30 May 2011

Beggars and drunks in Dublin: some things never change

St Mary's Pro-Cathedral, completed in 1825

Today's Irish Times carries a story, Fewer than one in five attend Sunday Mass in Dublin, which reports the words of Archbishop Diarmaid Martin of Dublin at the ordination yesterday of seven deacons. “Many young people, despite years of religious education, have only marginal interest in the message of Jesus. Many who come to us today possess only a sort of cultural Catholicism which can easily deceive us about the depth of people’s faith,” said the archbishop. “Faith in Jesus Christ and in his church is not a free-for-all of opinions in which anything goes. Faith in Jesus has content and context. It is about knowing Jesus intimately.

The archbishop said the years ahead must be ones of renewal for the Irish church and he urged the seven deacons to play a critical role in that renewal. “I encourage you to reach out to the coming generations, presenting them in unambiguous terms the teaching of Jesus and challenging them not to be afraid to let the message of Jesus change their hearts,” he said.

Christ Church Cathedral, originally Catholic now Anglican

Recently Archbishop Martin said that in some areas as few as two percent attend Sunday Mass. these would be mostly poorer parts of the city.

Up to the 1970s more than 90 percent of the people went to Mass every Sunday. So what is happening now is a huge change.

General Post Office (GPO) in the heart of the city. I was approached by two beggars here the first time I went into the city centre on this visit.

But one thing hasn't changed. The priest is still a target for beggars and drunks in the city centre. I've gone there a number of times during my current brief visit to my native city. I wore my clerical collar each time except today. When I was wearing it beggars made their way to me, all addressing me as 'Father'.  One was a young Irishman talking into his mobile phone and I waved at him while passing on. antoher was a young woman, probably from Romania, who, when I made an excuse and didn't stop said 'But you are a Father!' At one time I might have felt guilty. I did feel a mild pang of guilt but not enough to spoil the lunch with old school friends I was heading for.

The Spire of Dublin in O'Connel St, behind the statue of Jim Larkin, a labour leader in the early part of the last century. The GPO is on the left. The Spire replaced Nelson's Pillar, blown up in 1966.

Last year as I was walking in another part of the city during the day a man in his 30s stopped me. He wasn't a beggar but if I had lit with a match the alcohol he was breathing out half of the city might have been destroyed in the ensuing explosion.

In my time in the seminary students wore a black suit and black tie when outside. We wore a soutane inside. Although students by definition hardly every have money to spare I was still a target for beggars and drunks. Sometimes the drunk was also a beggar. Sometimes he wanted to engage in an alcoholic discussion about theology or the Church. This happened more often on occasions such as wedding receptions.

Statue in O'Connell St of Fr Theobald Mathew OFMCap, 1790-1856, who promoted temperance

For years I didn't wear my collar when going to the city centre, mainly because of beggars. I normally wear it now and simply keep going if a beggar tries to accost me. I've never been able to deal graciously with beggars or drunks, though on this visit I haven't been rude to any I have met.

Statue of the Venerable Matt Talbot 1956-1925, who led a life of great austerity, under spiritual direction, for the last 40 years of his life after having been addicted to alcohol. You can read a brief biography of Matt here.

In the Philippines there have been occasions when individuals whom I saw simply as beggars became real persons for me when I listened to their story. In a couple of cases I would give a weekly 'allowance' on a fixed day. If they approached me on another day I'd smile and remind them of our agreement. In these situations both parties retained their dignity. These persons came to know me as an individual too and not someone to make feel guilty by a sort of 'blackmail', like the young woman in Dublin last week who reminded me that I was 'a Father'.

I prefer to channel what people give me to such projects as Holy Family Home for Girls in Bacolod City (above). I know too that many in Ireland are working with those on the margins there.

26 May 2011

'I will love him and reveal myself to him'. Sixth Sunday of Easter Year A, 29 May 2011

The Last Supper, El Greco, c.1568

Readings (New American Bible, used in the Philippines and USA)

GOSPEL, John 14:15-21 (NAB)

Jesus said to his disciples:

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.
And I will ask the Father,
and he will give you another Advocate to be with you always,
the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot accept,
because it neither sees nor knows him.
But you know him, because he remains with you,
and will be in you.
I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you.
In a little while the world will no longer see me,
but you will see me, because I live and you will live.
On that day you will realize that I am in my Father
and you are in me and I in you.
Whoever has my commandments and observes them
is the one who loves me.
And whoever loves me will be loved by my Father,
and I will love him and reveal myself to him.”

AN SOISCÉAL Eoin 14:15-21 (Irish)

San am sin dúirt Íosa lena dheisceabail

'Má tá grá agaibh dom, coinneoidh sibh m’aitheanta.
Agus iarrfaidh mé ar m’Athair é,
agus tabharfaidh sé Abhcóide eile daoibh
chun fanacht faraibh go deo –
Spiorad na Fírinne,
nach féidir don saol a ghlacadh,
mar ní fheiceann sé é ná ní aithníonn sé é.
Ach aithníonn sibhse é
mar fanann sé faraibh, agus beidh sé ionaibh.
Ní fhágfaidh mé in bhur ndílleachtaí sibh;
tiocfaidh mé ar ais chugaibh. Tamall beag eile agus siúd é an saol
agus gan radharc aige ormsa feasta;
ach tá radharc agaibhse orm,
óir táimse beo agus beidh sibhse beo chomh maith.
An lá sin aithneoidh sibh go bhfuilimse i m’Athair,
agus go bhfuil sibhse ionamsa, agus mise ionaibh.
An té a bhfuil m’aitheantasa aige agus a choinníonn iad,
sin é an té a bhfuil grá aige dom.
An té a bhfuil grá aige dom,
beidh grá ag m’Athair dó,
agus beidh grá agam dó,
agus taispeánfaidh mé mé féin dó.'

Over the years I have met many young people who have been orphaned or who, for one serious reason or another, cannot enjoy a normal loving and safe family life. I have had young children from backgrounds like that tell me that they want me to be their father. That isn't possible in the usual sense but I amcalled to be a father in a very real way. I can be a father-figure, or grandfather-figure, to young people I know who don'at have a father.

But at a deeper level I am called as a priest to take proper care of those entrusted to me by the Church. I am called to point people towards our Lord Jesus Christ who in today's gospel speaks to us of God's desire to have an intimate relationship with us. Jesus is promising to send u the Holy Spirit who will draw us to the Father, who will bring us into the intimacy of the life of the Holy Trinity dwelling within us.

This can be difficult to grasp and can seem abstract but the evidence of the lives of those whom the Church formally recognises as holy is evidence of the joy that only god can give us and that he wanst each of us to have.

Today's gospel is taken from the words of Jesus at the Last Supper, the night before he died, in which he speaks to us of joy. This isn't something shallow but is in the depth of our souls, even when the surface isn't calm.

Jesus doesn't want us to be orphans. He wants each of us to come to know God as our loving Father. He wants our lives to be filled with joy so that they radiate with the truth that Jesus is truly risen, a joy that is evident in the Resurrection song below in a mall in Beirut.

Jesus is Risen
In a Beirut shopping Mall, Easter 2011

Thanks to Fr Tim Finigan for drawing this to my attention on his blog.

Most Catholics are unaware that many Arabs are Christians and have been so since the time of the Apostles, long before Islam came on the scene in the early part of the 7th century. Christian Arabs have suffered greatly in recent years in the Middle East and many have left the region. Performances such as that in the video above are called 'flash mobs'. I think it is a wonderfully joyful proclamation of the Resurrection in the marketplace, which the mall is in cities now throughout the world, in a country that has known much conflict in recent decades.

Below is a proclamation of the Resurrection in Arabic from the Byzantine Rite, produced in Canada by Catholics of the Melkite Rite and Orthodox Christians of the same rite.

Remember in your prayers all Christians living in the Middle East, most of whom are Arabs, that God's peace may reign in their hearts and in the hearts of Muslims and Jews living there for whom that part of the world is holy, as it is for us Christians.

25 May 2011

Liturgy: What can we learn from Queen Elizabeth II and President Mary McAleese?

Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom of Great Britan and Northern Ireland was in the Republic of Ireland on a state visit from 17 to 20 May, the first time a British monarch has visited that part of Ireland since it became independent in 1922 and known then as The Irish Free State. Ireland and Britain have a tangled history and yet there are no two countries in the world that have closer practical ties. You don't need a passport to travel from one to the other. Irish citizens living in the UK have full voting rights there and British subjects - technically they aren't citizens but subjects of the reigning monarch - living in the Irish Republic have full voting rights there. 

On the first day of her visit Queen Elizabeth visited the Garden of Remembrance in the centre of Dublin to lay a wreath in honour of those who had fought for the independence of Ireland. These had all fought against the British authorities. There were no speeches but by bowing after laying the wreath Queen Elizabeth spoke eloquently to most Irish people. For the majority it was a moment of healing, of reconciliation.

On the second day of the visit Queen Elizabeth laid a wreath at the Irish National War Memorial in Islandbridge, Dublin, dedicated to the 49,400 Irishmen who died in the Great War (1914-18) in the forces of the United Kingdom, which included the whole of Ireland at the time. The wreath was made of poppies, the symbol of the loss of life in Belgium and France. President Mary McAleese laid a laurel wreath.

Again, there were no speeches but the symbols spoke to Irish people. For decades the Irish involvement in World War I was airbrushed out of Irish history. Many Irishmen who joined the UK forces did so that Ireland and other countries might be free.

I'm in Dublin at the moment on a family visit. I am struck once again by the power of symbols in the context of rituals. At a time when the celebration of Mass and other liturgies is so often banal I think we can learn from ceremonies such as those at the Garden of Remembrance and at the Irish National War Memorial.


19 May 2011

'I am the way and the truth and the life'. Fifth Sunday of Easter Year A, 22 May 2011

St Philip, Giuseppe Mazzuoli, marble in the Basilica of St John Lateran, the Pope's Cathedral, sculpted 1703-12

Readings (New American Bible, used in Philippines and USA)

Gospel John 14:1-12 (NAB)

Jesus said to his disciples:
“Do not let your hearts be troubled.
You have faith in God; have faith also in me.
In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places.
If there were not,
would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you?
And if I go and prepare a place for you,
I will come back again and take you to myself,
so that where I am you also may be.
Where I am going you know the way.”
Thomas said to him,
“Master, we do not know where you are going;
how can we know the way?”
Jesus said to him, “I am the way and the truth and the life.
No one comes to the Father except through me.
If you know me, then you will also know my Father.
From now on you do know him and have seen him.”

Philip said to him,
“Master, show us the Father, and that will be enough for us.”
Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you for so long a time
and you still do not know me, Philip?
Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.
How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?
Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me?
The words that I speak to you I do not speak on my own.
The Father who dwells in me is doing his works.
Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me,
or else, believe because of the works themselves.
Amen, amen, I say to you,
whoever believes in me will do the works that I do,
and will do greater ones than these,
because I am going to the Father.”


About seven years ago I was visiting Holy Family Home, Makati City, run by the Capuchin Tertiary Sisters of the Holy Family. Most of the girls there, about 25 of them, come from a background of extreme poverty, many of their fmailies living on the streets. On this occasion a girl of 14 or so - I'll call her Lucia - astounded me with a question that still resonates in my heart. I knew that Lucia had asthma and learned later that her father was a blind beggar. Her question was, 'How can I offer my life to God?'

I was speechless at first and then tried to explain something of the Little Way of St Thérèse
of Lisieux, that everything we do when we do it with love is aready an offering of ourselves to God and that in time he would show her where he was calling her for the rest of her life.

Lucia was asking a question similar to that of St Thomas. Jesus was pointing the apostles towards the Father but had to spell it out for Thomas that he himself was 'the way, the truth and the life'. Lucia was a step ahead of the apostle. She wasn't asking the way but asking how she could offer her life to the Father.

Perhaps Lucia's question was closer to the request of St Philip, 'Show us the Father'. Again, Jesus pointed out that insofar as Philip and his companions knew him they knew the Father and that the Father was dwelling in him and working through him.

Pope Benedict in his various homilies, messages and so on is constantly telling us that our faith is in a Person, Jesus Christ. Jesus, God and Man, came to do the will of his Father and when he invites us to follow him he is asking us to desire nothing else except what the Father wills.

Lucia's was really asking what God's will was for her and how she could carry out the will of the Father. This young asthmatic girl, the daughter of a blind beggar, was going to the heart of the matter.

St Thomas the Apostle, Pierre Le Gros the Younger, marble in the Basilica of St John Lateran, sculpted 1705-11
Entrance Antiphon
Sing to the Lord a new song, for he has done marvelous deeds; he has revealed to the nations his saving power, alleluia.(Ps 97:1-2)
Here is a setting of those words and succeeding verses of that psalm, which is Ps 96 in some versions of the Bible, by Spanish composer Sebastián de Vivanco (Ávila, 1551 - Salamanca, 1622). Performers: Orchestra of the Renaissance (Richard Cheetham)

Cantate Domino canticum novum,
quia mirabilia fecit, Jubilate Deo,
omnis terra, cantate et exsultate, et psallite.
Psallite Domino in cithara et voce psalmi:
in tubis ductilibus, et voce tubæ corneæ.
Jubilate in conspectu regis Domini: moveatur mare,
et plenitudo eius: orbis terrarum et qui habitant in eo.


Sing to the Lord a new song, for he hath done marvellous things.
Be joyful in God all lands, sing and exult and give praise.
Sing to the Lord with the harp and in psalms.
With trumpets and horns rejoice before the Lord the king.
Let the sea roar, and the fullness thereof,
all the world and they that dwell therein.


Cantad al Señor una nueva canción,
porque él ha hecho cosas maravillosas.
Alégrense en Dios todas las tierras,
canten, se exalten y den alabanzas.
Cantar al Señor con el arpa y en los salmos.
Con trompetas y cornos regocíjense ante el Señor,
el Rey Que ruja el mar, en su plenitud,
el mundo entero y todos los que en él viven.

14 May 2011

'I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.' Fourth Sunday of Easter Year A

Landscape with a Herd, by Charles Émile Jacque, painted 1872 [Web Gallery of Art]

Readings (New American Bible, used in Philippines and USA)

Gospel John 10:1-10 (NAB)

Jesus said:

“Amen, amen, I say to you,
whoever does not enter a sheepfold through the gate
but climbs over elsewhere is a thief and a robber.
But whoever enters through the gate is the shepherd of the sheep.
The gatekeeper opens it for him, and the sheep hear his voice,
as the shepherd calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.
When he has driven out all his own,
he walks ahead of them, and the sheep follow him,
because they recognize his voice.
But they will not follow a stranger;
they will run away from him,
because they do not recognize the voice of strangers.”
Although Jesus used this figure of speech,
the Pharisees did not realize what he was trying to tell them.

So Jesus said again, “Amen, amen, I say to you,
I am the gate for the sheep.
All who came before me are thieves and robbers,
but the sheep did not listen to them.
I am the gate.
Whoever enters through me will be saved,
and will come in and go out and find pasture.
A thief comes only to steal and slaughter and destroy;
I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.”


Today is called ‘Good Shepherd Sunday' and it is also the 48th World Day of Prayer for Vocations.

When I was in boys’ kindergarten Sister Stanislaus, an Irish Sister of Charity and our principal, often spoke to us about Fr Willie Doyle SJ (above), who grew up in Dalkey, a beautiful village by the sea south of Dublin. The stories she told us about him probably had a part in the gradual awakening of my awareness that God was calling me to be a missionary priest. He died on 16 August 1917 in the Battle of Ypres (Ieper), Belgium, while serving in the Great War as a chaplain in the British Army. The landscape in Belgium where he served was very similar to that in the painting above. Just recently I came across a website named Remembering Fr William Doyle SJ, which gives readings most days from his diaries and letters. Recently it featured a letter he wrote his father a few months before his death, giving more details of an incident that happened in April 1916. I have highlighted parts of the letter, which for me goes to the heart of what it means to be a priest, to be a ‘Good Shepherd’ as Jesus was, someone coming to young soldiers in their late teens and early twenties but now on the point of painful death, assuring them in the name of Jesus ‘that they might have life and have it more abundantly’.

Here is Father Doyle's letter to his own father. I have added emphases.

I have never told you the whole story of that memorable April morning or the repetition of it the following day, or how when I was lying on the stretcher going to ‘peg out,’ as the doctor believed, God gave me back my strength and energy in a way which was nothing short of a miracle, to help many a poor fellow to die in peace and perhaps to open the gates of heaven to not a few.

I had come through the three attacks without ill results, though having been unexpectedly caught by the last one, as I was anointing a dying man and did not see the poisonous fumes coming, I had swallowed some of the gas before I could get my helmet on. It was nothing very serious, but left me rather weak and washy. There was little time to think of that, for wounded and dying were lying all along the trenches, and I was the only priest on that section at the time.

The fumes had quite blown away, but a good deal of the gas, being of a heavy nature, had sunk down to the bottom of the trench and gathered under the duck-boards or wooden flooring. It was impossible to do one’s work with the gas helmet on, and so as I knelt down to absolve or anoint man after man for the greater part of that day, I had to inhale the chlorine fumes till I had nearly enough gas in my poor inside to inflate a German sausage balloon.

I did not then know that when a man is gassed his only chance (and a poor one at that) is to lie perfectly still to give the heart a chance of fighting its foe. In happy ignorance of my real state, I covered mile after mile of those trenches until at last in the evening, when the work was done, I was able to rejoin my battalion in a village close to the Line.

It was only then I began to realise that I felt ‘rotten bad’ as schoolboys say. I remember the doctor, who was a great friend of mine, feeling my pulse and shaking his head as he put me lying in a corner of the shattered house, and then he sat beside me for hours with a kindness I can never forget. He told me afterwards he was sure I was a ‘gone coon’ but at the moment I did not care much. Then I fell asleep only to be rudely awakened at four next morning by the crash of guns and the dreaded bugle call ‘gas alarm, gas alarm.’ The Germans had launched a second attack, fiercer than the first. It did not take long to make up my mind what to do — who would hesitate at such a moment, when the Reaper Death was busy? — and before I reached the trenches I had anointed a number of poor fellows who had struggled back after being gassed and had fallen dying by the roadside.’

The harvest that day was a big one, for there had been bloody fighting all along the Front. Many a man died happy in the thought that the priest’s hand had been raised in absolution over his head and the Holy Oils’ anointing had given pardon to those senses which he had used to offend the Almighty. It was a long, hard day, a day of heart rending sights, with the consolation of good work done in spite of the deadly fumes, and I reached my billet wet and muddy, pretty nearly worn out, but perfectly well, with not the slightest ill effect from what I had gone through, nor have I felt any since. Surely God has been good to me. That was not the first of His many favours, nor has it been the last.

On paper every man with a helmet was as safe as I was from gas poisoning. But now it is evident many of the men despised the ‘old German gas,’ some did not bother putting on their helmets, others had torn theirs, and others like myself had thrown them aside or lost them. From early morning till late at night I worked my way from trench to trench single handed the first day, with three regiments to look after, and could get no help. Many men died before I could reach them; others seemed just to live till I anointed them, and were gone before I passed back. There they lay, scores of them (we lost 800, nearly all from gas) in the bottom of the trench, in every conceivable posture of human agony: the clothes torn off their bodies in a vain effort to breathe; while from end to end of that valley of death came one low unceasing moan from the lips of brave men fighting and struggling for life.

I don’t think you will blame me when I tell you that more than once the words of Absolution stuck in my throat, and the tears splashed down on the patient suffering faces of my poor boys as I leant down to anoint them. One young soldier seized my two hands and covered them with kisses; another looked up and said: ‘Oh! Father I can die happy now, sure I’m not afraid of death or anything else since I have seen you.’ Don’t you think, dear father, that the little sacrifice made in coming out here has already been more than repaid, and if you have suffered a little anxiety on my account, you have at least the consolation of knowing that I have, through God’s goodness, been able to comfort many a poor fellow and perhaps to open the gates of Heaven for them.

Fr William Doyle SJ

The next video gives a glimpse of the horrors of the Five Battles of Ypres. Father Doyle died in the Third.

A programme on Irish Television about Fr William Doyle SJ
The original video I used has 'disappeared' and I have replaced it with this one.

I have highlighted some parts.

William Joseph Gabriel Doyle was born in Dalkey, a suburb of Dublin, in Ireland on March 3, 1873. He was the youngest of seven children, four boys and three girls, out of which two boys became Jesuits, another died a few days before his priestly ordination and one of the three girls became a Sister of Mercy: four vocations out of seven children.

He entered the Jesuit Novitiate at the age of 18 after reading St. Alphonsus’ book Instructions and Consideration on the Religious State. Soon after his ordination in 1907, his superiors appointed him on the mission staff for five years. From 1908 to 1915, he gave no less than 152 missions and retreats. His fame as preacher, confessor and spiritual director spread wide and far, and he had a special gift to hunt out the most hardened and neglected sinners and to bring them back with him to the church for confession.

In the midst of such an active apostolate, he maintained a fervent spiritual life of union with his Eucharistic Lord, offering himself as a victim for the salvation of souls with the Divine Victim.

He was finally appointed during World War I chaplain of the 16th Irish Division, serving with 8th Royal Irish Fusiliers, Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, 9th Royal Dublin Fusiliers, 6th Royal Irish Rifles and the 7th Royal Irish Rifles. Having fulfilled his priestly duties in an outstanding fashion for almost two years, he was killed in the Battle of Ypres on August 16, 1917, having run ‘all day hither and thither over the battlefield like an angel of mercy’. This good shepherd truly gave his life for his sheep.

Fr Doyle’s body was never recovered.

My maternal grandmother’s brother, Corporal Laurence Dowd, died in the same battle ten days before Father Doyle’s death. I wonder if this great priest was with him before he died. I located my great-uncle’s grave in September 2001 in the cemetery above. Many bodies of soldiers who died in the First World War were never recovered and many that were could not be identified.

At my great-uncle's grave, September 2001

You can find Pope Benedict's Message for the 48th World Day of Prayer for Vocations here. Here is an extract, with my emphases.

It is a challenging and uplifting invitation that Jesus addresses to those to whom he says: “Follow me!”. He invites them to become his friends, to listen attentively to his word and to live with him. He teaches them complete commitment to God and to the extension of his kingdom in accordance with the law of the Gospel: “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit ” (Jn 12:24). He invites them to leave behind their own narrow agenda and their notions of self-fulfilment in order to immerse themselves in another will, the will of God, and to be guided by it. He gives them an experience of fraternity, one born of that total openness to God (cf. Mt 12:49-50) which becomes the hallmark of the community of Jesus: “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (Jn 13:35).

Father Willie Doyle lived this joyfully.


While preparing this I came across a ballad, The Dublin Fusiliers, sung by Irish singer Johnny McEvoy, which mentions Fr Willie Doyle. It's the only song I've ever heard that tells something of the story of a military chaplain.

'Let Auntie P drive around the Kingdom of Heaven in style'

I learned recently of the death of a dear friend of mine, Sister Perpetua, a Mercy Sister form Kilkeel, County Down, Northern Ireland. My first contact with her was around 1979 when I read about her in a Catholic newspaper. She and some other Mercy Sisters had gone to work in Iceland, a country I had always been interested in. I wrote her a letter and, many months later, received a reply. This led to the first of three visits to that beautiful country. She was there from 1977 till 1987. My last visit was in 2000 when I gave a weekend retreat to Filipinos living in Reykjavík followed by a pastoral visit to Filipinos living in the coastal towns around the country. (I think there's only one town that's not on the coast).

'Harbour', Kilkeel, painting by Lucia Peka. Sr Perpetua grew up in Kilkeel

St Joseph's Church, Hafnarfjörður

Sister Perpetua worked in the Catholic hospital in Hafnarfjörður, near Reykjavík. The Sisters often went to Mass in the Carmelite Monastery in Hafnarfjörður. At the time of my first visit in 1981 the nuns were Dutch. They have since been replaced by Polish Carmelites. I celebrated the 'new' Mass, now called the Ordinary Form, in Latin with the Dutch Carmelites and they sang the Gregorian chants.

A view of Hafnarfjörður from the Carmelite Monastery

Blessed John Paul visits the Polish Carmelites in Hafnarfjörður in 1989

When Sister Perpetua went to Iceland in 1977 there were about 1,500 Catholics out of a population of 220,000. In 2004 there were more than 5,500 out of 290,000 or so. The majority of Catholics are foreigners and include significant numbers of Filipinos and Poles. The Diocese of Reykjavík covers the whole country which is slightly larger than Mindanao, Philippines, and larger than Ireland.

Downpatrick, with Convent of Mercy slightly to the left of St Patrick's church

Sister Perpetua, who had legions of friends, two of whom came from Iceland to visit her shortly before she died, loved to drive. Her eight-year-old grandniece caught this perfectly in the letter she wrote when her 'Little Auntie P' died.

I have two Auntie P’s in my life, one I call ‘Big P’ who lives in Manchester, and the other one I call ‘Little P’ who lives in the Convent of Mercy, Downpatrick. As you know, she was very special and I loved her very much. Recently she gave me a beautiful handmade doll of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs which were attached to the front of her apron and when you turned her upside down and unfolded all her clothes there was the Wicked Witch on one side and the Handsome Prince on the other.

That I will cherish for ever and ever. No more little cards in the post or phone calls with a voice saying ‘Hello my little darling’. That’s gone too.
But even though we loved her very much God loved her more and decided it was time to call her home.

Because she loved to drive the car so much during her life, I especially asked God to please tax and insure the biggest most expensive Mercedes car he can find and let Auntie P drive around the Kingdom of Heaven in style so that she can visit all her friends and relations. That would make her very happy.

So Auntie P, don’t break the speed limit up there. Cause you’ll only get three points on your licence and then you would have to wear wings like all the other Angels.

God bless Little P

Love you always

Megan ♥

[Note: Driving licences in both parts of Ireland carry points and there are deductions for various offences, which can lead to your losing your licence.]

One glorious summer when I was at home Sister Perpetua drove me along a road I had always wanted to see, the Antrim Coast Road. We also visited one of the Glens of Antrim. Unfortunately, it was the one rainy day during my holiday.

The Mountains of Mourne, County Down

County Down is one of the most beautiful parts of Ireland. There is a famous song by Percy French, Where the Mountains of Mourne Sweep Down to the Sea. It is a favourite of mine but, for some reason, Sister Perpetua didn't like it so I won't include it here!

I was in the middle of preparing this post on Thursday afternoon when the Blogspot system broke down, making it impossible to upload anything. The problem, which lasted for more than 24 hours, has now been fixed.

10 May 2011

Can being parents destroy a marriage?

Today's news reports the separation of a prominent American couple (not the couple in the photo at whose marriage I officiated!), both Catholics, after 25 years of marriage. Their four children range in age from 21 to 14. The couple issued this statement, part of which I emphasise:

'This has been a time of great personal and professional transition for each of us. After a great deal of thought, reflection, discussion, and prayer, we came to this decision together.

'At this time, we are living apart while we work on the future of our relationship. We are continuing to parent our four children together. They are the light and the centre of both of our lives.'

I do not know all that is behind this particular separation and clearly it wasn't done lightly. The couple in question also deserve our prayers. But I truly believe that the last sentence of their statement explains why so many marriages break up. When a couple consider being parents as more important than being spouses they are heading for deep trouble - because they are ignoring what God has called them to: oneness. Their children are the fruit of their spousal relationship of oneness.

In my previous post Columban Lay Missionary Joan Yap (above) introduced herself this way: I am Joan Yap, fifth child of the late Mr Lito Yap and Josefa Blaza Yap. I am one of the fruits of the love of two people who offered most of their life to the Prelature and now the Diocese of Ipil.

Joan is one of nine 'fruits' of that marriage. Parenthood is also a fruit of marriage. In God's plan, being father and mother is a consequence of being husband and wife.

A Life of Thanksgiving

(I wrote this prayer after I had given my YES to the invitation to answer God’s Call. - Joan B. Yap)

Lord here I am
Wanting to do your will
So weak and frail
Anytime it will break

Lord here I am
Happy with all the knowledge; and
Fear that I may not be enough for you
But your love fills the emptiness

Anxieties and fears trouble me
but you never give up on me;
am I in the right direction?
Touch always my heart

You are the source of everything
The light of my life
The meaning of my life
Hear me when I say
I surrender!

Empty me, I pray
For in you I find the fulfillment
And that would be the greatest gift
that I give to myself
and making you as my life.

Lord I am weak
I love you
And you love me
And this is what matters most.

Joan Blaza Yap

by Joan Blaza Yap, Columban Lay Missionary

I am Joan Yap, fifth child of the late Mr. Lito Yap and Josefa Blaza Yap. I am one of the fruits of the love of two people who offered most of their life to the Prelature and now the Diocese of Ipil. I am blessed by a family and by a circle of friends who, even when we were young, had already taught us how to serve and believe in God’s providence. I am now committing myself, after my sisters Jennifer and Jasmine, to the life of a Lay Missionary under the Columban Lay Missionaries of the Missionary Society of St Columban. 

I remember well - before I resigned from the Social Action Ministry of the Diocese of Ipil - I shed so many tears because it was so hard for me to let go of the things that I was already comfortable with. I had come to love my work and the people whom I used to work and serve with.

Rowena D. Cuanico, Coordinator, Columban Lay Missionaries - Philippines

I was inspired by the commitment of the many people here in the Diocese, the priests, religious and the lay, who have offered most of their life in building the church of the Diocese of Ipil. Life isn’t that easy for them - going to barrios riding on a habal-habal or sometimes walking for miles. They attend to the needs of others so unselfishly, rain or shine, giving seminars even to the point of leaving their family behind. They are undaunted by threats to their life, and even rejection, pain and difficulties, all for the sake of justice and peace. With and despite all these difficulties, I can still clearly see the smiles on their faces, a joy so simple and real, a joy that can only come from the grace that they have served God in their own special ways.

St Joseph the Worker Cathedral, Ipil

I am moved especially by the commitment of the lay as co-partners in building the kingdom of God here in the Diocese of Ipil. Their dedication to love, serve and respect their communities as well as the generous offering of their life for the church – all these taught and inspired me that Life will be more meaningful and fulfilling if I choose to share it to others. I will be forever grateful for the privilege of working with the people here in the Diocese of Ipil. My YES to God’s invitation is truly a gift from God, that I may partake in His mission and an invitation to live my faith into action.

My experiences here in the Diocese of Ipil have opened my eyes to see God’s mysterious presence in different situations, from environmental issues and concerns to human rights violations especially against women, peace and order, poverty, health issues, youth. These all challenged me to become an instrument of Hope and Love.
Joan receiving a blessing from Bishop Julius S. Tonel of Ipil

And now offering my life to the Columban Lay Missionaries is a great blessing and gift to me. It’s an invitation for me to come to know who I am as a gift. It gives me an opportunity to better understand myself, get hold of myself and most importantly, to experience and acknowledge God’s unconditional love for me. It’s a journey of love, an experience of forgiveness and of the healing of wounds. My wounds become the gift and the blessing for myself and for others.


Please allow me to share to you how my number Nine works for me as part of God’s mysterious plan in my Life. To start with, I was formed in my mother’s womb for NINE months with my twin sister. My parents at that time were working in the different ministries of the then Prelature and now the Diocese of Ipil. Then God gave me NINE wonderful people in life, my parents, who were the first missionaries that I came to know and who taught us that prayer and service go together. Then my four brothers and three sisters who shower me with their love and care are my community of LOVE. Then the meaningful NINE years with the Social Action Ministry of the Diocese of Ipil that formed and molded me to be a local missionary. Being with the Social Action Ministry nurtured my vocation to be of service to others because I was inspired by the sincere commitment of the people.  And God is the God of Order who, before sending me to where God wants me to go, has blessed me with this Gift of the NINE-month Orientation Program of the Columban Lay Missionaries.  It’s a journey of knowing God through others, a journey of going deeper into myself with my God and finally, a journey of responding with God’s love to others.
'Thank you', from Joan

And as a fitting part of the Magical Nine in my life, it was Bishop Joy who chose May 9 as the date for my commissioning Mass which happens to be a joint celebration for the gifts of vocation for Lay Mission, Deaconate and Priesthood.

With some current and former Columban Lay Missionaries
I am sure that there will be other significant events in my life associated with 9! As I am going to encounter my lucky number, I am holding on to God’s promise that He will be the one holding me. I am looking forward with awe and amazement to bear witness to God’s love. This comes from this great personal realization that when I start emptying myself, surrendering myself to God’s will because I love God most, it is when I am given a new life. I realize that God’s will is simply Love.

Is Joan reflecting on St Columban's words: 'Since we are travellers and pilgrims in the world, let us ever ponder on the end of the road, that is of our life, for the end of our roadway is our home'?

What Jesus said to his disciples; ‘Go into the whole world and proclaim the Good News to every creature’ has become a deeply personal, more real and even bigger challenge for me to spread his Gospel of love to everyone I meet.
A stop on the journey!

A piece of bread . . . blessed, broken, and shared

Reina Mosqueda, one of three Columban Lay Missionaries who will soon be going to Taiwan for three years, had her mission-sending Mass last Sunday in her home parish. Below is a reflection she wrote on an experience she had 13 years ago, a story very similar to one that happened in Japan after the recent earthquake and tsunami. 'Out of the mouth of infants and of sucklings thou hast perfected praise' (Ps 8:2, quoted by Jesus in Matthew 21:16). Marilyn, the girl Reina tells us about was no longer an infant of a suckling but old enough to make a loving, unselfish choice. She had no idea that her choice would lead Reina to make a choice to follow God's call to be a missionary years late.

A piece of bread . . . blessed, broken, and shared
Supper at Emmaus, Hendrick Terbrugghen, c.1621
I had an experience that has made a strong mark in my heart until this very moment. It is this experience that has encouraged me more to serve other people.  It has left a deep impact on my life that I will always be grateful for.   While this happened 13 years ago during my last year in college, it is still very vivid in my memory.  Every Sunday afternoon, I would join the Salesian Sisters of Don Bosco in their apostolate in the neighboring town.  We would gather the children and youth at the grounds of the elementary school beside the Parish Church.  We would play, dance, sing, teach catechism and prepare them for Mass.  I was teaching a group of student aged 11-13.  They were few but very consistent in their attendance.  I was happy being with them.  Indeed I was enjoying my apostolate.  

The mission-sending Mass
Every December, we would give a Christmas Party for some children from all the apostolate centers of the Sisters.  We would select children who were really financially poor.  On one occasion the party was held in a university in Quezon City.  We traveled very early for almost two hours from Laguna.  Since some of the children hadn’t yet eaten their breakfast, we knew that they would feel hungry as soon as we arrived.  We were so fortunate to have many sponsors from different food companies.  A few minutes after we arrived, we started to distribute bread and drinks to the children.  How beautiful it was to see volunteers giving snacks to the children and how the children expressed their thanks!  After the snacks were given out, a Sister led the prayer before meals.  Then we volunteers went around and assisted the children.  

One of my students caught my attention so I went to her and asked, ‘O, Marilyn bakit hindi mo kinakain yang snack mo?’ (‘Marilyn, why haven’t you eaten your snack?’) Then I also asked her, ‘Hindi ka ba nagugutom?’  (‘Aren’t you hungry?’) I was struck by her answer.  ‘Ipapasalubong ko po ito ate, sa mga kapatid ko’ (‘I’ll bring this home for my brothers and sisters’) she replied.  As she is holding the bread, I saw how happy she was.  I saw the smile on her face and excitement in her heart because she had something to give to her siblings when she got home.  I gave her another piece of bread and told her to keep the other one in her bag.  I was astonished by her action.  I couldn’t control my tears so I went to the corner and there I cried.  

Reina with Fr Joe Segudo, parish priest
Marilyn was very active in our Sunday class.  She came from a poor and large family.  Almost every Sunday she would wear the same clothes.  Maybe they were the only fine clothes she had. And sometimes if no one would take care of her younger siblings during that day, she would bring them to our class.  She really loved to attend our Sunday school. Those were the few things I know about her. I admired her because of her eagerness to learn about Jesus.  But she inspired me because of what she did during the Christmas party.  

Was she not hungry herself?  Why think of others first when you are also in need?  How come that at her young age she was already thinking of the needs of her siblings? She did not feel her own hunger. But instead she thought of sharing what she had with others.  She had forgotten herself but remembered her siblings.  How beautiful was her act of kindness and generosity!  What moved her to do that?  Those were the thoughts that were ringing in my ears. Yes, this experience had disturbed me. I felt that there was something stirring deep within me. Many activities happened during that day but Marilyn struck me most.  Her physical hunger didn’t stop her from doing an act of kindness to others. Truly, it was love that moved her to give, to share what she had without expecting anything in return.  Pure and authentic love gave the child deep joy in sharing the bread.  

Columban Fr Patrick Baker

The child did not only feed her siblings but she fed me too.  Through her example, I witnessed a life with the Living Bread which is Jesus, himself – generous, kind and true. Like the Gospel passage that says ‘I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live forever’ (John 6:51).  For me, Marilyn was bread from heaven, a person who in her young age was already sharing her goodness to others in her own simple way. She didn’t know how much she had encouraged me to do the same to live a life with God who sustains and nourishes me in fulfilling his great plan for me every day.  Having a deeper relationship with Him, ‘a relationship of trust, love and gratitude’ is now my stronghold. 

With this experience during college, I got interested in reading life stories of missionaries in different magazines in our library.  There I came to know the Columban lay missionaries through Misyon magazine.  Since then, I was inspired to be a missionary either as a nun, a married person or lay.  Even though the desire was already there, it took me some years to discern.  I was enjoying my work as a teacher for several years and I thought the desire to be a missionary would die away.  I thought anyway that I was still serving God and his people through my work.  But no, the desire did not die but even grew stronger and stronger every day until one day I decided to resign from my work and look for a mission group.  While searching, I knew that having a local involvement here in the Philippines was one of the requirements.  So I first joined a full-time volunteer group, the Jesuit Volunteers Philippines or JVP.  I was assigned to Bukidnon for two years as a house-parent, community worker, formator, and youth organizer.  I worked with Deaf children and youth in my first year, and in the second with Indigenous high school students.  I felt so blessed to be immersed in different kinds of communities that are in need and marginalized.  I am not saying that I didn’t experience pain, difficulties and hardship during my JVP years but I looked at those as periods of grace from God.  The experience helped me to grow and be a better person, woman, and Christian.

Reina making her commitment
A few months before the end of my last year in JVP, I did discern well whether to continue in becoming a missionary.  Yes, I thought that two years in JVP would be enough.  But God had his own plans in putting me on the path I wanted to walk on in life.  God used different people and events in leading me to go back to my desire to be a missionary – a Columban lay missionary or CLM.  

With Columbans, mostly lay missionaries, after the Mass
For almost two years I discerned again while I was working in an NGO (non-government organization) for the Deaf.  Finally, I took the risk of applying to the CLM.  Joy, excitement, fear, and anxiety were just some of the many feelings I had when CLM accepted me for the nine-month Orientation Program.  I am blessed to be with two beautiful persons (Joan Yap and She Capili) in the orientation program.  God is so good that he gave me graces that I needed during the program.  The graces of openness, courage and joy helped me continue.  The program provided us with a venue to discover more about ourselves as individuals and as a community enriching different aspects of our lives.  For me, discovering myself to be freer in responding to the Living Bread wasn’t easy.  What I really appreciated in the program was discovering my relationship with God,  how my relationship with him affects my relationship with myself and others,  and how I will sustain this relationship in my everyday life,  and how will I be open to God to be used for his glory.  Truly, the program and CLM community generously gave me the support to respond to the call. 

 With family members and Fr Segudo after the Mass

There is deep joy and gratitude here in my heart now that I am being sent to the mission in Taiwan.  I feel anxious, afraid and worried about my stay there but I will use these feelings to be my strength and good reminders to remain humble.  I am now ready to be bread for others – blessed, broken and shared.

07 May 2011

' . . . relationship with people is more important than any amount I could withdraw with my ATM cards'

'…relationship with people is more important than any amount I could withdraw with my ATM cards'Sherryl Lou C. Capili, PH-19, Columban Lay Missionaries-Philippines

'She' (pronounced 'sheh') Capili had her mission-sending ceremony last Sunday in Silang, CAvite, a place where Columbans worked before for many years. She wrote this reflection before the ceremony.

San Antonio de Padua Church

At home, I am 'Che-Che' but most of my friends call me 'She'. I am the eldest among three. I had a different plan for my life before. When my father passed away when I was very young, I made sure to do my best in school so I could get high grades. I was thinking that the medals would be my ticket to get a nice job with high pay so I could help my mother in sending my younger brothers to school. I was struggling to get better jobs as I tried one after the other. As a Mass Communications graduate, I dreamed of working for the giant television networks, film outfits, and famous charitable institutions. All these came true. I was also given an opportunity to teach college students on a part-time basiswhile I was pursuing my graduate studies and working at ABS-CBN Foundation, all at the same time.

She with children

Aside from these, I was also dreaming of traveling and doing some volunteer work and a short-term exposure in Rwanda and in other challenging places where I could possibly do a video documentary film. At that time, I was not even familiar with the term 'missionary'.

With dreams I’d already fulfilled and with the bigger goals in mind, I felt that something was still missing. I was not into developing my spiritual life. I was not a practicing Catholic at all. In fact, I would only hear Mass at Christmas, New Year, or at weddings and funerals. I was preoccupied with my earthly needs and desires. Everything was just about me, my public image, my achievements. I would only spend time for prayer when I needed something or when extremely happy for successfully getting what I wanted. For me, prayer was just an activity. In other words, I did not have a personal relationship with God.

A word of thanks from She at the end of the mission-sending Mass

The turning point in my faith journey happened during a three-day retreat I attended in December 2008 with the Singles Apostolate of the St James Renewal Movement in Ayala, Alabang. Although I’d been to Catholic schools during my high school, college, and graduate studies years, I was not able to take good care of and nourish my relationship with God. After the reatreat, I found myself actively participating in the community’s monthly prayer meetings and other activities and attending more retreats until God led me to Malate Parish where I read about the Columbans. After four fruitful years, I resigned from ABS-CBN Foundation, leaving what I considered my second family and home in exchange for another uncertain journey with the Columban Lay Missionaries (CLM).

She teaching children

I never thought that it would be possible in my case to leave a wonderful job and the benefits I was receiving. I was anxious about so many things before I finally felt the courage to just let go and trust in God’s plans. I felt at peace with the idea that I wouldn’t be having an income and I had to redefine my role in the family. I came to that point when I was craving for this quest for what God had for me by living and sharing with people of another culture, creed, and race. I was excited to learn through them and see how God loves them and is present in them. Detaching from what I used to do, what I had, my comfort zones, and the people dear to me was difficult but realizing what the nine-month orientation program was about made me look forward to the brighter side of this new path.
She with her mother Marina Castillo Capili

The orientation program gave me the chance to look back at my life experiences and I realized how God had been preparing me for this lay missionary journey. It was such a grace for me to see that those events that happened in the past 29 years, both painful and joyful, were part of His molding of me. Now I understand why God made me a catechist to children when I was in high school and college. Now I understand why God let me experience being a teacher and relating with the youth. Now it is clear to me as to why I am really fond of meeting people from all walks of life. He has been refining my heart from being self-centered towards moving to others. He has been trying to win me back all the while, only that I was pretending to be blind and deaf to acknowledge his greater plans. I realized the wisdom behind the low-paying jobs I had – it was to humble me. andt make me realize that relationship with people is more important than any amount I could withdraw with my ATM cards.

In a very candid conversation that I had with a group of friends several years ago about our plans, dreams, and goals I said, 'I want to be very rich so I could give to many people in need'. Now, I discovered that I have been very wealthy since the day I was borne. By 'being rich', I refer to having a very supportive family who are understanding enough to let me go and live in another country to share in Jesus’ mission; that my treasures are not the material things I have but my friends, co-workers, teachers, community, and other people who have been part of my joys and pains as well as my successes and failures; that I have wonderful gifts and talents from God that I can share and an open and humble heart to learn from others too; that I am extremely wealthy to the extent that I am drowning in God’s love and graces.

I am still in awe at what I have received from the orientation program. I am a recipient of the Columbans’ generous hearts in sharing their own experiences in mission. Being surrounded and guided by them made me more inspired in my discernment process. The experiences and learning are way beyond what I thought before I entered the CLM. I am very grateful to God for directing my heart to be here now. I thought I had the best plans for my life but, indeed, God revealed to me that his plans are always the grandest. Aside from developing a deeper personal relationship with God, the most significant aspect of the orientation program was self-awareness. I’m grateful for our group work and the ten-week Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) program. The process was painful as I traced and discovered that how I react in a given situation has something to do with an experience in the past; that I was afraid to make mistakes and I tried to block the feelings of sadness and anger by being independent and strong; that I wanted to control situations without realizing how I could affect others . . . but it was a good pain as I learned and grew in being able to manage my issues.

In the Islamic City of Marawi. She is wearing a white veil

The Mindanao exposure helped me see more clearly how it is to be a missionary: living with and listening to people, understanding their concerns and needs, sharing in their hopes and prayers, respecting their culture, giving them words of affirmation, sharing my own faith experience and God’s love to people I've just met; responding to them when I had the means to do so and being humble to be silent and be pleased that my mere presence was enough. I have a growing respect for other people as I embrace the fact that we have our own histories. Our homestay at the Islamic City of Marawi and with a group of indigenous people in Bukidnon made me realize that despite the differences that we have in terms of cultural/religious beliefs, still we all share in some common pains and joys as human beings. Even if we have different languages or dialect, we have a common language, and that is love.
Visiting Hangop Kabataan in Pagadian City, the project of Fr Michael Sinnott who was kidnapped in October 2009.

I have learned to slowly let go and let God – one thing that I found very difficult to say before. I never imagined that I could be courageous enough to say ‘yes’ to being a lay missionary as I temporarily leave my family, friends, and all other things I have held in my life. Although I still hold other dreams to fulfill, for now, my heart’s desire is to respond to this call of being a Columban Lay Missionary in Taiwan. `

The past nine months have been the most wonderful blessing that I received from God as he sent me the graces to be open and ready to know more about myself before I could minister to others. I have my weaknesses, limitations, and wounds that I may carry with me for the rest of my life but God always reminds me how he loves me no matter what. God tells me that when I go to Taiwan, I have my talents and gifts to share as well as my own wounds that could possibly be an instrument for others’ healing. God never gets tired of affirming me and assuring me that he has chosen me and all I should do is to trust that his plans are the grandest.
With Reina Mosqueda, far left, and Joan Yap, far right, her two CLM companions bound for Taiwan, and young friends at Hangop Kabataan, Pagadian City.