29 May 2010

I was thrown out of this church

By chance, I chance across a photo of Drimnagh, Dublin, taken in the 1940s. It was then a new suburb of Dublin and I spent the first three years of my life there, before we moved in 1946 to the northside of the city where I had been born. (The Northside/Southside distinction is very important for Dubliners!) The street where we lived is not in the photo but is to the right of the area shown. However, the newly-built church of Our Lady of Good Counsel, Mourne Road, is very clear, with the new parish school to its right. In Dublin people always refer to a Catholic church by its street name rather than by its patronal name.

On a Christmas weekday in 1945, or it could have been very early in January 1946, my mother, pregnant at the time, took me to Mass. I was a few months short of three. It seems I shouted 'Bah' at the Infant Jesus in the crib. The priest ordered my mother and myself out. It seems he was 'ably assisted' by an older woman who made sure my mother understood what the priest had said.

I'm sure the priest had got out of bed 'on the wrong side' that morning, as I sometimes do myself. My father went to see him some days later but the priest didn't apologise. It would have helped had he done so.

I have one memory of the incident, a 'photo' in my mind while walking home. As you can imagine, it was a shattering incident for my mother. My father went to see the priest but he never apologised. However, whenever my mother told this story she always mentioned that the same priest (not the priest in the inset above but a curate, as an assistant priest is known in Ireland), having moved to the parish where my mother had grown up, couldn't have been kinder to her younger sister Madge in her last illness. Auntie Madge died on 3 February 1950 at the age of 26. Hers was my first experience with the death of someone close to me. My mother brought me to the wake.

I was at home during Lent 1991 and Our Lady of Good Counsel parish asked for a Columban to preach at all the Masses one weekend in connection with a 24-hour fast by secondary school students to raise funds for Trócaire, the development agency of the Catholic Church in Ireland. Fr Michael Scully, the Columban Vice Superior in Ireland at the time, who knew nothing about my connection with Drimnagh, asked me if I could respond to the request.

I had the best opening line ever to a homily: 'I was thrown out of this church'. (In Dublin dialect that would be 'I was thrun ouhah this church'.) My mother died in 1970 and as I repeated my homily I felt a vicarious healing on her behalf. I also discovered that the parish was formally established eleven days before my birth. Now it's part of a cluster of three parishes working together as a unit

This incident has helped me more than once, though it's essentially a story rather than an experience for me. I have been very harsh with people on occasion in church. But whenever this has happened I've had the grace to ask the person later for forgiveness. And I'm usually very patient with small children making noise, though once or twice I've had to ask quietly if the parent or guardian could take care of a particular child.

One situation that does get to me here in the Philippines is children playing with coins on the floor of a church or chapel. However, I grin and bear it and it's a very long time since I've been in such a situation.

I found this photo on the parish website. Our Lady's Children's Hospital is in nearby Crumlin.. The words in Irish Gaelic mean 'Your two arms around them, O Christ'. A beautiful memorial.

26 May 2010

Funeral of Fr Pat McCaffrey in Lahore, Pakistan

Fr Pat McCaffrey, 1944-2010. Photo by Fr Gary Walker, April 2010

This account of the funeral of Fr Pat McCaffrey is by Fr Tomás King, ordained in Ireland in 1992 and the current Coordinator of the Columban Mission Unit, Pakistan.

The funeral Mass took place in Sacred Heart, Cathedral, Lahore, on Thursday, 20 May at 3.00pm. Concurrently, a Mass was being celebrated in his home parish of Tempo, County Fermanagh, Northern Ireland, his classmate Fr Pat Raleigh being the main celebrant. The body arrived in the cathedral from the morgue at 2.30 for viewing. The 'Last Look' is an important custom in Pakistani culture. While people were filing past the coffin the rosary was recited.
Sacred Heart Cathedral, Lahore

Archbishop Lawrence Saldana of Lahore was the main celebrant assisted by Auxiliary Bishop Sebastian Shah OFM and Bishop Joseph Coutts of Faisalabad, formerly of Hyderabad, and a friend of Father Pat and of the Columbans since their arrival in Pakistan in 1979. More than 50 priests from the diocese and beyond attended.
Interior of Sacred Heart Cathedral, Lahore

In the introduction to the Mass Aquif Shazad from the Columban JPIC (Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation) team gave a brief biography of Father Pat's life, after which symbols from the various countries that he had lived and worked in were placed on the coffin. The choir sang some of his favorite Urdu and Punjabi hymns. I gave the homily. The cathedral was packed. It was a moving liturgy and many tears were shed.

Bishop Joseph Coutts

Afterwards the body was taken to St Columban's Parish, Greentown, on the outskirts of Lahore city. Here he was welcomed by roughly 2,000 people from all corners of the parish who were unable to make it to the cathedral. The body was placed in the small church and people lined up and filed past for the 'Last Look.' Again, many tears were shed and prayers said. The graveyard is just at the back of the church and high school. The grave itself is literally a minute’s walk from the church through the church compound entrance. But the people preferred to carry the coffin the long route around to the main entrance, giving as many men as possible an opportunity to carry the coffin.

The grave chosen was under a mature 'people' tree. Prayers at the graveside were led by Fr Joe Joyce, a classmate from Ireland, and Fr Gabriel Rojas, a Columban from Peru. After it was laid in the grave, as is the custom, all present threw a fistful of clay over the coffin. As many women as men were present. While it is changing in Christian circles, it's still uncommon for women to go to cemeteries for burials. Darkness had fallen by the time the grave had been covered in, after which it was covered in rose petals and flowers. Incense sticks and candles were lit.

English Columban Father Denis Carter with friends in Pakistan

Father Pat had been laid to rest under the Lahore sky as the light from the many candles pushed back the darkness and the smoke from the incense sticks carried the prayers of those present, prayers that expressed a hope and belief that he continues to be among us. It was very difficult to walk away.

Rest in peace good and faithful servant.

All proceedings were recorded at the request of Father Pat's family. It was also recorded by a new Catholic TV station which broadcasts within certain parts of Lahore city.

Father Patrick McCaffrey is the second Columban missionary to die in Pakistan. Pilar Tilos, a public school teacher from Hinoba-an, Negros Occidental, Philippines, on her second three-year term as a Columban lay missionary, died suddenly there on 4 January 1996 at the age of 55. She too is buried in Pakistan. We opened our mission there in 1979.

Pilar Tilos (right) with Emma Pabera from Candoni, Negros Occidental (in blue) and Gloria Canama from Tangub City, Misamis Occidental (in white) in Pakistan in the early 1990s. These three were the first group of Filipino Columban Lay Missionaries to be assigned overseas and were known as 'RP1', 'RP' meaning 'Republic of the Philippines'. Gloria is still in Pakistan while Emma was a staff member of the formation team for our lay missionaries in the Philippines for many years after leaving Pakistan.

Fr Pat McCaffrey's Last Hours

Fr Pat McCaffrey Last Hours

This account of Father Patrick McCaffrey’s last few hours were written by Srs Patricia, Eilish and Gretta Gill, Presentation Sisters, Murree, Pakistan. Murree, which could be called 'The Baguio of Pakistan' is at an elevation of  2,291 metres (7,517 feet) while Baguio, in the northern Philippines, is at 1,500 metres (5,100 feet). Wikipedia says 'The name Murree is derived from "marhi", "high place" although there is a popular belief it is named after the Virgin Mary'. Father Pat was my classmate. We entered St Columban's, Dalgan Park, Navan, Ireland, together in September 1961 and were ordained on 21 December 1967, he in St Eugene's Cathedral, Derry, and I in St Mary's Pro-Cathedral, Dublin.

Murree, Pakistan

The reading of the day on which our good friend Fr Pat McCaffrey unexpectedly left us for his eternal abode was very apt indeed. With St Paul, Father Pat could truly address those very words to us all: ‘You know what my way of life has been ever since the first day I set foot among you in Asia. How I have served the Lord in all humility, with all the sorrows and trials that came to me.’ Fr Pat McCaffrey arrived in Presentation Convent Murree on the 17 May in the afternoon. He was visiting three Columban lay missionaries, Paula Matakiviwa, Pita Qolikivikivi, two men recently arrived from Fiji, and Carmela Capistrano, a Filipina on her second term, studying Urdu there. After school at 2:00pm he joined us for a bowl of soup.

Then he went out for lunch with the students but offered to celebrate Holy Mass for us in the evening at 6.30. We were delighted because, not having a resident priest here in Murree, we have Mass only on Sundays. We informed the Jesus and Mary Sisters too and they joined us for Holy Mass. Father Pat was in the chapel praying away on his own long before Mass time. When the Sisters arrived he came to the front where they were seated and shook hands with each one, welcoming the Jesus and Mary Sisters and asking if they wouldn’t mind waiting for the lay missionaries who would soon be there. During the Mass he spoke beautifully about the coming of the Holy Spirit, Jesus being with us always and the importance of the oft repeated words of Jesus, ‘Be not afraid’. He pointed out that we were eleven people present from five different nationalities. Wasn’t that wonderful? At the end of his sermon he wished us all a happy feast of the Holy Spirit and said he wouldn’t be with us to celebrate but encouraged us to enjoy this great feast of the Church.

After Mass we all stood outside the chapel chatting. He was the last to come out and we teased him saying we were all waiting for the Spirit to come. He started breathing on us saying ‘Here comes the spirit’. He was in great form. Early the following morning, 18 May, at 5:45 we heard a big bang at our small school gate and the man cleaning the road, named Latief, told our watchman that Father Pat had fallen on the road. Sister Eilish and two of our workers rushed out to see what had happened to him and Sister Patricia ran to call Sister Gretta. The other workers brought out the charpai (bed) to put him on it. All our workers and Sister Eilish and Gretta were out in no time. As Sister Gretta blessed him there with holy water and a very special Irish cross handed to her by Sister Patricia. The workers and Sister Gretta rushed him to the Combine Military Hospital (CMH), which is just beside us, on the same charpai. He was attended by Dr Kamran and the staff of CMH without any delay but it was too late to do anything for him. He had already reached his heavenly Father for his reward. At the same time Sisters Eilish and Patricia, who were in the convent, had contacted some people on the phone and three Sisters of Jesus and Mary had also joined Sister Gretta at the hospital. By then we were in the process of getting the doctor to make his death certificate and were calling a few friends to make the arrangements to bring his body down to Pindi and from there to Lahore ,where Father Pat had been working.

Father Pat was brought to the same Chapel where he had celebrated Holy Mass only a few hours before and was now laid out to rest. Prayers were offered by both Christian and Muslim staff members, while all the teaching staff and students of Presentation Convent were stunned, sadly wondering what had happened as they turned the students’ vehicles homewards.

The ambulance was taking time to come so we decided to remove the seats of the big wagon of the Jesus and Mary Convent and take his body down to Pindi in it as soon as possible. Sisters Eilish and Gretta, some workers from the Presentation Convent and some from the Joseph and Mary Convent, as well as Mr Zaffar, Mr Ayub and the Columban lay missionaries travelled down with the body, praying on the way for the soul of this great priest. On our arrival at St Catherine’s Convent, Pindi, we were met by many Sisters from different congregations and Bishop Rufin Anthony of Islamabad-Rawalpindi. The prayers were led by Bishop Rufin in the compound. After the prayers we transferred the body to the ambulance to be taken to Lahore in the company of the three lay missionaries and Mr Zaffar. We very sadly said good bye to him in tears but it was so symbolic to see two Pakistani men, two men from Fiji and a woman from the Philippines travelling with him on his last journey to Lahore. This was to acknowledge him as a great missionary in the true sense. May his soul rest in peace and may the love he had for God and His people continue in many parts of the world. Amen.

24 May 2010

Father Cyril Hally's missionary journey

Last Wednesday, 18 May, we Columbans lost two great priests. Fr Cryil Hally died peacefully in Melbourne, Australia, at the age of 90 while my classmate, Fr Pat McCaffrey, dropped dead in the street in Pakistan. I wrote about him here.
Fr Cyril Hally (1920-2010)

Father Cyril came to St Columban's College, Dalgan Park, Navan, Ireland, in 1963 and taught there for three years, as I recall. It was during Vatican II and he kept us informed about what was going on and its significance. He also put us in the picture about world affairs and also how our faith related to what was going on a around us.

He spoke to us of the morality involved in urban planning, that it wasn't just a matter of putting a roof over people's heads but enabling a community to grow. At that time there was a scheme in Dublin whereby many were removed from slum areas in the city centre to a place called Ballymun which, at the time, was considered to be way outside the city. for those who were moved there it was. Those who had jobs had to travel long distances to work. Such things as stores and schools were considered almost an afterthought, leaving people vulnerable. This was not by evil design but came from a purely utilitarian approach: people need a roof over their heads and a reasonably decent place to stay. The project produced many social problems and the high-rise buildings have since been demolished. It was only through Father Cyril's eyes that I saw the wider picture.

He gave me a deep appreciation of the centrality of the liturgy. Once a week he met with most of the students for a chant class, preparing for the Sunday High Mass and for Vespers. For one month each year our High Mass was broadcast nationally. he would never hold extra classes to prepare as he insisted on a high standard every Sunday.

I last met Father Cyril last September-October when I did some mission appeals for the Columbans in Melbourne. He was then in a nursing home, because of a fall, but was still interested in everything. he even asked me about the current economic situation in Negros. He also came to the annual meeting of the Columbans in Australia and New Zealand.

Though his mind was constantly active he took a perverse pleasure in the fact that he couldn't - or wouldn't! - use anything more complicated than a typewriter.

Another memory I have of him is that he was the referree for many rugby games in our seminary. He even sent off a player at a time when that was unheard of in the seminary and even in rugby circles in general. I reacll him as a man who looked 'beyond the box' but who had a deep appreciation of the importance of authority.

May Father Cyril rest in peace.
St Columban's Essendon, Victoria, formerly known as North Park Mansion, Columban HQ in Australia where Father Cyril spent his latter years.

This tribute appeared in the Columban website for Australia and New Zealand:


A priest with vision who read the ‘signs of the times’.

Fr Cyril Hally was born on 9th February 1920 at Temuka, South island, New Zealand. He did his primary and secondary schooling at Oamaru. In 1939 he left New Zealand to go to St Columban Missionary Society seminary in Essendon Melbourne. At an early age he decided he wanted to be a missionary in China and followed his dream. After his seminary studies he was ordained in St Patrick’s Cathedral by Archbishop Daniel Mannix on July 2nd, 1945.

Archbishop Daniel Mannix of Melbourne

His life revolved around centres of higher learning. He was chaplain to Asian students in Lower Hutt, New Zealand while he studied for an arts degree but was sent to Rome in 1948 to study Canon Law before he finished his course. After gaining a licentiate in Canon Law, Cyril was appointed to Japan in 1951. But he was only there for just over a year before he was recalled to the staff of the Columban seminary at Wahroonga, New South Wales. He became a part-time chaplain to Asian students in Sydney.

In 1961 he was appointed to Lower Hutt again and resumed his BA studies at Victoria University but in 1963 left New Zealand to study linguistics at Georgetown University in Washington DC. His superiors had a change of mind and sent him to Ireland to be a member of staff at St Columban’s seminary at Dalgan Park, Co Meath. Here he started to lecture students during Gregorian Chant class on the social context of mission and the rapidly changing world they were heading out to challenge or be challenged by. Some priests recall these lectures as most stimulating and exciting but Gregorian Chant was not forgotten though not given pride of place.

In 1966 Cyril was appointed to a church ‘think tank’ in Brussels, ‘Pro Mundi Vitae’ which specialised in in- depth studies on topics and issues of the Church that needed researching. In 1971 he was appointed to the Australian/New Zealand Region and in 1972 was made First Secretary to the National Catholic Missionary Council, Sydney set up by the Australian bishops.

In 1979 he moved to St Columban’s seminary at North Turramurra and became a member of the seminary staff. He was Director of the Pacific Mission Institute for many years and lectured hundreds of participants who were heading for cross-cultural mission in Australia or other parts of the world. Fr Cyril had lectured in missiology, missionary anthropology, mission history and later peace and ecology.

He was awarded the inaugural Philia Prize for vision and initiative in religious work in Australia.

He was indefatigable in attending meetings concerned with justice and peace issues. Over the years he built an extraordinary network of people in many areas of life. He touched the lives of hundreds if not thousands of people with his vision and understanding of what was happening to the Church and the world. He kept an interest in the China desk of the Columban Mission Institute.

In 2006 he transferred from Sydney to St Columban’s Mission in Essendon where he had come as a young man to become a missionary so that he could receive better care. The last months of his life were spent in Mercy Place, Parkville where he continued to read and talk and be visited by Columbans, friends and admirers. He died suddenly but peacefully on Tuesday morning, May 18th2010.

Though he never became a missionary in China, he helped prepare missionaries who now work in many parts of the world to read what Pope John XXIII called ‘the signs of the times’.

Read Catholic Mission: A Mentor to Australian Missionaries - a Tribute to Fr Cyril Hally SSC

St Cadoc's: a parish-based blog

 St Cadoc's Church, Halfway

St Cadoc was a Welsh saint but finds himself in Scotland in a place with an intriguing name: Halfway, near Cambuslang and southeast of Glasgow, in the Diocese of Motherwell, Scotland. James Hannaway is a parishioner there and has initiated what he calls 'a fledgling blog' with the simple name of St Cadoc's.

St Cadoc

James is hoping that the parish will see the possibilities in having a blog or its own website. Pope Benedict has, on different occasions, challenged both young people and priests to use the internet to evangelise 'this digital continent'. I have no doubt whatever that St Paul, St Francis de Sales, the patron of journalists, and St Maximilian Kolbe would all be bloggers. St Maximilian is honoured by the Church primarily as a martyr but what is not so well known is that he used the press and radio, the latter still in its 'childhood', very effectively, both in his native Poland and in Japan in the 1930s to bring the Good News to as many as possible.

St Maximilian Kolbe

Sometimes I wonder if anyone reads this blog. I know there are regular readers and it is always encouraging to get feedback or a response. I firmly believe that those of us who have some ability in using the internet should harness its possibilities, not necessarily to be constantly 'preaching' but with the sense that all things can give glory to God. As St Paul says: Whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him (Col 3:17).

While on home leave in Dublin in 1994 I took a short course in computers for missionaries. The missionary Sister who taught us wasn't great in terms of the 'how' but she truly inspired me with stories of how the then fledgling - I've never used that word even once in a post and here I've used it twice! - internet had helped save lives, as she saw in the African country where she had served. I have experienced that reality in my own use of the net.

Check out St Cadoc's and post a comment there.

19 May 2010

A 'Pilgrim for Christ' in Fiji, England and Pakistan

Fr Patrick McCaffrey (3rd from right) 18 March 1944 - 18 May 2010

Yesterday afternoon the Columban superior in Manila, Fr Patrick O’Donoghue, very thoughtfully phoned me to tell me of the sudden death of a classmate in Pakistan, Fr Patrick McCaffrey, before he sent the news by email to all of us. Fr McCaffrey, who was from County Fermanagh in Northern Ireland, was only 66.

We Columbans have as our patron a man driven by the Latin motto 'Peregrinari pro Christo', 'To be a pilgrim for Christ', St Columban (also known as 'Columbanus'). Father Pat McCaffrey pilgrimage took him from the lakes of County Fermanagh, Northern Ireland, to Fiji, Pakistan, England, back to Fiji and, finally, to Pakistan.

River Erne, County Fermanagh, Northern Ireland

Father Pat’s first assignment was to Fiji and he spent all of his ten years there in Labasa, which has many Indian-Fijians. In 1978 he was assigned to Pakistan as one of our pioneering group there. From 1998 till 2005 he worked in Britain, based in Bradford which has a very large population of people with their origins in Pakistan. He was involved in inter-faith work and also celebrated Mass regularly with Pakistani Catholics in the area. Between 2000 and 2002 I sometimes celebrated Mass in the parish where he lived with the Filipinos in the Bradford.

In 2008 Father Pat returned to Fiji but was moved once again back to Pakistan early last year. He had just been visiting two newly-arrived Fijian Columban lay missionaries when he had what seems to have been a heart attack. He always felt close to those who were poor and the first person to go to his aid was a streetsweeper.

Catholic church, Hyderabad, Pakistan

Here is something he wrote in 2006 after his return to Fiji telling the extraordinary story of the baptism of five siblings at the request of their parents, both of them Hindus. One of those children is based now in General Santos City, Mindanao, Sr Sr Pushpa Wati Arjun SMSM.

Return to Fiji after 26 Years

Fr Pat McCaffrey ('67). Fiji

When I left Fiji in 1978 to go to Pakistan I did not think that I would ever be reassigned back to Fiji. I had the unique record of having had only one assignment during my 10 years in Fiji, viz. Holy Family Parish, Labasa. That was my first and only love in Fiji. It is where I cut my teeth in the pastoral field. While in Pakistan and later in Britain I used to look back in nostalgia to the good old days in the seventies in Labasa.

Flooded street, Labasa, Fiji

I vividly recall the day in 1971 when Aijun said to me in Naleba, ‘I want you to baptise all my children.’ ‘And what about you and your wife’ I asked him. They were both Hindus. ‘No’ he said, ‘we will not be baptised. We were born Hindus and we will die Hindus. But I want my children to become Christian and I am asking you now to baptise them and teach them how to be good people’.
I was reluctant to baptise the children when the parents were not willing to be baptised. However, the children, Victor William (12), Lingam (10), Sog Lingam (8), Pushpa (6) and Sakuntula (5) were coming to church every week and were the brightest in our CCD class. I finally baptised all five of them in 1972 and hoped for the best for them.

Fifteen years later I was delighted to hear that both Pushpa and Sakuntula had joined the SMSM Sisters. Pushpa has now completed ten years as a missionary in the Phillipines. Sakuntula is now a missionary in Bangladesh. At present Pushpa is back in Fiji. Next month she will go to C.T.U. for studies.
Rural scene in Vanua Levu, the island where Labasa is situated

After twenty eight years I am back in Fiji. My present assignment is working among the Hindi-speaking community in the eight parishes in Suva. This assignment has two aspects; pastoral work among the 150 Catholic Indian families scattered over these eight parishes and interfaith work among the large Hindu and Muslim population.

Names of first Indian Catholic families in the area where the parish of Labasa was formed in 1965

Both these aspects are of course intertwined. Both also demand that I keep in close contact with the parish communities in all of these parishes to ensure that work among the Hindi-speaking community be not seen as being in any way separate from the work of each parish community. Over the past three months Sister Pushpa and I have been working together as she awaits her visa to travel to the USA.

The main programme that we use for instructing people who want to become Christians is the RCIA course. This course was pioneered in the eighties by Fr Frank Hoare and Sr Frances Hardiman SMSM. Later Miss Rosema Dass and Miss Elizabeth Krishna built on these solid foundations. It is an excellent course. During the eighties and nineties over 300 people participated in these courses and were baptised. Those taking part were mostly Indians from a Hindu background who wished to become disciples of Jesus.

The courses were conducted for the most part in Hindi. The ongoing challenge was how to involve the indigenous Fijian community in this work and how to ensure that the parish communities were involved in this work.

This year Mika, Lusi, Sisi and James have undertaken to conduct the course in the parish of Nadera. Sister Pushpa and I have been assisting them. Mika, Lusi and Sisi are ethnic Fijians. They do not speak or understand Hindi. James is Indian. He does. not understand or speak Fijian. We all speak and understand English. We are now conducting the course in English, Fijian and Hindi, trying to cross boundaries of language, culture and faith. It is a challenging task.

We meet every Friday evening to prepare the class for the following Sunday. We were a little late in getting the course started this year and we wondered if the candidates would be ready for baptism next Easter. When we asked them last Sunday whether they wished to be baptised at Easter 2006 or Easter 2007, there was a unanimous request for Easter 2006. We acceded to their request and hopefully they will be baptised next Easter.

A similar RCIA programme is underway in the parish of Raiwaqa where Columban, Frs Gerry McNicholas, and Kieran Moloney and Lay Missionary Rowena Cuanico (from the Philippines) are working. At present Rowena is working with her parish team of two Fijians in conducting the course for six Indian catechumens. They too will be baptised next Easter.

That is a snapshot of missionary life in Fiji. The missionary task continues. It is good to be back here in Fiji to see the progress of the past thirty years. It is inspiring to see people like Sister Pushpa who have answered the missionary call to leave Fiji. It is inspiring to see people like Lusi, Mika and Sisi now taking up the challenge of sharing their faith with people of a different language and culture here in Fiji. It is inspiring to see Rowena, a Filipina lay missionary at work here in Fiji - all crossing boundaries of language, culture and faith.

We journey in faith, knowing that it is one who sows, another waters, but it is God who gives the increase.

The Fermanagh Herald carried a story on 20 January 2009 about Father Pat, A Missionary with a fresh appeal.

10 May 2010

Going to do a wedding in my former parish in Mindanao

Sto Niño Church and 'triskads'', Lianga

I won't be posting at least until 18 May. I fly to Manila tomorrow for a meeting on Wednesday and then fly to Mindanao on Thursday for a wedding the following day in my former parish of Lianga, Surigao del Sur. The Diocese of Tandag covers the province of Surigao del Sur. When I was there for eleven months in 1993-94 the mayor was promising that by the following year there would be 'a telephone' in the town, in the municipal hall. I don't know if it was every installed but everyone now has cellphones.

A ricefield outside the town of Lianga

When I was there most of the highway through the province left a lot to be desired. It is now a concrete highway I'm told. We Columbans in the Philippines joke that once we leave an area they pave the roads. There is some truth in that.

Sto Niño Church, Lianga

It's just over ten years since my last visit to Sto Niño (Holy Child) parish, where I was the last Columban priest. I had been sent there for two years but was asked to become the Columban vocation director and moved to Manila after only eleven months. The Columbans took four parishes in the Diocese of Tandag in 1979. When I was there we had only two and we left the diocese in 1995, I think.

Sto Niño Church, interior

A street scene in Lianga

I found the photos of Lianga above on A Lianga Diary in Photographs by Benjie Otagan who lives there. (So they must have a telephone line in by now!)

Lianga, Surigao del Sur, on the east coast of Mindanao, Philippines

Pugad Beach, Lianga
The map and the photo of Pugad Beach are taken from the page on Lianga in Wikipedia.

08 May 2010

'Flores de Mayo' in the Philippines and 'Bring Flowers of the Fairest' in Ireland

Kabankalan City, Negros Occidental, Philippines

Here in the Philippines we observe the Flores de Mayo, The Flowers of May, every year. It is basically a programme for children, mostly from poor families, led by volunteers throughout the country who teach the youngsters the basics of our Catholic faith. The children also bring flowers which they place before a statue of the Blessed Mother.

When I was a child in Dublin we had May processions in some churches on Sundays, especially the Oblate Church in Inchicore. In Stanhope Street School, run by the Irish Sisters of Charity, where I went through four years of kindergarten, we had a May procession every Monday of the month. My mother got me a surplice, which I wore over my ordinary clothes. Boys with a surplice were put at the front of the procession, as I recall. I wouldn’t dream of wearing a surplice over anything but a soutane or cassock now but I read recently that it’s done in parts of Eastern Europe.

For many years it has been a practice on a popular radio programme on RTÉ in Ireland to play the hymn Bring Flowers of the Rarest, also known as Queen of the May, on the first Monday of May. They used to play a recording by the Scottish tenor Sydney MacEwan (1908-1991, photo above) who, in the middle of his career, became a priest for the Diocese of Argyll and the Isles in Western Scotland. He continued to sing and raised funds to build St Columba’s Cathedral in Oban (photo below). I did a mission appeal for the Columbans there in September 2001 and visited there again the following year before returning to the Philippines.

In recent years they’ve used a recording by Irish tenor, Frank Patterson (1938-2000). He sang the song at a concert in Dublin in 1997, Faith of Our Fathers, and the video is taken from that. There are different versions of the words but below is that used by Frank Patterson.

Bring Flowers of the Rarest (Queen of the May)
Attributed to Mary E. Walsh in 1883

Bring flowers of the rarest
bring blossoms the fairest,
from garden and woodland and hillside and dale;
our full hearts are swelling,
our glad voices telling
the praise of the loveliest flower of the vale!

O Mary we crown thee with blossoms today!
Queen of the Angels and Queen of the May.
O Mary we crown thee with blossoms today,
Queen of the Angels and Queen of the May.

Their lady they name thee,
Their mistress proclaim thee,
Oh, grant that thy children on earth be as true
as long as the bowers
are radiant with flowers,
as long as the azure shall keep its bright hue


Sing gaily in chorus;
the bright angels o'er us
re-echo the strains we begin upon earth;
their harps are repeating
the notes of our greeting,
for Mary herself is the cause of our mirth.


A note on the deaths of Frank Patterson and Cardinal John O'Connor of New York

Cardinal John O'Connor, Archbishop of New York, had requested that Frank sing Ave Maria at his funeral. The Cardinal died on 3 May 2000 from a brain tumour. Frank, who had had a series of operations for a similar tumour, was unable to sing at the funeral because he was admitted to hospital in Boston that very day. He lapsed into a coma and died just over a month later, on 10 June. May they both be in the loving presence of The Queen of the May and of her Divine Son.

06 May 2010

'Marriage is truly an instrument of salvation' - Pope Benedict

Pope Benedict, Joseph Ratzinger (left) with his parents, Maria and Joseph, brother, Georg, and sister, Maria

Pope Benedict finished his talk at the audience in St Peter's Square yesterday with these words, some of which I've highlighted:

I send cordial greetings to all who will be taking part in the Congress on the Family in Jönköping, Sweden, later this month. Your message to the world is truly a message of joy, because God’s gift to us of marriage and family life enables us to experience something of the infinite love that unites the three divine persons – Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Human beings, made in the image and likeness of God, are made for love – indeed at the core of our being, we long to love and to be loved in return. Only God’s love can fully satisfy our deepest needs, and yet through the love of husband and wife, the love of parents and children, the love of siblings for one another, we are offered a foretaste of the boundless love that awaits us in the life to come. Marriage is truly an instrument of salvation, not only for married people but for the whole of society. Like any truly worthwhile goal, it places demands upon us, it challenges us, it calls us to be prepared to sacrifice our own interests for the good of the other. It requires us to exercise tolerance and to offer forgiveness. It invites us to nurture and protect the gift of new life. Those of us fortunate enough to be born into a stable family discover there the first and most fundamental school for virtuous living and the qualities of good citizenship. I encourage all of you in your efforts to promote a proper understanding and appreciation of the inestimable good that marriage and family life offer to human society. May God bless all of you.


Not long after reading the Pope's words today I came across this video with an old recording by Bing Crosby, whose songs my parents loved - a love I inherited from them - with appropriate photos added to the words that so many of my married friends, especially here in the Philippines, are familiar with.

05 May 2010

'Live, don't just get by': Pope Benedict to young people in Turin


The Vatican Information Service carried the report below last Monday, 3 May. I have highlighted some parts of it and [made some comments].

Pope Benedict in Turin, 2 May 2010

VATICAN CITY, 2 MAY 2010 (VIS) - At 4.30 p.m. today, the Pope returned to Piazza San Carlo where he met with young people from the archdiocese of Turin and surrounding dioceses. Following a welcome speech by Cardinal Severino Poletto, archbishop of Turin , and a greeting from the young people, the Pope delivered his address.
Benedict XVI in Turin, 2 May 2010

Recalling how twenty-five years ago John Paul II wrote a Letter for young people focusing on Jesus' meeting with the rich young man who asked Him what me had to do to gain eternal life, Benedict XVI said: "Today it is not easy to talk about eternal life and things everlasting because the mentality of our time tells us that nothing definitive exists; everything changes, and changes quickly. In many cases, 'change' has become a watchword, ... and in this way you young people are also led to think that it is impossible to make definitive choices that commit you for life". [Many couples prefer to live together, for example, than to make the life-long commitment that marriage involves. This attitude became very prevalent in the Western world in the late 1960s and affected the Church greatly, with priests and religious leaving in huge numbers.]

Pope's visit to Turin, 2 May 2010

However, the Pope asked, "is it true that in order to be happy we have to make do with small and fleeting moments of joy, the which, once over, leave bitterness in our hearts? Dear young people, this is not true freedom, happiness cannot be attained in this way. Each of us was created to make, not provisional and reversible choices, but definitive and irrevocable choices which give full meaning to existence. [We won't experience the truth of this until we make such choices.] We see this in our own lives: we would like every beautiful experience which fills us with joy never to end. God created us with a view to the 'forever'. In each of our hearts He placed the seed for a life that creates something great and beautiful". [Pope Benedict never short-changes us by proposing the trivial or the transitory as the goal of life.]

"In his dialogue with the rich young man, Jesus indicated life's greatest wealth: love. To love God and others with all of ourselves. ... For humans, who are mortal and limited beings, nothing is greater than participating in God's life of love. [Note: 'participating in God's life of love'. What could be greater than this?] Today we live in a cultural context that does not favour profound and disinterested human relationships, on the contrary, it often leads us to close in on ourselves, inducing individualism. ... But the hearts of the young are by nature sensitive to true love. Thus, with great trust, ['with great trust' - Benedict, the Holy Father, calls forth what is best in those who are young] I address myself to each of you and say: it is not easy to make something great and beautiful of your lives, it is demanding, but with Christ everything is possible".

"Experience this meeting with Christ's love in a strong personal relationship with Him; experience this in the Church and primarily in the Sacraments", Benedict XVI exhorted the young people. [One of the recurring themes in Pope Benedict's teaching is this strong personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Don't be led astray by 'Born Again' people who tell you that Catholics don't have that. The Pope tells us how to nourish that - through the sacraments.] "Christ's love for the young man of the Gospel is the same as that He has for each of you. It is not a love confined to the past, it is not an illusion, it is not reserved for the few. ... May each of you feel yourselves to be a 'living part' of the Church, unafraid, involved in the work of evangelisation ... [everyone is called to be a saint, a central teaching of Vatican II] with your brothers and sisters in the faith, and in communion with pastors, avoiding individualist tendencies even in the life of faith, [each is unique but God does not call us to be 'loners'] in order deeply to absorb the beauty of being part of the great mosaic that is the Church of Christ".

The Holy Father gave the example of Blessed Piergiorgio Frassati, [photo above, he was born in Turin and died in 1925, aged 24] the twentieth anniversary of whose beatification falls this month. He "put his Christian formation into practice with great commitment, giving a simple and effective witness of his faith", said the Pope recalling how Blessed Frassati's motto was "live, don't just get by". In this context, he invited his audience "to discover that it is worthwhile committing yourselves for God and with God, responding to His call in all your choices, the fundamental and the mundane, even when there is a price to pay".

Blessed Piergiorgio (center)

"May the Holy Shroud", he concluded, "be an invitation for you to inscribe the face of God's love into your hearts, in order to become, in your own lives and among your peers, a credible expression of the face of Christ".


A quote from Blessed Piergiorgio, who was on of the patrons of World Youth Day in Sydney in 2008, that reflects what the Holy Father said on Sunday in Turin: 'To live without faith, without a patrimony to defend, without a steady struggle for truth, that is not living, but merely existing; we must never just "exist".'

01 May 2010

St Joseph in Nazareth, a janitor in Glasgow, a cook in Lourdes, my Dad in Dublin and Stephane Grappelli in Toronto

Stephane Grappelli (in wheelchair) playing Gershwin

In 2002, just before I returned to the Philippines, I spent five months in Glasgow, Scotland. One day I was in one of the shopping malls and needed to use what Filipinos call the ‘CR’, ‘comfort room’. It was the cleanest public toilet I had ever seen. The janitor happened to be there and I told him this. His face lit up.

The same year I was on an overland pilgrimage to Lourdes from London, most of the pilgrims being Filipinos. One evening we were served baby carrots at dinner. I’ve never been a great fan of carrots and eat them out of a sense of duty because my mother, whose 40th death anniversary was last Thursday, drummed into me that they were ‘good for me’. However, the baby carrots in Lourdes were so delicious that I had four helpings and told the waitress in my broken French that it was the first time in my life I had actually enjoyed eating carrots. She conveyed my message to the cook who was so delighted that he came out to thank me.

These were two people doing jobs in which they took pride but probably seldom got thanks, especially, I would think, the janitor in Glasgow.

My father, whose baptismal names were John Joseph, was, like St Joseph whom we celebrate today as a worker, a carpenter. He worked on construction sites all his life and was a general foreman for many years. He took great pride in his work and respected his fellow workers, leading them by example. In the summer of 1967, when I was a subdeacon, I worked with him on a building site where a large office-building was being constructed. I saw there what I already knew of his conscientious approach to his job. He was good at what he did and got great satisfaction from it, knowing that his work would be of benefit to so many people for years to come.

My father was also a man of deep faith, beginning each day with Mass.

The feast of St Joseph the Worker is a day to remind us that God made us to develop our talents, to have a sense of the dignity of our work and how it fits in to the overall scheme of things, whether it is building houses, cooking carrots or keeping a public rest room clean.

A memorable moment in my life was a concert I attended in Toronto when I studied there in 1981-82. From the moment Stephane Grappelli, then in his 70s, walked out on the stage until he left it about two hours later, I knew I was in the presence of a person who was doing exactly what God had made him to do. I know nothing about Grappelli’s faith but with a father from Rome and a mother from France he must have had some kind of Catholic background. His music was an extension of himself and conveyed a great sense of joy, which ultimately came from God. He was totally alive. In the video above he was already in a wheelchair but still a master of his art.

Many are trapped in work that is sheer drudgery because they are exploited or because nobody tells them how important their work is, no matter how menial it may be.

A ‘thank you’ to those who work for us will never go astray, will bring joy to at least some and will give glory to God.