30 January 2009

Burial of a faithful missionary priest

Yesterday we buried Father John Doohan, one of two brothers from County Clare, Ireland, who have spent all their lives as priests here in the Philippines. One of their sisters was the late Columban Sister Philomena who had worked in Burma, the Philippines and Chile. Last August another sister, Mary Doohan, who founded The Little Way Association in London. That has helped the Church greatly in a number of countries, especially in the area of the formation of seminarians, in helping local religious congregations and in building churches in financially impoverished areas. In 1996 Pope John Paul II awarded her the ‘Damehood of St Gregory the Great for her work for the missions’.

Father John, ordained in December 1947, came to the Philippines in 1948 and was sent to Mindanao. When the new Columban mission in the southern part of the province of Negros Occidental was opened in 1950 he and three others in Mindanao joined the pioneering group. He worked there in different parishes for 50 years until ill-health forced him to retire to Manila in 2000. He slowly declined, with great cheerfulness, but we knew for the last six months or so, when he was more or less in a coma, that the end would come sooner rather than later. It did, last Saturday, quietly and peacefully.

Father Michael, his brother, was unable to come as he’s in hospital at the moment. But two bishops were there and many priests. I was moved when I saw a group of young diocesan priests carry his coffin into the church. When he came to Negros there were only four parishes and the only local priest was transferred to Bacolod City where he later became Bishop Antonio Y. Fortich. The four parishes have become 16, all with local priests, and the area the Diocese of Kabankalan, with Bishop Patricio Buzon SDB from Cebu as the ordinary.

The only one of the pioneers still here is Fr Patrick Hurley, one of three brothers who became Columban priests and also with a sister who not only became a Columban Sister but Superior General of the congregation, Sister Catherine. Father Dermot and Gerard spent most of their lives in Fiji, though Fr Gerard also spent a stint in Britain.

Father Hurley preached the homily and one of the things he mentioned was that Father John was a 'Sheenite' priest because, inspired by Bishop Fulton Sheen, he spent an hour before the Blessed Sacrament every day. He also had a great devotion to St Thérèse of Lisieux.

I helped carry Father John’s coffin from the church to the place prepared for his burial in the church grounds of Immaculate Conception Church, Dancalan, which he built. As I saw and heard Father Patrick Hurley tap the coffin with his hand and say ‘Goodbye, John’ – they had known each other since 1942 – just before it was placed in the tomb I couldn’t but think of a short poem by Ogden Nash. Nash was to English poetry what PG Wodehouse was to English fiction, both of them masters of the comic word. That makes this poem all the more poignant.

Old Men

By Ogden Nash (1902-1971)

People expect old men to die,

They do not really mourn old men.

Old men are different. People look

At them with eyes that wonder when...

People watch with unshocked eyes;

But the old men know when an old man dies.


I'm going to Manila this afternoon for some meetings and may not be posting anything for about a week.

27 January 2009

Two Masses in Belsen Concentration Camp

Yad Vashem, Jerusalem, a large outdoor sculpture by Nandor Glid
commemorates Holocaust victims

Fr Patrick Brennan’s blog Humblepiety Fr Patrick Brennan of the Archdiocese of Birmingham, England, reminded me that today is Holocaust Day. It is a day that, above all, commemorates the millions of Jews who died in the Nazi concentration camps.

British clean up Belsen, April 1945

Many others died in them also. I came across accounts of two different Masses celebrated in Belsen after its liberation. The first is one of the most poignant descriptions of a Mass I have ever come across and is from an article by Lord Molyneaux, former head of the Ulster Unionist Party, I witnessed the dead of Belsen: we must always confront tyranny, that he wrote for The Daily Telegraph on this date five years ago. I was astonished to discover that James Molyneaux, a young officer at the time in the British Army, had been educated in a Catholic school in Northern Ireland.

The most moving experience came on the second morning as I was walking from what had been the luxury SS barracks which our troops had transformed into a hospital. My attention was drawn to two packing cases covered by a worn red curtain. A young Polish priest was clinging to this makeshift altar with one hand, while celebrating Mass. Between his feet lay the body of another priest who probably died during the night. No one had had the energy to move the body.

I had no difficulty in following the old Latin Mass, having been educated at St James's Roman Catholic School in County Antrim, and, although an Anglican, I had gained a working knowledge of all the rituals. Still supporting himself against the altar, the young priest did his best to distribute the consecrated elements. Some recipients were able to stumble over the rough, scrubby heathland. Others crawled forward to receive the tokens and then crawled back to share them with others unable to move. Some almost certainly passed on to another - probably better - world before sunset. Whatever one's race or religion one can only be uplifted and impressed by that truly remarkable proof of the ultimate triumph of good over evil.

The other account of a Mass in Belsen after liberation was by an Irish Jesuit, Fr Michael Morrison, who was a chaplain with the group that liberated Belsen.

During his time in Belsen, Morrison witnessed many horrors but he also had times of great joy. After the first few days of total chaos, Morrison began to set himself up properly. When his work of anointing the sick and the dead began to lessen, Morrison decided to hold the first Mass to be said in the camp. However on the day he was supposed to hold the Mass, it poured rain. The rain was so bad that Morrison thought of canceling the Mass as he felt that no one would come. When he walked out on the makeshift altar he was stunned to see hundreds of people of many different religions waiting. He felt this to be one of the greatest moments of his life and so began to say Mass every day. This is from a BBC page.

Father Morrison clearly wasn’t aware of the Mass offered by the Polish prisoner-priest but both accounts surely are a testimony to the power of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and to the presence of faith and hope in God and of the presence of God’s love in the midst of evil.

'Look up at the Lord with gladness and smile'

'Look up at the Lord with gladness and smile; your face will never be ashamed' (Ps 33:6).

Communion Antiphon, Third Sunday in Ordinary Time.

25 January 2009

Obama pushes abortion in the USA and in other countries

Among President Obama’s first acts as president:

On Anniversary of Roe v. Wade Obama Issues Statement Defending “Right to Choose”

Obama Revokes Abortion Funding Policy, Will Fund Overseas Abortions with Taxpayer Money

Both articles are by John Jalsevac.

Neither story should surprise anyone since Mr Obama has never hidden the fact that he is one of the most extremely pro-abortion politicians in the USA. But it seems that because of the colour of his skin many have chosen to ignore this. The story below shows the devastation that Roe v Wade and the pro-abortion mindset has had on the African-American population in the USA. While Mr Obama's wife and children are descended from slaves he isn't. The original slaves were taken from west Africa whereas he is the son of a Kenyan who was doing third-level studies in the USA. Kenya is in east Africa and has no historical connection whatever with slavery in the Americas.

LifeSiteNews also carries the following article:

At March, Black Pastor Warns Obama not to Preside over “Genocide” of American Blacks

WASHINGTON, DC, January 23, 2009 (LifeSiteNews.com) – The most well received speech at the March for Life this year was that of an African American pastor from Frederick Maryland. Pastor Luke Robinson began noting that the election of the first African American President of the United States was a fulfillment of “part” of the “Dream” of Dr. Marin Luther King Jr.

Speaking of the inauguration of the “first black President” of the United States, Pastor Robinson explained: “So many African Americans and other folks cried and shouted because the inauguration was part of the deferred dream come true.” But, he added, “we come here to deal with some unfinished business as it relates to the ‘dream’.” Then, using Barack Obama’s own rhetoric, Pastor Robinson used the phrase “We need change now more than ever” which would accentuate the rest of his talk. “We are calling on the President of Change, President Barack Obama,” he said, “to be an agent of change as it relates to the lives of over one million children who will be slaughtered in this, his first year as President, by a horrible practice called abortion and ‘a woman’s right to choose’.”

The most striking portion of Robinson’s speech came as he begged Obama not to preside over the genocide of African Americans. “We need change Mr. President because every day about 4000 babies die by abortion. Every day Mr. President, people with your ethnic background any my ethnic background die in astounding numbers. Abortion is the number one killer of African Americans in this country.”

“We make up about 12% of the population and about 34% of all abortions are black babies. In the last 36 years over 17 million African American babies have died by abortion alone. We need to change this picture. We need to stop this slaughter of the innocent preborn.“Please Mr. President, be that agent of change that can commute the sentence of over 1400 African American children and over 3000 children from other ethnic groups sentenced to die every day in this country by abortion.”

“We need change and we need it now.”“I pray with so many others,” he said, “that your administration will preside over the end to abortion and to the black genocide in America.” “At the conclusion of your term in office, may it never be said that you presided over the largest slaughter of innocent children in the history of the country and that African Americans became an ever increasing minority under your hand.”

Among those present at the March for Life was Frank Padilla, founder of Couples for Christ:

Frank Padilla, founder of the international pro-family organization Couples for Christ, spoke to LifeSiteNews about the "global attempt to destroy the family, destroy marriage, and destroy life". In the Philippines, where the group began, pro-life groups are fighting a "reproductive health" bill that would fund and promote the distribution of contraceptives, including those that cause abortion.

24 January 2009

Patron of Journalists and of the Deaf

Today is the feast of St Francis de Sales (1567-1622), Bishop and Doctor of the Church, patron of journalists and of the Deaf. So he is my patron on both counts, since I edit Misyon and have been working with the Deaf on a part-time basis since 1992 and frequently celebrate Mass in Sign Language. Above all, he was a man who lived the fulness of the priesthood as a bishop faithfully. Maybe he would be a blogger if he were around today.

The following information, which I found here , is the National Catholic Office for the Deaf, located in Washington, DC.

St Francis De Sales: Patron of the Deaf and Hearing-impaired

In 1605, an indigent young man named Martin, a deaf-mute from birth, came almost daily to a house in Roche, France, where Bishop de Sales was staying, to ask for alms. He was a strong young man fit for all kinds of work, and the Bishop's housekeeper often allowed him to help her in payment for the Bishop's generosity. One day a servant introduced Martin to the Bishop.

As a result of his handicap, Martin, who was about 25 years old, had never received any kind of education -- or instruction in the Catholic faith. (It was presumed by all of the educated people of that age, the 17th century, that a deaf-mute was a mentally handicapped person and that trying to educate or trying to communicate religios truths to such a person would be a waste of time.)
At the time of their meeting, St Francis de Sales was visibly disturbed and touched with pity for the unfortunate Martin. St Francis realized that the poor man would remain forever ignorant of God and the rich mysteries of the Faith and that his lack of instruction would forever keep him from receiving the Sacraments of Penance and the Eucharist.

After considering young Martin's deprived condition for a time, St. Francis determined that he would undertake the instruction of the young man.
By using signs that he formed with his hands and fingers, St Francis personally began to teach Martin about the Catholic Faith. Martin, as was soon clear, was highly intelligent and a very good pupil. After a period of time, through his gentle patience and persistence and with the signs and gestures he had invented for the purpose, St Francis succeeded in instructing Martin about God and His love for all men. All went so well that eventually Martin was able to receive the Holy Eucharist for the first time in 1606. Two years later, Martin was confirmed.

St Francis eventually hired Martin as his gardener and brought him along with him when he returned to his episcopal household in Annecy, France.
Martin's devotion to the Bishop of Geneva was second only to his devotion to God. Martin prayed fervently, examining his conscience every evening before retiring, regularly confessed his sins to the Bishop, and assisted devoutly at the Bishop's Mass whenever he could.

Sixteen years later, no one would be more affected by the death of St Francis de Sales than his faithful servant Martin, who would visit his master's last resting place almost every day until the day he himself died.
The above account uses a term that is not used anymore: 'deaf-mute'. As a literal matter of fact, people who are deaf aren't mute, since they have voices and many can learn to speak.
The word 'handicap' too isn't used much now but rather 'disability'. I don't like the term 'differently-abled'. It cannot hide the reality that a person who is deaf or blind, for example, does have a disability. Deaf people prefer the word 'Deaf', with a capital 'D' to describe themselves as a group. Being profoundly deaf from birth is different from becoming hearing-impaired from old age, for example.

Those of us who can see and hear tend to think that blindness is a greater disability than deafness. But deafness, whether from birth or coming with old age, is a disability that isolates in a way that blindness doesn't. Most deaf people here in the Philippines don't share a language even with their own family. And the only 'native signers' I know here are the hearing children of deaf parents.

St Francis saw how isolated Martin was and broke through that isolation.

22 January 2009

A Poem of Purity: Blessed Laura Vicuña

Today is the feast of Blessed Laura Vicuña, a 12-year-old girl born in Chile on 5 April 1891 who died on this day in Argentina in 1904. I came across this article, by Fr John Murray, a parish priest in Belfast, in the Irish Messenger of the Sacred Heart and got permission to use it in Misyon. We printed it in January-February last year, our second-last printed issue.

Blessed Laura’s feast isn’t on the universal calendar of the Church but she is especially venerated by Salesians. The day before, 21 January, is the feast of another girl around the same age, St Agnes. I regularly celebrate Mass in Holy Family Home here in Bacolod, featured in the current issue of Misyon as A Safe Haven and last July-August as ‘A Child Redeemed is a Generation Saved’ . Some of the girls there can relate to the experience of Blessed Laura and so last year we had a combined celebration of both of these saintly young girls. We celebrated Mass in their honour again last evening.

The reality of two young women offering their lives for others out of their faith in Jesus, St Agnes as a martyr and Blessed Laura offering her life for the conversion of her mother, can speak to the heart of anyone open to the Gospel and is Good News for young persons who have suffered deeply. Our suffering doesn’t have to be useless or meaningless. The words of St Paul in Col 1:24 once hit my heart like an arrow straight from Jesus himself: Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church. The lives and deaths of Agnes and Laura show the truth of this.

http://www.lauravicuna.com/ is the website of the Laura Vicuna Foundation, Inc, Manila.

21 January 2009

From chef to priest

The Diocese of Cloyne in the south of Ireland has been in the news quite a bit these last few weeks, with many asking that Bishop John Magee resign over the way he handled allegations of child abuse by priests. However, no charges were brought against the two priests in question.

But yesterday’s Irish Times carries a story about a newly-ordained priest of the diocese, Fr Seán Corkery, Serving up a new vocation. He is a former professional chef.

One particularly interesting point in the article reads:

Corkery was wondering if he would have the confidence to be a leader. He was also unsure as to whether he would have the ability to ‘put words on tragedy’ for families impacted by sudden deaths.

‘In sad tragic times the priest is the voice of the community. You have to be there for people in the devastating times and know what to say and do. You have to try to put some shapes on the tragedies. I was wondering if I would have the confidence to do it.’

There seem to be more and more tragedies in Ireland in recent years, suicides, murders, road-deaths involving young people and so on. The Church is still the place where people try to come to terms with these and try to make sense of them. And in the last year a number of funerals of persons who could be described as agnostics have taken place in Catholic churches in Ireland.

Death seems to be the one situation where people are seeking the Good News from priests.

Pray for Father Corkery that he may have a long and happy life serving the people of his diocese and that he may lead others to consider the priesthood. Maybe too, with his professional background, he’ll become an Irish equivalent of Filipino-American Fr Leo Patalinghug of Grace Before Meals!

There is an account, with photos, of the ordination of Father Corkery on 22 June last year on the Cloyne website.

I've been having trouble lately uploading photos.

17 January 2009

'Patron saint' of latecomers at Mass?

Temptation of St Anthony (detail), Annibale Carracci (1597-98)

Some good people who go to Mass every day are inveterate latecomers. They shouldn’t lose heart, as the Church honours their ‘patron saint’ today, St Anthony the Abbot, or St Anthony of Egypt (251-256). The Second Reading in the Office of Readings for his feast day is from the biography written by St Athanasius, who knew him. It contains these words: Entering the church just as the Gospel was being read, he heard the Lord’s words to the rich man: If you want to be perfect, go and sell all you have and give the money to the poor - you will have riches in heaven. Then come and follow me.

So that particular day, whether it was a Sunday or weekday I don’t know, the 20-year-old orphaned Anthony was late for Mass!

He took the words of the gospel literally and for the next 85 years was to serve the Lord in quite an extraordinary way as a hermit, drawing others without intending it to follow him. While he didn’t start monasticism or the eremitical life in the Church his life had a huge impact on the subsequent development of both.

The reading concludes with these words: Seeing the kind of life he lived, the villagers and all the good men he knew called him the friend of God, and they loved him as both son and brother.

It’s a cliché to say of a holy man that he was ‘lie a brother’, ‘like a father’. But there must have been some special quality in the young Anthony that led people to love him as a son.

You can access the full reading here on the website of Dr Marcellino D’Ambrosio.

I must confess that I hate being (s)mothered. It doesn’t happen so often now, as I’m getting on, but it can be a kind of purgatory at times when persons of good will try to impose their choices on you when you may have different ideas yourself. St Anthony was an ascetic and maybe it’s not right to be speaking of buffets on his feast day. But one of the delights of a buffet is that you can choose. If someone else puts food on your plate because she – it’s usually ‘she’! –thinks you’ll like it, your ability to choose is somewhat hampered (another food-connected word! I’ve been a bit under the weather the last few days and not eating as much as usual). I remember years ago, when I was still new here in the Philippines, being at a celebration and saw a wife choosing everything for her husband to eat. I turned to my Columban priest-companion and said, ‘There’s something to be said for celibacy!’ However, I’m sure that on the wife’s part it was an act of love and accepted as such by her husband.

Christ healing the blind, El Greco, 1570s

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

What touched the blind Japanese man was the fact that Jesus didn’t presume to know what Bartimaeus wanted but asked him ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ I know that, especially when I was younger, I tended to think that I knew what others ‘needed’.

16 January 2009

Pro-abortion legislators abandoning the Catholic faith

At the same time, I do not see how any Catholic senator or representative could vote for the passage of FOCA without recognizing that such a vote would constitute a direct and intentional declaration of their disdain for Catholic teaching. Such a vote would be tantamount to a public declaration of their intention to abandon the Catholic faith. It would be imperative that the faith consequences of such a declaration be allowed to fall fully on the heads of those who would make it.

So writes Bishop Robert Vasa of Baker, Oregon, in his current weekly in the Catholic Sentinel. He’s writing in the context of President-elect Obama’s commitment to the Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA) which, if approved, would eliminate practically every law in the 50 states of the USA that restrict abortion, including so called ‘partial-birth abortion’ and trample on people’s consciences.

Traditionally Christian countries and regions in the West such as Australia, Canada, Europe and the USA are more and more becoming militantly anti-Christian and anti-human rights in their legislation or attempts at legislation. For example, the Abortion Law Reform Bill, passed in Victoria, Australia, last year, contains the following words:

Despite any conscientious objection to abortion, a registered medical practitioner is under a duty to perform an abortion in an emergency where the
abortion is necessary to preserve the life of the pregnant woman.

Despite any conscientious objection to abortion, a registered nurse is under a duty to assist a registered medical practitioner in performing an abortion in an emergency where the abortion is necessary to preserve the life of the pregnant woman.

Australian bishops appealed for prayers before the vote in the Victoria parliament.

LifeSiteNews reports that on 14 January the European Parliament passed a resolution – not a law – ‘that proposes to standardise among all member states the legal status of same-sex relationships’. The resolution also ‘calls upon EU member-states to guarantee access to “sexual and reproductive health and rights,” terms universally accepted as including abortion and sterilisation as well as the recognition of same-sex unions’.

Mercatornet has a report about what is happening in the schools of Quebec, the predominantly French-speaking province in Canada that, until the 1960s, was one of the most staunchly Catholic societies in the world. It seems that the rights of parents are being trampled upon:
Quebec kids to learn Orwellian spirituality

All school children in Quebec are being forced to study moral relativism.
An often-quoted Jesuit maxim boasts, "Give me a child until he is seven and I will give you the man."

Only seven? Amateurs! Since September all Quebec students from primary school entry to high school graduation, whether enrolled in public or non-funded private schools, must attend Quebec's new Ethics and Religious Culture course (ERC). And teachers, regardless of their beliefs, must teach it. Read the full story here.

We surely need to waken up and take our faith seriously.

09 January 2009

Centennial of birth of 'Rosary Priest'

Today, 9 January, is the centennial of the birth of Fr Patrick Peyton CSC (Congregation of the Holy Cross), ‘The Rosary Priest’, who died on 3 June 1992. Three days ago The Irish Times carried an article on Father Peyton by the current director of Family Rosary International , which Father Peyton founded, Fr James Phalan CSC.

Father Phalan writes of his confrere: ‘His life's commitment is summarised by the phrase still so well known throughout the world - "The family that prays together stays together" - and it is as true now as ever before.’

He writes further on: ‘The family that prays together takes time to put into practice what they say they believe and so they can listen for truth in God's word, they can let Christ work in their lives - and listen to one another. They do so with the Virgin Mary who has been the Mother of the Irish for centuries.’

The Irish Times is considered by many to be the leading newspaper in Ireland. When I was young it had a relatively small circulation and was known as a ‘Protestant paper’ because it was read mainly by Protestants and had a history of being pro-British. It is encouraging to read an article such as this in it.

Father Peyton was born in County Mayo in the west of Ireland but emigrated to the USA as a young man. There is a memorial centre in his honour in his native county. Archbishop Michael O’Doherty, the second non-Spanish archbishop of Manila, was also born in County Mayo, as was Father John Blowick, co-founder of the Columbans. Mayo is also the location of Knock Shrine and of Croagh Patrick, the mountain on the summit of which St Patrick is reputed to have spent 40 days in prayer.

I used to have a tape of Father Peyton leading the rosary. I listened to it from time to time while driving – something I wouldn’t recommend, as his voice was what we call in Irish leadránach. In other words, it would put you to sleep! I also noticed that in the Litany of Loreto he said ‘Vessel of singular devotion’ instead of ‘Singular vessel of devotion’. I’m not sure if he always said that but I’m sure our Blessed Mother smiled every time he did.

I came across this item on Father Peyton’s visits to the Philippines:

In 1951 Father Patrick Peyton CSC first visited the Philippines to conduct a Rosary Rally at the University of Sto. Tomas. Then in 1958 Manila Archbishop Rufino J. Cardinal Santos invited Father Peyton to bring the Family Rosary Crusade to Manila. On December 6, 1959 the first Rosary Rally was conducted at the Luneta where a crowd of 1.5 million gathered to listen to Father Peyton. From the first Rally in 1959, 14 major Rosary Rallies soon followed in the key provinces of the Philippines. Since then, the ministry in the Philippines has been expanding and developing to bring the message that The Family That Prays Together Stays Together ™.

The cause for the canonization of this great priest began in 2001.

06 January 2009

Epiphany: should we switch feasts?

La Adoración de los Reyes Magos, The Adoration of the Magi,
Bartolomé Estebán Murillo (1617-1682)

Today is the Epiphany in the universal calendar of the Catholic Church. However, in many countries it is now celebrated on the Sunday that falls between 2 and 8 January. The Philippines has opted for the latter, while Ireland, after switching to the Sunday back in the 1960s reverted to the proper date within a couple of years because of the reaction of the people.

I remember the late Father Fergus O’Higgins, known to his fellow priests in the Archdiocese of Dublin as ‘Father Zealous’, expressing his puzzlement from the altar at the Irish bishops opting to retain 1 January as a holyday of obligation while dropping the Epiphany. I can’t remember the exact year but I was still a seminarian. It must have been around 1966. Father O’Higgins was in our parish as a curate for many years and assisted me and preached at my First Mass on 21 December 1967, the old feast of St Thomas the Apostle.

Though it’s not a holyday of obligation in the Philippines, the bishops back in the 1970s, I think, made St Joseph the Worker on 1 May the principal feast of the saint. But there was a strong reaction from the people and, like the Irish bishops with the Epiphany, they quickly reverted to 19 March.

I remember a teacher at Dublin City University telling me in the early ‘90s that while very few attended the daily Mass there, when there was a holyday of obligation the chapel was full for the extra Masses celebrated. The young people were freely choosing to fulfil their obligation. However, a few years ago the Irish bishops, in their wisdom, dropped both Ascension Thursday and Corpus Christi as holydays of obligation, moving them to Sundays. Despite the fact that the Ascension is a ‘biblical feast’ in the sense that Corpus Christi isn’t, it being more of a devotional feast, and is meant to be celebrated 40 days after the Resurrection, and despite the fact that we are supposed to be ecumenical, it seems the bishops never consulted either their own people or the Anglicans, the second largest group of Christians in Ireland and who observe the same major feasts as Catholics.

When I was based in Britain from 2000 till 2002 doing mission appeals, very few parishes I visited had a Sunday evening Mass. One that did was near Leeds University and quite a few students were at that Mass. One, who chatted with me after Mass, was actually a student in Ireland and had come over to see his favourite soccer team, Leeds United, play. But he went out of his way to go to Sunday Mass, God bless him.

Here in the Philippines President Gloria Arroyo in her wisdom has tinkered with every single specifically Filipino holiday, including Independence Day, 12 June, and has been much criticized for separating them from their roots and meaning. She’s all in favour of long weekends for government workers, with holidays switched to Fridays or Mondays. Ironically, 12 June was set as Independence Day by her father when president, Diosdado Macapagal, the date of a declaration of independence in 1898. That date replaced 4 July, the date on which the Republic of the Philippines became independent of the USA in 1946.

Back in the early 1980s the businessmen of Cebu City hijacked the Feast of the Santo Niño, the Holy Child, and now the secular celebration of the Sinulog, as it’s called, overshadows the religious festivity, which commemorates the arrival of the Christian faith in the Philippines. The Sinulog is a religious dance that has become a secular one. It seems to me that the Church authorities in Cebu went along with this.

When the Whit Monday holiday, observed on Pentecost Monday, was moved from that day to the first Monday of June in Ireland, its roots were lost, the Christian faith diminished that little bit more. It’s now simply the June Bank Holiday. The faith was further diminished in England and Wales and in Ireland when Sunday was made into an ordinary working day for so many.

I discovered just recently that the term ‘bank holiday’, which in Britain and Ireland means a public holiday, is used here in the Philippines and in the USA when a bank has to be closed because it has run out of money. That has happened to a number of rural banks here, or banks that would deal mainly in smaller amounts of money.

One of the realities in the Philippines that still shocks me is that Sundays and even Christmas Day are working days in department stores and supermarkets. The only days that are truly holidays for the vast majority are New Year’s Day, Good Friday and All Saints’ Day.

The only remaining holydays of obligation in the Philippines are the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God (New Year’s Day), the Immaculate Conception and Christmas Day. But it has to be acknowledged that the churches aren’t packed on 8 December, even though Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception is the principal patron(ess) of the Philippines.

To all, as we say here in the Philippines, ‘Happy Three Kings!’

05 January 2009

Holy Family Home: A Safe haven

The January-February issue of Misyon, which I edit, went online today.

My fellow-Columban, Fr Gary Walker, (on the left in the photo above) who edits The Far East, the magazine if the Columbans in Australia and New Zealand, visited Bacolod last May. As I do with every visitor I have, I brought him to visit Holy Family Home on the outskirts of the city where I’ve been going regularly for six years now and where I’ve become an unofficial chaplain to the Capuchin Tertiary Sisters of the Holy Family who run it and to the girls who live there.

Father Gary wrote an article after his visit, A Safe Haven, which is in the new issue of Misyon.

Many of the girls come from very broken backgrounds but experience genuine love, care and Christian joy. They themselves help bring the healing love of Jesus to one another.

In our July-August 2008 issue we had an article by a young university student who is living there, Richelle Verdeprado. She has been involved in campus journalism since elementary school. You can read her article, ‘A Child Redeemed is a Generation Saved’ here. Every one who visits Holy Family Home reads that motto on the gate.

One thing that makes me particularly happy is that the girls know me first of all as a priest. Some of them remind me from time to time that it’s time to hear their confessions again. I usually celebrate Mass there on Sunday, though I’ve no commitment to do so, and I normally celebrate Mass with the Sisters on Monday morning, the one weekday when there’s no Mass in the chapel across the road from where I live.

But the girls also see me as a father/grandfather figure and like me to be there for their social events. The Sisters invited me for the noche buena, Spanish for ‘good night’, though very different in meaning from buenas noches, ‘goodnight’. The noche buena is the traditional family meal after the Christmas Midnight Mass, which in most places in the Philippines is now celebrated earlier. In our chapel it was at 8:30pm and I used the prayers of the Vigil Mass, the first of four different Masses that may be used at Christmas. However, as allowed, I used the readings from the Midnight Mass.

The Sisters and the girls in Holy Family Home attended a later Mass at the monastery of the Augustinian Recollect Nuns, contemplatives. After our Mass I joined a local family for their noche buena before going to Holy Family Home. After a simple meal the girls opened their Christmas gifts with squeals of delight. In every case they were clothes, received with gratitude.

Please keep the Sisters and the girls at Holy Family Home in your prayers. The Sisters live a simple, prayerful, Franciscan life and are attracting young women. On 8 December four made their first profession. There are more novices preparing for their vows, with eight or nine postulants and a similar number of aspirants behind them. The Sisters came to the Philippines as recently as 1982.Usually on the first Saturday of the month they have two hours of prayer for vocations to their way of lifebefore the Blessed Sacrament exposed. God is clearly responding to their prayers.

Conjunction of planets on 7 January

Conjunction of Planets

PAGASA (Philippine Astronomic, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration) has this item in its Astronomical Diary for January 2009:

On January 7 at around 6:00 PM, a grand conjunction of planets will be observed in the west southwestern horizon. Venus, Jupiter and Mercury are the brightest naked eye planets in our sky shining at magnitudes -4.2, -0.4 and -1.9, respectively, while Neptune and Uranus will be found at 30 and 58 degrees above the horizon shining at magnitudes +7.9 and +5.7, respectively. Neptune will be located among the background stars of the constellation Capricornus, the Sea-Goat, while Uranus will be located among the background stars of the constellation Aquarius, the Water Bearer as shown in Figure 1.. Mars will be difficult to observe due to its proximity to the Sun.

Tropical Depression ‘Auring’ is now heading away in a north-easterly direction so I’m hoping that the sky will be clear on Wednesday at nightfall.

02 January 2009

'A senile ex-Hitler Youth bigot'

‘The world needs to be saved from senile ex-Hitler Youth Catholic bigots’. The particular ‘senile ex-Hitler Youth Catholic bigot’ referred to in a comment on World Have Your Say, a blog on the BBC Radio website. It’s topic for 23 December was Does the world need to be saved from homosexuality?

The first entry begins with these words: The Pope has said that saving humanity from homosexuality is just as important as saving the rainforest.

A couple of other comments: The Pope is promoting hatred.

That statement is one of the most intolerant public statements I have ever heard. If the pope had said that on radio or had a show on A&E he would have been cancelled…

Below is the relevant part of the Holy Father’s message to the members of the Curia, the Vatican administration, on 22 December. The translation is by Bishop Michael Campbell OSA, coadjutor bishop of Lancaster, England. Thanks to Jackie Parkes for sending me a copy.

Since faith in the Creator is an essential part of the Christian Credo, the Church cannot and should not confine itself to passing on the message of salvation alone. It has a responsibility for the created order and ought to make this responsibility prevail, even in public. And in so doing, it ought to safeguard not only the earth, water, and air as gifts of creation, belonging to everyone. It ought also to protect man against the destruction of himself.

What is necessary is a kind of ecology of man, understood in the correct sense. When the Church speaks of the nature of the human being as man and woman and asks that this order of creation be respected, it is not the result of an outdated metaphysic. It is a question here of faith in the Creator and of listening to the language of creation, the devaluation of which leads to the self-destruction of man and therefore to the destruction of the same work of God.

That which is often expressed and understood by the term “gender”, results finally in the self-emancipation of man from creation and from the Creator. Man wishes to act alone and to dispose ever and exclusively of that alone which concerns him. But in this way he is living contrary to the truth, he is living contrary to the Spirit Creator. The tropical forests are deserving, yes, of our protection, but man merits no less than the creature, in which there is written a message which does not mean a contradiction of our liberty, but its condition. The great Scholastic theologians have characterised matrimony, the life-long bond between man and woman, as a sacrament of creation, instituted by the Creator himself and which Christ – without modifying the message of creation – has incorporated into the history of his covenant with mankind.

This forms part of the message that the Church must recover the witness in favour of the Spirit Creator present in nature in its entirety and in a particular way in the nature of man, created in the image of God. Beginning from this perspective, it would be beneficial to read again the Encyclical Humanae Vitae: the intention of Pope Paul VI was to defend love against sexuality as a consumer entity, the future as opposed to the exclusive pretext of the present, and the nature of man against its manipulation.

If you can find any mention of homosexuals or homosexuality by the ‘senile, ex-Hitler Youth Catholic bigot’ in that long quotation you could also check out this story: Vatican U.N. delegation calls for end to unjust discrimination against homosexuals .

The Vatican itself is partly to blame for the misrepresentation of the Holy Father's message by much of the world's media. Although English is the major international language in today's world, its website still doesn't have an English translation of the Pope's message. Surely it should have every important message of the Pope ready in English to be disseminated immediately. But you can read the message in German and in Italian .