30 November 2010

Happy St Andrew's Day!

St Andrew, El Greco, painted 1610-14

May I wish readers in Scotland, where I know I have one or two, and anyone in Russia who happens to come across this blog, a Happy St Andrew's Day! If your name is Andrew or any variation thereof, may God bless you in a special way today.

I was assigned to Britain in September 2000, supposedly for four years. After Easter 2002 I was transferrred from Solihull, in the West Midlands of England, to Glasgow. I expected to be in Scotland for more than two years. After only two weeks I was asked to return to the Philippines, though not immediately. I lived among my Celtic cousins for five months. The Latin word 'Scotus' originally meant 'Irish'. The historical, cultural and linguistic ties between Ireland and Scotland are very close for various reasons, good and bad, that I won't go into here.

May I also ask your prayers as I go on retreat this morning until Thursday afternoon. I meant it to be longer but it hasn't worked out that way.

St Andrew's Cross, the National Flag of Scotland, known as The Saltire

Flag of Nova Scotia, 'New Scotland', Canada

29 November 2010

As we Irish grit our teeth . . .

The Republic of Ireland, where I'm from, is in grave financial trouble, as many know, and is being bailed out to the tune of €85billion by the EU-IMF. The UK also announced recently that it would lend us £7billion. Joan Burton TD, the Irish Labourt Party's front-bench spokesperson on finance in the Dáil, the Irish parliament, described the state last night as 'banjaxed', which means 'in a right mess'.

Britain - and Ireland - are getting Arctic weather at the moment. Above is Matt's comment in today's Daily Telegraph. Matt is a genius.

I don't know if the late John Wayne had any Irish blood in him, though Maureen O'Hara, with whom he starred in a number of movies and who turned 90 a few months ago, God bless her, is as certifiably Irish as they come by birth and by virtue of her glorious red hair. But I presume the bag we are sending is 'True Grit'.

27 November 2010

Dioceses all over the world prepare for Pope's Pro-life vigil today

Dioceses all over the world prepare for Pope’s pro-life vigil on Saturday

by Patrick B. Craine

Thu Nov 25, 2010 15:36 EST

ROME, Italy, November 25, 2010 (LifeSiteNews.com) - The Catholic dioceses of the world are preparing to join together with the Pope in prayer on behalf of the unborn this Saturday in an unprecedented pro-life effort.

Bishops from across the globe have called their flocks to gather, as the Church begins its Advent celebrations, in response to Pope Benedict XVI’s call for a “Vigil for All Nascent Human Life.”

In a letter sent out earlier this year, the Holy Father asked that “all Diocesan Bishops (and their equivalent) of every particular church preside in analogous celebrations involving the faithful in their respective parishes, religious communities, associations and movements.”

The vigil takes place as many nations around the world are facing intense battles over the lives of their unborn children.

Catholics in the Philippines have taken up the vigil to pray especially for God’s protection against a ‘reproductive health’ bill that aims to promote contraception as a form of population control. The news site for the Filipino Catholic Bishops reports that El Shaddai, a large Catholic movement based in Parañaque City, will offer this special intention. The country’s Catholic bishops have warned that this bill, which is now in serious danger of passing, will eventually lead to the legalization of abortion.

The Polish bishops have called on parishes to undertake three days of prayer for children in the womb, dedicating Friday as a day of reparation for in vitro fertilization, reports TheNews.pl. IVF, which has caused the deaths of countless embryonic children, has been the subject a contentious debate recently in the largely Catholic country. On Thursday, prayers are to be offered for aborted babies, parents considering abortion, pro-abortion advocates, and abortionists.

In Australia, Archbishop John Bathersby of Brisbane issued an Advent pastoral letter leading into the vigil, calling on the faithful to pray for the unborn. The archbishop’s diocese is based in the state of Queensland, which is facing strong pressure to liberalize its abortion law.

“Once human life is considered merely something that can be accepted or rejected depending on our own comfort, there is nothing to stop violence from being directed not only at the innocent beginning of human life, but also at children and old people, which we see all too often in our media and movies,” he wrote.

In Britain, Archbishop of Westminster Vincent Nichols has written a reflection as part of the Archdiocese’s optional text for the vigil. The prelate likens the prayerful silence they will observe in the vigil to “the wonder, with which a mother senses the growth of a new human being within her womb.”

“Such contemplation as this also brings home to us the true horror of the destruction of unborn human life, robbed of its human potential to bring unique good into the world,” he observes. “Let us pray ... that the eyes of our world will be opened to these precious truths so that humanity may act with dignity and love in the defence of every innocent human life.”

In the U.S., the USCCB Secretariat of Divine Worship and the Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities have collaborated in developing Vigil prayer aids for dioceses and parishes.

Four possible schemes for observing the vigil - which may include a Marian Procession, Evening Prayer (Vespers), recitation of the Rosary, and Benediction with the Blessed Sacrament, as well as a Rubric for priests and liturgy directors - have been produced and posted to the USCCB website.

“We are grateful to dioceses that have already made plans to celebrate this special Vigil in union with our Holy Father and the Church all around the world,” the US bishops said.

For those who are unable to attend a local vigil, the Diocese of Davenport in Iowa has written a booklet with some of the prayers the Pope will use on Saturday.

'At an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come'. First Sunday of Advent Year A, 28 November 2010

The Great Flood, Bonaventura Peeters the Elder

Readings (New American Bible)

Gospel Matthew 24: 37-44

Jesus said to his disciples:

“As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. In those days before the flood,
they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day that Noah entered the ark. They did not know until the flood came and carried them all away. So will it be also at the coming of the Son of Man. Two men will be out in the field; one will be taken, and one will be left.  Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken, and one will be left. Therefore, stay awake! For you do not know on which day your Lord will come. Be sure of this: if the master of the house had known the hour of night when the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and not let his house be broken into. So too, you also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.”


Advent is primarily a time of preparation for the Second Coming of Our Lord Jesus Christ, as Fr Thomas Rosica points out in his reflection below. It is also a time when we prepare to celebrate the Birth of Our Savior.

Advent is the least understood of the Church’s liturgical season and perhaps the one most distorted by Christians, though not usually deliberately so. Filipinos often boast that the Christmas season here is ‘the longest in the world’, beginning in September and ending on the Feast of Candlemas, 2 February. The irony is that here in the Philippines we hardly observe the Christmas season at all. It begins on the evening of Christmas Eve and ends with the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord which will fall on 8 January in 2011.

I refuse to allow any Christmas decorations go up in my house/office or lights outside until Advent begins. But many have these up before Advent begins and down before Christmas ends. When I was a child we put up our Christmas decorations on Christmas Eve and took them down after the Epiphany. I know that Ireland has a different culture and we have the 'commercial Christmas' there too. But we should be guided by the Church's ancient tradition not by commerce as we prepare to celebrate the Birthday of Jesus.

But I have noticed over the last ten years that people are spending less and less coming up to Christmas, because they can’t afford to. I’ve noticed that the offerings during the Misas de Gallo (novena of pre-dawn Masses in honour of the Blessed Virgin, 16-24 December) are fewer each year, at least where I celebrate them. This again reflects that people are struggling.

Part of the universal distortion of Advent is the proliferation of ‘Christmas’ parties before Christmas even begins. We don’t hold baptismal parties before a child is baptized nor do we hold a wedding banquet until after the wedding.

I’ve nothing against parties before Christmas, as Advent is a quietly joyful season. But those held in parishes, in Catholic schools or by Catholic groups, should be called ‘Advent parties’ or, at the least, ‘Pre-Christmas parties’. Otherwise we are handing on something that is distorted and undermining the celebration of the great feast of Christmas and undermining the faith of people.

The emphasis should be on preparation, for the Second Coming, whenever it may be, and for a joyful celebration of the Birthday of Jesus. He desires to be born again in our hearts. In the words of St Paul today, we are called to ‘put on the Lord Jesus Christ’. Isaiah has the magnificent vision of the people beating ‘their swords into plowshares’. This speaks to a world in which many starve because their land is ravished by warfare and those who don’t die violently often die indirectly from the famine caused by the sword.

How much violence there is in the Philippines on a daily basis! Murders are often unreported or noted in inside pages. The families of the 59 killed - the usual figure given is 57 but two were reported to be pregnant – may not see justice done for years, if ever.

The gospel today closes with these words: for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come. What would we say to Jesus if he walked into our schools, into our offices, into our courts, into our churches, today?


The United Nations garden contains several sculptures and statues that have been donated by different countries. This one is called "Let Us Beat Swords into Plowshares" and was a gift from the then Soviet Union presented in 1959. Made by Evgeniy Vuchetich, the bronze statue represents the figure of a man holding a hammer in one hand and, in the other, a sword which he is making into a plowshare, symbolizing man's desire to put an end to war and convert the means of destruction into creative tools for the benefit of all mankind. (I'm aware of a certain irony in this sculpture having been donated by the then Soviet Union. But the image is from the Word of God).


Advent: A Time to Wake From Our Hypnotic Sleep

Biblical Reflection for 1st Sunday of Advent, Year A

By Father Thomas Rosica, CSB
TORONTO, NOV. 23, 2010 (Zenit.org).- The Advent season in its liturgical observance is devoted to the coming of God at the end of history when Jesus shall reign as king.

The time is chiefly a celebration of "the coming of God" in ultimate triumph. Our three Scripture readings for the first Sunday of Advent (Year A) challenge us to adopt a timetable in which the seemingly distant parousia (final coming) impinges on the present moment . . .

Father Rosica’s reflection includes the following:

The pregnant season

On Saturday evening, Nov. 27, eve of Advent this year, Benedict XVI will celebrate in St. Peter's Basilica a "Vigil for All Nascent Human Life" coinciding with first vespers of the First Sunday of Advent. The Holy Father has said: "The period in which we prepare for Christmas is an appropriate time to invoke divine protection on every human being called into existence, and to thank God for the gift of life we received from our parents."

"Nascent" is a word not frequently used in our daily vocabulary. While it clearly refers to unborn human life, its other meanings include "promising," "growing," and "hopeful." As we enter into Advent, our thoughts naturally focus on the hope and expectation of the coming of Christ. Christ came to us first as an unborn child, tiny, vulnerable and in need of protection and care of his mother.

By calling for this worldwide prayer vigil, Benedict XVI invites us to focus both on the hope and promise of new life in Christ that we celebrate at Christmas but also to acknowledge the sad fact that worldwide there are an estimated 50 million abortions performed each year. Lives are simply thrown away. Many people in our time have truly become "hypnotized" to this reality. We have justified our reasons and means for destroying life in the womb because it disturbs and upsets us, forcing us to change our way of living. What are the hypnotic conditions against human life that we experience without our consciousness of them?

More than any other time of year, Advent is a pregnant season. We need a renewal of faith and hope about the meaning of life as the reflection of God. The timing of this prayer service for "nascent life" at the beginning of the Advent season is a happy coincidence that reminds us of the great gift from God that each and every human life represents.

You may read the full text of Fr Rosica's reflection here.

25 November 2010

A Thanksgiving Day 'Thank you' from a Columban on the USA-Mexico border

May I wish all my American readers a Happy Thanksigivng Day. I have been blessed to have celebrated the holiday a number of times in the USA.

Fr Bill Morton, an American Columban working in El Paso, Texas, across the border from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, where Australian Columban Fr Kevin Mullins and Irish Columban Fr Michael Donnelly work in one of the most violent areas caught up in the drug war, thanks those who support the work of Columbans. Thanksgiving Day in the USA is a very special holiday, one centred very much on the family and one that invites people to thank God for the many blessings we have.

Father Morton had an unusual path to the priesthood. He found his vocation partly through a 'Born Again' girlfriend. We published this interview in the November-December 2003 issue of Misyon.

Change of Plan

Fr Bill Morton's first job was as an air traffic controller. Later he became a Columban missionary priest. In this interview, he tells how that happened.

Q. What is your family background?

A. I was born into a large Catholic family in Philadelphia in 1952. Frequent discussion about faith, politics and social issues around the dinner table, regular attendance at Sunday Mass and recitation of the family rosary were buttressed by lived values of hospitality to anyone who came to our door. After secondary school, I enlisted in the Navy and qualified as an air traffic controller.

Q. Was it a stressful job?

A. At times. On one occasion when I was in training at the Pensacola Naval Air Station in Florida I cleared a plane on to the main runway when all of a sudden an A-7 from the aircraft carrier Lexington requested an emergency landing. I had to clear him to land on the crosswind runway and as he touched down I saw him bounce on one tyre, which burst and then bounce back on the other wheel and that tyre burst as well. The plane spun off the runway into the dirt. My heart was in my mouth. The canopy popped open and, thank God, the pilot was OK.

Q. Was your religion important to you during those years?

A. As a young man of 18, in a new place without the influences of family and community I began to drift. I rarely went to Mass and seldom thought about God. I went to bars and nightclubs, drank and smoked heavily and experimented with drugs. At the same time, a man named Jim in my air traffic control unit used to speak to me about Christ, leave little pamphlets in my mailbox and invite me to go to his church.

Life in the fast lane was leaving me empty and longing for something and so I began to attend church and eventually had a conversion experience. I told my parents I had been 'born-again' and was no longer a Roman Catholic. When I went home on vacation there was friction in the family over my 'conversion.' My father said, ‘You're no born-again Christian; you're a fallen-away Catholic!’ They invited a well-known religious woman to the house and together tried to convince me to return to the fold. They were all seated in the living room and I at the top of the stairs armed with my Dake's Concordance, an evangelical Bible designed to refute Catholic doctrine.

Q. Were their efforts to convince you successful?

A. No. Back in Pensacola I became even more involved in the Church of the Open Bible. We worked with the youth and started a Christian coffee house and a Jesus rock group. I would pick up the teenagers in my Volkswagen mini-bus for Sunday services and our Friday night coffee house called Freedom Road.

It was a kind of hippie type thing, a very casual atmosphere where we mixed music with Scripture and preaching. We invited the kids to accept Jesus and receive counsel about family, drug and other problems. It was a joyful and creative time for me and deepened my sense of mission.

Q. How do you look back on those years?

A. I have remained friends with Jim, who witnessed to me, and I still delight in telling him I would not have become a Catholic missionary priest without that profound experience in the evangelical church. Through it I developed a more personal relationship with Christ and an appreciation of the Scriptures. I overcame my Catholic reticence to share faith and I developed a much more outgoing approach.

Q. What then brought you back to the Catholic Church?

A. Though I agreed with and experienced personally this relationship with Jesus, certain behaviours like smoking, drinking and swearing were stressed as litmus tests of Christian life. There was a lot of quoting of Scripture and arguments about who was saved and who was not. I began to think of the Catholics I knew who didn't quote much Scripture, who smoked or drank, but who were also generous, compassionate and non-judgmental people.

I asked myself: ‘If Jesus came back whose butt would he be kicking?' I concluded that it would more likely be my own, because of my self-righteousness, rather than the man on the street with his bottle.

I was madly in love with one of the girls who sang in our Christian rock group. She had been raised Protestant and one day she asked if we could go to a Catholic Mass. We went to a Saturday evening Mass at St Mary's and it was a lively celebration with guitars and songs and a young, Irish priest who preached with fervour and humour. Though still very much a member of the Church of the Open Bible I had a fleeting ‘I could do that’ thought about the priest.

My girlfriend enjoyed the visit and so we began to go each Saturday evening and then to the Open Bible on Sunday morning.

My mother had also written me a very challenging letter, quoting John 6, and asking me how those who claim to interpret the Bible literally understand the Eucharist. I didn't get any convincing answers and began to hunger to receive again in the Catholic way.

Though I had always disliked confession as a youth I began to long too to hear those words of pardon and absolution and finally made up my mind to seek out a priest. Around this time my girlfriend suggested that we break off for a while to get things into perspective. This upset me at first but thoughts of priesthood and mission continued to float around in my head.

Q. Why did that happen?

A. My process of conversion was liberating me spiritually, psychologically and socially. I had always wanted to fit in, to be liked by others. Now I began to live out what I perceived as the values of Christ, living from within whether others liked it or not. I was becoming the person I had been created to be.

Mission came from my desire to have others share this freedom and joy that God had given me. A year or more before I came back to the Catholic Church I saw a Columban ad in the Navy Times newspaper. The ad said simply, 'I bribe you with uncertainty and I challenge you with defeat.' I cut it out and put it in my wallet although I'd never heard of the Columbans.

Later, when I returned to full communion with the Church I wrote to the Columbans enquiring about the missionary priesthood. When I told my evangelical friends about this emerging call some were very upset. It was a painful experience to break with people who had become close friends.

Q. After your ordination as a Columban priest in 1985 you were assigned to Taiwan. Was that another drastic change of culture and outlook?

A. During my years of formation and early priesthood, I had changed from being a Protestant fundamentalist to a Catholic fundamentalist. I was always prepared to argue, to prove what was true from Scripture or Church teaching.

Assigned to Taiwan I discovered that the people in general thought there was no difference between Catholics, Protestants, Mormons or any of the other groups. I saw how the Holy Spirit could work also outside of any Christian church.

One example was the great kindness of my friend's mother when I became ill. Mrs Chen didn't know me well and was not a Catholic. In the mornings I would see her offering incense to the Chinese gods of the sky and the mountains. Her charity and hospitality to a stranger, a foreigner, made me think the Spirit was here and working.

Many of my certainties about life and religion were shake-up and I had to reconstruct my way of seeing things. Cross-cultural experience deepened my conversion.

Q. Now you work on the US/Mexican border. What are you doing there?

A. If Taiwan challenged me to reshape what was going on in my head, the poverty that I saw in Juarez and on the US/Mexican border forced me to look at what was going on in my heart.

I wanted to offer service to those people. I felt the need to become involved, to be in solidarity instead of just talking or writing about it.

I see myself, too, as a bridge person between the two countries. Those of us who work on the border are not lone rangers. We can help build bridges.

We invite people to come here and experience the Third World on their own doorstep. Many theologians today insist that there is urgent need for mission in the First World.

It is there that many of the world's most serious problems and injustices have their origin. United States individuals and groups that visit are challenged by the poverty and injustice but even more, they are evangelized by the faith, resilience and sense of community of the people here.

In this way I see the border ministry as a way of being on mission to the First World, to my own people.

Of course I trust that there are young people on both sides of the border who are hearing the call to be Columban missionaries.

23 November 2010

Columban Missionaries to the Nations

Today, 23 November, is St Columban's Day when we Columban missionaries, priests, Sisters and lay, thank God for and celebrate our great patron, Ireland's greatest missionarym who was born around 540 and died in 615. The Columban Region of Australia and New Zealand produced the video above which shows the extent of our missions and the diverse situations in which we have and still find ourselves. The video also shows the centrality of the Mass in our lives and in the lives of the people we serve.

Statue of St Columban, Luxeuil, France, where he founded one of his first monasteries

Fr Ray Scanlon, from Melbourne, writes St Columban My Brother in the current issue of Misyon.

Bobbio, Italy, where St Columban died 23 November 2010

19 November 2010

"Well, here's another nice mess you've gotten me into!"

The photo above shows a beggar in Dublin, quite possibly an immigrant drawn by the dream of prosperity, being ignored by IMF officials and leaning against a letterbox built in British times, painted green instead of the old British red. The photo symbolises the state of the Republic of Ireland today.

If Oliver Hardy were an Irishman and around today he'd probably be standing outside the Dáil or wherever Irish government officials are meeting with officials from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in Dublin today with a banner proclaiming his immortal words 'Well, here's another nice mess you've gotten me into!' Very likely he'd change the 'me' into 'us'. The photo below, with Stan Laurel standing and Oliver Hardy on the ground, is particularly apt since much of the mess was brought about by speculators building houses that nobody can afford to buy.
'Well, here's another nice mess you've gotten me into!'

I've never understood economics but I know that my native country is in the worst mess it has ever been in since the Irish Free State, now the Irish Republic, was established in 1922, except for the brief but devastating Civil War that followed almost immediately after independence. Bankers, politicians and speculators made huge gambles but lost. For the most part the money they lost wasn't their own but that of the taxpayers and depositors in the banks.

What has angered Irish people enormously is that those who created the mess have, in many cases, been given huge bonuses and allowed to walk into the sunset. Politicians have a plethora of salaries and allowances and multiple pensions in some cases. Unlike other citizens, they don't have to wait till they are 66 to draw these.

Frank Duff, the founder of the Legion of Mary, was a great believer in symbolic acion. In other words, if you see a need you start doing something that is possible for you to do. It might be as simple as tidying up your room. If politicians in Ireland from all parties announced that they were reducing their salaries, that no one could draw more than one salary, that they would draw only one pension, and that when they were no longer serving politicians and at least 66, it would send a message that they too were prepared to share the hardship that faces everyone in the Republic of Ireland. I don't believe that any politician in Ireland set out deliberately to bring the country to its needs. I don't believe that they are corrupt, though some have been and have paid the price, including time in prison for a couple. But it is very clear that the present government, elected in 2007, no longer has the support of the people. Reputable polls have shown consistently that they haven't. I recall previous governments resigning when it was clear that they were no longer competent.

Many young couples are left with huge mortgages while many newly-built houses remain empty.

The UK has offered to give £7billion in loans or guarantees towards the £70billion apparently needed to ge the Irish economy working again.

Matt, the brilliant front-page cartoonist of The Daily Telegraph, linked the loan/guarantee by the UK with the announcement of the engagement of Prince William of England and Catherine Middleton:

18 November 2010

Pope pleads for life of Pakistani Christian woman

H/T to Jackie Parkes.

Catholic Online carries a Zenit report:

Pope Urges Release of Asia Bibi, Christian Mother in Pakistan Sentenced to Hang for Her Faith


Zenit News Agency (www.zenit.org)

45-Year-Old Christian Mother of 5 Accused of Blaspheming Mohammed

'Today I particularly express my spiritual closeness to Mrs. Asia Bibi and her family, asking that she be given full liberty as soon as possible. As well, I pray for those who find themselves in similar situations, so that their human dignity and fundamental rights be fully respected.'

Asia Bibi, sentenced to death in Pakistan

VATICAN CITY, (Zenit.org) - Benedict XVI added his voice to that of the international community beseeching the release of Asia Bibi, a Pakistani woman condemned to death for blasphemy.

Bibi, 45, was charged a year ago for blaspheming Mohammed in a conflict with fellow farm workers. She was sentenced to death last week.

The Pope on Wednesday, at the end of the general audience mentioned the plight of Pakistani Christians, who along with Hindus make up only a 5% minority in the Muslim country. Human rights groups have long decried the nation's blasphemy laws as a means of persecution of religious minorities in cases that have nothing to do with religion.

"In these days, the international community is following with great concern the difficult situation of Christians in Pakistan, who are often victims of violence and discrimination," the Holy Father said.

Then he mentioned Bibi specifically: "Today I particularly express my spiritual closeness to Mrs. Asia Bibi and her family, asking that she be given full liberty as soon as possible. As well, I pray for those who find themselves in similar situations, so that their human dignity and fundamental rights be fully respected."

An international campaign is collecting signatures appealing to the Pakistan government on Bibi's behalf.

On Monday, an appeal was filed in her case, while her husband requested prayer from Christians across the globe.

17 November 2010

A saint who lived in a pigsty

St Elizabeth of Hungary (1207-1231), the patron saint of Franciscan Tertiaries (Secular Franciscans and members of the many religious congregations of the Franciscan Third Order). She was a princess, married at 14, mother of three, widowed at 20 and forced, with her children, out of their home in winter, finding herself living in a disused pigsty shown ot her by a kind shepherd.

St Elizabeth had an extraordinary love for the sick and the poor and built a hospital in Marburg, Germany, where she daily worked. She died at the age of 24 and was canonized four years later.

This remarkable woman, along with being patron of Third Order Franciscans, is also a patron of many other groups: Bakers; beggars; brides; Catholic charities; charitable societies; charitable workers; charities; countesses; death of children; exiles; falsely accused people; hoboes; homeless people; hospitals; in-law problems; lacemakers; lace workers; nursing homes; nursing services; people in exile; people ridiculed for their piety; Sisters of Mercy; Teutonic Knights; toothache; tramps; widows.

You can read more about her here.

From a letter by Conrad of Marburg, spiritual director of Saint Elizabeth of Hungary (used in the Office of Readings for the saint):

Elizabeth was a lifelong friend of the poor and gave herself entirely to relieving the hungry. She ordered that one of her castles should be converted into a hospital in which she gathered many of the weak and feeble. She generously gave alms to all who were in need, not only in that place but in all the territories of her husband’s empire. She spent all her own revenue from her husband’s four principalities, and finally she sold her luxurious possessions and rich clothes for the sake of the poor.

Twice a day, in the morning and in the evening, Elizabeth went to visit the sick. She personally cared for those who were particularly repulsive; to some she gave goods, to others clothing; some she carried on her own shoulders, and performed many other kindly services. Her husband, of happy memory, gladly approved of these charitable works. Finally, when her husband died, she sought the highest perfection; filled with tears, she implored me to let her beg for alms from door to door.

On Good Friday of that year, when the altars had been stripped, she laid her hands on the altar in a chapel in her own town, where she had established the Franciscan Friars Minor, and before witnesses she voluntarily renounced all worldly display and everything that our Savior in the gospel advises us to abandon. Even then she saw that she could still be distracted by the cares and worldly glory which had surrounded her while her husband was alive. Against my will she followed me to Marburg. Here in the town she built a hospice where she gathered together the weak and the feeble. There she attended the most wretched and contemptible at her own table.

Apart from those active good works, I declare before God that I have seldom seen a more contemplative woman.

Before her death I heard her confession. When I asked what should be done about her goods and possessions, she replied that anything which seemed to be hers belonged to the poor. She asked me to distribute everything except one worn-out dress in which she wished to be buried. When all this had been decided, she received the body of our Lord. Afterward, until vespers, she spoke often of the holiest things she had heard in sermons. Then, she devoutly commended to God all who were sitting near her, and as if falling into a gentle sleep, she died.

15 November 2010

Letter of an Iraqi priest to his wounded country

Above is a video on the killing of two priests and 48 parishioners during Mass at Our Lady of Salvation Church, Baghdad, on 31 October. They were members of the Syrian Rite of the Catholic Church. Of the 15 Catholic dioceses in Iraq eleven belong to the Chaldean Rite, one to Latin or Roman Rite, one to the Armenian Rite and two to the Syrian Rite. The song in the video is in Arabic and, as far as I can make out, was written in honour of the people who were martyred. Freddie Hamika put the video together. I'm not sure if he wrote the song.

You can read a longer post, with some photos, at http://www.misyononline.com/, the online magazine I edit for the Columbans in the Philippines, here. It includes the letter of Fr Albert Hisham Naoum, a friend of the two priests who were murdered, Fr Wasim Sabieh and Fr Thaier Saad Abdel, along with the names of their parishioners who died.

12 November 2010

'They will hand you over . . . because of my name' 33rd Sunday of Ordinary Time Year C

The Second Jewish Temple. Model in the Israel Museum. Picture taken by Deror Avi on 18 August 2006.

I've posted Sunday Reflections on http://www.misyononline.com/, the online magazine I edit for the Columbans in the Philippines. Here is the link.

La Sagrada Familia Basilica, Barcelona

'Can you ever gloss over the bad bits?'

RTÉ, Ireland’s national broadcasting service, carried an interview with Dana on Sunday 7 November that will be available online till 28 November. Dana, born Rosemary Brown and now Mrs Scallon, has had a most unusual career. She represented Ireland in the Eurovision Song Contest in 1970 when only 18 and won with the song All Kinds of Everything. The photo above is from around that time.

In 1991 she and her husband Damien began to work with EWTN in Birmingham, Alabama. In 1997 she ran as an independent for the ceremonial position of President of Ireland and came third. In 1999 she was elected as an independent Member of the European Parliament (MEP) for a five-year term.

Dana played a controversial role in the 2002 referendum in Ireland on the protection of life from conception. Though the Church, including the Vatican, had clearly signaled that Catholics could vote for the proposal, Dana and a small group of other pro-life people opposed it as not going far enough. Their votes helped defeat the proposed amendment to the Irish Constitution which now, in theory, allows abortion, where it didn’t before.

On the other hand, Dana met with a lot of hostility in the European Parliament because of her principled stand for the life of the unborn.

In the interview with Gay Byrne, one of Ireland’s top broadcasters, she comes across as a person of strong but quite Catholic faith, simple and open. When at the end she was asked what she would say to “God when she comes face to face with him, after a pause she said, with a smile, ‘Can you ever gloss over the bad bits?’

The interview, which runs for 26'30", is available online only until Sunday 28 November.

Dana singing All Kinds of Everthing in 1970.

Dana singing Totus Tuus, Totally Yours, which she and her husband wrote after the visit of Pope John Paul II to Ireland in 1979. Ironically, Dana wasn't in Ireland at the time.

08 November 2010

Pope Benedict consecrates Sagrada Familia basilica in Barcelona


VATICAN CITY, 7 NOV 2010 (VIS) - At 9 a .m. today the Pope travelled by popemobile from the archbishopric of Barcelona to the church of the Sagrada Familia, masterpiece of the Catalan architect Antoni Gaudi.

Work on the building, which began in the year 1882, continues today thanks to donations from all over the world and is scheduled to come to an end in 2026. The final project is due to comprehend eighteen spires, twelve dedicated to the Apostles, four to the Evangelists, one to Jesus - at 170 metres the highest of all - and one to the Virgin Mary.

Before Mass, the Holy Father travelled around the outside of the church where thousands of people were gathered to greet him.

Benedict XVI entered the building by a secondary entrance where he was welcomed by the president of the Sagrada Familia foundation and by Jordi Bonet, head of the building project. He then went on to meet with King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia of Spain in the Museum Hall of the Sagrada Familia.

After his meeting with the monarchs, the Pope went to the sacristy to prepare for the celebration of Mass during which he consecrated the church and the altar of the Sagrada Familia.

Beginning his homily the Pope spoke in Catalan, greeting the King and Queen, and Cardinal Lluis Martinez Sistach, archbishop of Barcelona , and the other cardinals, bishops, priests, religious and lay people present.

Going on then to highlight how this day "marks an important step in a long history of hope, work and generosity that has gone on for more than a century", the Holy Father made special mention of the people whose efforts made it possible to build the church, especially "the man who was the soul and the artisan of this project, Antoni Gaudi, a creative architect and a practising Christian who kept the torch of his faith alight to the end of his life, a life lived in dignity and absolute austerity. This event is also in a certain sense the high point of the history of this land of Catalonia which, especially since the end of the nineteenth century, has given an abundance of saints and founders, martyrs and Christian poets. It is a history of holiness, artistic and poetic creation, born of the faith, which we gather and present to God today as an offering in this Eucharist".

Benedict XVI expressed his joy at the fact that "this shrine, since its beginnings, has had a special relationship with St. Joseph . I have been moved above all by Gaudi's confidence when, in the face of many difficulties, filled with trust in divine Providence , he would exclaim, ' St. Joseph will finish this church'. So it is significant that it is also being dedicated by a Pope whose baptismal name is Joseph".

Meeting King Juan Carlos and Queen Sophia of Spain

This work of art "stands as a visible sign of the invisible God, to whose glory these spires rise like arrows pointing towards absolute light and to the One Who is Light, Height and Beauty itself. In this place, Gaudi desired to unify that inspiration which came to him from the three books which nourished him as a man, as a believer and as an architect: the book of nature, the book of Sacred Scripture and the book of the liturgy. In this way he brought together the reality of the world and the history of salvation, as recounted in the Bible and made present in the liturgy. He made stones, trees and human life part of the church so that all creation might come together in praise of God, but at the same time he brought the sacred images outside so as to place before people the mystery of God revealed in the birth, passion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

"In this way, he brilliantly helped to build our human consciousness, anchored in the world yet open to God, enlightened and sanctified by Christ. In this he accomplished one of the most important tasks of our times: overcoming the division between human consciousness and Christian consciousness, between living in this temporal world and being open to eternal life, between the beauty of things and God as beauty. Antoni Gaudi did this not with words but with stones, lines, planes, and points. Indeed, beauty is one of mankind's greatest needs; it is the root from which the branches of our peace and the fruits of our hope come forth. Beauty also reveals God because, like Him, a work of beauty is pure gratuity; it calls us to freedom and draws us away from selfishness".

The Church of herself is nothing; she is called to be the sign and instrument of Christ, in pure docility to His authority and in total service to His mandate. The one Christ is the foundation of the one Church. He is the rock on which our faith is built. Building on this faith, let us strive together to show the world the face of God Who is love and the only one who can respond to our yearning for fulfilment. This is the great task before us: to show everyone that God is a God of peace not of violence, of freedom not of coercion, of harmony not of discord.

King Juan Carlos with Pope Benedict after the Mass

"In this sense", the Pope added, "I consider that the dedication of this church of the Sagrada Familia is an event of great importance, at a time in which man claims to be able to build his life without God, as if God had nothing to say to him. In this masterpiece, Gaudi shows us that God is the true measure of man; that the secret of authentic originality consists, as he himself said, in returning to one's origin which is God. Gaudi, by opening his spirit to God, was capable of creating in this city a space of beauty, faith and hope which leads man to an encounter with Him Who is truth and beauty itself. The architect expressed his sentiments in the following words: 'A church [is] the only thing worthy of representing the soul of a people, for religion is the most elevated reality in man'".
The Holy Father recalled then how "this church began as an initiative of the Association of the Friends of St. Joseph, who wanted to dedicate it to the Holy Family of Nazareth. The home formed by Jesus, Mary and Joseph has always been regarded as a school of love, prayer and work. The promoters of this church wanted to set before the world love, work and service lived in the presence of God, as the Holy Family lived them. Life has changed greatly and with it enormous progress has been made in the technical, social and cultural spheres. We cannot simply remain content with these advances. Alongside them, there also need to be moral advances, such as in care, protection and assistance to families, inasmuch as the generous and indissoluble love of a man and a woman is the effective context and foundation of human life in its gestation, birth, growth and natural end.

"Only where love and faithfulness are present can true freedom be born and endure. For this reason the Church advocates adequate economic and social means so that women may find in the home and at work their full development, that men and women who contract marriage and form a family receive decisive support from the state, that life of children may be defended as sacred and inviolable from the moment of their conception, that the reality of birth be given due respect and receive juridical, social and legislative support. For this reason the Church resists every form of denial of human life and gives its support to everything that would promote the natural order in the sphere of the institution of the family", said the Pope.

Benedict XVI asked God "that in the land of Catalonia new witnesses of holiness may rise up and flourish, and present to the world the great service that the Church can and must offer to humanity: to be an icon of divine beauty, a burning flame of charity, a path so that the world may believe in the One Whom God has sent".

"I implore the Lord of our lives that, from this altar, which will now be anointed with holy oil and upon which the sacrifice of the love of Christ will be consumed, there may be a flood of grace and charity upon the city of Barcelona and its people, and upon the whole world. May these fruitful waters fill with faith and apostolic vitality this archdiocesan Church, its pastors and its faithful".

The Pope concluded his homily in Catalan, saying "I wish to commend to the loving protection of the Mother of God, Mary Most Holy, April Rose, Mother of Mercy, all who enter here and all who in word or deed, in silence and prayer, have made this possible this marvel of architecture. May Our Lady present to her divine Son the joys and tribulations of all who come in the future to this sacred place so that here, as the Church prays when dedicating religious buildings, the poor may find mercy, the oppressed true freedom and all men may take on the dignity of the children of God. Amen".

At the end of Mass Cardinal Sistach read out the decree by which the Pope declares the church of the Sagrada Familia to be a minor basilica.

Following the Eucharistic celebration, the Holy Father left the building by the Portico of the Nativity and appeared on the terrace overlooking the square and adjoining street where thousands of faithful had followed the Mass on giant screens.

Queen Sophia and King Juan Carlos

Before praying the Angelus , the Pope recalled how in the Brazilian city of Porto Alegre yesterday the beatification had taken place of Servant of God Maria Barbara of the Blessed Trinity, foundress of the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. "May the deep faith and fervent charity with which she followed Christ", he said, "awaken in many the desire to devote their lives completely to the greater glory of God and the generous service of their brothers and sisters, especially the poorest and the most needy".
Referring then to the architect Antoni Gaudi, the Holy Father highlighted how, "through his work, he sought to bring the Gospel to everyone. For this reason, he conceived of the three porticos of the exterior of the church as a catechesis on the life of Jesus Christ, as a great Rosary, which is the prayer of ordinary people, a prayer in which are contemplated the joyful, sorrowful and glorious mysteries of our Lord. In collaboration with the parish priest Gil Pares, he also designed and financed from his own savings the creation of a school for the children of the workers and of the poorest families of the neighbourhood, which was at that time a outlying suburb of Barcelona . He brought concrete reality to the conviction, saying: 'The poor must always find a welcome in the Church, which is an expression of Christian charity'".

The Pope then travelled to the archbishopric of Barcelona , where he had lunch.

PV-SPAIN/ VIS 20101107 (1870)

Report: Vatican Information Service. Photos: La Vanguardia

03 November 2010

58 killed in Catholic church in Iraq last Sunday

An al-Qaeda-linked group has claimed responsibility for an attack on Our Lady of Salvation Syrian Catholic Church in Baghdad that ended in the deaths of 58 people. Reuters reported the death toll a day after attackers stormed the Our Lady of Salvation church in the Karrada neighborhood. You can read a full report by Deacon Keith Fournier on Catholic Online.

Our Lady of Salvation Church before the attack

Among the dead were three priests. Father Wasim Sabieh and Father Thaier Saad Abdal were killed during the attack. The third priest, Father Qatin, was wounded and died later in hospital. Aid to the Church in need also has a report with a video, The Situation of Christians in Iraq. H/T to Fr Tim Finigan for the link.

The video doesn't come up on Internet Explorer in my computer but does on Mozilla. If you can't get it on my post try this link.
Pope calls on world community to help end savage violence in Iraq

By Carol Glatz

Catholic News Service

Coffins of some of the Catholic victims

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- A deadly militant siege of the Syrian Catholic cathedral in Baghdad was a "savage" act of "absurd violence," Pope Benedict XVI said.

The pope urged international and national authorities and all people of good will to work together to end the "heinous episodes of violence that continue to ravage the people of the Middle East." The attack occurred Oct. 31 as about 100 people gathered for Sunday Mass.

"I pray for the victims of this absurd violence, which is even more savage because it struck defenseless people, gathered in God's house, which is a house of love and reconciliation," Pope Benedict said after praying the Angelus with pilgrims in St. Peter's Square Nov. 1, the feast of All Saints.

The following day, he sent a telegram to Baghdad as Catholics held funerals for two priests and several others among the 58 people killed in the violence.

"Deeply saddened by the violent deaths of so many faithful and of Fathers Tha'ir Saad and Boutros Wasim, I want to participate spiritually in the funeral while I pray that these brothers and sisters would be welcomed into the mercy of Christ in the Father's house," the pope said.

"For years, this beloved country has suffered unspeakable pain, and even the Christians have become the objects of savage attacks which, with total disrespect for life, the inviolable gift of God, try to undermine trust and civil coexistence," he said.

"I renew my appeal that the sacrifice of these brothers and sisters of ours may be seeds of peace and of true rebirth and so that all those who have at heart reconciliation and a coexistence marked by fraternity and solidarity would find reasons and strength to work for good," the pope said.

'An age that is twisted out of its true pattern'

There is a striking translation of Philippians 2:15, from the first reading in today's Mass, in the Knox version: You live in an age that is twisted out of its true pattern, and among such people you shine out, beacons to the world, upholding the message of life. The RSV reads: . . . children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world . . .

Today I came across a video produced by the Dominican Friars in the Philippines, Lumen Ecclesiae, which shows St Dominic as a 'Light of the Church' in an age that, in its own way, was 'twisted out of its true pattern'.

When I was a kid my late father used to take me sometimes to High Mass in St Saviour's, Dominick St, the Dominican church in the heart of Dublin. I remember very clearly the first stirrings of interest in the priesthood because of the white habit of the friars, even though subsequently I never felt any call to be a Dominican. The Irish Dominican Vocations blog shows that God is still using that same habit to draw young men to the priesthood and to the Dominicans.