31 July 2012

Olympic Gold medallist: 'I had to say "thank you" to God for the gift I was given'.

Ronnie Delany of Ireland winning the 1500 metres in the Melbourne Olympics 1956

My mother wasn't particularly into sports but I remember her running up the stairs early on Saturday 1 December 1956 to wake up my brother and me with the great news that Ronnie Delany had won the 1500 metres in the Melbourne Olympics. I was 13 then, eight years younger than the Gold medallist. He has been a hero of mine ever since and last November I met him for the first time at the annual dinner of the past pupils' union of O'Connell Christian Brothers' School in Dublin where Ronnie had done the first three years of his secondary education.

When I told him that he had been a hero to me down through the years he expressed a simple delight that for me is the mark of true humility.

Stamp issued in Ireland on the 50th anniversary of Delany's win

In one interview he said, Religion played an integral part in my life and still does, I did resort to prayer for comfort, to create confidence and assurance and I always prayed intensely before my races that I would receive the ability to perform to my level of capability. [Emphasis added]. In another interview in 1997 he said that before the Melbourne final, I resigned myself quietly to the will of God and prayed not so much for victory but the grace to run up to my capabilities.

One of the images that was captured in photos and in video is of Delany kneeling down after his victory and quietly praying, ending with the Sign of the Cross. Last Sunday I heard him on RTÉ Radio 1 on Bowman Sunday, a programme in which John Bowman features items from the archives. In one interview, done recently I think, Ronnie Delany said, I had to say 'thank you' to God for the gift I was given'. He spoke of praying to favourite saints before a race, especially to Mary. When he came home from Melbourne some individual or some group presented Ronnie with a specially commissioned piece of Waterford Crystal which showed him kneeling in prayer after the race.

In the video above Irish broadcaster Jimmy Magee presents four Irish Olympic medallists. The first 2:29 minutes is devoted to Ronnie Delany and shows him praying after winning.

On a popular Sunday radio programme broadcast the day after Delany's victory a ballad written for the occasion had the refrain, Good lad, Ronnie, we're proud you won. You proved you were best in the long run.

While he doesn't run quite as fast at 77 as he did when 21 he's still very much on the go as he carries the Olympic Flame in Dublin in one of very few fine days this summer.

Six years ago Ronnie saidI’m very lucky. I’ve had a fulfilled life. My life is my family but I have somehow always managed to maintain the myth of the Olympic champion. May God grant him many more years to inspire not only his grandchildren but all Irish people to have a faith will lead them in whatever endeavour to resign themselves quietly to the will of God and pray not so much for victory but the grace to run up to their capabilities.

26 July 2012

'He himself knew what he would do.' Sunday Reflections, 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time 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) 

Readings (Jerusalem Bible: Australia, England & Wales, India [optional], Ireland, New Zealand, Pakistan, Scotland, South Africa)

Gospel John 6:1-15 (Revised Standard Version – Catholic Edition)

After this Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, which is the Sea of Tiberi-as. And a multitude followed him, because they saw the signs which he did on those who were diseased. Jesus went up on the mountain, and there sat down with his disciples. Now the Passover, the feast of the Jews, was at hand. Lifting up his eyes, then, and seeing that a multitude was coming to him, Jesus said to Philip, "How are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?" This he said to test him, for he himself knew what he would do. Philip answered him, "Two hundred denarii would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little." One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter's brother, said to him, "There is a lad here who has five barley loaves and two fish; but what are they among so many?" Jesus said, "Make the people sit down." Now there was much grass in the place; so the men sat down, in number about five thousand. Jesus then took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted. And when they had eaten their fill, he told his disciples, "Gather up the fragments left over, that nothing may be lost." So they gathered them up and filled twelve baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten. When the people saw the sign which he had done, they said, "This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world!" Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself.  

Pandesal, from the Spanish pan de sal, 'salt bread', is a very common part of breakfast in the Philippines. For some, it may be the only food available at that time. One night nearly 40 years ago in Ozamiz City, Mindanao, I was upstairs in the convento (presbytery/rectory) of the Cathedral parish before going to my own place in another building on the church plaza. I was looking out the window and saw only two people, a man and a woman. The man was a beggar whom I didn't know and the woman was Guria - from her baptismal name, Gregoria. She was a simpleminded, gentle creature, maybe in her 40s, who might wander in and out of a classroom of Immaculate Conception College, now La Salle University, also located in the cathedral plaza, and start doodling on the board. I was chaplain in the college department of ICC at the time.

I could see that Guria had two pieces of pandesal in her hand. She went over to the beggar, who hadn't approached her, and gave him one of the pieces. The only witnesses to this were God and myself - and, I presume, the heavenly host.

Guria herself would occasionally ask for something but I had learned that she was from nearby Tangub City, about 18 kms away, and came from a family that wasn't poor.

Stamp for canonisation of San Alberto Hurtado, 2005

St Alberto Hurtado Cruchaga SJ (22 January 1901 - 18 August 1952) was the second Chilean to be canonised, by Pope Benedict XVI on 23 October 2005. Columban Fr John Griffin, a New Zealander who spent many years in Zambales, Philippines, before going to Chile, wrote of San AlbertoProvidence was always on his side. At a meeting one night his board of directors was unwilling, for lack of funds, to approve a new project. In the midst of discussions there was an unexpected call for Fr Hurtado to attend to someone at his front door. He had a brief conversation with the caller who said she wanted to leave a gift to help the great work he was doing.

He gratefully put her envelope in his pocket, wished her a good evening and returned to his meeting. He looked at the contents of the envelope as he sat down. Then he tossed a check onto the table saying, ‘There you are, ye of little faith!’ It was for one million pesos – worth about US$30,000 at that time. 

Father John tells us about the young Alberto, The saint’s father was murdered by rustlers when Alberto was only four. This forced his mother to sell the farm, settle all debts and move with her two small sons to Santiago. There they depended on the charity of her brother and other relatives who took turns in sheltering them and giving them a home.
At eight years of age Alberto gained a scholarship to San Ignacio College, administered by the Jesuits, and he was there for the next nine years. He and his classmates deeply admired one of their teachers, Fr Fernando Vives.

He was a man who took seriously the social implications of the Gospel teachings and of the Encyclical Letter of Pope Leo XIII, ‘Rerum Novarum’ and he instilled a lasting social conscience in most of his students.

He further tells us, Overall, Fr Hurtado is best known and remembered throughout Chile for his ‘Hogar de Cristo’ (Christ’s Home) Foundation. The seed for this was sown late one night when he was on his way home to San Ignacio. He met a man who was in poor health, had eaten nothing all day and had nowhere to go.

St John tells us in today's gospel, Lifting up his eyes, then, and seeing that a multitude was coming to him, Jesus said to Philip, "How are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?" This he said to test him, for he himself knew what he would do. 

Father Alberto, after his encounter with the homeless, hungry man, for whom he did what he could, spent the rest of his life serving those with nothing, especially through the Hogar de Cristo Foundation which he began on 19 October 1944. 'The Church's best-kept secret is its social teaching' has become a cliché that isn't quite true. But there are some who don't want to hear it.

Today's gospel is proclaimed within the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. St John uses the feeding of the thousands to develop his teaching on the Eucharist. A parish priest from Ireland told me recently that he sees the faith for many in Ireland as having become a private matter, with no connection to life. Jesus is showing us today that the Eucharist and daily life are very much connected. The people had followed Jesus because they wanted to hear what he had to say and maybe some had hopes of being healed of their illnesses. Receiving the Bread of Life in Holy Communion is a public commitment that we are willing to share the love of Jesus with those who don't know him and with those who do know him but may lack the basic necessities.

San Alberto was a gifted man, one who could inspire and organise others and who continues to do so 60 years after his death. Guria would not be seen by most as 'gifted'. But she had the gift of a loving faith, even if she wasn't aware of it. Just like St Martin of Tours, while still a soldier, giving half his cloak to a poor man, she gave half of what she had to another poor man. She was giving breakfast food late at night. 

The Visayan word - the Visayan languages are spoken in the central Philippines and in most of Mindanao - for breakfast is pamahaw, from the root word bahaw, leftovers. Jesus tells the apostles to gather up the leftovers - and they filled twelve baskets in doing so. This shows the utter generosity of God and calls us to reverence the food he gives us, our daily bread and the Eucharistic Bread of Life.

Guria in giving half of her food to the beggar in the cathedral plaza, San Alberto Hurtado tending to the homeless man he met and seeing the multitude in need like him, were both doing what Jesus did when he fed the five thousand. Guria, St Martin of Tours and Father Alberto in sharing what they had with an individual poor person were sharing what they had received from God with God himself, the Word who became Flesh, Jesus the Lord who has identified himself with such persons.

You can find a couple of short videos of San Alberto here. What struck me in watching them was his joyfulness, even his childlike delight in being caught by a movie camera. These are on the website of Hogar de Cristo: Padre Alberto Hurtado. It's in Spanish but is easy to explore.

25 July 2012

World Youth Day 2013: promo trailer

The next World Youth Day will take place in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, this week next year. The trailer above has just been released. It was produced by the French WYD National Team.

The English-language website for WYDRio2013 is hereThe Facebook account is here.

24 July 2012

A saint from Lebanon whom the Church honours today

St Charbel Makhluf (8 May 1828 0 24 December 1898)


O God, who called the Priest Saint Sharbel Makhluf
to the solitary combat of the desert
and imbued him with all manner of devotion,
grant us, we pray,
that, being made imitators of the Lord's Passion,
we may merit to be co-heirs of his Kingdom.
Who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

St Sharbel (or Charbel), baptised Youssef (Joseph),  is the only Lebanese saint, as far as I know, on the universal calendar of the Church, though not the only saint from that country. One of his teachers, St Nimattullah Kassab Al-Hardini, was canonised by Blessed Pope John Paul II in 2004. St Sharbel, who lived for many years as a hermit, was beatified by Pope Paul VI on 5 December 1965, three days before the end of the Second Vatican Council. Pope Paul said of him, . . . a hermit of the Lebanese mountain is inscribed in the number of the blessed, a new eminent member of monastic sanctity is enriching, by his example and his intercession, the entire Christian people. May he make us understand, in a world largely fascinated by wealth and comfort, the paramount value of poverty, penance and asceticism, to liberate the soul in its ascent to God . . .

Both these saints were priests and monks and Maronite Catholics. Their biggest numbers are in Lebanon but there are also large communities in Argentina, Brazil, the USA and Australia.

Pope Benedict will visit Lebanon from 14 to 18 September. The country, with a population of around 4,200, 000, went through a civil war from 1975 till 1990 in which anywhere between 150,000 and 230,000 died. 

'Green Line', separating East and West Beirut 1982

At the moment there are an estimated 50,000 refugees from neighbouring Syria in Lebanon. Syria had been involved in the Lebanese Civil War.

Fifty-four percent of the people of Lebanon adhere to Islam, half of them Shia Muslims and half Sunni. Thirty-four percent are Maronite Catholics, five percent Greek Catholics and eight percent Orthodox.

May St Sharbal obtain many graces for the people of Lebanon, especially during the visit of the Holy Father.

I have posted this video a number of times. It was made in a shopping mall in Beirut during Easter 2011. I just love it as a joyful proclamation of the Resurrection, in Arabic, in a country where the people know what suffering is.

22 July 2012

176 years of service as Columban priests by the Baker Brothers of Australia

The Baker Brothers: Fr Pat (ordained 1962), Fr Leo (1948) and Fr Chris (1950)

Yesterday, 21 July, was the Golden Jubilee of the ordination of Fr Patrick (Pat) John Baker, the youngest of a family of five boys and three girls, from Camperdown, Victoria, Australia. Father Pat worked in Australia in the early years of his priesthood and came to the Philippines on 21 September 1972, the day Martial Law was officially declared, though it wasn't announced till two days later. He has been here most of the time since and now lives at the headquarters of the Columbans in the Philippines where he is working on the archives. He worked in a number of parishes in Mindanao and also spent some eyars in Cebu City on the college formation program of the Columbans. That was phased ut some years ago.
The photo above was taken in 2008 on the occasion of the Diamond Jubilee of the ordination of Father Leo and is taken from the website of the Columbans in Australia and New Zealand, as is the photo below. You can read Bakers delight on that website.
Father Leo, a gifted photographer, wrote quite a few articles for the various Columban magazines during his many years in Japan and since then. He is now retired and lives at St Columban's, Essednone, near Melbourne, where he takes delight in working in the garden there. Father Chris, a Scripture scholar, is in Peru.
The three Columban Bakers have between them served 176 years in the priesthood, an extraordinary blessing for their family, for the Columbans and for the Church. We Columbans have been blessed with a number of sets of three brothers. The Bakers are the only such from Australia and one of only two sets where all three are still living. The others are the Smyths from Straide, County Mayo, Ireland, Fr Patrick (ordained in 1969 and now in Ireland, Fr John (1962), now working with Koreans in Chicago and Fr Malachy (1966) in Ireland. All three spent many years in Korea.
I wish Father Pat and his brothers Ad multos annos! 'To many years!'

Frs Pat, Leo and Chris Baker in 1962

20 July 2012

'Come away . . . and rest a while'. Sunday Reflections, 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B

Jesus, detail from The Calling of St Matthew, Caravaggio, 1599-1600

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

Readings (Jerusalem Bible: Australia, England & Wales, India [optional], Ireland, New Zealand, Pakistan, Scotland, South Africa)

Gospel Mark 6:30-34 (Revised Standard Version – Catholic Edition)

The apostles returned to Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. And he said to them, "Come away by yourselves to a lonely place, and rest a while." For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. And they went away in the boat to a lonely place by themselves. Now many saw them going, and knew them, and they ran there on foot from all the towns, and got there ahead of them. As he went ashore he saw a great throng, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.

Tagaytay, Philippines

I posted the video below last Monday, a kind of follow-up to last week's Sunday Reflections. But it reminds me very much of the first part of the Sunday's gospel. Jesus had sent out the Twelve Apostles on a mission. We don't know how long they were away but when they came back they were probably tired but excited, wanting to tell Jesus what had happened.

Last Wednesday I had six visitors for dinner, four from Ireland and two from here in Bacolod. Father Michael Murphy is a parish priest in the Archdiocese of Tuam in the west of Ireland, Séamas Mac Eachmharcaigh a teacher in a secondary school, Karen Commins and Rachel Tierney students who have just finished their first year at university. The four live in County Mayo. They are form the same diocese and same county as Fr John Blowick, Co-founder of the Columbans. and are here under the auspices of SERVE

Joey Puerta spent some years in Ireland as a lay missionary with the Redemptorists, working in Belfast in Northern Ireland and later in Cork in the south of the Republic of Ireland. Five years ago he came home and married Michelle. They have one child, Jose Antonio.

The four from Ireland are part of a larger group working on two projects with the Presentation Sisters here. The first Presentation Sisters came from Ireland to the Diocese of Bacolod in 1960 at the invitation of the later Fr Michael Doohan, a Columban. They have two schools in what used to be the Columban area in the southern part of the Diocese of Bacolod but that is now the Diocese of Kabankalan. They also run Scala Retreat House here in Bacolod City, owned by the Redemptorists. The Redemptorists came to the Philippines from Ireland in 1906. Later some came from Australia. But most of the Redemptorists and most of the Presentation Sisters are now Filipinos.

Tara Talbot, the current Rose of Tralee, was born in Ireland of an Irish father and Filipino mother and grew up in Australia (SERVE website)

You can find more photos of the group here.

My four Irish visitors have been conducting two three-day retreats for college students who will graduate in March from Binalbagan Catholic College, owned by the Presentation Sisters. Father Mike will stay here for another week for two more retreats, with another three of the Irish group who will fly from Cebu on Sunday morning on the plane that will carry Séamas, Karen and Rachel back to Cebu.

In Cebu the three will continue with the others on the project in Cebu City with the Badjao people with which Presentation Sisters Evelyn Flanagan from Ireland has been very much involved. The SERVE website gives some information about this project here and here.

Though I was aware of the Badjao project I knew nothing about it. When I met Father Mike for the first time last Sunday he told me of the progress he had noticed since he was last here five years ago and of the hope among the people that he hadn't seen before.

As someone from Ireland who gets discouraged at times with what I see happening there, meeting these volunteers, who have raised their own funds with SERVE in all kinds of imaginative ways to come here, I feel a sense of hope.

When I listen to the three young people on the video below I hear part of the reality of the mission of the Church today in a country where most Filipinos can hardly believe that real poverty exists, the USA.

Michael Bialorucki, a college student,  speaks of his first impressions of a place of 'death' with 'things falling apart. Aimee Logsdon, a college freshman, speaks of a beautiful early morning walk with two of her companions, discovering the beauty of God's creation,  knowing that they were there 'to bring Christ to all the people that were in the area' and how she and her two friends 'grew together as sisters - but in that we were doing God's work'.

And God's work for them, as the video shows, involved some hard physical work, as does the Badjao project for the Irish SERVE volunteers.

Michael's reflection on the sadness he witnessed in Kentucky leads him to a simple, direct act of faith in the 'new, beautiful Christ' after his Resurrection. This is at the very heart of our faith. he also talks about hiking up a mountain with a buddy of his and talking about God. Surely the Apostles as they went out in pairs did something similar and 'grew together as brothers', in an experience similar to that of Aimee. And the beautiful spring weather spoke to Michael of the Resurrection, of hope. He speaks of a feeling of anticipation, of something better, just as Father Mike has seen a tremendous change in the life of the Badjao community in Cebu City in five years.

I don't know who interviewed the young Americans but I can imagine Jesus inviting the Twelve to speak to him as they did to the interviewer and to really listen to what they were saying and, in doing so, leading them into a deeper understanding of faith and service.

There are those who would question the idea of 'bringing Christ to others'. But that is what we are meant to do as followers of Jesus. But as we grow older we also see more and more how Christ is present to us in others, especially among those on the margins - and not only with the 'good' people there. When Jesus, in the parable of the Last Judgement, speaks of us visiting him in prison he doesn't distinguish between those unjustly jailed and those who actually committed crimes. He's one with all.

The volunteers in Kentucky discovered that we 'Find God in the Poor', that we 'Find God in Nature' and that each is called to 'Find God in Your Brother and Sister'. These young people spent their spring break from college serving others because of the inspiration of Fr Ralph Beiting, about whom I wrote in my last Sunday Reflections, who continues to draw out the best in young people though he is now 88. I saw that for myself in the four periods in 1969 and 1970 when I worked with him. I know that friends I made then have continued to be strengthened in their faith by what they experienced there, as I continue to be strengthened in mine.

Listening to the young Americans in the video and listening to my new friends from Ireland lifts my heart. And doesn't Jesus, through the priest at the beginning of the Preface of the Mass, tell us very clearly, 'Lift up your hearts'? And can we doubt that when Jesus listened to the Twelve after their mission their hearts were lifted too?

19 July 2012

Columban Fr Michael Sinnott, kidnapped in the Philippines in 2009, retiring to Ireland

Fr Michael Sinnott arriving in Dublin in December 2009 after his release

The website of the Catholic Bishops's Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) carried this story yesterday
MANILA, July 18, 2012— An Irish missionary kidnapped and freed by gunmen in 2009 in Mindanao is leaving the Philippines for good.
Father Michael Sinnott of the Society of St. Columban is leaving for Ireland Friday and will retire there after many years of serving the Catholic Church and various communities in Mindanao.
In a send-off party held at the Malate Church on Tuesday night, Sinnott admitted how difficult it was for him to decide whether to retire in the Philippines or in his native land.
Greeted by President Gloria M. Arroyo the day of his release, 12 November 2009
“It really was a very difficult decision to make. I realized that I’m going home and not going back but I still think I made the right decision that there is really nothing more I can do here in Manila that there’s more I can do at home,” Sinnott said.
“I will live a big part of my heart here in the Philippines and I will always remember the people that I met and helped me,” he said.
At a press conference after being released.
His 58 years as a missionary has given Sinnott a unique window into the heart of a people that have lived through poverty, armed conflicts, and the daily struggles of too little food and too little hope for the future.
When he arrived in Mindanao in the 1950s, he was a young priest only few years out of the seminary.
“After ordination two of us were sent to Rome and we know that time that one of us would be going to Japan and one to the Philippines but we don’t know who…,” he said.
“I was delighted when I got my appointment to the Philippines and I’ve never been sorry ever since,” said Sinnott.
Working in one of the country’s poorest regions was hard, he said but it was all worth it.

In Manila a few days after his release
On October 11, 2009, heavily armed men abducted Sinnott from his house in Pagadian City and was forced to walk into the mountains despite having a serious heart condition.
Al-Qaida-linked Abu Sayyaf militants and insurgents from the larger Moro Islamic Liberation Front have a presence in the vast Zamboanga peninsula.
He was released in a coastal village in Zamboanga City after a month in captivity and without carrying his medication.
Since then, Sinnott was brought to the Columban’s regional house in Manila and was never assigned again in Mindanao.
“For the long time that I’ve been here… it’s been a privileged for me to serve the people of the Philippines and I learned a lot more from them more than I gave, especially from the ordinary people for their goodness and their faith,” he said.
“I also would like to thank the Columbans for their support. We sometimes have an arguments but I have to say that everytime I was in trouble they were always there to help me,” said Sinnott. [RL/CBCPNews]
Misyononline has a dossier on Father Sinnott's kidnapping and release here.

18 July 2012

Homeless persons in 21st century Australia and 4th century Turkey

Perry Keyes is a singer-songwriter from Sydney, Australia. St Gregory of Nyssa lived in the fourth century AD in Cappadocia, Turkey. Tradition Day By Day is a compilation of short daily readings from the Church Fathers by the late Fr John E. Rotelle OSA and published by Augustinian Press in 1994. It used to be online.

I had never heard of Perry Keyes until today and went looking for a video to go with the reading below, that of today in Tradition Day By Day. I remembered a video about a shelter for homeless people named after the Venerable Matt Talbot. I came across the video above. Here are Perry Keyes's own notes on it. 

Since just before the last world war this [Matthew Talbot Hostel] has been a shelter for homeless men in Sydney. It provides over a quarter of a million meals a year and it's beds are used almost 37,000 times a year. One night, after finishing a taxi shift - I sometimes drive a cab -, a couple of drivers were talking about a homeless man that was found outside the major cinema complex on Sydney's main street. He'd lain there, dead, for almost 12 hours before anyone noticed.

The hostel is named after the Venerable Matt Talbot. In his native Ireland he is never referred to as 'Matthew', his baptismal name, but as 'Matt', just as his younger Dublin contemporary Francis Michael Duff, founder of the Legion of Mary, and a Servant of God, is universally known as 'Frank'.

St Gregory of Nyssa could be writing about Sydney, Manila, Dublin, New York City today, the world that Perry Keyes knows and sings about.

Plenty of strangers wander the roads, and everywhere we see their outstretched hands begging for help. Their home is the open air; they shelter in porticos, streets, and deserted corners of the marketplace, lurking in nooks and crannies like owls, and clothed in tattered rags. Their food is whatever they may get from a passerby, and they drink from the fountains with animals, using the hollow of their hands as a cup. Their storeroom is their pockets if these are not too torn to hold anything. For a table they use their knees pressed together; their bed is the pavement, and to bathe they have simply a river or pool which God gives for the use of everyone. Such is the rough, wandering path they follow, not because their life was like that from the start, but because misfortune has driven them to it.

You can help them through your fasting. Be generous to your brothers and sisters who are in trouble, giving to the hungry what you deny yourself, and making a fair distribution in the fear of God.

17 July 2012

O'Lympic Games - Irish style!

There have been some farcical aspects to the preparations for the London Olympic Games, which will run from 27 July till 12 August. Damian Kelly, the Australian media liaison officer recounts in today's London Daily Telegraph - in a good-humoured way - how the bus carrying some of the Australian team from Heathrow Airport to the Olympic Village was not only late, but the driver, a Dubliner like myself, didn't know the way. All this after a 23-hour flight from Sydney via Singapore.

Of a somewhat more serious nature is the failure of G4S, the security company hired for the Olympics, to fulfill its obligations. G4S Chief Buckles Under Pressure is a headline that can be read in more ways than one. The CEO of the company, Nick Buckles, with a salary of £830,000 per year, is to be questioned by members of parliament. Among other things, the company couldn't recruit enough security guards. So members of the army, some on leave from Afghanistan, will fill the gaps.

Mr Buckles won't suffer any pain if he loses his job. He'll walk away with £20 million, part of the £50 million his company is expected to lose in this fiasco.

The stringent security required for international events is a sad necessity of our times. But the obscene salaries and perks of many executives who cause immense harm to the lives of many people through mismanagement is a sign that society has lost its way. Many of the Aussie athletes helped their driver to find directions to the Olympic Village through text messages and what not. But millions of people in Europe, especially in Ireland, have found themselves in financial distress because of bankers who gambled with their money and lost - and walked away with huge bonuses, laughing all the way to another bank.

The words of St Columban on the top of the home page of my blog may have some relevance: 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.

Spike Milligan's zany humour is probably an expression of a sanity that doesn't always exist in the 'real' world. Spike was born in India of an Irish father, an army officer, and an English mother. Though he spent most of his life in England he was an Irish citizen by choice. God rest his soul.

16 July 2012

Fr Ralph Beiting, an outstanding priest

When I was preparing Sunday Reflections for yesterday I had intended to include an article by a Columban seminarian. But, by chance, I came across some videos featuring Fr Ralph Beiting and included one of them. As I listened to him I felt all the idealism that he inspired in me and in many young people when we worked with him in 1969 and 1970 during Easter and summer vacations.

One of my friends who, when she was a college student went with me and some of her friends to Fr Beiting’s parish in Kentucky for Holy Week and Easter Week 1970, found his words on St Francis bringing her in touch with her late mother who had visited Assisi. My friend and her young adult daughter went on a pilgrimage to Assisi last year after finding some souvenirs from there among her mother’s effects. They took that as a sign to go there also – and a legacy from her mother made the trip possible.

Another friend, whom I met in Kentucky in the summer of 1969, responded on Facebook. He said, After watching the video, I am as impressed with his speaking as I was when I first heard him in 1967. I drove for him on numerous speaking tours and never got tired of hearing him talk. His message is always so fundamental. Radical (root). and his style is like crystal. I heard him speak for about 90 minutes once to a Catholic men's group in Utica NY. He had 'em for every minute. He also noted, They say he is still pushing his staff as hard as ever.

That friend, who has spent his life in serving others, remarked that in the video I posted of Fr Beiting preaching on the street he referred to the fact that St Francis died at the age of 44 and that our Kentucky friend hadn't been that age since we had first met him in 1969.

I first went to Lancaster, Kentucky, for Easter Week of 1969 with a group of students at the college near New York City where I was studying at the time. A ‘chance’ encounter with one of them on the way to class when I asked her what she was planning to do for Easter led to my going with her group. I remember doing lots of cleaning up work, getting buildings ready for the summer programmes, which included Bible classes, house-to-house visitation, summer camps where poor children could have a holiday from Monday morning till Friday afternoon, Black and White kids together at a time when there was very little social interaction between the two. Boys would go one week, girls another.

The six weeks I spent in Kentucky in the summer of 1969 is the only extended experience in my life that I would like to re-live, if that were possible. (A glorious winter’s day skiing in January of the same year, my only time to try it, is the only short-term experience I’d love to re-live). The Kentucky experience was one of discovery. I discovered that I had the ability to sit and listen to individuals. That is because a number of the college students I was working with, and one or two older persons, approached me and opened up to me. I had been totally unaware before that of this quality that others saw in me.

Along with that I realised that different persons have different gifts and that when we put them together it serves the whole community and there’s no reason to be envious of one another. Father Beiting had the great gift of being able to get college students – and some hi8gh school students – from many parts of the USA to give up part of their summer in the service of others and to enable them to do so effectively.

Father Beiting was also demanding. In 1969 he would not allow the young men to grow beards – because the people in the area were suspicious of such persons. The following summer he didn’t insist on this particular point. But he insisted that every volunteer attend Mass every day.  Volunteers at the Father BeitingAppalachian Mission Center are still required to do so. 

Despite his age – he’s now 88 - and many infirmities Father Beiting was still preaching on the streets last summer, as he has been doing for most of his 63 years as a priest.

In the video on top Aimee Logsdon, a college freshman working on one of Father Beiting’s projects during the spring break of 2010, says that the reason she and her companions were there was to bring Christ to all the people in the area and how we grew together as sisters. The video invites young people to Find God in the Poor, Find God in Nature, Find God in your Brother and Sister by serving the poor during their short spring break.

One of the things that struck me as a young priest when I went to the USA in 1968 was the reservoir of idealism I found in so many young people. It was the time of the Vietnam War and the USA was a very divided society. But I found this idealism in people on both sides of the issue.

I remember one young man saying to me when we were working together with Fr Beiting in the summer of 1969 that we wouldn’t find the kind of Christian community that we were experiencing there when we went back home – but he knew now that it was possible.

When I watched the young people talking about their spring break experience I felt a joy in my heart. Here were young people, inspired by a then 86-year-old priest to discover God’s presence, to discover the Risen Lord Jesus in serving others, especially those who are poor. 

Volunteers from the Fellowship of Catholic University Students

Mary O'Regan wrote an article recently in the Catholic Herald, an English weekly, Meet 10 of the world's most amazing priests. Many 'amazing' priests - maybe 'amazing' isn't the adjective I'd choose - have touched my life. Certainly, one of the most outstanding is Fr Ralph Beiting. Long may he live!

All photos from Facebook of Father Beiting Appalachian Mission Center, taken by Kaija Jeantet (see comment below).