09 December 2016

Murder of barangay captain in Bonifacio, Misamis Occidental, Philippines

Fr Sean Martin

This story was published in the 20 November 2016 issue of Sunday Examiner, the English-language Catholic weekly of the Diocese of Hong Kong, edited by Australian Columban Fr James Mulroney. Fr Sean Martin, quoted in the story, is a Columban from County Meath, Ireland, who has been in the Philippines for more than 40 years. I have made one or two minor corrections about the location of the incident.

'He was one of our best barangay captains and a great servant of the people,' Father Sean Martin said from his parish in Liloan, Bonifacio, Misamis Occidental, of Jovani Romo, who was shot 14 times by unknown assailants and died on the road just 30 metres from his home in Barangay Kanokano on July 29. [Note: The barangay is the smallest administrative division in the Philippines.]

Romo's is one of the faceless deaths in a Philippines swamped in a frenzied daily attack on the poor being carried out by the state under the guise of a war on drugs. He is one of the victims of the regular round of murders of human rights advocates, journalists and indigenous leaders protecting their land that has been going on for decades, whose murders now struggle to even get reported let alone investigated in the midst of the drug-related frenzy of bloodletting.

The silence surrounding their deaths is chilling, as what is being covered up by the curtain of silence that has been pulled across the steady flow of political murders, together with the rule of fear instigated by the current president, Rodrigo Duterte, becomes more and more difficult to uncover.

'Romo was not involved in drugs,' Father Martin attests, 'but he was deeply involved in protecting the forests of Mount Malindang, a unique and beautiful park, which has already been depleted by some 30 per cent.'

Romo had crossed swords with vested interests in the area through his work with the Department of Energy and Natural Resources aimed at stopping the logging and protecting the wildlife in the area which houses some of the richest varieties of fauna and flora in Asia.

'That is one possibility,' Father Martin told the Sunday Examiner. 'But the reason could have other political overtones, as he was in line to become the chairperson of the Association of Barangay Councils in Bonifacio, as the incumbent has completed three terms and must step down.'

Father Martin said that he cannot unearth any information about the reason for Romo’s death, as the atmosphere of fear is still so prevalent in the area.

'Celebrating the funeral Mass was a profoundly moving event,' the Columban missionary said. 'He was only 34-years-old and had made great improvements in the barangay.'

However, the longtime missionary believes that the motive for the crime, as well as the identity of those who ordered and carried out the  murder will never be known.

'The court system is so weak and so many officials are compromised that the problem will never be solved by relying on them, so we can only try and minimise the killings as best we can,' he lamented.

Mount Malindang [Wikimapia.org]

Father Martin added in an email to me: '[Jovani] did a lot of work and had good projects for the people.  He was encouraging the people to plant flowers.  It would have been successful because the barangay is so high up on [Mount] Malindang and the hills are so steep.

'It took me a good while to adjust to the fact that Jovani had been killed so violently.'  

07 December 2016

‘Go and tell John what you hear and see: . . . the deaf hear . . .' Sunday Reflections, 3rd Sunday of Advent, Year A

St John the Baptist in Prison 
Juan Fernández de Navarrete [Web Gallery of Art]

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

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

When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?’  Jesus answered them, ‘Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offence at me.’
As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John: ‘What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? Someone dressed in soft robes? Look, those who wear soft robes are in royal palaces. What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written,
“See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
    who will prepare your way before you.”
Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.

Responsorial Psalm [Philippines, USA Lectionary]

Father Joseph Coyle was a Columban priest from Derry, Northern Ireland. He died in the Philippines on 18 December 1991, aged 54, and is buried in a Catholic cemetery here in Bacolod City where I live. Father Joe and I weren't related - my Coyle ancestors moved centuries ago from the north-west of Ireland, where the surname originated, to Rush, a fishing village north of Dublin city - but we felt a sense of kinship. He was ordained on 21 December 1961 during my first year in the Columban seminary in Ireland.

Father Joe spent most of his life as a priest in the island of Negros. He gradually became aware of persons with disabilities and of how their needs weren't being met. He was able to obtain artificial limbs for some. But he noticed that there was one group in every community that was almost totally isolated, because they didn't share a common language with those around them, not even with their own families. This group was people who are profoundly deaf.

Fr Joseph Coyle 
(28 February 1937 - 18 December 1991)

More and more Father Joe became involved with deaf people, celebrating Mass in Sign Language in a number of places. In the late 1980s he established Welcome Home in Bacolod City as a residence for out-of-town deaf students so that they could attend special schools here in the city. Special Education has spread now to many towns and that particular need is no longer urgent. But Welcome Home Foundation, Inc., continues with a small number of residents, a school for young children, deaf and hearing, catechetical programmes in public schools with both deaf and hearing catechists, and other activities.

Father Joe's death was devastating initially to the young deaf people with whom he had worked. But his vision was continued and developed by others, most noticeably by Mrs Salvacion V. Tinsay who died in 2008. Her daughter Mrs Agnes T. Jalandoni, President and CEO, along with her board and staff have enabled the work begun by Father Joe to grow and adapt to current needs.

Fr Mike Depcik OSFS is an Oblate of St Francis de Sales, one of very few profoundly deaf priests in the world. He has his own vlog, Fr. MD's Kitchen Table, where, among other things, he posts videos of homilies for Sunday Masses in American Sign Language, such as that above for this Sunday's Mass.

John the Baptist sends his followers to ask Jesus,  Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another? Jesus replies, Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. 

For Catholics who are profoundly deaf priests such as Fr Mike Depcik, deaf from birth, and Fr Joe Coyle, who became aware of the isolation of the profoundly deaf, especially within their own families, are included in the response of Jesus to his cousin St John the Baptist: the deaf hear. The deaf aren't isolated to the same degree as before, though I have known of priests and people who consider a signing interpreter at Mass as a 'distraction'. 

And the ministry of priests such as Fr Depcik and Fr Coyle isn't limited to the deaf. Indeed, part of their ministry, and of those who work with them, whether deaf or hearing, is to bring about the change of heart that is central to Advent, not only a turning away from sin but a recognition of the needs of others that we weren't aware of before. It was through having friends deaf in varying degrees from birth and through knowing Father Joe that I became aware of the isolation of the deaf within the Church and in society at large. The same can be said to some extent of persons with other disabilities. But profound deafness is the only physical disability that of its nature can totally isolate a person from the community.

There will always be some, for whatever reason, on the margins. Pope Francis has on a number of occasions very strikingly shown his respect and love - the respect and love of Jesus himself - for such persons. The gradual inclusion of those who are profoundly deaf in all activities of the Church and of wider society, shown, for example, in the use of signing interpreters at public functions and on television, is one of the signs that Jesus spoke about to assure St John the Baptist that he truly was the one who is to come.

Renato G. Cruz and his wife Anastacia, a profoundly deaf couple, and their five children, all hearing, teach Pope Francis how to say ‘Thank you’ in Sign Language. [16 January 2015]

by Columban Fr Thomas Rouse

It was to the credit of the Columbans that I was accepted as a candidate for priesthood. That was back in 1969 when I was completing Form Seven in high school at St John’s College, Hastings, New Zealand.
I was accepted despite the fact that I was not only deaf but I also suffered a serious speech impediment which was a consequence of my hearing disability. My deafness was more peculiar rather than pronounced. I cannot hear high-pitched sounds. As a result, I cannot hear many of the consonants in my own ‘native’ English language.

Read the rest of Fr Tom Rouse's article and the responses to it of five Deaf Filipinos, Norman, Willy, Eli, Noel and Marinela, here.

Luis Antonio G. Cardinal Tagle, Archbishop of Manila, with Deaf students and staff of Welcome Home Foundation, Carmelite Monastery, Bacolod City, 26 January 2015.

05 December 2016

Prayer Intentions of Pope Francis for December 2016

Cartoon by  Rafaela Tasca and Carlos Latuff  [Wikipedia]

Universal Intention
End to Child-Soldiers: That the scandal of child-soldiers may be eliminated the world over.

Reflection from The Pope's Worldwide Prayer Network (Apostleship of Prayer).

Chartres Cathedral (France)
South Transept Rose Window [Wikipedia]

Evangelization Intention
Europe: That the peoples of Europe may rediscover the beauty, goodness, and truth of the Gospel which gives joy and hope to life. 

Reflection from The Pope's Worldwide Prayer Network (Apostleship of Prayer).

02 December 2016

¡Adios, Manuel!

'Uno, dos, tres'

Andrew Sachs in 2004
7 April 1930 - 23 November 2016 [Wikipedia]

The death of Andrew Sachs was announced today. He had been suffering from dementia for the last four years. He played Manuel, a Spanish waiter from Barcelona, in the twelve episodes of Fawlty Towers, six made in 1975 and six in 1979. 'Manuel' is one of the funniest characters ever to appear on TV and, I would venture, in the whole of literature. He was put-upon by his employer, Basil Fawlty, but everyone was on his side.

The Uno, dos, tres clip above is one of my favourites, as I have a smattering of Spanish. And, as an Irishman, I really enjoyed the episode below involving the 'Orally men', men working for a cheap, corner-cutting Irish builder named O'Reilly, doing some 'repairs' to Fawlty Towers, a small hotel located in Torquay in the south-west of England.

I remember watching the first series of Fawlty Towers with my late Dad in 1976 while at home in Dublin from the Philippines for the first time. That must have been the first of countless re-runs as it came out in 1975.

'Orally men'

¡Adios, Manuel/Andrew! You brought, and continue to bring, joy into the lives of so many people. ¡Adios! - 'To God!' - in the very fullest meaning of that beautiful greeting. May the joy of heaven be yours.

'Manuel' [Wikipedia]

01 December 2016

'Prepare the way of the Lord . . .' Sunday Reflections, 2nd Sunday of Advent, Year A

St John the Baptist, El Greco, c.1600 [Web Gallery of Art]

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

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

In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’  This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said,
‘The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
“Prepare the way of the Lord,
    make his paths straight.”’
Now John wore clothing of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan,  and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.
But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, ‘You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit worthy of repentance. Do not presume to say to yourselves, “We have Abraham as our ancestor”; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the axe is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.
‘I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing-fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing-floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.’

Responsorial Psalm (NAB Lectionary, Philippines, USA)

Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near is the stark message of St John the Baptist. He says of his ministry, I baptize you with water for repentance. The response to the Responsorial Psalm is Justice shall flourish in his time, and fullness of peace for ever.

Repentance, justice and peace go together - with God's mercy. Pope Francis has spoken many times about that. In that context he has also reminded us, especially priests, of the importance of the sacrament of confession/penance/reconciliation.

Jesus speaks to us through his Church this Sunday reminding us of the importance of repenting in order to welcome him into our lives. In Advent we prepare to celebrate his birth and also for his Second coming, whenever that will be. And we also prepare for his daily coming into our lives.

We frequently fail Jesus by our sins. But he doesn't leave us in despair. He doesn't turn his back on us.

In his Wednesday General Audience on 20 November 2013 Pope Francis spoke about the remission of sins. As he often does, he used three points. The first was that the principal agent in the forgiveness of sins is the Holy Spirit. I'll print the rest of his talk and highlight parts of it. I'll also add some (comments).

And we come to the second element: Jesus gave the Apostles the power to forgive sins. It is a little difficult to understand how a man can forgive sins, but Jesus gives this power. The Church is the depository of the power of the keys, of opening or closing to forgivenessGod forgives every man in his sovereign mercy, but he himself willed that those who belong to Christ and to the Church receive forgiveness by means of the ministers of the community(This means that the sacrament of confession is an explicit expression of God's will and that God forgives us through the ministry of the priest.) Through the apostolic ministry the mercy of God reaches me, my faults are forgiven and joy is bestowed on me. (God's mercy and the joy that comes from this, two realities that Pope Francis has spoken about again and again.) In this way Jesus calls us to live out reconciliation in the ecclesial, the community, dimension as well. And this is very beautiful. The Church, who is holy and at the same time in need of penitence, accompanies us on the journey of conversion throughout our life. The Church is not mistress of the power of the keys, but a servant of the ministry of mercy and rejoices every time she can offer this divine gift.

Perhaps many do not understand the ecclesial dimension of forgiveness, because individualism, subjectivism, always dominates, and even we Christians are affected by this. Certainly, God forgives every penitent sinner, personally, but the Christian is tied to Christ, and Christ is united to the Church. For us Christians there is a further gift, there is also a further duty: to pass humbly through the ecclesial community. (Through baptism we are related to Jesus Christ and to one another through the Church. It can never be a matter simply of 'Jesus and I', though he calls each of us into an intimate relationship with him, but never apart from his and our relationship with others.) We have to appreciate it; it is a gift, a cure, a protection as well as the assurance that God has forgiven me. I go to my brother priest and I say: 'Father, I did this...'. And he responds: 'But I forgive you; God forgives you'. At that moment, I am sure that God has forgiven me! 

And this is beautiful, this is having the surety that God forgives us always, he never tires of forgiving usAnd we must never tire of going to ask for forgiveness. You may feel ashamed to tell your sins, but as our mothers and our grandmothers used to say, it is better to be red once than yellow a thousand times. We blush once but then our sins are forgiven and we go forward.

Confession, Giuseppe Maria Crespi, 1712 [Web Gallery of Art]

Lastly, a final point: the priest is the instrument for the forgiveness of sinsGod’s forgiveness is given to us in the Church, it is transmitted to us by means of the ministry of our brother, the priest; and he too is a man, who, like us in need of mercy, truly becomes the instrument of mercy, bestowing on us the boundless love of God the Father. Priests and bishops too have to go to confession: we are all sinners. Even the Pope confesses every 15 days, because the Pope is also a sinner(I often encourage people to go to confession and provide opportunities for them to do so. But it seems that most don't see any need for confession. But on one occasion here in the Philippines when I was asked to celebrate Mass at the end of a recollection day for students in a Catholic girls' high school I made myself available for confession. It became very clear that this was what the girls wanted. We ended up cancelling the Mass so that all could go to confession and having it on another day in the school.) And the confessor hears what I tell him, he counsels me and forgives me, because we are all in need of this forgiveness. Sometimes you hear someone claiming to confess directly to God... Yes, as I said before, God is always listening, but in the Sacrament of Reconciliation he sends a brother to bestow his pardon, the certainty of forgiveness, in the name of the Church. (God sends a brother to assure of us his forgiveness. This is another expression of the reality expressed so beautifully at the beginning of St John's Gospel, 1:14, words that we use when we pray the Angelus: And the Word became flesh and lived among us.)

Pope Francis hearing the confessions of young adults

Pope Francis goes to confession

The service that the priest assumes a ministry, on behalf of God, to forgive sins is very delicate and requires that his heart be at peace, that the priest have peace in his heart; that he not mistreat the faithful, but that he be gentle, benevolent and merciful; that he know how to plant hope in hearts and, above all, that he be aware that the brother or sister who approaches the Sacrament of Reconciliation seeking forgiveness does so just as many people approached Jesus to be healedThe priest who is not of this disposition of mind had better not administer this sacrament until he has addressed it. The penitent faithful have the right, all faithful have the right, to find in priests servants of the forgiveness of God(While Pope Francis doesn't call priests a 'brood of vipers', as St John the Baptist calls some of the Sadducees and Pharisees in today's gospel, he implies that those who are not 'gentle, benevolent and merciful' in the confessional are such.)

Dear brothers, as members of the Church are we conscious of the beauty of this gift that God himself offers us? Do we feel the joy of this cure, of this motherly attention that the Church has for us? Do we know how to appreciate it with simplicity and diligence? Let us not forget that God never tires of forgiving us; through the ministry of priests he holds us close in a new embrace and regenerates us and allows us to rise again and resume the journey. For this is our life: to rise again continuously and to resume our journey.

[This is the form of absolution given by the priest. The highlighted words are essential for the validity of the sacrament.
God, the Father of mercies,
through the death and the resurrection of his Son
has reconciled the world to himself
and sent the Holy Spirit among us
for the forgiveness of sins;
through the ministry of the Church
may God give you pardon and peace,
and I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit

This extract from Handel's Messiah includes part of the quotation from the Prophet Isaiah used by St Matthew when he tells us that it refers to St John the Baptist. Handel uses the Authorized (King James) Version of the Bible, slightly adapting it.

Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God.
Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her,
that her warfare is accomplished,
that her iniquity is pardoned . . .

The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness,
Prepare ye the way of the Lord,
make straight in the desert a highway for our God.

Every valley shall be exalted,
and every mountain and hill [shall be] made low:
and the crooked [shall be made] straight,
and the rough places plain (Isaiah 40:2-4).

24 November 2016

'One will be taken and one will be left.' Sunday Reflections, 1st Sunday of Advent, Year A

Aleppo, Syria [Wikipedia]

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

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

Jesus said to his disciples:  For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark,  and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man.  Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left. Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.  But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into.  Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.

One will be taken and one will be left (Matthew 24:40 and 41).

In February 2000 a friend of mine, Daisy, an engineer who teaches at Xavier University, Cagayan de Oro, was travelling home to Ozamiz City for the weekend. This involved a journey of about three or four hours by road to Mukas, Kolambugan, Lanao del Norte, where the bus then went on board a ferry for the 20-minute trip across Panguil Bay to Ozamiz City. While waiting for the bus to take the next ferry from Mukas Daisy got off and bought some crabs, a favourite with Filipinos.

Because of the crabs Daisy went up on the upper deck of the ferry instead of sitting in the bus. Halfway across the bay there was a huge explosion. 37 passengers on the three buses on board were killed and others injured.

Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left. We could add, Two women will be travelling together in a bus; one will be taken and one will be left.

On Thursday 21 November 2013 Pope Francis met the Filipino community in Rome in St Peter's Basilica. With them, in the light of the recent calamities in the Philippines, a powerful earthquake in October and Super Typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda in November, he asks why these things happen.

Pope Francis doesn't offer any easy answers. He encourages us to ask God 'Why?', like little children, as this will catch the attention of our loving Father.

The ending of the old liturgical year and the beginning of the new both remind us of the importance of being ready whenever the Lord comes. This readiness is essential both for the individual and for the whole Christian community. When Jesus returns will he find that we have built a community where God's justice reigns? At the moment of the death of each of us will be in a right relationship with God? Will we have directed our lives towards him? 

One way to be ready for whatever may come is to go to confession regularly.

Pope Francis with victims of Haiyan/Yolanda
Palo, Leyte, 17 January 2015 [Wikipedia]

The old hymn, O Christ who art the light and day, a translation by R. R. Terry of the original Latin Christe Qui Lux Es Et Dies, in a setting here by English composer William Byrd, is often sung as part of Compline, the Night Prayer of the Church. It is a hymn that recognises the reality of sin but also God's desire to protect us. Though it's not specifically an Advent hymn it recalls the purpose of that blessed season that we are just beginning: to prepare to celebrate the First Coming of Jesus at his birth but also to prepare for his daily coming into our lives and for his Second Coming at the end of time.

Antiphona ad Introitum
Entrance Antiphon   Cf. Psalm 24[25]:1-3

Ad te levávi ánimam meam, Deus meus,
To you, I lift up my soul, O my God.
in te confído, non erubéscam.
In you, I have trusted; let me not be put to shame.
Neque irrídeant me inimíci mei,
Nor let my enemies exult over me;
étenim univérsi qui te exspéctant non confundéntur.
and let none who hope in you be put to shame.