27 April 2012

'God's children . . . that is what we are.' Sunday Reflections, 4th Sunday of Easter Year B.

From The Gospel of John (2003) Directed by Philip Saville. Jesus played by Henry Ian Cusick; narrator, Christopher Plummer.

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

Second Reading 1 John 3:1-2 (Jerusalem Bible: Australia, England & Wales, India [optional], Ireland, New Zealand, Pakistan, Scotland, South Africa)

Think of the love that the Father has lavished on us, by letting us be called God's children; and that is what we are. Because the world refused to acknowledge him, therefore it does not acknowledge us. My dear people, we are already the children of God but what we are to be in the future has not yet been revealed;  all we know is, that when it is revealed we shall be like him because we shall see him as he really is.

An Dara Léacht 1Eoin 3:1-2 (Gaeilge, Irish)

A clann ionúin, breathnaígí cad é mar ghrá a thug an tAthair dúinn! go nglaofaí clann Dé orainn, agus is amhlaidh sinn. Sé an fáth nach n-aithníonn an saol sinne mar nár aithin sé eisean. chairde cléibh, is clann Dé cheana féin sinn, agus níor foilsíodh fós cé mar a bheimid; ach nuair a fhoilseofar é, is feasach sinn go mbeimid ina chosúlachtsan, mar go bhfeicfimid é mar atá sé.

When I was 11, for the first time in my life I spent a period away from my family. I went to a place called Cnoch na hAille, on the northern shore of Galway Bay in the west of Ireland, in the heart of the Gaeltacht, the Irish-speaking area there. (The same term is used for other areas where Irish Gaelic is still the main vernacular). I was there for a month’s summer-school cum holiday/vacation sponsored by trade/labour unions in Dublin for their members’ children aged between 10 and 14.
I experienced many things for the first time during those four weeks. I smoked my first cigarette with two or three other boys behind one of the many stone walls in the area. I didn’t finish it nor did I become hooked. I experienced real bullying for the first time, from one of the two boys I shared a room with in the home of the family with whom I stayed. He was a year older than me. Sadly, he died as a young married man and whenever I think of him I pray for him. I ‘fell in love’ for the first time, with a dark-haired girl name Joan. We were together on the train back to Dublin and never contacted each other again. I established a lifelong friendship with the family with whom I stayed.

One incident made a huge impression on me. A family from Dublin were staying in the same house as I was. The husband/father, whom I had never seen before, asked me ‘Are you John Coyle’s son?’ I had often hear people say that I looked like my father, even though I didn’t yet understand why. It turned out that the man who asked me the question, Paddy O’Neill was hi name, had worked as a carpenter, maybe as an apprentice under my Dad, with my father some years before that, and held him in great respect. I felt a great sense of pride in telling Paddy that I was indeed the son of John Coyle.

 During the Mass a few months ago where I baptised and confirmed some girls and where they and some others made their First Holy Communion. 

This week I’ve had a couple of baptisms. I don’t do them very often, not being based in a parish. The parents of one of those I baptised are not in a regular situation, not at all uncommon. However, their son became a brother of Jesus, a son of the Father, through the waters of baptism. St John, in the second reading today, says to the two children I baptised and to each of us, Think of the love that the Father has lavished on us, by letting us be called God's children; and that is what we are. That is our extraordinary dignity, the wonder of what happens at baptism. Someone once wrote that the sacrament of baptism is in a sense the climax of our lives as Christians, after which it is ‘downhill all the way’. A slight exaggeration, perhaps, but containing a real truth.

Not only is St John stating our extraordinary dignity as Christians but he is also stating our vocation. Paddy O’Neill, a stranger, recognised me as the son of John Coyle. Would a stranger or, maybe more importantly, someone who knows me, recognise me as a son or daughter of God?

When I arrived home in Dublin I discovered that my parents had missed me much more than I had missed them. Do I really appreciate the love that the Father has lavished on us?

During the Mass some months ago when I baptised and confirmed some of these girls and where all made their First Holy Communion.

25 April 2012

Anzac Day in Australia and New Zealand

Group portrait of the Australian 11th (Western Australia) Battalion, 3rd Infantry Brigade, Australian Imperial Force posing on the Great Pyramid of Giza on 10 January 1915, prior to the landing at Gallipoli. The 11th Battalion did much of their war training in Egypt and would be amongst the first to land at Anzac Cove on April 25 1915. In the five days following the landing, the battalion suffered 378 casualties, over one third of its strength.

Today is Anzac Day in Australia and New Zealand. The Anzacs were the members of the Australia and New Zealand Army Corp that landed in Gallipoli, Turkey, on 25 April 1915.

The trailer of Peter Weir's memorable 1981 movie Gallipoli.

Please remember in your prayers all who died in Gallipoli.

23 April 2012

The Pope’s ‘final leg’ : a view from the Philippines' leading broadsheet

Pope Benedict XVI, 2010

Tomorrow, 24 April, is the seventh anniversary of the installation of Pope Benedict XVI. On the anniversary of his election, 19 April, The Philippine Daily Inquirer, the country's most popular broadsheet, published an editorial, The Pope's 'final leg'. Here is the text, with some parts highlighted and with [comments] added.

Pope Benedict XVI marked two milestones this week: He turned 85 last Monday and marked the seventh anniversary of his pontificate yesterday, making him the oldest pope in more than 100 years and one of only six popes in 500 years to reign past the age of 85. Elected when he was 78, Benedict was and still is not expected to reign long. In “Light of the World,” his 2010 book, he said that if a pope was “physically, psychologically or spiritually” unable to carry out his duties, he was obliged to step down. Yesterday he alluded to his own mortality during his homily in his birthday Mass: “I am facing the final leg of the path of my life and I don’t know what’s ahead.” But like John Paul II who labored as pope amid the infirmities of old age, Benedict indicated he would continue to lead the Roman Catholic Church in “God’s light,” which, he said, “is stronger than any darkness.”

20 January 2006

Although living on borrowed time in an era of great change, the Pope is expected to address key issues facing the Church, many of them difficult and divisive, such as women’s ordination and optional celibacy among the clergy. The ban on women priests and compulsory celibacy are seen to have issued from the alleged patriarchy and clericalism of the Catholic hierarchy, which may have also resulted in child abuse by the clergy and a decline in vocations. [There's no 'ban' on women priests. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, No 1577 teaches clearly that 'the ordination of women is not possible'. The refers to Nos 26-27 of Mulieris Dignitatem, the 1988 document issued by Blessed John Paul II, which explains why only men can be ordained to the priesthood. Howver, this is really a quibble with the editorial writer who is using a term widely used by journalists, similar to 'the priest saying Mass with his bck to the people'.] But other Christian churches that have married priests and women clergy have also experienced a precipitous drop in vocations and their own share of sex-abuse cases. The Anglican and Episcopalian churches continue to be afflicted by dissension, apathy, aging congregations, and negligible vocations. Thus, the Church of Rome shares with the Church of England and the other Christian denominations of the West the same problems of enervation and decline. Benedict has made the renewal of the European Catholic Church the centerpiece of his papacy, and he has done this largely through intellectual engagement with the secular forces of Europe that deny the foundational Christian contribution to Western civilization. [The Constitution of the European Union refers only to Europe's 'Religious and Humanist inheritance' despite the fact that the three founders of the European Economic Community, that developed into the EU, Alcide de Gaspari of Italy, Robert Schuman of France, though born a German citizen in Luxembourg, and Konrad Adenauer, were all leaders of the Christian Democratic movement and all had opposed Nazism and Fascism. the causes for the beatification of Alcide de Gaspari and of Robert Schuman have been introduced.]

Alcide de Gasperi (1881 - 1954)

Robert Schuman (1886 - 1963)
Konrad Adenauer (1876 - 1967)

He is perfectly suited for the battle. As Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, he was a member of the prestigious Académie Française, where he was inducted in 1992 in the section for moral and political sciences by a country known for keeping God out of the secular realm. He has debated with European intellectuals like the German sociologist Jurgen Habermas. But while conserving the Church’s legacy in Europe, he is also looking to the future. He presided over the World Youth Day celebrations in Australia in 2008 and, more revealingly, in Spain in 2011, which saw two million youths mainly from heavily secularized Europe participating.

São Paulo, Brazil, May 2007

Benedict has also provided a counterweight to radical Islamism, criticizing its violent tendencies, as in his controversial Regensburg address in 2006, and generally working for the incorporation of rationality in Islamic teaching. “The important thing here is to remain in close contact with all the currents within Islam that are open to, and capable of, dialogue, so as to give a change of mentality to happen even where Islamism still couples a claim to truth with violence,” he said. His visit to Lebanon this year is expected to boost his engagement with Islam and reaffirm the Asia Minor roots of Christianity.

The Pope has likewise made credible gestures at engaging with the Catholic Church of the New World. His recent visit to Mexico, violent scene of last century’s secular battles, showed that Catholicism remains culturally entrenched in the world’s second largest Catholic country. His visit to communist Cuba may be seen as an effort by the Church to engage with Marxist modernity, and nothing could be more emblematic of this historically tortuous rendezvous than his meeting with former Cuban leader Fidel Castro, who asked him for copies of his theological books. He will next go to Brazil for World Youth Day 2012 in order to make his presence felt in the world’s largest Catholic country.

Banner of Blessed Pedro Calungsod (c.1654 - 2 April 1672) by Filipino artist Rafael del Casal used at beatification in 2000.

Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha, 1656 - 17 April 1680. Oldest known image, painted c.1690 by Father Chauchetière

Thus has the Pope fostered the catholicity of the Catholic communion. On Oct. 21 he will canonize Pedro Calungsod of the Philippines and Kateri Takakwitha, a Mohawk and the first Native American to be raised to the altar. All of this, of course, will not sugarcoat the problems facing Benedict and the Church. But like Saint Paul, this Pope is not one to shirk from “the good fight.” His long-time secretary, Msgr. Georg Gaenswein, describes him as “a man of great courage” who “doesn’t fear delicate questions or confrontations for the good of the Church and faithful.”

World Youth Day, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 23-28 July 2013

21 April 2012

'You are witnesses to this.' Sunday Reflections, 3rd Sunday of Easter Year B

Supper at Emmaus, Rembrandt, c.1629

Readings(New American Bible: Philippines, USA)  

Gospel Luke 24:35-48 (Jerusalem Bible: Australia, England & Wales, India [optional], Ireland, New Zealand, Pakistan, Scotland, South Africa)

The disciples told their story of what had happened on the road and how they had recognised Jesus at the breaking of bread.

They were still talking about this when Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, 'Peace be with you!' In a state of alarm and fright, they thought they were seeing a ghost. But he said, 'Why are you so agitated, and why are these doubts rising in your hearts? Look at my hands and feet; yes, it is I indeed. Touch me and see for yourselves; a ghost has no flesh and bones as you can see I have.' And as he said this he showed them his hands and feet. Their joy was so great that they could not believe it, and they stood dumbfounded; so he said to them, 'Have you anything here to eat?' And they offered him a piece of grilled fish, which he took and ate before their eyes.

Then he told them, 'This is what I meant when I said, while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses, in the Prophets and in the Psalms, has to be fulfilled.' He then opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, 'So you see how it is written that the Christ would suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that, in his name, repentance for the forgiveness of sins would be preached to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses to this.'
An Soiscéal Lúcas 24:35-48 (Gaeilge, Irish)

Agus rinne siad féin ar tharla sa tslí a aithris, agus mar a d’aithin siad é i mbriseadh an aráin. 

Le linn na cainte sin dóibh, sheas sé féin ina measc agus dúirt leo: “Síocháin daoibh!” Ghlac siad scéin agus uamhan, á mheas gur ag féachaint ar spiorad a bhí siad. Ach dúirt sé leo: “Cad é an scanradh atá oraibh, agus cad chuige a bhfuil ceisteanna ag teacht in bhur gcroí! Féachaigí mo lámha agus mo chosa, gur mé féin atá ann. Láimhseálaigí mé, agus tuigigí nach mbíonn feoil ná cnámha ag spiorad mar a fheiceann sibh atá agamsa.” Á rá sin dó, thaispeáin sé dóibh a lámha agus a chosa. Agus ó bhí siad gan a chreidiúint fós le barr áthais, agus iad ag déanamh ionadh de, dúirt sé leo: “An bhfuil rud ar bith anseo agaibh a d’íosfaí?” Thug siad blúire d’iasc rósta dó. Ghlac sé é agus d’ith ina láthair é.

Ansin dúirt sé leo: “Is iad seo na focail a labhair mé libh agus mé fós in bhur gcuideachta: ‘Ní foláir na nithe uile a chomhlíonadh atá scríofa mar gheall orm i ndlí Mhaois agus sna fáithe agus sna sailm.’” Ansin d’oscail sé a n-aigne chun go dtuigfidís na scrioptúir, agus dúirt sé leo: “Is amhlaidh sin atá scríofa, go bhfulaingeodh an Críost agus go n éireodh sé ó mhairbh an treas lá, agus go mbeadh aithrí agus maithiúnas peacaí á bhfógairt ina ainm do na náisiúin uile, ag tosú ó Iarúsailéim. Is finnéithe sibhse ar na nithe seo.

Appearance While the Apostles are at Table, Duccio di Buoninsegna, c. 1308-11

Jesus tells the Eleven Apostles in today’s gospel that in his name, repentance for the forgiveness of sins would be preached to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses to this

Repentance for the forgiveness of sins includes healing. The Gospels are full of stories of the healing of individuals. In the story of the paralyzed man let down through the roof by his friends so that Jesus could see him the Lord says to him first, My son, your sins are forgiven (Mark 2: 6). Only after that does he heal the man. In the story of the woman caught in adultery we read that Jesus looked up at the women and said ‘Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?’ She said, ‘No one, Lord.’ And Jesus said, ‘Neither do I condemn you; go, and do not sin again’ (John 8:10-11). In the experience of her repentance and being forgiven by Jesus the woman was healed.

Jesus tells us that this message would be preached to all the nations, and not only to the Apostles but to each of us, You are witnesses to this.

This very weekend that is happening in Beirut, Lebanon. A Rachel’s Vineyard retreat is being led by Bernadette from Ireland. This is a weekend of healing for women and men directly affected by abortion. It is a weekend where individuals can hear God’s forgiving and healing word in a safe and loving situation, where others who have experienced God’s healing love in this particular context are witness to this.

Every single one of us struggles with our sinfulness. Our experience of others forgiving us and of God himself forgiving us directly in the sacrament of confession can enable us to be witnesses to this.

Please pray that all involved in the retreat in Beirut will experience very powerfully the healing power of God’s love and that those who are healed will go on to become witnesses to this to others suffering from the pain of loss and of the awareness of their own sinfulness.

Lebanon is a country that has suffered greatly through wars. The Civil War lasted from 1975 to 1990 with great loss of life. But below is a joyful proclamation in Arabic of the Resurrection of Jesus recorded last year in a shopping mall in Beirut. Around 39 percent of the country’s population of around 4,250,000 are Christians and more than half the Christians are Catholics of the Maronite Rite. The rest are Catholics of other rites and members of various Orthodox churches. The video too may remind us that most of the Christians in the Middle East are Arabs and descendants of the earliest Christians.

You can get English subtitles by clicking on 'cc' at the bottom of the screen. But the joy of the Resurrection comes across in the Arabic. The singers, I've read, are all professionals.

16 April 2012

Death of Cecil Chaudhry, Shahbaz Bhatti's teacher, in Lahore, Pakistan

Group Captain Cecil Chaudhry, 27 August 1941 - 13 April 2012

'Group Captain' is a rank in some air forces that is the equivalent of 'Colonel'. Agenzia Fides, the Vatican news agency, carries this report dated 14 April 2012.
ASIA/PAKISTAN- Cecil Chaudhry has died, a Catholic national hero, Shahbaz Bhatti's teacher, an opponent of 'blasphemy'
Lahore (Agenzia Fides) - Pakistan has lost its 'national hero': Cecil Chaudhry died last night in Lahore, at the age of 72, a former captain of the armed forces, a fervent Catholic, committed to human rights and education. Chaudhry died of an incurable disease in hospital, with the comfort of his loved ones (he leaves four children) and friends and leaders of the Catholic Church in Pakistan. In the last hours of his life His Excellency Mgr Sebastian Shaw, Apostolic Administrator of Lahore, His Excellency Mgr Joseph Coutts, Archbishop of Karachi and President of the Episcopal Conference, Fr Yousaf Emmanuel, Director of the Justice and Peace Commission in Episcopal Conference, with whom Chaudhry had collaborated, Paul Bhatti (brother of the assassinated Shahbaz), Federal Minister for National Harmony were present.

Chaudhry served the nation as a talented aviation pilot in the two wars between India and Pakistan (in 1965 and 1971), distinguishing himself for acts of heroism. He was awarded many times and was an excellent teacher, after retirement he devoted himself entirely to the service to the Church, especially in the educational field: he became the first dean of St Anthony College in Lahore, then S. Mary's College in Rawalpindi, he was appreciated as a Director, teacher, manager, man of faith and culture, integrity and for his open-mindedness. Among his students and, as he loved to say, 'among his creatures' there was Shahbaz Bhatti, the Catholic minister killed, so he was an invaluable advisor. At the service of formation, he joined the effort to protect human rights, openly declaring himself against the blasphemy law and supporting the Commission 'Justice and Peace' in the campaign for its abolition. Speaking to Fides, Fr Yousaf Emmanuel, Director of the Commission remembers him as 'a great man, a model for his loyalty to the nation and the Church'. Archbishop Coutts told Fides: 'It is a great loss: he was a man respected and loved by everyone who, as a Catholic citizen, gave a very high contribution to Pakistan, showing that Christians can and want to be for the country' The funeral will take place tomorrow, April 15, in Lahore in the presence of the highest civil and religious authorities of the nation. (PA) (Agenzia Fides 14/4/2012)

13 April 2012

'My Lord and my God!' Sunday Reflections, Second Sunday of Easter Year B

From The Gospel of John (2003)  Directed by Philip Saville. Jesus played by Henry Ian Cusick; narrator, Christopher Plummer.

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA) 

Gospel John 20:19-31 (Jerusalem Bible: Australia, England & Wales, India [optional], Ireland, New Zealand, Pakistan, Scotland, South Africa)

In the evening of that same day, the first day of the week, the doors were closed in the room where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews. Jesus came and stood among them. He said to them, 'Peace be with you,' and showed them his hands and his side. The disciples were filled with joy when they saw the Lord, and he said to them again, 
Peace be with you.
'As the Father sent me, 
so am I sending you.'

After saying this he breathed on them and said:

'Receive the Holy Spirit.
For those whose sins you forgive,
they are forgiven;
for those whose sins you retain,
they are retained.'

Thomas, called the Twin, who was one of the Twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. When the disciples said, 'We have seen the Lord,' he answered, 'Unless I see the holes that the nails made in his hands and can put my finger into the holes they made, and unless I can put my hand into his side, I refuse to believe.' Eight days later the disciples were in the house again and Thomas was with them. The doors were closed, but Jesus came in and stood among them. 'Peace be with you,' he said. Then he spoke to Thomas, 'Put your finger here; look, here are my hands. Give me your hand; put it into my side. Doubt no longer but believe.' Thomas replied, 'My Lord and my God!' Jesus said to him:

'You believe because you can see me.
Happy are those who have not seen and yet believe.'

There were many other signs that Jesus worked and the disciples saw, but they are not recorded in this book. These are recorded so that -you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing this you may have life through his name.

An Soiscéal Eoin 20:19-31 (Gaeilge, Irish)

Tráthnóna an lae chéanna, an chéad lá den tseachtain, agus na doirse faoi ghlas le
heagla na nGiúdach, san áit ina raibh na deisceabail, tháinig Íosa agus sheas ina measc agus dúirt leo: 

“Síocháin daoibh!”

Á rá sin dó, thaispeáin sé dóibh a lámha agus a chliathán. Bhí áthas ar na deisceabail nuair a chonaic siad an Tiarna.   Dúirt Íosa leo ansin arís: 

“Síocháin daoibh! Amhail mar a chuir an tAthair uaidh mise,
táimse do bhur gcursa uaim freisin.”
Arna rá sin dó, d’análaigh sé orthu agus dúirt leo:
“Glacaigí an Spiorad Naomh.  
Na daoine a maithfidh sibh a bpeacaí dóibh,
beidh siad maite dóibh;
na daoine a gcoinneoidh sibh a bpeacaí,
beidh a bpeacaí coinnithe.” 

Tomás, duine den dáréag ar a dtugtaí an Leathchúpla, ní raibh sé leo nuair a tháinig Íosa.   Dúirt na deisceabail eile leis: “Chonaiceamar an Tiarna.” Ach dúirt seisean leo: “Mura bhfeicfidh mé rian na dtairní ar a dhearnana, agus mo mhéar a chur i bpoll na dtairní, agus mo lámh ina chliathán, ní chreidfidh mé.” Ocht lá ina dhiaidh sin, bhí a dheisceabail istigh arís, agus Tomás in éineacht leo. Tháinig Íosa agus na doirse faoi ghlas, sheas sé ina measc agus dúirt: “Síocháin daoibh!” Ansin dúirt sé le Tomás: “Tabhair i leith do mhéar agus féach mo dhearnana, sín amach do lámh agus cuir i mo chliathán í, agus ná bí díchreidmheach ach creidmheach.”   D’fhreagair Tomás: “Mo Thiarna agus mo Dhia!”Dúirt Íosa leis: 

“De bhrí go bhfaca tú mé, a Thomáis, chreid tú.
Is méanar dóibh seo nach bhfaca agus a chreid.”

Bhí go leor fearta eile fós a rinne Íosa os comhair a dheisceabal, agus níl aon chur síos orthu sa leabhar seo.   Ach cuireadh an méid sin i scríbhinn chun go gcreidfeadh sibh gurb é Íosa an Criost, Mac Dé, agus á chreidiúint go mbeadh an bheatha agaibh ina ainm.

I remember watching Blessed John Paul II's last public appearance on Easter Sunday, 27 March 2005. It was very clear that he would not be with us for much longer. He died six days later, on Easter Saturday. What was most poignant was his effort to speak. But not a word would come out of the mouth of this frail man who had become pope nearly 27 years earlier at the age of 58, still very athletic and with a strong, baritone voice.

But his voiceless final blessing had an authority that his 'Do not be afraid' did not have when he was elected as Bishop of Rome, even though that had great power too. But now John Paul had the authority of one who had suffered in the service of others, one whose physical vigour had disappeared. He was carrying the scars of life.

This photo of Estefanio and Teresita Luceño, 60 years married, was taken last year in Bukidnon, a province in Mindanao and the name of which means 'mountainous'. Estefanio, father of Columban lay missionary Aurora, died on Holy Saturday. I haven't seen a photo of the couple on their wedding day. I am certain that Mr and Mrs Luceño made a handsome couple. But the beauty they had on their wedding day is different from the beauty in the photo above which shows the beauty of two lives of 85 years, 60 of those given to each other, to raising their eight children and loving their 11 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. It is a beauty that you can find only in older persons or in those who have suffered. It is a beauty that makes us want to be like them, not in the sense that advertisers of 'beauty products' mean but in the sense of wanting us to desire holiness as St Thérèse defined it: Perfection consists simply in doing his will, and being just what he wants to be'.

Fr Joseph Murtagh was a much loved Columban priest who worked in Mindanao for more than 40 years, suffering from multiple sclerosis (MS) for more than 20 of those before retiring to Ireland in 2001. While he needed care in St Columban's Nursing/Retirement Home there he in turn provided a listening ear for fellow Columbans and for the staff. Many of those were immigrants and they cried with deep sorrow when he died in 2007 at the age of 79. They recognised the presence of Jesus in Father Joe through the limitations that MS imposed on him but that gave him a remarkable empathy for others in their pain, in whatever way they experienced it.

St Thomas the Apostle has two nicknames. One is 'Didymus', 'The Twin', that we find in the gospels. The other is somewhat pejorative, 'Doubting Thomas'. Yes, he did doubt. But he also expressed the most magnificent and clearest act of faith in all the Scriptures, My Lord and My God! He had said that he would not believe until he had seen the scars of the Lord. Seeing them  and being asked by the Risen Jesus to put his fingers in them led to his act of faith.

May we recognise Jesus the Risen Lord, not only in his Word, not only in the Blessed Sacrament, but in the scars of others and in those we carry ourselves.

The Apostle St Thomas, Jusepe Martínez, c.1630 

12 April 2012

Estefanio Argall Luceño RIP, the father of a Columban missionary

Estefanio Luceño with his wife Teresita, 60 years married, taken in Dahilayan, Bukidnon, last year

Please pray for the repose of the soul of Estefanio A Luceño who died in Pagadian City on Holy Saturday, 7 April, and will be buried there on Easter Saturday, 14 April. He was 85 and the father of Aurora Luceño, a long-term Columban lay missionary who has spent much of her time in Pakistan.

Many of us have read stories, including vocation stories, about and by missionaries and been inspired by them. We don't hear quite as often from the parents of missionaries, about their part in the vocation stories of their sons and daughters or of what it costs them. Below is an article we published in Misyon, the Columban magazine I edit here in the Philippines, in January-February 2004 by the late Estefanio: We had to let her go. Now God has asked his wife and family to let him go. As the Irish prayer for the dead goes, 'May the light of heaven shine upon him'.

Aurora Luceño, known to her friends as 'Auring' or 'Au'.

To be the father of the Columban lay missionary is indeed a rare privilege. I consider it precious gift from God. My daughter, Aurora C. Luceño, a civil engineer by profession, was enjoying a well-paying job and a promising career in the Department of Interior and Local Government before being sent to the Columban Lay Mission Program (CLMP) she took part in the Ship for Southeast Asian Youth Program, which gave her a chance to visit different Asian countries, including Japan, as a goodwill ambassador of youth.

Auring, second from right, with Columban lay missionaries and staff on a visit to Vigan City in the northern Philippines.

The way she wanted it
When she first broached the idea and sought our permission to become a lay missionary, we had no objection except that my wife Teresita and I would have preferred that she work in a Muslim or Subaanen area in Mindanao rather than in a foreign land. Since childhood she had been nurturing the idea of serving God as a missionary and had made a serious discernment of the way of life she intended to pursue. After the nine-month orientation program for cross-cultural mission of the Columban Lay Missionary Program (CLMP) she was assigned to Pakistan. [Editor's note: the word 'Program' has since been dropped from the name and 'CLM' are the initials now used]. At this juncture we reiterated our preference. However, she reasoned that the Christian population in our country constitutes a big majority compared to believers in Islam, whereas Christians in Pakistan make up less than one per cent of that overwhelmingly Islamic country. We saw her point and so finally consented.

Mr and Mrs Luceño, 'Still in love at 85'.

The mission sending
I very well remember the support Aurora received from our parishioners during her missions ending in 1994, a solemn and colorful ceremony held in San Jose Parish, Pagadian City. Msgnr Patricio R. Getigan, Fr Felix Tigoy, the parish priest, Fr Neil Collins and a number of other Columban priests celebrated the Holy Mass. I was deeply touched by the way that things had come to pass. I still remember the strong feeling of support from friends and the reality of parting. Missionary work is not new to us. As leaders of Couples for Christ my wife and I were commissioned to evangelize in Zamboanga City where we conducted a Christian Life Program in coordination with the Claretians. Long before, we had been associated with missionaries in our place and had been actively involved in various church activities such as the Family Life Aposolate.

Auring in Tara, where the High Kings of Ireland once lived

Worried Parents
An older sister of Aurora, Sr Mary Judith Madeleine OCD, likewise witnessed among our Muslim brothers and sisters in Marawi City where she had and nine other Carmilite nuns were kidnapped by bandits in 1986. Hence, there were times when we felt apprehensive over the safety of Aurora and other missionaries exposed to the perils of war, particularly at the height of the war on terror waged by the USA in Afghanistan, Pakistan’s neighbor. However, with the blessing of strong faith and trust in God’s protection we managed to overcome our fears. The conflict between Pakistan and India over Kashmir is another source of unrest that poses a danger to missionaries. Nevertheless, Aurora assured us of her safety, as she is well loved by the people in the community where she lives and works. Besides, there’s the bigger Columban family to which we feel we belong that has unfailingly supported her in her missionary journey. 
On a visit to Boston, MA, USA

We watched her grow
From her sharing with us I learned that while missionary life can be difficult, it can also be enjoyable, rewarding and full of challenges. I am a witness to the tremendous change in Aurora’s way of life as a missionary and the growth that has made her a stronger and more mature woman. In the process I have made myself present and available to accompany her in her continuing discernment in her life and missionary journey. I have witnessed with interest and satisfaction the growth that she has experienced since she first joined the orientation program. She has since assumed greater responsibilities in the CLMP. I feel I’m greatly blessed as I see the commitment and passion of another of my children to serve people and become a living witness to God’s great love. I am happy that in our small and humble way our family has helped in spreading the Gospel here and in faraway places for the greater glory of God and the coming of his kingdom upon people of diverse races.

Photos from Auring's Facebook.

11 April 2012

'Flood Kitchen': Holy Week floods in Ba, Fiji, a Columban parish

This report was sent during Holy Week by Fr Donal McIlraith, an Irish Columban who has been in Fiji for many years.

The April flood in Ba was higher than the January one. When floods come we usually open our Church basement and the Fiji Government designates it as an evacuation centre. People usually try to cook for themselves with bits of firewood they find lying around. The 30 March – 2 April floods were the highest ever recorded and so we decided as a parish that we should transform the School canteen, conveniently located near the Church hall, into a food kitchen.

Fr Donal McIlraith; Serafina Ranadi is on the far right.

Columban Lay Missionary Serafina Ranadi is presently visiting Ba, her home parish, in between assignments and was working with us on as a member of the parish staff. We asked her to take over the Kitchen. Amelia, the sacristan, and the Catholic families who lived nearby especially the Vunisinus, the Mullers and the Dotons, and Francis Pepe, agreed to assist. The flood was at its highest on Friday. By Saturday it seemed to have ended but severe rain on Saturday night flooded the town again. It was when we saw ourselves completely surrounded by water on Sunday morning that, after Mass, we decided to move with the food kitchen, our numbers had also swollen to over 100 and it was going to be difficult to feed that many.

Fr Donal McIlraith welcoming Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama 

The parish provided the raw materials and Serafina and her team got underway. We managed to provide three meals a day for everyone. On Monday the government brought us some food which we gratefully received. Individuals also donated clothing and cooking gas while some other faith groups delivered cooked meals.

On Tuesday we had an unexpected guest, the Prime Minister of Fiji, Frank Bainimarama. He was visiting the evacuation centres of the West to see things for himself and came and spent an hour with us. Unfortunately Serafina missed him. The night before we had had a frantic call from the Cross walkers to provide food at the Raviravi church, a centre for our Indofijian community. Every year in Fiji, the youth carry crosses from different parts of the island to a Retreat Centre, the Ashram, during Holy Week. As you can imagine, the floods had thrown their schedules. We had been unable to contact the Raviravi people and decided that instead of cooking lunch for 100 we should cook for 200 and take the food out to Raviravi. Serafina had just left with Columban Deacon Taaremon Matauea to take the rice and curry and water to the walkers when the Prime Minister arrived.

Prime Minister Frank Bainaimarama chatting with Fr Donal McIlraith

Many of our guests were from hill villages such as Navala near Ba. They had come with crops, fruits and vegetables to sell and were caught in town by the floods. All transport was cancelled and many roads were also damaged. Slowly things returned to normal and as the roads open up, they will all leave the basement and we will close the Kitchen.

07 April 2012

'Resurrexit sicut dixit, Alleluia - He is risen as he said, Alleluia!' Sunday Reflections, Easter Sunday

From TheGospel of John (2003)  Directed by Philip Saville. Jesus played by Henry Ian Cusick; narrator, Christopher Plummer.

Readings for Mass on Sunday (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

Gospel John 20:1-9 (Jerusalem Bible: Australia, England & Wales, India [optional], Ireland, New Zealand, Pakistan, Scotland, South Africa)

It was very early on the first day of the week and still dark, when Mary of Magdala came to the tomb. She saw that the stone had been moved away from the tomb and came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved. 'They have taken the Lord out of the tomb' she said 'and we don't know where they have put him.' 

So Peter set out with the other disciple to go to the tomb. They ran together, but the other disciple, running faster than Peter, reached the tomb first; he bent down and saw the linen cloths lying on the ground, but did not go in. Simon Peter who was following now came up, went right into the tomb, saw the linen cloths on the ground, and also the cloth that had been over his head; this was not with the linen cloths but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple who had reached the tomb first also went in; he saw and he believed. Till this moment they had failed to understand the teaching of scripture, that he must rise from the dead.

An Soiscéal Eoin 20:1-9 (Gaeilge, Irish)

An chéad lá den tseachtain tháinig Máire Mhaigdiléana go moch, agus an dorchadas fós ann, chun an tuama agus chonaic sí an líog aistrithe ón tuama. Rith sí ansin agus tháinig sí go dtí Síomón Peadar agus go dtí an deisceabal úd eile ab ionúin le Íosa. “Thog siad an Tiarna as an tuama,” ar sí leo, “agus níl a fhios againn cár chuir siad é.”

Amach le Peadar agus leis an deisceabal eile ansin agus chuaigh siad chun an tuama. Chrom siad a mbeirt ar rith in éineacht agus rith an deisceabal eile níos luaithe ná Peadar agus is é is túisce a tháinig go dtí an tuama. Nuair a chrom sé síos chonaic sé na línéadaí ina luí ansiúd, ach ní dheachaigh sé isteach. Ansin tháinig Síomón Peadar ina dhiaidh agus chuaigh sé isteach sa tuama, agus chonaic sé na línéadaí agus an brat a bhí ar a cheann – ní i dteannta na línéadaí a bhí sé, ach fillte in aon áit amháin leis féin. Ansin. an deisceabal eile, a tháinig ar dtús chun an tuama, chuaigh sé isteach agus chonaic agus chreid sé. Óir níor thuig siad go fóill an scrioptúr nárbh fholáir é a aiséirí ó mhairbh.

 The Resurrection of Christ, Rembrandt, painted c. 1639

I remember as a very young priest in 1968 preaching with conviction on one specific occasion about the Resurrection. I think it was during the Easter season. The Mass was in the public chapel, now no more, of the convent of the Irish Sisters of Charity, Stanhope Street, Dublin, which was in our parish. It was the chapel where I had  made my First Holy Communion on 20 May 1950 after having made my first confession there a few days before that.

Among the congregation that Sunday morning in 1968 was my mother. Little did I know that it would be her sudden death two years later, at the age of 55, that would bring my faith in the Resurrection from my head to my heart. Within an hour of receiving the news in New York, where I was studying - I was having breakfast when called to the phone - I knew in the depths of my being that the Resurrection was real. That didn't lessen the sorrow I felt but it gave it meaning.

After the funeral Mass in our parish church of the Holy Family, Aughrim Street, where again I preached, now with a conviction rooted in my heart and not just in my head, in the presence of my mother, her presence very different from that at the Mass two years earlier, I learned from my father the reality of the Resurrection in another way. He told me that he felt utterly desolate before the Mass. But after it he felt that all was right.

Resurrexit sicut dixit, Alleluia! He is risen as he said, Alleluia!

'His cross stands empty . . .' Holy Saturday

Pietà (The Lamentation of Christ), El Greco, painted 1571-76

From The Gospel of John (2003)  Directed by Philip Saville. Jesus played by Henry Ian Cusick; narrator, Christopher Plummer.

The Entombment of Christ, El Greco, painted 1560s

His cross stands empty

His cross stands empty in a world grown silent
Through hours of anguish and of dread;
In stillness, earth awaits the resurrection,
While Christ goes down to wake the dead

He summons Adam and his generations,
Brings light where darkness endless seemed;
He frees and claims His own, so long held captive,
Who, with the living, are redeemed.

With God the Father and the Holy Spirit,
Give praise to Christ the crucified,
Who, through the ages, seeks to save his lost ones:
The sinful men for whom he died.

This hymn, from The Stanbrook Abbey Hymnal, is used in The Office of Readings for Holy Saturday in The Divine Office approved by the Episcopal Conferences of Australia, England and Wales, Ireland, Scotland.