28 August 2010

'Invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind'. 22nd Sunday of Ordinary Time Year C, 29 August 2010

Supper in the house of Simon the Pharisee, Moretto da Brescia, painted 1550-54

The gospel below refers to another occasion when Jesus dined in the house of a Pharisee.

Gospel (Lk 14: 1, 7-14) New American Bible, the version used in the Philippines.

On a sabbath Jesus went to dine
at the home of one of the leading Pharisees,
and the people there were observing him carefully.

He told a parable to those who had been invited,
noticing how they were choosing the places of honor at the table.
“When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet,
do not recline at table in the place of honor.

A more distinguished guest than you may have been invited by him,
and the host who invited both of you may approach you and say,
‘Give your place to this man,’
and then you would proceed with embarrassment
to take the lowest place.

Rather, when you are invited,
go and take the lowest place
so that when the host comes to you he may say,
‘My friend, move up to a higher position.’

Then you will enjoy the esteem of your companions at the table.
For every one who exalts himself will be humbled,
but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
Then he said to the host who invited him,
“When you hold a lunch or a dinner,
do not invite your friends or your brothers
or your relatives or your wealthy neighbors,
in case they may invite you back and you have repayment.

Rather, when you hold a banquet,
invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind;
blessed indeed will you be because of their inability to repay you.
For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”


I had a friend in Manila named Baloloy who died last year, probably in his 50s. He was born with Trisomy 21 (Down's Syndrome) and had a lovely, cheerful disposition. Baloloy lived near the Little Sisters of Jesus in Manila. They live among the poor, have adoration of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament at the center of their lives. A typical community has three or four Sisters, one or two of whom take manual jobs such as working in factories or sweat-shops or doing laundry.

Baloloy considered himself a member of the Sisters' community and often invited himself for lunch. One day he arrived after lunch had started and found his usual place occupied by someone else - Cardinal Gaudencio Rosales of Manila, a great friend of the Sisters and a friend of Baloloy. The Cardinal and the Sisters have been involved with Faith and Light for many years and that was the connection with Baloloy. The VIPs in this movement are persons such as Baloloy.

Baloloy was quick-thinking. He went over to the Cardinal and told him that his - the Cardinal's - driver was outside and wished to speak to him. Cardinal Rosales went out and when he returned there was Baloloy sitting in his place!

The Cardinal and the Sisters enjoyed this immensely and simply drew up another chair.

At one level Baloloy could be numbered among those with an 'inability to repay' but Cardinal Rosales and the Sisters didn't have to wait till 'the resurrection of the righteous' to know that they were truly blessed by God.

Cardinal Rosales with Tess Ortega at a Faith and Light pilgrimage to Sto Tomas, Batangas, Philippines

21 August 2010

Compulsory tree planting as a form of clerical oppression of parishioners?

I felt angry when I read yesterday on CathNews Philippines a report under the heading 'Priest requires tree planting before baptism, wedding'. The source of the report, by Walter I. Balane, is MindaNews under the headline No baptism, no walk down the aisle without first planting trees.

Here is the full report:

VALENCIA CITY (MindaNews/18 August) — Parents who wish their children to be baptized and couples applying for a church wedding are required to plant trees before they may receive these sacraments, Fr. Noel Suarez, parish priest of the San Agustin parish here said.

Suarez told MindaNews Wednesday the move aims to align the church’s mission of spreading the faith with current realities affecting the environment.

He said church rites must be able to also serve the earth where the “faithful” live amidst the growing threat of climate change.

He said parents are required to plant at least three trees before chapel officials endorse the application for baptism to the parish office for scheduling.

Both the bride and the groom are also required to plant three trees for each other as a sign of love.

Suarez explained the three trees stand for “I love you” to symbolize the parents’ love for their child and the couple’s affection for each other.

He said the parish preferred fruit trees because “it is harder for the residents to cut down a fruit-bearing tree than a tree meant for lumber,” he said.

Besides, he said, most parents and couples who are faithful to their vocation would want to see the trees grow as a remembrance of their love.

Suarez said they are using the basic ecclesial communities (BECs) to verify if the trees are indeed planted and taken care of.

The practice is generally observed only in Valencia City not in the entire Diocese of Malaybalay.

But Suarez clarified that the priests in other parishes are implementing their own ways of showing concern for the environment.

He traced his inspiration for the practice to the anti-logging protests in Bukidnon in the late 1980s initiated by the people of San Fernando town.

Suarez was ordained by then Bukidnon bishop Gaudencio Rosales in 1988, at the height of the anti-logging protests.

After the Department of Environment and Natural Resources imposed a logging moratorium in the province, Suarez was among 45 priests of the diocese who were deputized as forest guards.

Threats to the environment are still haunting us, Suarez said.

He said he also imposed the planting of trees in his previous parish assignments – Salawagan in Quezon town, Cabanglasan town, and Pangantucan town.

But he cited that the faithfulness of the church’s community leaders and the priests who replaced him in continuing the practice is a challenge. He said he can only trust them to be sincere in their duty to God and his creation.

“The idea that we plant is already something, we have something to look up to for the future of the children. But if we plant nothing today, that’s another thing,” he said.

Aside from its environmental thrust, the church is also implementing “FAITH” or “Food always in the home” gardening project through the BECs, he added. (Walter I. Balane/MindaNews).

Father Suarez' zeal for respecting God's creation is to be commended. But his methods are not. His approach reminds me of that of the Dictator Ferdinand Marcos who, around 1974, as I recall, imposed compulsory tree-planting as a requirement for police clearances, or something like that, for those wishing to apply for a passport. I forget the details but I remember the attempt to oppress the people clearly.

This parish priest is even using the Basic Ecclesial Communities as his own 'police' force, turning parishioners into spies. What has this to do with the Gospel?

Is it part of a parish priest's service to his people as a shepherd to impose tree-planting on them? I wonder what basic catechesis he and his BEC leaders give to couples bringing their children to be baptised or to couples preparing for marriage?

The Philippines is riddled with bureaucracy which oppresses especially the poor. I posted yesterday about the difference in renewing your driver's license in Ireland and in the Philippines. In one parish in Mindanao where I was assigned before I discovered that couples from the mountain applying for their marriage license were asked to pay for all sorts of things such as a rodent tax and for the marriage ceremony itself, even if it wasn't done by the mayor. I know from lining up so many times to renew my driver's license how much time and money is wasted because of unnecessary procedures.

I think it is shameful for a parish priest to engage in officious oppression of his people under the guise of something that in itself is good. I am all in favor of planting trees, especially fruit trees but I'm not in favor of clerical dictators who train parishioners to be 'little clerics' spying on their fellow parishioners.

In fairness to Father Suarez, a predecessor of his in Valencia, Fr Nery Lito Satur, was murdered in November 1991 almost certainly because of his opposition to illegal logging, which is rife in the Philippines. Cardinal Gaudencio Rosales, Archbishop of Manila, was then Bishop of Malaybalay and wrote a book about Father Satur and the illegal logging he was confronting by peaceful means.

Nobody can quarrel with the planting of trees. the only one I ever planted myself was in Malaybalay, Bukidnon, in 2000, while at a camp there for young Deaf people. It was an overdue response to the request of a priest in another diocese in Mindanao, on the occasion of his Silver Jubilee, to plant a tree.

However, I think that the zeal of Father Suarez, whose intention is undoubtedly good, outweighs his wisdom and his sense of justice.

19 August 2010

Renewing my driver's licence

O'Connell Street, Dublin

The other day I renewed my driver's licence. It had expired in May. I went to the office, took a number, filled up the form and had to wait only one or two minutes before my application was processed. I had to deal with only one clerk and the transaction, including payment, took less than a minute. There was no fine for having let my licence expire. I had spent only about ten minutes in the office. I left with my recepit, knowing that I'll receive my new license by mail within a day or two.

This was Dublin, Ireland, not the Philippines.

In the Philippines you have to renew your licence every three years during your birth month. In Ireland your licence is valid for ten years but only up to the age of 70. After that you get a yearly one, having produced a medical certificate from your doctor. The process in the Philippines has been simplified and you can get it now in about two hours. When I renewed my licence in Bacolod City in 2003 it took more than a day going from one office to another, and going through a farcical drugs test and an even more farcical 'medical' test. Because of a mistake in a computer in Manila the Bacolod office was unable to issue my licence, though the receipt served as a temporary one.

Three years later I went to another city in Negros Occidental to renew my licence. I discovered that they had introduced a new 'hoop' - you had to give a tax number. When I came to the last part the machine that produced the ID-type licence wasn't functioning.

Bureaucracy in the Philippines seems, for the most part, to be designed to make life difficult for people, especially the poor, who are often taken advantage of. A taxi-driver or jeepney-driver, in addition to paying the fee for his licence, loses time for working, which before could be more than a day. One of the very few good things done under the Marcos regime was the simplification of the process of renewing your driver's licence but under one of his successors the whole thing was fouled up again.

16 August 2010

Jubilees of Columban priests

Yesterday, the Solemnity of the Assumption, I attended the Jubilee Celebration in St Columban's, Dalgan Park, Navan, Ireland (above) of Columban priests ordained 60, 50 and 25 years. There were seven Diamond Jubilarians present, 12 Golden and two Silver. There are three other Diamond Jubilarians still living, one American, one Australian and one New Zealander. There are also four other Golden and three Silver jubilarians.

The Irish Columbans were ordained on 21 December 1950 and 1960, which was then the feast of St Thomas the Apostle. As that is in the middle of the Irish winter it was decided some eyars ago to ahve the celebration on the Feast of the Assumption, a happy and practical thought, as it is still summer in Ireland and the feast still a holyday of obligation. It is known in Irish Gaelic as Lá Fhéile Mhuire Mhóir, the Great Feast of Mary.

One perhaps unique aspect of the celebration was that two brothers were celebrating different jubilees  together, Father Terence Bennett his Diamond Jubilee and is younger brother, Father Donal, his Golden. Both spent most of their lives as priests in the Philippines. Father Terry retired to Ireland last year while Father Donal is now chaplain to Filipinos in Northern Ireland.

Please pray for our jubilarians and for the souls of the 18 from the class of 1950 and the four of the class of 1960 who have died.

06 August 2010

'Legal Abortion Saves No One'

Here is a message from Pro-Life, Philippines, that I received today. It is a response to the demand of the Center for Reproductive Rights, based in New York, that abortion be legalised in the Philippines.

Legal Abortion Saves No One

Abortion does not protect women's rights; rather, it violates the right to life of all. Pro-Life Philippines is outraged by the recent demand of some so-called women’s rights advocates for legalized abortion in the
Philippines. Abortion is itself a blatant violation of human rights and its legalization is is a clear violation of our Constitution. It is unacceptable on any grounds.

Central to the misguided call for legal abortion are three premises: that illegal abortions cause maternal death and illnesses; that rape victims should be given the choice to terminate an unwanted pregnancy; and that poverty causes poor women to turn to unsafe abortions.

On the first premise, we reply that all abortions are unsafe and are not medically necessary. Abortion advocates themselves have stated that “risks associated with induced abortion increase as the pregnancy progresses.”

They also failed to mention the numerous adverse effects of committing abortion physically and psychologically. Some of these women who committed elective abortion remain barren for the rest of their lives. Studies have also linked induced abortions to breast and ovarian cancer. Operation Outcry and Canada Silent No More have collected over 4,000 testimonial declarations from women suffering after legal abortions in developed countries.

In cases of rape, we see that abortion does not solve the problem but instead aggravates it. The crime of rape is not the fault of the child; why should the child be punished for it?. Further, killing the child does not redeem the rape victim, and may in fact drown her in deeper remorse. If the rape victim does not want the child, she can always give it up for legal adoption. No one need be killed.

Finally, if poverty drives some women to abortion, the solution is to address the causes of poverty. Legalizing abortion does nothing to solve the problem. The government should instead minimize graft and corruption, foster good governance and implement economic reforms. Legalizing abortion will never alleviate poverty. In fact it could even exacerbate the economic situation by depleting our nation's most valuable and productive resouce: our people.

The legalization of abortion is not necessary to assist poor women in crisis pregnancies. If the government is serious in its efforts to remedy this dilemma, it should provide counseling services especially for post-abortion mothers; better education, maternal and child care services, economic and social development programs that will lower the incidence of rape, incest, sex outside of marriage and other causes of unwanted
pregnancies. Young women need to be educated on fetal development, the consequences of sex outside of marriage, and on natural family planning.

Pregnant women need support and help, not abortions. We should be saving lives, not taking them.

Pro-Life Philippines calls on our legislators to reject the malevolent urge to kill the weakest members of our future generations. Help us defend our pro-life country and our families who are threatened by the culture of
death. Abortion saves no one, but it does destroy an innocent life.

03 August 2010

New website of Holy Family Home, Makati City, Philippines

A Child Redeemed is a Generation Saved
Capuchin Tertiary Sisters of the Holy Family

From time to time I've posted, as far as I can recall about Holy Family Home in Bacolod City where the Capuchin Tertiary Sisters of the Holy Family take care of girls and young women who come from backgrounds of abuse and/or poverty. The Sisters also have a home for girls in Makati City, where the financial centre of the Philippines is located. Makati is part of the Metro Manila complex.
In one of the outer parts of Makati City you can find Holy Family Home where the Sisters take in young girls whos families are living in extreme poverty. They have just set up a website. This is basically a source of information about the various services offered at Holy Family Home, which depends on the support of benfactors within the Philippines and overseas.

The Capuchin Tertiary Sisters of the Holy Family came to the Philippines in 1982 from Spain. Many of the Sisters were from Colombia and from some of the Central American nations such as Panama, Costa Rica and Guatemala. Now the majority are young Filipino Sisters and the congregation has Filipino Sisters in Tanzania, India and Korea.
Cooking lessons are conducted by Hands-on-Manila volunteers every 3rd Saturday of the month, while the Latin American Women’s Club (Club de Damas Latinas), which has been helping Holy Family Home Foundation since 1997, teaches the girls how to make accessories from beads. The finished products are sold to augment the income of the center. Sister Luz Maria Buitrago TC, right, is from Colombia.

I believe that God is blessing the Sisters because they live an authentic religious life. They live in community, wear simple habits, have prayer, including prayer specifically for vocations, at the centre of their lives and get on with the job. The have a noticeable Franciscan joy about them.

Please keep these wonderful Sisters and the girls and young women they serve in your prayers. And check out http://holyfamilyhome.org/