, Abraham, Abraham: and he said, Here am I.

And he said, Lay not thine hand upon the lad, neither do thou any thing unto him: for now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from me.

And Abraham lifted up his eyes, and looked, and behold behind him a ram caught in a thicket by his horns: and Abraham went and took the ram, and offered him up for a burnt offering in the stead of his son.

And Abraham called the name of that place Jehovahjireh: as it is said to this day, In the mount of the LORD it shall be seen.And the angel of the LORD called unto Abraham out of heaven the second time,

And said, By myself have I sworn, saith the LORD, for because thou hast done this thing, and hast not withheld thy son, thine only son:That in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the sea shore; and thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies;

And in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because thou hast obeyed my voice.

So Abraham returned unto his young men, and they rose up and went together to Beersheba; and Abraham dwelt at Beersheba.

The Sacrifice of Isaac, Rembrandt, 1635

The Oise-Sambre Canal where Wilfred Owen was killed in action on 4 November 1918 and the poet's grave. His family got word of his death one week later, Armistice Day, when the Great War ended at 11am, 11 November.

May all who died in 'The war to end all wars' rest in peace.

Dishonoring the Dead

The Negros Times has suspended publication for the time being. here is the column I wrote for 17-18 November. I had originally written in for 3-4 November, in the context of the observance of All Saints and All Souls here in the Philippines. A 'memorial park' is a privately owned cemetery run as a business.

Under the Acacia

By Father Seán Coyle

Dishonoring the Dead

I don’t know whether it’s ignorance of Philippine culture or justifiable outrage that made me upset the last week of October when I saw a half-page advertisement in a Bacolod newspaper inviting people to a “Celebration of All Saints’ Day” by playing bingo and engaging in parlor games at a memorial park in the city. The owners reminded us that there would be “Peryahan” and Merry-Go-Round Rides the whole afternoon.

And, yes, the blessing of graves was fitted in before bingo and the Holy Mass between the parlor games and the evening “Cultural Show”, no doubt to satisfy the fanatics who think that a cemetery is a sacred place where we Catholics pray for the dead.

The first time I blessed graves on November 1 or 2 in the Philippines was in a mountainous area of the municipality of Tubod, Lanao del Norte in 1972. We were accompanied by members of the Philippine Constabulary, as the civil war that erupted the previous year in the Lanao and Cotabato provinces, instigated by politicians with Christian and Islamic backgrounds, had abated only some months before. Thank God, there was no trouble.

In subsequent years I blessed graves in parishes in Misamis Occidental, in Karomatan, now Sultan Naga Dimaporo, Lanao del Norte, where about half the people are Christians and half Muslims, and in Lianga, Surigao del Sur. In most places the busiest day was November 1 but in Lianga everything took place on November 2, the Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed, as the Church officially designates it. I have never understood why the Feast of All Saints has, in effect, become All Souls’ Day or Fiesta Minatay, the Feast of the Dead, as it’s often called by Ilonggos, in the Philippines.

But in all of these places the emphasis was on blessing the graves and praying for the dead. Many had a picnic also. In Lianga we had Mass in the church at 6 in the morning. After breakfast everyone went to the cemetery where the priest celebrated Mass again and the blessing of the graves took place in reasonably orderly fashion. By noon everything was finished and, following local custom, the priest lunched at the pantheon where the relatives of the mayor were buried.
But in none of these places did I ever encounter bingo or parlor games or merry-go-rounds or a so-called “cultural show”. There was a sense of joyful hope, because of our faith as Christians in the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ and because of our Catholic practice of praying for the dead. The Roman Martyrology or official list of saints of the Church, on which our almanake is based, says of November 2: On this day is observed the commemoration of the faithful departed, in which our common and pious Mother the Church, immediately after having endeavored to celebrate by worthy praise all her children who already rejoice in heaven, strives to aid by her powerful intercession with Christ, her Lord and Spouse, all those who still groan in Purgatory, so that they may join as soon as possible the inhabitants of the heavenly city.

In other words, the whole point of All Souls’ Day, even if it is observed on All Saints’ Day by most Filipinos, is to pray for the souls in purgatory, in accordance with Catholic teaching and practice. This doesn’t rule out a sense of joy or even having a picnic at the cemetery. After all, the heavenly banquet is a wonderful image from the Bible.

Pope Benedict writes beautifully about this in Spe Salvi, No.48:
Now a further question arises: if “Purgatory” is simply purification through fire in the encounter with the Lord, Judge and Saviour, how can a third person intervene, even if he or she is particularly close to the other? When we ask such a question, we should recall that no man is an island, entire of itself. Our lives are involved with one another, through innumerable interactions they are linked together. No one lives alone. No one sins alone. No one is saved alone. The lives of others continually spill over into mine: in what I think, say, do and achieve.

And conversely, my life spills over into that of others: for better and for worse. So my prayer for another is not something extraneous to that person, something external, not even after death. In the interconnectedness of Being, my gratitude to the other—my prayer for him—can play a small part in his purification. And for that there is no need to convert earthly time into God's time: in the communion of souls simple terrestrial time is superseded.

It is never too late to touch the heart of another, nor is it ever in vain. In this way we further clarify an important element of the Christian concept of hope. Our hope is always essentially also hope for others; only thus is it truly hope for me too. As Christians we should never limit ourselves to asking: how can I save myself? We should also ask: what can I do in order that others may be saved and that for them too the star of hope may rise? Then I will have done my utmost for my own personal salvation as well.

The Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed, All Souls’ Day, Fiesta Minatay, call it what we will, is an ancient Catholic practice. No owners of a memorial park have the right to hijack it and distort it for commercial purposes. The business people of Cebu, in just over 20 years, have distorted and all but destroyed the Sinulog, a centuries-old celebration in honor of the Sto. Niño, the Child Jesus.

Are the people of Bacolod going to allow commercial interests to dishonor our dead and undermine our Catholic faith?

24 November 2008

‘¡Viva Cristo Rey!’ 'Long live Christ the King!'

‘¡Viva Cristo Rey!’

'Long live Christ the King!'

The photo above was taken on 23 November 1927 in Mexico City just before the execution by firing squad of 36-year-old Fr Miguel Agustin Pro SJ. In his right hand was a crucifix and in his left a rosary. His last words were ‘¡Viva Cristo Rey!’ 'Long live Christ the King'.

I first saw this photo in 1955, when I was 12. It was in a supplement to the Irish Independent on the occasion of its 50th anniversary. The paper, at the time very Catholic in its ethos - it is very different now - had an outstanding photo from each year of its publication. That of Father Pro was its choice for 1927. It made a profound impact on me, as it does still.

Blessed Miguel was beatified by Pope John Paul II on 15 September 1988. The spoke said on that occasion, 'Neither suffering nor serious illness, neither the exhausting ministerial activity, frequently carried out in difficult and dangerous circumstances, could stifle the radiating and contagious joy which he brought to his life for Christ and which nothing could take away. Indeed, the deepest root of self-sacrificing surrender for the lowly was his passionate love for Jesus Christ and his ardent desire to be conformed to him, even unto death.'

Joy was a characteristic of this most attractive of saints. In nearly all photos of him that I have seen, not only those taken on his execution day, he looks deadly serious. But he was a practical joker of the first order and he also suffered from poor health all his life.

Blessed Miguel's feast is observed in the USA and, I presume, in Mexico, on 23 November, which is also the feast of St Columban and of St Clement of Rome. As that date this year was the Solemnity of Christ the King, Clement, Columban and Miguel had to 'yield'. But it is only proper to recall this great Jesuit priest whose last words were those of forgiveness for those who were about to kill him and whose final words were the inspiring ‘¡Viva Cristo Rey!’

You can read more about Blessed Miguel here - that site has many photos - and here.

Here is an article about Blessed Miguel that we published in Misyon in September-Cctober 2004.


By Sister Mariana Reyes HGS

Sister Mariana came to the Philippines in 2000. She is a member of the Hermanas Guadalupanas de la Salle founded in Mexico in 1946 by Brother Juan Fromental Coyroche, a De La Salle Brother from France. The Sisters follow the charism of St John Baptist De La Salle, involved in the promotion of Christian Education. Their spirituality in their service of God inspires them to look to Our Lady of Guadalupe in her role as evangelizer to the people they serve. They arrived in the Philippines in 1984. They also work in Mexico, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Italy, Vatican, USA, La Reunion and Madagascar. The Sisters' Philippine website is http://religioushgs.tripod.com/

Martyr: we have often heard the deep meaning of this word. Witness: to suffer for the God who has kept you alive, and, if required, to give up your life also. The word makes us recall the Witness par excellence: Jesus Christ. The word ‘martyr’ recalls for us the many believers in the early Church, who rather than give up their faith and to show their love, trust and faith in God, faced death.

But here is a modern witness, facing his killers wearing a suit and tie. It’s November 23, 1927, during the religious persecution in Mexico. He is Father Miguel Agustin Pro SJ.

José Ramon Miguel Agustin Pro Juarez was born on 13 January 1891 in Guadalupe, Mexico, one of 11 children of Don Miguel and Josefa. As a child he had been dangerously ill for a year. Don Miguel held his son before an image of La Virgen de Guadalupe and said, ‘Madre mia, give me back my son.’ Despite not being particularly religious he found his vocation at 20 and entered the Jesuits despite his fragile health, which meant more suffering. His vocation involved leaving his loving family behind, fleeing to foreign lands, strange languages and customs, as he couldn’t study in Mexico because of the persecution. He studied in the USA, in Nicaragua, Spain and Belgium where he was ordained in 1925.

Father Pro had a number of operations for a bad stomach. He also suffered because of his concern for his family who went through great financial hardship during the persecution. His superiors assigned him to work at home in 1926.

Returning to Mexico he showed with passion that he understood the words ‘The good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep.’ He knew well that any priest found propagating Catholicism could face the death penalty. Many were executed. But we see something really special in Father Pro – his ability to inject into his adventures the cheerfulness that characterized him: one word, one gesture was many times enough to see him escape from the police. In spite of the danger he never lost his sense of humor which he saw as a gift from God. As a child he was musical and a practical joker.

Earthly powers weren’t able to stop his priestly zeal. His cheerfulness made him try one and another way of deceiving the detectives assigned to detect violators of the law. He wore many disguises in order to administer the sacraments, celebrate Mass or lead a recollection. There’s a photo of him dressed as a mechanic. On one occasion on his way to anoint an old person he spotted the detectives. A young Catholic woman whom he knew happened to pass by. He linked arms with her and the police thought they were sweethearts.

Meantime, the persecution continued. Churches were closed, Catholic schools suppressed, convents expropriated, religious communities persecuted. So many priests, religious, lay persons died. This was Mexico, the land Our Lady visited on 1531 in her apparition to the indigenous St Juan Diego. It seemed that this land had changed its patron. But the blood of martyrs is the seed of new Christians, and the execution of hundreds was not enough to eradicate the Catholic faith from Mexican soil.

Now it was the moment Divine Providence destined for Father Pro to bear the supreme testimony of his faith. In November 1927, the authorities arrested Father Pro, along with his brothers Humberto and Roberto. The government authorities linked them to an assassination attempt on the presidential candidate General Álvaro Obregón through an old car that had once belonged to Humberto. (General Obregón had been president from 1920 to 1924 when he was replaced by his ally Plutarco Elías Calles who was the real power. General Obregón was assassinated after being re-elected in 1928.) The authorities were well aware that the brothers were innocent. But because they considered Catholic priests their enemies, the government saw in Padre Miguel and his brothers the perfect scapegoats. Without due process or trial, they sentenced them to death.

The government had a photographer cover the execution to show up Catholics as cowards. The photos had the opposite effect and later the government made it a crime to possess them.

Father Miguel was given a couple of minutes to pray before his execution. He rejected the traditional blindfold and said to the firing squad, ‘May God have mercy on you. May God bless you. Lord, you know that I am innocent. With all my heart I forgive my enemies.’ Serene, he stretched out his arms in the form of a cross, holding a rosary in his left hand, a crucifix in his right. With his last breath he said quietly but clearly, ‘¡Viva Cristo Rey!’ ‘Long live Christ the King!’ This cry was the assurance that the persecuted and suffering Church of Mexican was owned by Christ its King.

The effect of the news was the opposite to what the government had expected. Thousands turned out for the funeral of Father Miguel and his brother Humberto – Roberto had been released. An old blind woman in the crowd who came to touch his body left with her sight restored. The fervor of the Catholic faithful grew stronger and their fear lessened because of the testimony of the martyrdom of this man of God, this committed priest, selfless in his generous ministry of the Word and the Sacraments; a creative, fun-loving joker, despite his serious demeanor in photos.

Sometime before his death he said to a friend that if he came upon any somber-looking saints in heaven, he’d do the Mexican hat dance to cheer them up. How well he used his gifts to live and die with passion for Christ and his Gospel. May we find in this witness, an inspiration to see that it is possible to live our faith with creativity and face challenges the challenges of modern times in a concrete, loving way.

Chaplet of Blessed Miguel

Blessed Miguel, before your death, you told your friend to ask you for favors when you were in Heaven. I beg you to intercede for me and in union with Our Lady and all the angels and saints, to ask Our Lord to grant my petition, provided that it be God's Will. {mention the request}

We honor and adore the triune God. The Gloria.

We ask the Holy Spirit for guidance. Come Holy Ghost.

We pray as Jesus taught us to pray. The Our Father.

We venerate with love the Virgin Mary. Hail Mary.

All you angels, bless you the Lord forever.

Saint Joseph, Saint {name of your patron}, and all the saints, pray for us. Blessed Miguel, high spirited youth, pray for us. Viva Christo Rey.

Blessed Miguel, loving son and brother, pray for us. Viva Christo Rey.

Blessed Miguel, patient novice, pray for us. Viva Christo Rey.

Blessed Miguel, exile from your homeland, pray for us. Viva Christo Rey.

Blessed Miguel, prayerful religious, pray for us. Viva Christo Rey.

Blessed Miguel, sick and suffering, pray for us. Viva Christo Rey.

Blessed Miguel, defender of workers, pray for us. Viva Christo Rey.

Blessed Miguel, courageous priest in hiding, pray for us. Viva Christo Rey.

Blessed Miguel, prisoner in jail, pray for us. Viva Christo Rey.

Blessed Miguel, forgiver of persecutors, pray for us. Viva Christo Rey.

Blessed Miguel, holy martyr, pray for us. Viva Christo Rey.

Imprimatur: Joseph A. Fiorenza, Bishop of Galveston - Houston, August 13, 1995

22 November 2008

St Columban's Day

St Columban’s Day

The feast of St Columban is celebrated on 23 November. However, as the Solemnity of Jesus Christ, Universal King, falls on the 23rd Columbans will observe the feast of their patron liturgically the following day.

Here are links to various items about St Columban.

On 11 June this year Pope Benedict spoke at his Wednesday audience about this great saint and we feature his talk in the current Misyon.

You can find a number of interesting items about St Columban here.

Here is the message of our Superior General, Fr Tommy Murphy, to all Columbans.

Saint Columban’s Day Message.

We Columbans are good at celebrating and each year we particularly look forward to getting together to honour our Patron St Columban on his feast day.
Earlier this year St Columban was honoured in a most unique way when Pope Benedict recognised the contribution of St Columban by making him the special focus of his Wednesday General Audience Address in St Peters’ Square on June 11th last.

Pope Benedict acknowledged that St Columban faced considerable difficulties but stressed that his work of evangelization began ‘in the first place through the witness of the missionaries’ own lives’.

As this feast day approaches I wish to acknowledge the contribution of all who are involved today in Columban Mission in our Regions and Mission Units. Many of you are working in challenging contexts and under difficult conditions. I have witnessed first hand some of the strains under which you carry out your present responsibilities. It is not easy to be a Catholic Missionary today. At times there is the temptation to despair because the odds are stacked against us and the challenges seem too great for the time and personnel we have.

Earlier this year at the Columban US Regional Assembly we were reminded of the helpful distinction between ‘Chronological time ‘, and ‘Kairos time’. It was stressed that while we may not have enough chronological time to complete what we want to do; we do have enough time to do what God wants us to do. This perspective can help us to lighten the real or perceived burdens of life and ministry and to take a broader view of our calling as Columban missionaries no matter what context we are working in. We are encouraged to live in Kairos time which is holy and it is God’s time, laden with meaning and choice and we have the freedom and responsibility to use this time and these choices well.

Pope Benedict in this year’s World Mission Day message wrote: ‘with concern we ask ourselves: What will become of humanity and creation? Is there hope for the future, or rather, is there a future for humanity? And what will this future be like? Humanity needs to be liberated and redeemed. Creation itself – St Paul says-suffers and nurtures the hope that it will share in the freedom of the children of God. These words are true in today’s world too. Creation is suffering. Creation is suffering and waiting for real freedom; it is waiting for a different and better world.’ And ‘there are countless people who are thirsting for hope and love’.

In this Year of St Paul, we note a strong belief that was shared by both St Paul and St Columban. The oft quoted statement from St Columban’s 10th Sermon, Christi simus, non nostri, is translated as ‘We are for Christ not for ourselves’, or ‘Let us be Christ’s, not our own’, or ‘We are Christ’s, not our own’. St Columban’s awareness of the importance of the presence of Christ in his own life and work was alive and well over five hundred years earlier in St Paul’s conviction that it was not himself but that it was Christ that lived in him. ‘and it is no longer I who live, but Christ in me.’ Gal 2.19. St Paul was very clear that it is only in Christ that humanity can find redemption and hope.

For over 90 years Columban missionaries have committed their lives to ensure that the hope and love of the Gospel message is experienced by people in many different parts of the world. Today we give thanks to God for this long history of commitment.

During the coming days, as we come together in our Regions and Mission Units to celebrate the feast of our Patron, we recommit ourselves to our mission; and to be focused and dedicated in healthy ways that bring life to ourselves and the people with whom we live and work.

May the life and spirit of St Columban encourage all of us.

Fr Tommy Murphy. November 21, 2008.

21 November 2008

Purgatory and the Scenic Joys of Oregon

Bishop Robert Vasa of Baker, Oregon, writes a weekly column in Catholic Sentinel, the papers that serves the Archdiocese of Portland in Oregon and the Diocese of Baker, which cover the state between them. Bishop Vasa has to travel vast distances as his diocese is nearly twice as big as Mindanao and more than twice the area of Ireland. He often writes about his trips and the people he meets on his pastoral visits. He can tantalize his readers with his descriptions of the scenery along the way, such as that in Wallowa County (above) where he spent the weekend of All Saints' and All Souls' Days.

More importantly, he uses his columns to give the Church's teaching very clearly and in a truly pastoral manner. Sometimes the word 'pastoral' is used when the language used is that of 'fudge' rather than of hard truth. He writes in the second part of his latest column about praying for the souls in purgatory and I've highlighted part of his message. I've been present at too many premature 'canonizations' and, while trying to point out the goodness of persons at their funerals, without eulogizing them, I try to stress the importance of praying for them.

I have used Bishop Vasa's columns on occasion in Misyon and he has given me permission to use his material.

Trips to Diocese of Baker parishes filled with scenic joys

By Bishop Robert Vasa of Baker, Oregon
BEND — It seems like a long time since I have written about a recent travel experience within the Diocese. While there have been occasions of travel within the diocese other matters have been a bit more pre-occupying and have precluded any kind of detailed travel account. This week, however, even though there is an abundance of other matters to make comment upon, I need to make a couple of observations about a recent trip to Wallowa County. The two parishes I visited are the furthermost parishes of the diocese, Saint Katherine at Enterprise and Saint Pius X at Wallowa. While I did try to watch the odometer I can only guess that the actual one-way mileage is something in the neighborhood of 340 to 350 miles. Thus I spent a good portion of a Saturday traveling there and a good portion of Sunday traveling back. It was a most enjoyable trip.

The fall colors along Highway 97, through the Columbia Gorge, over the Blue Mountains and into the Wallowa Mountains were just short of spectacular. Low-hanging, wintry clouds portended rain or even snow and softened the otherwise harsh light of the sun. Clearly it is fall. There were any number of occasions when, rounding a curve or cresting a rise a brand new fall-rewritten scene began to present itself in such a way that I tended to strain upward or right or left to get just a little more of an advance view of what was coming. Both the trip there and the return were filled with these kinds of scenic joys. The most memorable for me, however, was the area between Enterprise and Wallowa on the return trip. The clouds were a bit heavier, just a little more foreboding of the coming winter, and yet so brightly lit that they were not the least bit unwelcome. The magnificent composition of clouds and sun and mountains and river and colorful trees and intervening river valley was wonderfully refreshing.

That portion of the trip was reminiscent for me of the wonderful spirit and attitude of the people with whom I had the opportunity to celebrate Mass, share meals and swap stories. Confirmation was held on Saturday evening for the seven children of the parish of confirmation age. The number seven made it possible for me to ask one gift of the Holy Spirit from each child which proved to be easy for the first several children and a bit more difficult as memories strained both to remember the seven gifts as well as to remember which had already been claimed. It also allowed the same process for the seven sacraments with a comparable two-fold memory strain. As usual, I think I enjoyed the questioning more than the children did.

I was very pleased that, at the end of Mass on Sunday morning, a parish representative at Enterprise stood and announced the support of the parish for the Powell Butte Retreat Center. Though the parishes at Enterprise and Wallowa are located in one of the most beautiful and retreat-like parts of the state and though they are the most distant from the retreat site they recognize that we are building something for the future which serves the whole diocese and they wanted to assure that I knew of their support. I commend them for their faith.

Since my visit coincided with the celebration of All Saints Day and All Souls Day it was not possible to avoid the topic of purgatory. It often happens at funerals that the consoling hope that the dearly departed is in heaven with God leads to an over-exaggerated statement that the newly departed is in heaven already. This, of course, is merely conjectured and not known. It is hoped for but not certain. Nonetheless these compassionate sermons can generate within us a profound sense of peace and even joy at the thought that our loved ones are with God. This does sound wonderful but we do not know if it is true or not. Imagine yourself having just died and having discovered that all of your past attachments to sin, which were never completely denounced, have trailed you into eternity. Imagine your shock as you discover that you must now spend (by analogy) one hundred years in purgatory. Imagine your hope as you recognize that the assiduous prayers and Masses offered by your friends and relatives on earth will greatly reduce your purgatorial sentence. Finally, imagine your shock and dismay as you see your family and friends still on earth “canonizing” you and rejoicing that you have no need of their prayers because you are already enjoying the beatific vision, already seeing God face-to-face. These are the ones whom we in the Church refer to as the Poor Souls.

Undoubtedly, it is consoling for us on earth to envision our loved ones as already united with God in heaven but it is much more consoling for the poor souls in purgatory for us to presume that they are not yet fully reconciled with God. There is no harm done in praying for someone as if they were still in purgatory even if they are, in fact, in heaven. There is, by contrast, great harm done in not praying for someone because of a conviction that they are in heaven when they are, in fact, among the Poor and forgotten souls in purgatory. Put yourself in their shoes and pray for them as you will want your children and grandchildren to pray for you. A simple test. Call to mind those whom you know and love who have died in the past year. While you will certainly have recalled them many times in memory, have you also remembered on those occasions to say a decade of the rosary for them, have a Mass offered for them or gathered the family together to pray a rosary for the happy repose of the soul of that loved one? It is good to be remembered, it is better to be remembered in prayer.

All Souls Day this year was particularly poignant for me because one year ago my family and I were keeping vigil with Mom during her last days. She died on November 3 and so the approach of that one year anniversary made this year’s liturgical passage through All Saints Day and All Souls’ Day very memorable. Eternal rest grant unto her, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon her. May her soul and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen. Let us remember to pray throughout the year for the poor souls in purgatory.

18 November 2008

German by birth, Mangyan by vocation

A story in last Sunday's Philippine Daily Inquirer by Edson C. Tanod Jr begins with these words:

MANILA, Philippines—As a helicopter whirrs about in the sky above a school in a Mindoro town, pupils rush to the windows or dash out of the classroom to catch a glimpse of it.

The teacher, cut off in mid-lecture, yells angrily: “Don’t be stupid like the Mangyans! Go back to your seats!”

Anecdotes like this about the Mangyan, the indigenous people of Mindoro who inhabit the island’s forest interior, upset Catholic priest Fr. Ewald Dinter.

The Manila Bulletin also featured Fr Dinter SVD on 18 September. Rachel C. Barawid's article, Teacher of the Tribe, opens thus: "Two elderly Mangyans told me ‘you had been observed very closely, you never made any negative remark about our culture. Now we decide you may know everything.’ That was one of the best experiences in life, when they accepted me..."For 70-year-old Fr. Ewald Hauck Dinter, SVD, the mountains of Oriental Mindoro are more than a place to fulfill his mission. It is his home, and the Mangyan tribe his family.

Fr. Dinter or Amang, as the German priest is fondly called by the indigenous people, has been living among the Mangyans for 22 years now. Not surprisingly, he has fully embraced the Mangyan’s culture, learning their customs, traditions and adapting to their way of life. Just like a real Mangyan, he speaks Buhid, the Mangyan’s traditional language, plus seven other dialects. He has likewise mastered their ancient writing system.

Here is a postscript to the Bulletin story: (Fr. Ewald Dinter is one of the four teachers recognized for his exemplary accomplishments, selfless service and dedication to his profession by the Diwa Learning Systems and Bato Balani Foundation’s "Many Faces of the Teacher" advocacy campaign. They will be feted on Sept. 27 at the "Tribute to Teachers" at the SMX Convention Center in Pasay City.)


Stories like these about missionary priests are inspiring. I have a question about one sentence in the Inquirer article: The Mangyan Mission respects the original beliefs of the Mangyans and does not impose the Catholic faith on them, although a few have already voluntarily converted to the Catholic faith, he says.

The Church cannot impose the faith on anyone, since it is pure gift from God. But we have a responsibility as Church to preach the Gospel, that is, to present the Gospel in such a way that people can see who Jesus Christ is. But the gift of faith comes from God alone.

There has also been a tendency in the Church, among missionaries and others, in recent years, to be quiet about our Catholic faith, 'out of respect for others', to focus on 'doing good' to others and lauding what is good in the faith of others. There is a danger of giving the message that Jesus Christ, God who became Man, who died for us on the cross and rose from the dead on Easter Sunday, doesn't really matter.

I'm not implying this in any way of Father Dinter. I can only marvel at what he is doing. But I am sometimes troubled by the attitude that 'one religion is as good as another', which is simply not true.

Mangyan Heritage Center

15 November 2008

Should Catholics Be Environmentalists?

Here is an excellent article by Ronald J. Rychlak, professor of law and associate dean at the University of Mississippi School of Law. He is the author of Hitler, the War, and the Pope (2000) and Righteous Gentiles (2005). It is taken from Catholic Culture.

Professor Rychlak shows how popes have been teaching about the ijportacne of our caring for the earth, not only for ourselves but for future generations, since Pope Leo XIII's landmark encyclical on social justice, Rerum Novarum, in 1891. He begins thus:

After the Vatican recently hosted several international conferences on the environment and environmental problems, headlines reported that the Catholic Church is finally jumping on the environmental bandwagon. They were wrong on two counts. First, Catholic teaching has long been that care for the earth is both a duty that we owe to God and a reflection of our respect for each other. So, the Church isn't some Johnny-come-lately to protecting the planet. Second, the Church's understanding of what it means to be a good steward is not precisely in line with the thinking of many modern environmentalists. You may read the whole article here.


WELCOME to www.negrosnine.com
Official website of the Negros Nine Human Development Foundation, Inc.

This website has been set up to continue the work of 'total and integral human development' that began in the 1970s on the island of Negros in the Philippines during the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos. The story of the Negros Nine symbolises the struggle of the poor for a better life in a safe and sustainable environment i.e, 'total and integral human development'.

A remarkable family reunion/funeral

Margaret Mary Ward (87), from County Galway, Ireland, was buried last Wednesday in Salford, near Manchester, England, to where she had emigrated with her late husband Charles in 1963. Their 12 surviving children of 15 were present, as well as all 172 grandchildren, the eldest 51, the youngest only 11, their first time ever to gather together. Margaret, or 'Maggie' as she was known, also had 36 great-grandchildren and 18 great-great-grandchildren.
You can read the report in today's The Irish Times.

As we say in Irish, Ar dheis Dé go raibh a h-anam, may her soul be at the right hand of God.

14 November 2008

Two US Church Statements on Election of Obama

Two Church Statements from the USA on Election of Barack Obama

Two days ago the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) issued a statement on the election of Barack Obama as 44th President of the USA. A statement of a conference doesn’t carry the same authority as that of an individual bishop to the people in his own diocese. Clearly, before the US elections, bishops in the USA were of different minds but in this statement they emphasis that they are of one mind and one heart.

The second statement, that of Fr Jay Scott Newman to his parishioners in St Mary’s, Greenville, South Carolina. It is clear and to the point. A parish priest's authority doesn't extend beyond his parish the but authority of God's truth holds everywhere.

I have emphasized some parts.

STATEMENT of the President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops 12 November 2008

"If the Lord does not build the house, in vain do its builders labor; if the Lord does not watch over the city, in vain does the watchman keep vigil." (Psalm 127, vs. 1)

The Bishops of the Catholic Church in the United States welcome this moment of historic transition and look forward to working with President-elect Obama and the members of the new Congress for the common good of all. Because of the Church's history and the scope of her ministries in this country, we want to continue our work for economic justice and opportunity for all; our efforts to reform laws around immigration and the situation of the undocumented; our provision of better education and adequate health care for all, especially for women and children; our desire to safeguard religious freedom and foster peace at home and abroad. The Church is intent on doing good and will continue to cooperate gladly with the government and all others working for these goods.

The fundamental good is life itself, a gift from God and our parents. A good state protects the lives of all. Legal protection for those members of the human family waiting to be born in this country was removed when the Supreme Court decided Roe vs. Wade in 1973. This was bad law. The danger the Bishops see at this moment is that a bad court decision will be enshrined in bad legislation that is more radical than the 1973 Supreme Court decision itself.

In the last Congress, a Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA) was introduced that would, if brought forward in the same form today, outlaw any "interference" in providing abortion at will. It would deprive the American people in all fifty states of the freedom they now have to enact modest restraints and regulations on the abortion industry. FOCA would coerce all Americans into subsidizing and promoting abortion with their tax dollars. It would counteract any and all sincere efforts by government and others of good will to reduce the number of abortions in our country.

Parental notification and informed consent precautions would be outlawed, as would be laws banning procedures such as partial-birth abortion and protecting infants born alive after a failed abortion. Abortion clinics would be deregulated. The Hyde Amendment restricting the federal funding of abortions would be abrogated. FOCA would have lethal consequences for prenatal human life.FOCA would have an equally destructive effect on the freedom of conscience of doctors, nurses and health care workers whose personal convictions do not permit them to cooperate in the private killing of unborn children. It would threaten Catholic health care institutions and Catholic Charities. It would be an evil law that would further divide our country, and the Church should be intent on opposing evil.

On this issue, the legal protection of the unborn, the bishops are of one mind with Catholics and others of good will. They are also pastors who have listened to women whose lives have been diminished because they believed they had no choice but to abort a baby. Abortion is a medical procedure that kills, and the psychological and spiritual consequences are written in the sorrow and depression of many women and men. The bishops are single-minded because they are, first of all, single-hearted.

The recent election was principally decided out of concern for the economy, for the loss of jobs and homes and financial security for families, here and around the world. If the election is misinterpreted ideologically as a referendum on abortion, the unity desired by President-elect Obama and all Americans at this moment of crisis will be impossible to achieve. Abortion kills not only unborn children; it destroys constitutional order and the common good, which is assured only when the life of every human being is legally protected. Aggressively pro-abortion policies, legislation and executive orders will permanently alienate tens of millions of Americans, and would be seen by many as an attack on the free exercise of their religion.

This statement is written at the request and direction of all the Bishops, who also want to thank all those in politics who work with good will to protect the lives of the most vulnerable among us. Those in public life do so, sometimes, at the cost of great sacrifice to themselves and their families; and we are grateful. We express again our great desire to work with all those who cherish the common good of our nation. The common good is not the sum total of individual desires and interests; it is achieved in the working out of a common life based upon good reason and good will for all.

Our prayers accompany President-elect Obama and his family and those who are cooperating with him to assure a smooth transition in government. Many issues demand immediate attention on the part of our elected "watchman." (Psalm 127) May God bless him and our country.

Dedication of the Lateran Basilica in Rome

Fr Jay Scott Newman to his parishioners in St Mary’s, Greenvilee, South Carolina.
9 November 2008

Dear Friends in Christ,

We the People have spoken, and the 44th President of the United States will be Barack Hussein Obama. This election ends a political process that started two years ago and which has revealed deep and bitter divisions within the United States and also within the Catholic Church in the United States. This division is sometimes called a “Culture War,” by which is meant a heated clash between two radically different and incompatible conceptions of how we should order our common life together, the public life that constitutes civil society. And the chief battleground in this culture war for the past 30 years has been abortion, which one side regards as a murderous abomination that cries out to Heaven for vengeance and the other side regards as a fundamental human right that must be protected in laws enforced by the authority of the state. Between these two visions of the use of lethal violence against the unborn there can be no negotiation or conciliation, and now our nation has chosen for its chief executive the most radical pro-abortion politician ever to serve in the United States Senate or to run for president. We must also take note of the fact that this election was effectively decided by the votes of self-described (but not practicing) Catholics, the majority of whom cast their ballots for President-elect Obama.

In response to this, I am obliged by my duty as your shepherd to make two observations:

1. Voting for a pro-abortion politician when a plausible pro-life alternative exits constitutes material cooperation with intrinsic evil, and those Catholics who do so place themselves outside of the full communion of Christ’s Church and under the judgment of divine law. Persons in this condition should not receive Holy Communion until and unless they are reconciled to God in the Sacrament of Penance, lest they eat and drink their own condemnation.

2. Barack Obama, although we must always and everywhere disagree with him over abortion, has been duly elected the next President of the United States, and after he takes the Oath of Office next January 20th, he will hold legitimate authority in this nation. For this reason, we are obliged by Scriptural precept to pray for him and to cooperate with him whenever conscience does not bind us otherwise. Let us hope and pray that the responsibilities of the presidency and the grace of God will awaken in the conscience of this extraordinarily gifted man an awareness that the unholy slaughter of children in this nation is the greatest threat to the peace and security of the United States and constitutes a clear and present danger to the common good. In the time of President Obama’s service to our country, let us pray for him in the words of a prayer found in the Roman Missal:

God our Father, all earthly powers must serve you. Help our President-elect, Barack Obama, to fulfill his responsibilities worthily and well. By honoring and striving to please you at all times, may he secure peace and freedom for the people entrusted to him. 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.


Father Newman

At a Calvary Near the Ancre

Ancre Cemetery, Northern France

At a Calvary Near the Ancre

Wilfred Owen (1893 - 1918)

One ever hangs where shelled roads part.
In this war He too lost a limb,
But His disciples hide apart;
And now the Soldiers bear with Him.

Near Golgotha strolls many a priest,
And in their faces there is pride
That they were flesh-marked by the Beast
By whom the gentle Christ's denied.

The scribes on all the people shove
And bawl allegiance to the state,
But they who love the greater love
Lay down their life; they do not hate.

Wilfred Owen died in action in France on 4 November 1918. His family received the news a week later, the day the Great War ended.

11 November 2008

'In Flanders Fields'

Today is the 90th anniversary of the end of the Great War, World War I. Above is the cemetery in Flanders, Belgium, where my great-uncle Corporal Larry Dowd, brother of my maternal grandmother, is buried. I located his grave in 2001, 84 years after his death. I wrote the essay below five years ago.

In September 2001 I visited the grave of my great-uncle Lawrence Dowd who died in action near Ieper (Ypres), Belgium, on the Feast of the Transfiguration, 1917. He’s buried in one of many war cemeteries in that part of Flanders. My mother’s Uncle Larry, from County Meath, enlisted in the Royal Dublin Fusiliers. To my deep regret, I never asked my grandmother about her brother, but my mother often told me of her father hearing the ‘banshee’ a day or two before the telegram arrived telling of Larry’s death.

I was visiting Ieper to officiate at the wedding of Stefaan Gouwy, from that area, and Joy Ronulo, who grew up in Plaridel, Mindanao, when it was still a Columban parish. She and Stefaan met while working in a factory in Korea.

Stefaan took me to the ‘In Flanders Fields’ museum in the old town hall of Ieper, known to the ‘Tommies’ as ‘Wipers,’ from the French name ‘Ypres.’ The soldiers even published a newspaper there that they called The Wipers Times. The town of Ieper was totally destroyed during the Great War but the blueprints of its public buildings were saved and they were all rebuilt.

Through an official at the museum, a marvelously interactive one that shows the horrors of the War but that also shows that each one who died was a unique human being, I found where my Uncle Larry was buried. I was very moved when I visited his grave in the Potijze Chateau Cemetery, the first ever relative to do so. I was touched too when Stefaan and Joy, who had come with me, told me they would visit on Remembrance Day.

One could not but feel a terrible sense of loss reading the names and ages of the soldiers buried in the cemeteries that are beautifully maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. So many still in their teens. So many unidentified, known simply as ‘A soldier of such-and-such a regiment.’ Most headstones had a crucifix but quite a few had the Star of David.

The people of Ieper hold sacred the memory of all who died in Flanders, whether Allied or German. One friend of Stefaan who had grown up on a farm next to one of the larger war cemeteries, pointed out to me the corner where some German soldiers had been buried but had subsequently been repatriated. There’s no glorification of war.

On the Mennen Gate, similar to the Arc de Triomphe, built by the British after the War in the heart of Ieper, the names of about 10,000 unidentified soldiers who fought in the uniform of Britain are listed. They include Gurkhas from Nepal and many from what are now Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, their names and ranks revealing their faiths, Islam, Hinduism, Sikhism, and their nationalities. There are names from the then colonies of Britain in Africa and the West Indies, countless names from the then dominions, Australia, New Zealand, Newfoundland and Canada, even more from the Irish regiments.

Every night at 8 volunteers from the Ieper Fire Brigade sound the Last Post at the Mennen Gate. I had heard about this and wanted to attend on at least one evening. One of Stefaan’s friends insisted that if no one else could take me I was to phone her. I took her at her word. All traffic stopped for the ceremony. Three buglers sounded the Last Post and then a veteran, who looked old enough to have fought in the Great War, laid a wreath. What brought tears to my eyes was the sight of a young mother beside me with her child who was hardly a week old.

One of those who died on 8 September 1916 in the Battle of the Somme, not too far away in northern France, was Tom Kettle. He was one of the outstanding Irish nationalists of his generation, the son of a prominent land reformer, and a friend of Patrick Pearse, who led the Insurrection in Dublin in Easter Week that same year. Tom Kettle had been MP for North East Tyrone from 1906 to 1910. At the time he enlisted, already in his mid-30s, he was a professor at University College, Dublin. There’s a bust of him in St Stephen’s Green, very near the old campus, with the closing lines of his sonnet To my Daughter Betty, written only four days before his death. Father John Henaghan, killed by the Japanese in Malate, Manila, in February 1945, took the title of one his books, The Secret Scripture of the Poor, from the last line of the poem, one of the most poignant of the many the Great War produced.

In wiser days, my darling rosebud, blown
To beauty proud as was your Mother’s prime.
In that desired, delayed, incredible time,
You’ll ask why I abandoned you, my own,
And the dear heart that was your baby throne,
To dice with death. And oh! They’ll give you rhyme
And reason: some will call the thing sublime,
And some decry it in a knowing tone.
So here, while the mad guns curse overhead,
And tired men sigh with mud for couch and floor,
Know that we fools, now with the foolish dead,
Died not for flag, nor King, nor Emperor,
But for a dream, born in a herdsman’s shed,
And for the secret Scripture of the poor.

(Fr John Heneghan, above right, bust of Tom Kettle in St Stephen's Green, Dublin, above left.)

A wedding in Belgium, a celebration of life, brought me to the grave of my Uncle Larry, reminded me that many people in Britain, where I was working at the time, and those in my native Ireland, whose ancestors came from the former British colonies, are relatives of those who came to Europe during the Great War to fight ‘for the freedom of small nations.’ Their great-uncles, like mine, could make their own the words of Canadian officer John McCrae, who died there in 1918. They Loved and were loved, and now we lie / In Flanders Fields.

(John McCrae)

10 November 2008

9,000,000 Black Americans Denied Vote in US Elections

Under the Acacia
By Father Seán Coyle
9,000,000 Black Americans Denied Vote in US Elections

The writer edits www.misyononline.com . You may contact him at undertheacacia@gmail.com . This column published in Negros Times 10-11 November 2008.

Because of a decision of the US Supreme Court in 1973, more than 9,000,000 Black Americans were denied a vote in the recent elections in the USA. These are the Black children aborted between 1973 and 1990 who would have been of voting age on November 4. 37 percent of abortions in the USA are of Black children even though Black Americans constitute only 13.4 percent of the overall population.

22 percent of abortions are of the children of white women and 34 percent of Hispanics and 8 percent to women of other races. These are the statistics of the pro-abortion Guttmacher Institute Alan F. Guttmacher was president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

On July 17, 2007, Senator Obama addressed a Planned Parenthood Action Fund meeting. He articulated what he saw as the most important issue in the presidential election: “With one more vacancy on the (Supreme) Court, we could be looking at a majority hostile to a woman’s fundamental right to choose for the first time since Roe versus Wade and that is what is at stake in this election.” He spoke of his ongoing efforts to keep abortion legal: “I have worked on these issues for decades now. I put Roe at the center of my lesson plan on reproductive freedom when I taught Constitutional Law. Not simply as a case about privacy but as part of the broader struggle for women’s equality.”

In answer to the question, “What would you do at the federal level not only to ensure access to abortion but to make sure that the judicial nominees that you will inevitably be able to pick are true to the core tenets of Roe v. Wade?” Mr. Obama said, “Well, the first thing I’d do as president is, is sign the Freedom of Choice Act.”

The website of Priests for Life, says that the Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA) goes beyond Roe v. Wade. “It would establish abortion on demand with no restrictions whatsoever as the law of all 50 states.

“FOCA, which has been introduced in Congress since the 1990s but is now regaining attention, would wipe out all state laws on abortion, including parental notification or consent acts, public funding restrictions, 24-hour waiting period requirements, and women’s right to know measures, whereby a woman must be told of the risks caused by abortion and about the development of her unborn child. If the next Congress has a pro-abortion majority, a pro-abortion president could sign FOCA into law, eliminating 35 years of laws that have reduced the number of abortions in the United States.”

Priests for Life also points out that “a pro-abortion Congress and a pro-abortion President could repeal the federal ban on partial-birth abortion passed and signed into law by President Bush in 2003 and upheld by the Supreme Court in 2007. Earlier versions were either vetoed by President Clinton or struck down by the Supreme Court.” President George W. Bush’s two appointees, Associate Justice Samuel Alito, Jr., and Chief Justice John G. Roberts, were among the five who voted against four to uphold the ban on partial-birth abortion, which is really infanticide, as the baby is killed during the actual process of birth.

It is generally agreed that George W. Bush hasn’t been one of the greater presidents in the history of the USA but he has left the potential legacy of a Supreme Court that could overrule the utterly evil Roe v. Wade decision. Obama appointees – and he almost certainly will have at least one, since Associate Justice John Paul Stevens is 89 – could bring the USA further back into the Dark Ages for a generation or two.

The recently passed Abortion Law Reform Act of the State of Victoria, Australia, in the words of Melbourne Archbishop Denis Hart, “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’”. In other words, legislators chose to deny doctors, nurses and pharmacists the choice not to be involved in killing without becoming criminals. It is a crime in Victoria to dock – “cut” - a dog’s tail and now a crime for a doctor or nurse not to be involved in an abortion in certain circumstances.

The UK recently passed a law allowing the use of hybrid human-animal embryos for research.

The USA, the UK and Australia are three countries with a Christian tradition but that have become aggressively secular and anti-life, though politicians in the USA invoke God on their side, whatever it is, while, in the words of an aide to former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, “We don’t do God”.

The election of Barack Obama as President of the USA, may help that country move beyond its shameful past of slavery, even though the new occupant of the White House, unlike his wife and children, isn’t descended from slaves. His father was from Kenya, in East Africa, while the slaves were taken from West Africa. I can understand the euphoria of so many older Black Americans who have experienced the legal discrimination that no longer exists in seeing a man with darker skin being elected president.

But I wonder how many of those who are moved by this event, which is undoubtedly significant, ask themselves why nine million descendants of slaves from West Africa were denied a vote on November 4 because of the pro-abortion policies that Mr. Obama has so vigorously dedicated his life to. When will they see that “pro-choice” means “no choice”?

Which one of these four texts does NOT represent God's will?

From the first reading at Mass today: For a bishop must hold firm to the sure word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to confute those who contradict it (Titus 1:9).

From today’s gospel: And Jesus said to his disciples, "Temptations to sin are sure to come; but woe to him by whom they come! It would be better for him if a millstone were hung round his neck and he were cast into the sea, than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin. Take heed to yourselves; if your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him; and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, and says, 'I repent,' you must forgive him" (Luke 17:1-4).

(St Paul, left, St Titus, right)

St John of Ávila, spiritual director of St John of God: If the simple folk live in a lukeward state, the situation is regrettable. They hurt themselves, but a remedy is possible. If, however, it is the teachers who are lukewarm, then the Lord’s warning must needs be considered: ‘Woe to him by whom they come!’ Great harm can come from lukewarmness, because it will easily spread to others and dampen their spiritual fervour’. (Sermon 55, from In Conversation with God, vol 5, Francis Fernandez, p 436).

From the editorial, The Tablet, 8 November 2008: In many respects Mr Obama's policies resonate with the social justice that the Judaeo-Christian tradition promotes, such as the relief of poverty, health care for all, new jobs to replace those lost, affordable housing, care for the environment and so on. He is a Christian, although not of the fundamentalist kind, and he has Catholic connections in his background. But it appears that some leaders of the Catholic Church, America's largest denomination, failed once more to read the signs of the times, and tried to insist that this inspiring and epoch-transforming election, this turning point in American history, was once again just about abortion. [Comment: only 46,000,000 since Roe v Wade in 1973, including 9,000,000 African-Americans who would have been of voting age, 37 percent of those aborted even though African-Americans form only around 13 percent of the population.] The laity saw things differently; indeed this time the Catholic vote was almost indistinguishable from the population as a whole. [Comment: No doubt, for The Tablet, the Holocaust is just 'one issue'.]