27 August 2016

'But when you give a banquet, invite the poor . . .' Sunday Reflections, 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C

Baptism, Confirmation and First Holy Communion at Holy Family Home for Girls, Bacolod City

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

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

On one occasion when Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the sabbath, they were watching him closely.

When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honor, he told them a parable.  “When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, ‘Give this person your place,’ and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’; then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

He said also to the one who had invited him, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”
Responsorial Psalm (NAB Lectionary, Philippines, USA)

But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed . . . 
Last Sunday I experienced this after Mass at Holy Family Home for Girls (HFH) here in Bacolod City. Kathy wished to share her birthday joy - the day itself was actually the day before - with the girls at Holy Family Home along with her family and co-workers. Most of the more than 30 girls in Holy Family Home have had traumatic experiences in their lives and the majority are from poor families.
Kathy and her husband Hernan have been celebrating their birthdays with the girls at HFH and the Capuchin Tertiary Sisters of the Holy Family who run it for some years now. There are other families who have been doing the same, some in HFH, some in orphanages or homes for the aged in Bacolod City.
And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you . . .
Kathy, whose father died suddenly when she was only three months old, spoke briefly at the end of the programme after the catered lunch but asked Hernan to take over. (The programme included a magician, some games and dances by the girls.) He told us how blessed his whole family was simply by the joy they saw in the faces of the girls. That has been my own experience since I became involved with HFH nearly 14 years ago. That involvement has been one of the greatest blessings of my life, an ongoing one and all the greater because it was something I had never expected when I returned to the Philippines in 2002 after a two-year stint in Britain that was supposed to be a four-year one.
Most of these girls have had experiences that no child or young person should ever have. But in HFH they get the best of truly caring professional help that enables them to feel the healing power of God's love. Much of that healing comes form their interaction with each other and from their shared responsibilities. For example, each cubicle for personal hygiene is used by three girls, who also have to maintain it. And something that touched me when I first began to go to HFH and given the 'grand tour' was to learn that each new girl, whether still a child or already an adolescent, is given a cuddly toy which she keeps on her bed. There are two large dormitories, again maintained by the girls. And they make their bed first thing in the morning, have an early breakfast, gather for prayers and then go off to the local elementary and high schools, both within walking distance.

Columban Fr Michael Sinnott visits HFH

The girls had been praying their hearts out for Fr Sinnott, then 79, after he was kidnapped in October 2009. He came to visit them later. This was their reaction when I told them of his release:

Hernan reminded us in his 'few words' of Jesus and children: Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs (Matthew 19:14).

The First Reading and the Gospel remind me of a line in the Handbook of the Legion of MaryAlways will the legionary bear in mind that he is visiting not as a superior to an inferior, not as one equal to another, but as an inferior to his superior, as the servant to the Lord. This is the opposite of what I have heard many well-meaning people say: We must go down to the level of the poor (or whoever). Jesus identifies himself with the 'outsider', with the 'other', whoever the 'other' may be. And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me' (Matthew 25:40)

Children's Games, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, 1559-60
Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna [Web Gallery of Art]

'Alleluia' by Ronald Raz
Quezon City, Philippines

19 August 2016

'Then people will come from east and west . . .' Sunday Reflections, 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C

Crowning during a Syro-Malabar Catholic wedding [Wikipedia]

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

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

Jesus went through one town and village after another, teaching as he made his way to Jerusalem. Someone asked him, “Lord, will only a few be saved?” He said to them, “Strive to enter through the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able. When once the owner of the house has got up and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, open to us,’ then in reply he will say to you, ‘I do not know where you come from.’  Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.’  But he will say, ‘I do not know where you come from; go away from me, all you evildoers!’  There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves thrown out.  Then people will come from east and west, from north and south, and will eat in the kingdom of God.  Indeed, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.”

Responsorial Psalm (NAB Lectionary, Philippines, USA)

Three years ago when I was at home in Dublin a friend of mine from the Philippines, Marifel, who was a parishioner of mine in Tangub City, Mindanao, when she was a child and now works as a receptionist for a community of Dominican Sisters near Dublin, invited me for a meal in a hotel. When the waitress came along I asked her if she was from Poland or Lithuania or 'one of those countries. 'One of those countries', she replied with a smile, 'Latvia.' She took our orders but the food was brought by an Indian waiter. Later on an Irish waiter looked after us.

St Andrew's Church, Westland Row, Dublin [Wikipedia]

A week later I found myself in St Andrew's Church, Westland Row, beside one of Dublin's main railway stations. While I was praying there a grandfather and his grandson aged about three came in. The grandfather was wearing bright summer clothes - unlike grandparents when I was young who seemed to be always dressed in dark clothes - and genuflected before kneeling in the pew. After a while the little boy asked him some questions. His grandfather pointed at the altar and also at some of the Stations of the Cross as he explained things to the youngster. They then left.

St Brigid's Church, Blanchardstown, Archdiocese of Dublin

On one Sunday a month in St Brigid's Church, Blanchardstown, in the Archdiocese of Dublin and the parish I go home to when I visit Ireland, has Mass for the Syro-Malabar Catholic community in Dublin. Many of these are nurses from Kerala, India, working in Irish hospitals. St Brigid's Parish also has a Filipino choir that sings at one of the Masses on the last Sunday of the month, except during the summer.

Then people will come from east and west, from north and south, and will eat in the kingdom of God, Jesus tells us in the Gospel this Sunday. Thirty years ago churches in Ireland were still full at Sunday Masses, with young and old, and almost everyone Irish. Today there are fewer priests,  fewer Sunday Masses and fewer people attending them, most of them old. A large proportion of Sunday congregations are from places such as India, Nigeria, Poland, the Philippines. Mass servers - and there aren't too many of these anymore - are likely to be either immigrants or the Irish-born children of immigrants.

The above are snapshots of contemporary Ireland, as different from the Ireland of my childhood as are the mobile phones that everyone has from the box cameras that a few had and the telephones  that even fewer had in my time. 

But we had something precious that has been largely lost - our Catholic faith. There are various reasons for the rejection of the Church by many and the outright rejection of the Christian faith by some. But this can remind us that our faith is pure gift from God, a gift that can be shared and that was generously shared, even to the point of giving up life itself, by the countless missionaries who went overseas, or it can be lost, not only by individuals bu by whole communities.

The gift of faith can be lost by taking it for granted, by apathy, by not taking it seriously, by not passing it on. Jesus in the Gospel is telling his fellow Jews - and we must never forget that he is and will be for all eternity a Jew, just like Mary - that many of them are in danger of losing the precious gift of the faith, the faith they inherited from Abraham, our father in faith (Eucharistic Prayer I - Roman Canon) Isaac and Jacob, and that others will accept that same gift with gratitude.

Antonio Luis Cardinal Tagle, Archbishop of Manila [Wikipedia]

In 2003, at a gathering of priests in Antipolo City, near Manila, sponsored by Worldwide Marriage Encounter, then Bishop Luis Antonio G. Tagle, now Cardinal-Archbishop of Manila, spoke about a then recent survey on the values of young Filipinos. What he projected could happen within twenty years in terms of the loss of the Catholic faith in the Philippines was what had been happening in Ireland over the previous twenty years.

I was heartened by the sight of the grandfather passing on our Catholic Christian faith to his young grandson by his example and his readiness to answer the boy's questions. I am heartened by the living faith of so many immigrants to Ireland.

My hope is that the Catholic faith will continues to be passed on in Ireland and elsewhere by grandfathers - and grandmothers and parents - like the one I saw in St Andrew's Church. My hope is that the Catholic faith will be renewed in Ireland and elsewhere by the example and fervour of immigrants from Asia, Africa and Eastern Europe, by people from east and west, from north and south and that together we will all will eat in the kingdom of God, not only in heaven but here and now as brothers and sisters working together to build a world where the values  of the Gospel prevail, a world where everyone will have heard the Gospel of Jesus proclaimed to them, especially by the lives we lead. 

My hope is that the nurses from Kerala, who trace their Catholic faith back to St Thomas the Apostle, the waiters, caregivers and nurses from the Philippines, whose faith embodies a tender love of Mary the Mother of God as our Mother, will help the Irish to re-discover the greatness of the gift that their ancestors received more than 1,500 years ago from a great missionary who first arrived in Ireland at the age of 16 as a kidnapped slave, St Patrick.

My fear is that there will not be enough grandfathers - and grandmothers and parents - who will know and value the gift of faith enough to pass it on and that the youngsters, children of immigrants to Ireland and elsewhere in the Western world, will succumb to the values of their contemporaries and reject the most precious gift that God has given us - our Catholic Christian faith, an invitation to share in the love of God for all eternity.

Though the video was made for the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord it invites us to reflect on our faith, received through baptism, as pure gift from God, something we should do constantly.


O God, who cause the minds of the faithful 
to unite in a single purpose, 
grant your people to love what you command 
and to desire what you promise, 
that, amid the uncertainties of this world, 
our hearts may be fixed on that place where true gladness is found.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, 
who lives and reigns with you 
in the unity of the Holy Spirit, 
one God, for ever and ever.

17 August 2016

Columban Fr Daniel Fitzgerald dies at the age of 100

Fr Daniel Patrick Fitzgerald
(28 June 1916 - 9 August 2016)

Father Dan celebrated his 100th birthday on 28 June, a celebration in which he delighted, and died peacefully exactly six weeks later.

With Fr Patrick Raleigh and Columban Sisters after Mass on his 100th birthday

Fr Patrick Raleigh, Regional Director of the Columbans in Ireland, wrote about the celebration. Here are some extracts.

Fr Dan was born in the city of Cork on 28 June 1916. He grew up with the beginnings of the Society of St Columban. His great hero was Bishop Edward Galvin, Co-founder of the Society. Fr Dan was educated by the Christian Brothers at Sullivan’s Quay in Cork and entered the old Dalgan Park in Shrule, on the Galway - Mayo border in 1933. He was ordained there in December 1939.

Images of Cork city shortly before Fr Fitzgerald was born

When he was asked about the influences that drew him to the priesthood he spontaneously pointed to the influence of his parents who were daily Mass goers. The family Rosary was said each night in the house. Time and again he has expressed his deep gratitude to his parents for all that they did for him. Here in the Nursing Home in Dalgan Park the words 'thank you' are always on his lips. He is very much appreciated by all the staff in the Nursing Home. They left no stone unturned in making sure that everything would go well for the day. They put a huge effort into decorating the place beforehand.

Early years as a Columban

His first appointment was to the Philippines in 1940 but because of World War II he never got there. In the early 1940s he served as chaplain to the Maria Reparatrix Sisters in Cork. At this time he took up golf, a sport in which he became quite proficient. He has said on many occasions that to keep his mind off exile and not knowing the day or the hour he would be called he would hit golf balls in the golf course in Douglas in Cork.

Where Father Dan played golf [Source: Douglas Golf Club website]


In 1946 he set sail for China with five Columban priests and five Columban Sisters. Sr Damien Rooney, Columban Sister and now living in the Columban Sisters Home in Magheramore, County Wicklow, was one of those. It was indeed very symbolic that she was able to attend the Ceremony in Dalgan. While Father Dan was the centre of attention, Sr Damien made a great impression on those who attended. She is now in her 96th year. In a strong and very clear voice and without a microphone she read out the special message that she had prepared for Fr Dan. I’m very happy to be here today to celebrate the 100th birthday of Fr Dan. Fr Dan has been a life-long friend since we first met in Hanyang, China in 1946. That was a very difficult time in China; a time of great destruction during the communist regime. Through it all Fr Dan was always calm – a source of strength and consolation for all of us. For all my life Fr Dan’s friendship and his faithful life as a Columban missionary, has kept me going. We are both a little advanced in age now, but we are still on the way. We are both on the road with Jesus as our constant companion, and who could have a better companion than Jesus !

A young Fr Edward Galvin in China, 1912-1916

During his six years in China the political situation was quite chaotic. Nevertheless, for Fr Dan it was a great privilege to work in the diocese with his great hero and friend, Bishop Edward Galvin whom to this day he has held in such high esteem. His first impressions of China were of the heat and mosquitoes. The Diocese of Hanyang was roughly the size of Munster. Only one per cent of the population were Catholics.

Bishop Edward Galvin and Fr Dan Fitzgerald were forced to leave China in 1952

In 1952 he left China but he left it with a great love for the Chinese people which continues to this day. He says that they were like a sheep without a shepherd. It was indeed very fitting that Dan received a number of emails from China including emails from Columbans there.

After China

After his years in China Father Dan worked in Australia where he spent seven years. There was a lovely email from Fr Pat Baker in the Philippines to Fr Dan thanking him for all the help and encouragement he gave him as his Spiritual Director in Turramurra back in the late ‘50s and ‘60s. Fr Pat said that Fr Dan was an inspiration to the students and he was delighted to have the opportunity to thank him. Fr Dan also worked on Promotion in Australia with the late Frs Gerry O’Collins and Pat Hennessy. In his email Fr Pat refers to them as the 'Dream Team'. Wonderful stories circulated about Fr Dan’s experiences in some of the parishes he visited, especially his feats on the golf course.


St Mary of the Rosary Church, Nenagh [Source: Parish website]

After his time in Australia, he was assigned to Scotland from ’73 to ’81.When he returned to Ireland he worked in many different places including being Chaplain for eight years at the Care Home run by the Bon Sauveur Sisters in Carriglea, Dungarvan, County Waterford. When most people would have considered retiring Dan in his seventies set out on a new Mission to the Diocese of Killaloe. He spent a short time in Sixmilebridge, County Clare before moving on to Nenagh. 

He immersed himself wholeheartedly in the life of Nenagh and its people. Over the years in Nenagh Dan spent many hours every day praying in St Mary of the Rosary Church. As the people of Nenagh dropped in to the Church to say a prayer Fr Dan could be seen praying before Our Lady’s Altar. He built up many very genuine and strong rapport with everyone with a special attachment to Hospital visitation. During his time in Nenagh he visited the Hospital every night. Almost every family in Nenagh and in North Tipperary has some story to tell about meeting Fr Dan and his kindness to them. His nightly visits to the Hospital were eagerly looked forward to by not only the patients of all creeds but also by their families and the staff in the Hospital. His words of encouragement were always very much appreciated. 

His daily Communion rounds to the sick are legendary. Fr Dan has often said that the people of Nenagh are a very decent people. When in Nenagh he spent many hours in the Confessional. During his time there he brought something very special to the people.. When the time came for him to return to Dalgan Park to the Nursing Home the people made every effort to keep him there and had organised a rota of nurses to look after his medical needs. As Columbans we owe a huge debt of gratitude to so many people in Nenagh, too numerous to mention. He continues to receive visitors from there on a weekly basis.

A visit from Archbishop Kieran O'Reilly SMA of Cashel and Emly, previously Bishop of Killaloe

His endearing presence

Since his return to Dalgan he has endeared himself to so many. We owe a huge debt of gratitude to the very caring staff in the Nursing Home here in Dalgan for the very special way that they minister to his needs.

After the celebration of the Eucharist people were very anxious to gather around him to greet him and have their photo taken with him. He certainly rose to the occasion and was very effusive in his words of gratitude. Everybody enjoyed an excellent meal after Mass in the College dining room. 

St Columban's, Dalgan Park

Columban Fr Sean McDonagh, from Nenagh, spoke in his homily at the 100th birthday celebration of how Fr Fitzgerald had served the people of the parish of St Mary of the Rosary.

His daily communion rounds were legendary. He brought my own mother communion every day for the last six-and-a-half years of her life when she was housebound.

During his 23 years of service, Fr Dan visited the hospital every night. Almost every family in North Tipperary has some story to tell about meeting Fr Dan on nightly rounds. I remember my own mother being rushed into Nenagh hospital. I received a call to come home as they thought my mother was dying. When I reached the hospital it seemed that she was dying. It was only after Fr Dan’s visit that I wondered whether her potassium levels had fallen. In fact, her potassium levels had fallen. The procedure to address that helped save her life.
Not alone the patients, but all the hospital staff valued Fr Dan’s contribution to healing in the hospital. In an email to Fr Donal Hogan (who at the time was the Columban Regional Director) in March 2012, Fr Pat Malone, the parish priest of Nenagh, wrote: 'Fr Dan is deeply loved, highly respected and greatly valued by the whole community.' He wrote that 21 nurses were willing to organise a rota to look after Fr Dan’s medical needs.
Fr Dan also spent many hours in the confessional serving the needs of people. His pastoral presence at the Christian Brothers School was deeply appreciated by both the staff and the students.
Fr Pat Raleigh concluded his article about Father Dan's 100th birthday celebration with these words: The occasion would not have been complete without the singing of the The Banks and with great gusto everybody joined in the singing.

(‘The Banks of My Own Lovely Lee’, usually referred to colloquially as ‘De Banks’, is the anthem of Cork people, especially those from the city. It was sung again after the lunch that followed the funeral Mass and burial of Father Dan on 12 August.)

Father Dan died in the evening of 9 August. That afternoon he prayed the Rosary for the last time. In his homily at the Mass on Father Dan's 100th birthday and at the funeral Mass Fr Sean McDonagh spoke of the great devotion of this holy priest to our Blessed Mother. As the people of Nenagh know very well – any time you would visit the Church to say a prayer, Fr Dan could be seen praying right before Our Lady’s Altar . . . I   wondered   whether there was anything akin to a   Guinness   Book   of Records in Heaven. If there is Fr Dan would certainly be close to winning the prize for the person who has said the most rosaries in his life.

Nenagh is in County Tipperary, as is Clonmel, where the late Irish tenor Frank Patterson was from. In this video he is singing this hymn to our Blessed Mother, not as a performer but as the man of faith he was.

know very well any time you would visit the Church to say a prayer, Fr. Dan
could be seen praying right before Our Lady’s Altar.

Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam uasal. May his noble soul be at the right hand of God.

Thanks to Frs Cyril Lovett, Patrick Raleigh and Sean McDonagh.

16 August 2016

San Roque, intercede for the poor and despised 'suspects' of the Philippines!

San Roque's tomb, Venice [Wikipedia]

Today, 16 August, is the feast of San Roque in the Philippines where there is great devotion to him. He was a French layman born around 1348 and who died 16/17 August 1376/79. (Some date his life from c.1295 – 16 August 1327). He is invoked against the plague. He is known in France as St Roch, in Italy as San Rocco and in Spain, Portugal and the Philippines as San Roque. He is no so well known in the English-speaking world and in English is referred to as St Rock.

According to Wikipedia: Ministering at Piacenza he himself finally fell ill. He was expelled from the town; and withdrew into the forest, where he made himself a hut of boughs and leaves, which was miraculously supplied with water by a spring that arose in the place; he would have perished had not a dog belonging to a nobleman named Gothard Palastrelli supplied him with bread and licked his wounds, healing them. Count Gothard, following his hunting dog that carried the bread, discovered  Saint Roch and became his acolyte.

Among other things, he is a patron saint of persons falsely accused because when he arrived back in his native Montpellier, France, after a pilgrimage to Rome during which he took care of strangers he met on the way who were suffering from the plague, he was arrested as a spy and put in jail by his uncle who didn’t recognize him. He died in jail after five years and it was only then that the people recognized who he was.

San Roque Cathedral, Caloocan, Philippines [Wikipedia]

As of 15 August, yesterday, the Philippine Daily Inquirer notes in its Kill List that since 30 June, when the current president took his oath of office, 646 have been killed. Since his election on 10 May, 693 deaths have been listed by the Inquirer. Most of these are vigilante murders against ‘suspects’ connected with illegal drugs. Others have been of persons in police custody killed while ‘trying to escape’ and such things. Many are unidentified.

All of these people were poor and not a single one was brought to court. Politicians  and other prominent persons who have ‘surrendered’ have been treated with kid gloves, one even staying for a few days at the official residence of the Chief of Police, a crony of the President who served under the latter as Police Chief in Davao City while the current President was Mayor/Dictator there, a city where there are more than 1,400 unsolved murders. This allegedly peaceful city has, according to the Philippine National Police, one of the worst crime records in the country.

But the escalation of killings is not going unnoticed in the Philippines itself nor in the international media, for example, here.

May San Roque, unjustly jailed, and venerated as a healer, intercede for the poor of the Philippines, so many of whom have been brutally murdered, their bodies left in gutters, under the brutal regime now in power.

Statue of San Roque, Prague [Wikipedia]