29 June 2008

90th Anniversary of the Columbans

Today, 18 June 2008, the Solemnity of Sts Peter and Paul, is the 90th anniversary of the approval by Pope Benedict XV in 1918 of the Missionary Society of St Columban.

A previous founding date is 10 October 1916 when the Irish bishops gave their approval for a mission to China sponsored by the Irish Church. The name given to this was The Maynooth Mission to China, a name by which many in Ireland still know it.

One of the two co-founders was Fr Edward Galvin , born on the feast of St Columban, 23 November, 1882. He proposed St Columban as our patron because of his great admiration for him as an Irish missionary.

Father Galvin had spent some time in China with other Irish diocesan priests and it was from their experience that the idea of an Irish mission to China emerged. Father Galvin had gone to China with a Canadian priest, Fr John Fraser, who subsequently founded the Scarboro Foreign Missionary Society in Canada.

The same Father Fraser inspired our other co-founder Fr John Blowick, born in 1882, through a talk he gave in St Patrick's National Seminary, Maynooth, Ireland, where Father Blowick was a young professor. Both he and Father Galvin had studied there.

The initial idea of the Maynooth Mission to China was one of Irish diocesan priests going to China with the support of the people at home. However, the idea quickly spread to the Irish diaspora in the USA, Australia, New Zealand, Britain, and, for a short while, Argentina, and so the international Missionary Society of St Columban came into being.

From the earliest days there were members who had no Irish family connections. Over the years around 70 percent of the members were Irish, around 15 percent from the USA and 15 percent from Australia and New Zealand, with a few from Britain.

In 1982 a decision was made to invited young men in the countries where we work to become members. Now we have Columban priests from the Philippines, Korea, Fiji, Chile and Peru. We also have diocesan priests from Myanmar, Korea, Peru and the Philippines in our Associate Priests Programme. We have had diocesan priests from Ireland, England, Scotland and Australia in the programme since the 1950s, mainly in Chile and Peru.

We were founded by two diocesan priests and we are a society of apostolic life. We are not religious. We don't live in community and we don't take a vow of poverty. But we have always had a strong sense of community, essential in the face of war and persecution through most of our history.

We also have a growing number of lay missionaries. We have had some since the 1960 or 1970s, though in those days by arrangement with individual Columbans. Since 1990 the Society itself took responsibility for lay missionaries and there are currently 60 members of Columban Lay Mission.

Please pray that through the intercession of St Columban we will be greatly blessed by God in the years ahead, along with the people we serve.

24 June 2008

Dublin's Eucharistic Congresses, 1932 and 2012

Benediction at O'Connell Bridge, Dublin
Eucharistic Congress, June 1932

There were two public events that were memorable in my father’s life. The first was the Eucharistic Congress in Dublin, where both my parents were born, in June 1932 and the second was being in Wembley Stadium in 1948 to see Manchester United, captained by Dubliner Jackie Carey, defeat Blackpool in the FA Cup. No doubt he would have been happy that soon after Manchester United won the European Cup, the Holy Father announced that the next International Eucharistic Congress would be held in Dublin in 2012.

Dad was 19 in 1932. He reluctantly agreed that Pope John Paul’s visit to Dublin in 1979 was on a par with the Congress. Indeed, Mass was celebrated on both occasions in the Phoenix Park, near where my parents and I grew up.

I came across a most interesting article about the 1932 Congress in the Multitext Project in Irish History of University College, Cork (UCC). It assesses the importance of this in the early years of the Irish Free State which had come into being just ten years before, followed by a bitter civil war. Yet ten years later a new government was elected. Both the outgoing government of William Cosgrave and the incoming government of Eamon de Valera were involved in the planning of the congress. It was seen as helping to heal some of the wounds of the civil war.
At the time the population of the Irish Free State was between 90 and 95 percent Catholic. Most of the remainder were Protestants, mostly Church of Ireland. We call them Anglicans now but the C of E families who were my neighbours always described themselves as ‘Protestants’. One of them, the late Charlie Brooks, went for the priest in the middle of the night when a Catholic neighbor was dying, We had no phones where I grew up.
The UCC article has a description of the closing Mass from The Irish Times, which would have been considered the ‘Protestant’ and pro-British paper at the time. The reporter was very likely a Protestant. But he captured something of the essence of the Holy Mass in his report.

Looking out over a sea of bowed heads at one of the massive Pontifical Mass in the Phoenix Park, The Irish Times described the scene in the following terms:
“…the audition was marvellous, whether it was of the full tones of the Cardinal Legate as he spoke the Mass, the tuneful antiphon of the choir, the sharp clamour of the trumpets as they paid homage at the elevation of the Host, or the beautiful voice of John McCormack that came clear and bell like, borne without a tremor over the whole silent space, midway through the Service. It was at that moment of the Elevation of the Host, the supreme point in Catholic ritual, that one fully realised the common mind that swallowed up all individuality in the immense throng. Flung together in their hundreds of thousands, like the sands on the seashore, these people were merely parts of a great organism which was performing a great act of faith, with no more ego in them than the sands themselves.”

This report brings to mind the ‘acclamation’ we had after the Consecration in the old days – a communal cough that released the great sense of awe and worship that the people had at the Consecration at Sunday Mass. When I look back I recall it as being a far greater expression of faith than the often perfunctory ‘Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again’, though I am blessed to know many people of faith who have grown up with the new Mass.

Maisie Ward, in her biography of G K Chesterton, has a delightful story that Chesterton loved to tell about the 1932 Congress. The weather was perfect for the whole week but looked as if it might break on the last day. Chesterton met a Dublin 'shawlie' - poor women used to wear shawls, some right up to the 1960s - who said to him, 'If it rains, He'll have brought it on Himself!'
The International Eucharistic Congress has just finished in Quebec City. Quebec was very similar to the Irish Republic forty years ago, with a vibrant Catholic faith permeating society. But in the 1970s there was a huge falling away from the faith in Quebec, as there has been in Ireland over a longer period. I do not know what long-term impact the Congress will have on Quebec or the 2012 Congress on the faith in Ireland.

In May, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin appointed a Vicar for Evangelization and has invited all 200 Dublin parishes to join in a common programme of missionary outreach and evangelization for the year 2009. May there be a renewal of faith in these coming years.

The Resilience of the Filipino

A Philippine Coast Guard photo of 'Princess of the Stars' that sank last Sunday during Typhoon Fengshen (Frank) wiht the almost certain loss of more than 700 lives.

The Resilience of the Filipino

Last Friday morning I went by fast craft from Bacolod City to Iloilo City. Bacolod is on the northwest coast of Negros while Iloilo is on the east coast of Panay, an island with four provinces, whereas Negros has two. The sea was calm and the one-hour journey pleasant. I knew that there was a storm forecast to hit Samar, the easternmost island in the Visayas, the group of large islands in the centre of the Philippines. Samar gets hit by many of the 20 or so weather systems that hit the country during the rainy season, usually between June and November or December. Some develop into typhoons.

Fengshen, known in the Philippines as ‘Frank’, turned into a typhoon and instead of heading north turned west and brought winds and rain to Negros and Panay, causing widespread flooding in part of Iloilo City and Province as well as in other places. We had no electricity from Saturday morning in Iloilo City and as of this morning power hadn’t been restored there, according to one of my friends who tested me. He also told me that the water system will be out of order for about a month, something I heard on the radio this afternoon, where ‘about three weeks’ was the projection.

‘Frank’ headed north and hit Manila and northern Luzon. Along the way it caused ‘Princess of the Stars’, a passenger ship with more than 800 on board, to sink very quickly. Why the ship was allowed to sail from Manila on a 22-hour journey south to Cebu is something nobody is prepared to take the blame for. It is the fourth disaster for Sulpicio Lines since 1987, when more than 4,000 sank on 20 December in a vessel that wasn’t supposed to have more than around 1,900 on board. Nobody in the company or in the Philippine Coast Guard has ever been punished for that – the worst peacetime maritime disaster in history.

I went to Iloilo to be part of a Worldwide Marriage Encounter team, which consists of three couples and a priest. Four couples started the weekend, though there should be at least five. But we went ahead.

Next morning two of our team couples and one of the participating couples learned that their houses were flooded. One team husband, Toto Perez, went home while his wife Inday stayed behind, though she wnet home the following morning. In the afternoon one of the participating couples went home to bring their daughter to St Clement’s Retreat House, where we were staying and which was very safe. But it just got too difficult for them to come back, though they had left their things at the retreat house.

Ed and Febs Brasileño, the other team couple whose house was flooded, stayed and their family was able to get to the retreat house on Sunday afternoon.

Despite all the obstacles, the Weekend went ahead and those taking part in it were truly graced by God. I was truly inspired by the dedication of the team couples.

The Ecclesial Team Couple in the Archdiocese of Jaro, located in Iloilo City, Nonoy and Del Tarrosa, were taking care of Del’s father in hospital. It too flooded rather rapidly and everyone on the ground floor (first floor), including Del’s father, had to be moved to the first floor (second floor in American and Philippine English). Yet they both managed to visit the retreat house a number of times to make sure that everything was going well.

The capacity of Filipinos to cope with adversity never ceases to amaze me. The Philippines is more prone to natural calamities than any other country. Yet people pick up the pieces, often after a good cry, and start all over. One of the reasons why they can do so is that they believe that God is with them.

Please pray for all who have suffered, those who lost loved ones, farmers who lost their crops, especially rice at a time when it is scarce, and for the souls of those who died. Pray too for a change of heart in those ultimately responsible for the shipping disaster, which should never have happened.

19 June 2008

Rise in Under-age Abortions in England and Wales

The British press today reports on the rise in abortions among under-age girls in England and Wales. I've taken this report from The Daily Telegraph.

Record numbers of abortions in under-age girls.
By Rebecca Smith, Medical Editor

The number of under age girls having abortions has risen by 10 per cent in one year, official figures have revealed. In total there were 205,600 abortions carried out in England and Wales in 2007 a 2.2 per cent rise on the previous year.

Of those 4,376 were carried out on girls too young to legally have sex.
Women aged 19 were the most likely to have an abortion in 2007 with 36 procedures carried out for every 1,000 19-year-olds.

Full story.

The report includes the following

'Health Minister Dawn Primarolo said: "Our priority is to reduce the time women have to wait for an abortion at what is already a very difficult time for them. These statistics show that we have made considerable progress in this, with over two-thirds of women having their abortion at under ten weeks in 2007, up from half in 2002.'

Clearly, Minister Primarolo had different science teachers from those who taught the members of the Ecuadorian Federation of Societies of Gynecology and Obstetrics (FESGO).(See previous post).

Strong Pro-life Statement from Doctors in Ecuador

I came across this on Fr Tim Finigan's blog but the source is a report by Matthew Cullinan Hoffman of LifeSiteNews.com.

Here is the full text, translated from the original Spanish by Matthew Hoffman, of the statement by the Ecuadorian Federation of Societies of Gynecology and Obstetrics, Federación Ecuatoriana de Sociedades de Ginecología y Obstetricia (FESGO). It can be found, with the original Spanish text, here. I have highlighted some parts of it.

The 15 Conclusions of the Workshop on the Prevention of Abortion

Ecuadorian Federation of Societies of Gynecology and Obstetrics (FESGO) April 17, 2008

Enrique Sotomayor Hospital, Guyaquil, Ecuador

Translated by Matthew Hoffman

1. The members of the Ecuadorian Federation of Societies of Gynecology and Obstetrics (FESGO) are not in agreement with any form of induced abortion; life is inviolable from the moment of conception. The elimination of an innocent human being is always unacceptable, ethically and medically speaking.

2. We are against induced abortion because it is not only an illegal act, but a criminal one, as is established in the Ecuadorian Penal Code in Chapter VI entitled "Crimes Against Life", articles 441 through 446. Under no circumstances should abortion be decriminalized in Ecuador. To the contrary, policies and strategies must be established to strengthen moral values and defend the basic principles of universal bioethics pronounced by FESGO.

3. Science teaches that human life begins at conception. If it is also true that it is affirmed by religion, it does not for that reason cease to be a strictly scientific truth, to be transformed into a religious opinion. He who denies that human life begins with conception does not need to contend with religion, but science. To deny this certainty of biology is not to express a lack of faith, but a lack of basic knowledge of human genetics, something that is even known by the general public.

4. From the moment that the ovum is fertilized, a new life is begun that is not part of the father, nor of the mother, but rather a new human being that develops autonomously. Further, something so important is at stake that, from the point of view of moral obligation, the mere probability of the existence of a person is sufficient to justify the absolute prohibition of any intervention made for the purpose of eliminating a human embryo. Human beings must be respected and treated as persons from the instant of their conception and, for that reason, from that same moment the rights of the person must be respected, principally the inviolable right to life of every innocent human being. Human life must be respected from its conception, without exceptions.

To affirm that the woman can do with her body whatever she wishes, besides being a conceited claim, has absolutely no basis in science: the embryo is not part of the body of the mother, nor is the fetus an internal organ of her body: the DNA of the embryo is distinct from that of its parents.

5. Human life must be respected from the instant of conception, during all of the stages through which the human person passes, until its natural death, no matter what name is given to the new human person: zygote, morula, blastocyst, embryo, fetus, neonate, infant, adolescent, adult, elderly, terminally ill...all are only names for the same, unique human person in the distinct stages of development through which he is passing.

6. The inviolable ethical principle, universally valid (in time and in space), according to which "the ends do not justify the means", is also valid in medicine, even when serious problems arise, be they surgical, economic/social, familial, or generally human ones. It is not possible to prevent so-called "unsafe abortion" by promoting "safe abortion". Causing abortions in order to avoid abortions is as contradictory as combating death by causing death, or eliminating illness by killing those who are ill. Let us never forget that the doctor who is faced with a pregnant woman is in the presence of two patients.

7. Because doctors are also human, there are moments in medical practice in which health professionals might not know how to resolve the problems of a particular pregnancy, but we do know what not to do: to directly kill the child, making ourselves the owners and lords of life and death. Physicians are agents of life and not ambassadors of death.

8. The most effective strategy for preventing and avoiding abortion is moral and ethical education, above all among adolescents and young people, and support for women. Particularly, this instruction must be imparted in classes related to the value of life, sexuality, love, marriage, and family. It is not sufficient to give biological, physiological, and anatomical information regarding the human body, if instruction is not also given in values, in such a way that new generations adopt a responsible, orderly, and proper attitude to sexuality and procreative functions.

9. To prevent and avoid all types of abortion, with its terrible physical, psychological, and moral consequences, as well as those relating to conscience, it is essential that the pregnant woman does not feel alone, but rather that she feels supported with regard to the new life that lives within her. This support should come from the father of the child, her family, her social and work environments, religious institutions, and health professionals. Abortion is often a problem of isolation and, what is worse, of harmful influences.

10. Let us not forget that the second victim of the crime of abortion is the mother who obtains the abortion. Modern psychiatry and psychology have created the term Post-Abortion Syndrome. It is important to understand that it is easier for a woman to remove her child from her womb than from her mind and her heart.

11. Regarding abortion in cases of rape, the rapist should be punished, not the innocent child, fruit of the criminal act. If the woman who is raped obtains an abortion, in the first place, she causes irreparable damage to herself, because she is deprived of the best "psychological treatment" available to her, which is to live out her maternal instinct, caring for her child with love. It may be said that the psychological well-being of a woman who has been raped is being carried in her own womb. In the second place, if she has an abortion, not only will she not be freed from the trauma caused by the rape (it is one thing to eliminate the fruit of the rape and another to eliminate the trauma of the rape) but instead a new and more devastating trauma is created, that of having killed her own child. Adoption by a third party is a humanitarian strategy of unquestionable value.

12. Sometimes, doctors find themselves in a conflict between the life of the mother and the life of her child. In such situations the expression "therapeutic abortion" has been devised to refer to the interruption of the life of the child to save the life of the mother. However, the phrase "therapeutic abortion" as a simple expression, is unfortunate, because if we stop at the meaning of "therapeutic" it is synonymous with "cure", which implies that the surgeon may kill the child with the purpose of saving the mother, when in fact neither the life of the mother nor that of her child can be directly ended. Doctors may never kill.

13. In such cases the doctor may act according to the principle of the "double effect", which establishes the following. Surgical interventions from which follow two effects, one good (saving the life of the child or that of the mother) and another bad (the death of one of them) are ethical providing that the following five conditions are met:
1. That the purpose of the surgeon is to obtain a good effect (to save the life of mother or child) and is limited to permitting or tolerating the bad (the death of one of the two). 2. That the death is not intended, whether as a goal or as a means, even if it is foreseen as an inevitable consequence. 3. That the first and immediate effect being sought by the surgeon is to save one of the two lives and the death of one of them is tolerated with disgust or displeasure, and never desired. 4. That there exists a proportionately gave reason to act (the urgency of the operation). 5. That, under the circumstances, there exist no other effective means to save both lives.

14. In the case of a rape of a mentally disabled woman, the solution is not to kill the child, but to help the woman to continue the pregnancy to term, and once the baby has been born, he can given up for adoption. In a complementary fashion, we request that the authority in charge of adoptions facilitate them, avoiding by every means the corrupt management of adoption processes in which business and the enrichment of the parties involved take first place.

15. It is important to emphasize that the result of this workshop, given the scientific and moral quality of the Ecuadorian Federation of Societies of Gynecology and Obstetrics (FESGO) and of the content of the presentations and of these conclusions, should serve to instruct the whole country and will be a very important point of reference for every agency, including the highest levels of the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government constituted in Ecuador.

18 June 2008

Eyewitness Report from Myanmar

Eyewitness Report from Myanmar after Cyclone Nargis

This report was posted on the Columban Members' website last Tuesday, 17 June. There are around 603,000 Catholics in Myanmar/Burma out of more than 58,000,000, 1.03% of the population. The Diocese of Pekhon, where the volunteer below is from,w as established in 2005 and has more than 37,000 Catholics, 8.3% of the overall population of 450,000.

This report is from a volunteer from Pekhon Diocese, Myanmar/Burma

I am a volunteer from Pekhon Diocese. I had offered my services because I want to help my countrymen and women who had suffered greatly from the cyclone.

We left Rangoon around seven in the evening and arrived in Laputta the next day at around 11 in the morning. A colleague of mine had previously assessed the area and we were tasked to distribute the needed items to the people situated in the temporary settlement area around the city.

Crowds waiting for supplies to arrive
Upon arrival in the first settlement camp where we were supposed to distribute our goods, we were surprised that only a few people were there. We soon found out that this is due to the issuance by the government of a new mandate that all those displaced families settling in these areas should move back to their own villages. However, their villages were totally destroyed and most people killed. There was nothing to go back to. Anyone who opposed this military order will be imprisoned. They were only given an hour to pack and leave the settlement area without any means of support whatsoever. We were greatly surprised by this and saddened by this inhumane and heartless act by our government.In one of the settlement camps we visited, it was reported in the previous assessment that there were more than three hundred people living in the Baptist Church. When we arrived in the area, we found just fifty-three people. We distributed our items and continued on to our next destination, a Monastery not far from the Baptist Church.

When we arrived in the Monastery, we were expecting to meet and help 1500 people but we were only greeted by 700 people. Again, we distributed the food items that we had for them.

We continued on to our next destination, and distributed our items to those who were waiting. After going to the four assessed settlement areas, we still had some items left over so we drove around town looking for settlement areas to distribute our goods. We drove for hours but found the temporary settlement camps empty. We were very frustrated because we were thinking that we could have helped more people if not because of the government.

Families crammed into a small shelter

In the settlement areas which I have visited, the situation are much the same. People living in anywhere and anyway they can. It was hard to imagine the situation they are in right now. You can see men, women, and children living in a common area, an area without any borders in it, no walls, and any other means of division. There are also smaller temporary shelters made of bamboos for support and tarpaulin sheets donated by relief organizations to protect them from the harsh rain and heat of the sun. These smaller temporary shelters are about 5x5 feet in area and shared by 3 families.Food and other essential needs are scarce. Families are limited to what the NGO’s are giving them. This is not enough for it has been rationed for a family of three and most of the families are composed of five or more. Safe drinking water is also very scarce as water sources are either severely damaged or contaminated. They are now depending on the relief efforts that organizations are giving them.
During the night, our group gt together and talked about what we can do for the displaced families being forced to return to their villages with nothing but the clothes on their backs. The group decided to follow the villagers to their own village and see what we can do to help them.

On the 27th we tried to hire a boat but to no avail. The villages we are trying to reach can only be reached by boat. On the 28th we finally succeeded in hiring a boat and we headed directly to our destination.

A village beyond recognition

Along the way, you can see dead bodies scattered along the riverbanks. Those bodies had been there for a month already. All of us in the group paused because of the sight we saw before us. Along the banks, you can see what is left of an entire village; basically nothing but scattered debris of houses and coconut trees lying around. The village is indistinguishable as landmarks had disappeared. In some of these villages, it was reported that only 3-4 people survived and the rest of their villagers are either dead or missingAs soon as we arrive in Thin Gan Gyi Village Track, the villagers started running to us. We were surprised to see many people back in their village. They don’t have the basic necessities such as food, water, clothes, shelter, or cooking utensils. We were even more surprised to see soldiers in the area. We were asked by the soldiers who we are and what we are doing there. They were as surprised for we were we the first group from the outside to arrive in their area. After a tense conversation with the soldiers, they allowed us to continue. They said that they are there to protect the village. Protect them from what? That we do not know! We came to know that they were there for 17 days and their military base is sending them a week’s ration of food and water, but nothing for the people that they say they are trying to “protect”. Lies!

This Village Track is composed of 10 smaller villages consisting for a total of 3200 people. Only half of the entire population survived the disaster. They are now back in their village. The dead remain unburied.

In the village, only a monastery was left standing. The roofs were blown off and its walls had collapsed. It has been temporarily repaired with the help of tarpaulin sheets serving as the roof. The monastery can accommodate only 20 people. This is obviously not enough for 1300 people trying to seek shelter for protection against the cold night and hot days.

A shelter

The surviving villagers are staying in a makeshift shelter 10x20 feet. There are only two of these so-called “shelters” in the village situated side by side near the bank of the river.

Getting safe drinking water is also an enormous challenge, as is food and medicines. The villagers take a 2 hour boat ride to a nearby village to fetch water for their villagers. We have been able to provide them with 7 gallons of fuel when they were transferred from the settlement camp back to their village. This will not bring them far but we have no more fuel to offer them. It is so sad as they may be stranded or lost at sea in their search for clean drinking water for their villagers. They have put their own lives at risk for others.

We continued on to Gone Nyi Than Village, one of the ten villages which are under the Thin Gan Gyi Village Track. There were about 150 households in this village accounting for around 400 people. Now, only 31 people are left. The others have died. The situation of the 31 survivors is dreadful. The village has been flattened. There are no trees or houses. Dead bodies are still in and around the village. The smell of decomposing flesh filled the air which causes people to be sick.In the river, which is just a couple of meters from the village, we found a capsized ship. With the help of the villagers, we investigated the ship and found out that there are 53 bodies in the boat. All of them were starting to decompose. We carried the bodies to shore, buried them in a shallow grave, turned the boat upright, and used it as a transport vehicle to get necessary supplies.

We returned to the village with 10 liters of water that we had bought in a nearby town. Upon arrival, the soldiers seized 5 gallons for themselves leaving the other 5 gallons to be shared by the entire village. This made the villagers very angry but they cannot do anything. If they try to confront the soldiers, they will either end up in jail or worse end up dead.

Ordeal of a Brave Mother - Myanmar

This story was posted on the Columban Members' website last Tuesday, 17 June. I haven't done any editing on it, though I have highlighted the second last paragraph.

Ordeal of a Brave Mother - Myanmar

As told to a volunteer worker

Ma San is a 46 year old woman living in Aye han Village part of Laputta Township. We found her in Laputta being treated for severe dehydration.

She has a husband, a 14, 11, and 6 year old sons and a daughter less than a year old. They were happily living in their village eking out a small income from her husband’s job as a fisherman and a small vegetable farm in their backyard.

Her family along with her neighbors had heard of the coming storm but didn’t take it seriously as they had weathered many storms in the past. Unknown to them, this storm was different. A storm that will attract international attention because of the devastation it will create.

In the afternoon of the 2nd of May 2008, wind had picked up and battered their small house made of bamboos, palms leaves, and other light materials. They went on with their daily afternoon routine. She was cooking and preparing dinner for her family, her husband is cleaning the house, and their children are sitting and playing with one another. After having their meal, they got ready for bed thinking that the rain would pass and they would be safe. The sheer force of the storm proved them wrong.

At around 11 at night she was awoken by the noise caused by the winds. She recalled it as “like trees hitting against each other”. She grew worried and afraid that she woke her husband and their children. The wind was so fierce and strong that they were afraid that their house will be blown away by the wind. This made them run out of their house and they hugged onto a coconut tree near their house. Her husband tied two of the oldest boys in their family to his waist with some clothes while Ma San tied her 6 year old son to her waist, just like her husband did, and securing the less than a year old baby in one arm while her other arm grabbed hold of the tree.

It was at this time that they have seen a wall of sea water approaching them. She cannot forget the picture of the surging wave, about 15 feet tall almost touching the top of the coconut trees, rushing towards her and her family. This storm surge was new to them as they are a couple of miles inland.

The wave hit her and her family with such ferocity that the clothes binding her two elder sons to her husband bore no resistance. Immediately after the surging water hit them, she saw her two older sons being swept away by the current. Right then and there, she knew that she had just lost two of her children. She was holding on to the tree with all the might she could muster with her baby clutched in her other hand. When the water subsided just enough to let her see her surrounding, she found out that her husband and the six year old child that she had tied in her waist with a cloth were gone, swept away with the current. A second wave hit her and she lost hold with her youngest child. Upon realizing that she had just lost her husband and four children she lost all hope of living and let go of the tree and was swept away by the current. She thought that she must have hit something which caused her to faint and that was the last thing she remembered.

Miraculously, she found herself alive, covered with debris and other things that the rushing water brought with it. She can not remember what day it was or how long she had been unconscious. She tried to get hold of reality and upon scanning her surroundings, she was completely disoriented and didn’t know where she was. She couldn’t find anyone and any landmarks that might give her a hint on her location. Nothing was left, everything was destroyed by the same force of nature that cost the lives of her entirely family.

She started thinking that she had been swept by the current towards north and decided to continue walking upriver in the hope of finding a village or anyone near the river. She knew the area well and knew that most of the villages are situated near the shore of the river. She thought that will be the likely area that she might finnd some other fortunate survivors.

As she was walking she would occasionally pass by an area which was once a village. Materials of houses are everywhere, trees were uprooted, and dead bodies everywhere. At night, she could barely find a place to sleep. The image of her family kept running through her mind. She walked for seven days along the river and on the seventh day, as luck would have it, she spotted a boat and began to shout. Fortunately, someone on the boat had spotted her. She survived for seven days without anything to eat and drank water from the river which she described as salty because of the sea water that came rushing inland.

She had her first decent meal in the boat for days but she was too weak already from her seven day struggle to stay alive. She got wounds and scratches all over her body but miraculously survived the ordeal that she’d been through.

When we found her she was crying as she was narrating her story. In between her sobs, we could hear her say: “What is to become of me now? I have lost my entire family and I have no one to go to. My future is as dark as the night sky. It could’ve been better if I too had joined my family.”

The story of Ma San and her family is just one of the heart rending and sad stories of real life experiences of people who had lost part or in cases the whole of their family from the natural disaster. The devastation that struck the people of Myanmar and the lack of support from the military has etched a deep wound, deeper than any other wounds inflicted by any human being. A wound that will take years to heal and has changed everyone’s life forever.

The group and I returned to the main town of Laputta a day after our trip and purchased a 1.5 liter bottle of water. We were surprised to see a mark on the bottle. The mark read: Donated by the People of Thailand. Then and there, it struck us. This is where the thousands and millions of relief goods donated by other countries is finishing up. It ended up in the market being sold by the military to the people who direly needed them.

Unless these people receive help soon, they will die of starvation, diseases, and dehydration.

16 June 2008

A US Army Korean War chaplain to be canonized?

During my teenage years, when I knew I wanted to be a missionary priest, I was inspired by the story of a US Army Chaplain who died in captivity during the Korean War, Fr Emil Kapaun, a priest of the Diocese of Wichita, Kansas. I was thinking of joining the Columbans and knew that some of them had died in the Korean War and others, including Monsignor Thomas Quinlan, later an archbishop, and Father Philip Crosbie, and Australian, were forced to take part in a notorious ‘death march, which they survived. Father Crosbie wrote about his experiences in Three Winters Cold, published in some countries as Pencilling Prisoner. His book was one of the Lord's 'signposts' for me and I read it again on a retreat here in the Philippines in 1988, and was equally inspired.

I was delighted as a to discover that Father Emil Kapaun and I shared the same birthday, 20 April, and he cancelled out, so to speak, Adolf Hitler, who was born on that date also. I was born on Tuesday of Holy Week 1943 while Father Kapaun was born on Thursday of Holy Week in 1916.

Catholic News Agency (CNA) carries a report dated 15 June, taken from Catholic Advance, the newspaper of Father Kaplaun’s diocese, stating that the cause for his canonization is to be launched officially in his home town, Pilsen, Kansas, on 29 June.

Pilsen, KS, Jun 15, 2008 / 12:00 pm (CNA).- The Cause for the Canonization of Father Emil Kapaun, an Army Chaplain who died while in a North Korean Prisoner of War Camp in 1951, will be officially opened on June 29. Father Emil Kapaun, a native of Pilsen, was ordained for the Catholic Diocese of Wichita on June 9, 1940. After serving as a priest in the diocese, Father Kapaun asked to be allowed to serve as a U.S. Army chaplain.
Read the full story here.

There is a website dedicated to the memory and cause of Father Kapaun.

I must confess that while a teenager I saw the vocation of the military chaplain as the greatest of all. In kindergarten Sister Margaret Stanislaus of the Irish Sisters of Charity, who prepared us for First Holy Communion, often spoke of Father Willie Doyle SJ, from Dalkey, County Dublin. He was a member of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers and died in the Third Battle of Ypres (Ieper), Belgium, on 17 August 1917. The battle lasted from June to November. My maternal grandmother's brother, Corporal Lawrence Dowd, from near Tara, County Meath, died in the same battle eleven days earlier. Maybe Father Doyle had ministered to him. I located Uncle Larry's grave in Ieper in 2001 with the help of a Belgian/Filipino couple whose marriage I officiated at. I was the first relative ever to visit his grave.

Fr Willie Doyle SJ

Father Emil J. Kapaun


Lord Jesus,
in the midst of the folly of war,
your servant, Chaplain Emil Kapaun
spent himself in total service to you
on the battlefields and in the prison camps of Korea,
until his death at the hands of his captors.

We now ask you, Lord Jesus,
if it be your will,
to make known to all the world
the holiness of Chaplain Kapaun and the
glory of his complete sacrifice for you by
signs of miracles and peace.

In your name, Lord, we ask,
for you are the source of peace,
the strength of our service to others,and our final hope. Amen
Chaplain Kapaun, pray for us.

Ireland = Naboth, EU Establishment = Ahab?

While listening to the first reading at Mass this morning (NAB version, JB version) I found myself thinking about last Thursday’s referendum on the Lisbon Treaty in the Irish Republic. Those who voted rejected it clearly. Yet the three million or so voters of the Republic of Ireland, less than one percent of those in the EU, were the only ones asked to vote.

Though I really don’t know which way I would have voted – Irish citizens overseas don’t have a vote – I found myself comparing Naboth with Ireland and the establishment of the EU with Ahab. ‘I will not give you my ancestral heritage’, said Naboth to King Ahab. Many Irish voters thought in the same way. Whether the Treaty would involve taking that heritage isn’t fully clear to me. ‘Ahab went home disturbed and angry at the answer’. It seems that some of the EU establishment have similar feelings, though, unlike Ahab and his wife Jezebel with Naboth, they’ve no plans to kill Irish prime minister Brian Cowen or any of the country’s citizens.

The ‘No’ campaigners included pro-life people who were afraid that the Lisbon Treaty would force pro-abortion legislation on the Irish Republic. (Last week the Democratic Unionist Party, that of Dr Ian Paisley, were able to get a guarantee from Gordon Brown, the British Prime Minister, that the pro-abortion legislation in Britain would not be forced on Northern Ireland, which is part of the UK but has been exempted until now from those laws. Mr Brown needed the nine votes of the DUP in Westminster to pass controversial legislation that allows the police to detain suspects for up to 42 days. To their credit, the DUP got something worthwhile from their horse-trading).

There’s no doubt that the prevailing viewpoint in EU countries is in favour of legalized abortion. Pressure is being brought on Ireland, Malta and Poland to change their laws. Poland has very restrictive abortion laws – though any taking of the life of an unborn child for whatever reason is intrinsically evil - while abortion is illegal in the other two. I’m not sure that a ‘Yes’ vote would have made any great difference.

However, it was understood that if any country rejected the Lisbon Treaty that would be the end of it. But it seems that President Sarkozy of France and some others don’t see it that way. They are already talking of a second referendum so that the Irish people will say ‘Yes’. But that could backfire and it’s reminiscent of the late Ferdinand Marcos’s way of changing the Philippine Constitution after declaring Martial law in 1973. The people were assembled throughout the country and asked to raise their hands in favour of ‘Yes’. The question was repeated in each assembly until enough raised their hands. However, such a crude approach wouldn’t work in Ireland.

So maybe the story of Naboth and Ahab is particularly relevant in Europe today.

15 June 2008

'The Blueprint for Heroic Family Life'

When I went to the USA in September 1968 to study – I had been ordained the previous December – I was blessed to meet some strong Catholic families. But I noticed that they had to work hard at being such, in a way that at that time wasn’t perhaps as necessary in Ireland. In those days the Catholic family was the norm in Ireland. Protestant families I knew shared the very same family values. There was no divorce. Not all families were model families, of course.

But in today’s Ireland around 25 percent of children are born outside of marriage. In some urban areas the majority of births are such. The word ‘spouse’ seems to have become a ‘four-letter’ word. ‘Partner’ is the preferred term, though that used to be a perfectly respectable word too.

Dr Jeff Mirus of Catholic Culture gives a ‘Blueprint for Heroic Family Life’.

The Blueprint for Heroic Family Life
by Dr Jeff Mirus, June 13, 2008

Owing to the confluence of an East-coast heat wave and the failure of a home air conditioning system, my son Peter, his wife Kristina and their two daughters lived with Mom and Dad again for a few days this week. Seeing Elena (age seven) and Natalie (four) bright-eyed and cheerful at the beginning of each day was a joy. It was also a reminder of how things used to be. With the last of our six children going off to college this Fall, I sometimes need to be reminded that I’m a father. Perhaps you don’t want to hear about it? Oh, but you do.

The late Fr. John Hardon, author of our online Catholic dictionary, was fond of saying that only heroic Catholic families will survive in today’s world. But Father Hardon is no longer here to tell you what this means, so you’re stuck with father Jeff. My explanation can be divided into two categories, firmness and flexibility.

Full text .

My Columban colleague, Father Shay Cullen, has been working here in the Philippines since the 1970s with women and children who have been abused, for many years through PREDA, which he founded. He writes a weekly column that is widely and freely distributed and this week reflects on the commitment that husbands and wives make.

Sometimes people question what we celibate priests have to say about marriage. The vast majority of us grew up in families with a husband and wife whom we knew as ‘Dad’ and ‘Mam’. As priests we come to know many families. Husbands and wives / fathers and mothers often show their trust in us by sharing with us both their families’ joys and sorrows. So we can have something to say, even if it’s from a different vantage point and experience from that of spouses/parents.

I firmly believe that when a man and woman get their spousal relationship right and see it as the most important relationship in their lives, they’ll get the parental relationships right too.

The Meaning of Love Reflection 385, 15 June 2008

Fr Shay Cullen's columns are published in The Manila Times, in publications in Ireland, the UK, Hong Kong, and online.

Archive of Father Cullen's 'Reflections'.

Fewer and fewer people nowadays choose to take marriage vows, preferring to live together as partners. Many feel that they are not ready to make a life long commitment to be husband and wife and married parents to their children. They feel happier to leave the door open so that either one can walkout at any time. That’s easy for them but it leaves the children with the insecurity and uncertainty of having no mom or perhaps a dad when they wake up in the morning.

In the western world, family relationships have been under intense pressure for decades from materialism, lost values, unreasonable demands for continuous emotional and sexual gratification. This has led to an estimated divorce rate of one in every three marriages. So many couples are incapable of fidelity, and pre-nuptial contracts have become common and the abandonment of marriage itself.

In the Book of Sirach we are warned about the dangerous false friendship, fair weather friends and the true friend that money can’t buy. The faithful, loyal friend is the person who is at your side always when the going gets tough and when challenges lie ahead. The true friend who is there to support, help, serve, affirm and protect you from harm. That’s' what a loving marriage is all about . . . It’s making a public commitment to the highest value and ideal – unselfish, self-giving to another for life. It is a commitment made in public before the whole community. They vow that they will be faithful for life to their husband or wife. They pledge to be honest, understanding, caring, kind, gentle, sensitive and loving without expecting a reward, setting conditions, seeking their own pleasure and comfort. True love is unselfish. Above all, married love gives security, affirmation, love, care and affection to the children. It calls for courage, self-sacrifice and personal spiritual strength.

These values that imbrue true love are vital, necessary for happy and intelligent children. They are the firm foundation for emotionally, psychological and physically healthy children. Affirmation, admiration and encouragement are so necessary for the children to be secure, strong in mind and heart, to be whole and integrated, mature and wise. They will have it in abundance if the parents pass it on to them. The love between self-sacrificing parents brings family harmony. This is the goal and purpose of a loving, committed, married relationship.

This steadfast spiritual love that is seen in true married commitment and dedication is greatly helped by the mutual physical attraction we call ‘falling in love’. This is a powerful natural force of gene compatibility, mutual recognition of goodness in the other. It is the chemistry of the emotional and romantic magnetism that creates that wonderful experience of crossing barriers and achieving intimacy. It is this and their spiritual beliefs that bind a couple to each other. It is not a fleeting experience either, and with care and dedication can last a lifetime, as many married couples have experienced.

Romantic love matures and is sustained by spiritual love and friendship. It can be nurtured and strengthened and will empower the couple to meet and overcome the challenges of establishing a family, caring for the children, having a secure working life and a happy respectful family. END

Contact Fr Shay Cullen at the Preda Center, Upper Kalaklan, 2200 Olongapo City, Philippines.
Email: preda@info.com.ph
PREDA Information Office
PREDA Foundation, Inc.

14 June 2008

Which side in Ireland took Pope Benedict’s 'hint' – if any – in the Lisbon Treaty referendum?

Some were speculating – see my post yesterday - that Pope Benedict’s talk last Wednesday on St Columban, in which he described the saint as ‘one of the fathers of Europe’, was a hint to the voters in the Irish Republic to vote the following day in favour of the Lisbon Treaty, which has to be approved by each of the 27 members-states of the European Union to come into effect. Ireland was the only country where the matter was put to the people, as such a treaty involves an amendment of its Constitution.

Polls before the referendum held last Thursday all indicated a result too close to call. The pundits predicted that if the turnout of voters wasn’t much higher than 40 percent the ‘Yes’ side would win. The higher the turnout, they said, the greater the chance for the ‘No’ side to win.

As it happened, 53.13% of those eligible to do so voted, a high turnout for a referendum. Of those, 46.5% voted for ‘Yes’ and 53.4% for ‘No.’ So the pundits were right. But the ‘knife-edge’ turned out to be a blunt instrument leaving many leading Irish politicians reeling.

The main government party, Fianna Fáil, and the two main opposition parties, Fine Gael and Labour, urged their supporters to vote yes. Last week, for the first time ever, the leaders of those three parties held a joint press conference in which they spoke of the importance, as they saw it, of the people voting for ‘Yes’. Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, the two largest parties in the Irish Republic, trace their origins to the Irish Civil War (1922-23) and have never been in government together.

I’m doubtful that Pope Benedict was using St Columban to give a gentle hint to the Irish voters. Yes, the saint is in a very real sense ‘one of the fathers or Europe’ – the Christian Europe that the proposed but rejected European Constitution refused to acknowledge. The Lisbon Treaty is that same proposed constitution under a different name, according to many.

But while St Columban was ‘a father of Europe’ he wrote a number of letters to different popes asking that he and his monks follow the Irish calendar for Easter rather than the Roman one. In other words, while absolutely loyal to the teachings of the Church and to the pope, he was prepared to fight for this. Indeed, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the reaction of some of those popes on receiving a letter from St Columban wasn’t ‘Not him again!’ Here are Pope Benedict’s word about this aspect of the saint’s life:

An occasion to manifest their opposition (bishops who opposed Columban’s introduction of private and repeated confession and penances) was the dispute about the date of Easter. Ireland, in fact, followed the Eastern tradition as opposed to the Roman. The Irish monk was called in 603 to Chalon-sur-Saon to render account before a synod of his practices related to penance and Easter. Instead of appearing at the synod, he sent a letter in which he minimized the issue inviting the synodal fathers to discuss not only the problem of the date of Easter, a small problem according to him, ‘but also of all the necessary canonical normatives that are disregarded - something more grave - by many’ (cfr. Epistula II,1). At the same time, he wrote to Pope Boniface IV - as some years earlier he had turned to Pope Gregory the Great (cfr. Epistula I) - to defend the Irish tradition (cfr. Epistula III).

So those on the ‘No’ side could equally speculate that Pope Benedict was encouraging them rather than the ‘Yes’ supporters by speaking about St Columban.

The full results of the referendum, and of all previous referenda in Ireland, are here.

13 June 2008

Did the Pope invoke St Columban in favour of the Lisbon Treaty?

In my blog yesterday I wrote: I don’t know if Pope Benedict timed his talk yesterday deliberately for the eve of the referendum today in the Republic of Ireland on the Lisbon Treaty, the only one of the 27 states in the European Union to have such a vote. Polls indicate that the vote could go either way.

In a report in today's Daily Telegraph Tom Peterkin seems to think that he did: Even the Pope intervened to urge backing for further EU integration, describing Irish missionary St Columbanus as 'one of the fathers of Europe.'

Pope Benedict is not the first to speak of St Columban in such terms.

Before the last Irish referendum on abortion in March 2002 the Vatican sent out signals that the wording of the proposed referendum was acceptable to Catholics. The Irish bishops urged people to vote 'Yes'. But one small pro-life lobby thought the wording didn't go far enough and asked people to vote 'No'. It is thought by many that their 'no' votes brought about the defeat of the government's proposal. As a result, abortion is, in theory though not in practice, unrestricted in the Republic of Ireland. 42.89 of those eligible actually voted. of those, 50.42 percent voted 'no' while 49.58 percent voted 'yes' In other words, 10,500 votes made the crucial difference.

Votes are being counted in Ireland as I write this. The turnout was probably around the same as that for the abortion referendum and the final result could be as close - going either way.

I really don't know which result will be better for Ireland and for the rest of the European Union. The Irish Republic is the only one of the 27 member-states to have a referendum, for constitutional reasons.

And I really don't know if Pope Benedict deliberately gave is talk on St Columban to give a hint to the Irish electorate to vote 'yes'. Even if he did, they didn't have to take the hint. We'll know later if they did.

One of the delightful quirks of elections and referenda in Ireland is that after the polling stations close, everyone goes home and has a good night's sleep before counting starts at 9 the following morning.

11 June 2008

Pope on St Columban

As a member of the Missionary Society of St Columban I was delighted to read that Pope Benedict spoke at his Wednesday audience yesterday about our patron saint. His talk gives a good synopsis of the saint’s life and an accurate description of his character and sanctity: 'St Columban's message is centered on a firm call to conversion and detachment from the goods of the earth in view of our eternal heritage. With his ascetic life and his conduct free from compromises in face of the corruption of the powerful, he evokes the severe figure of John the Baptist.'

I don’t know if Pope Benedict timed his talk yesterday deliberately for the eve of the referendum today in the Republic of Ireland on the Lisbon Treaty, the only one of the 27 states in the European Union to have such a vote. Polls indicate that the vote could go either way.

Robert Schumann, considered one of the 'Fathers of the EU' and whose cause for beatification has been introduced, considered St Columban to be 'the patron saint of all those who now seek to build a United Europe'. Pope Benedict echoed this: 'Today I would like to speak of the holy Abbot Columban, the most famous Irishman of the early Middle Ages. With good reason he can be called a "European" saint, because as monk, missionary and writer, he worked in several countries of Western Europe. Along with the Irishmen of his time, he was aware of the cultural unity of Europe.'

One of the major themes of the pontificate of Pope Benedict is his great desire for a renewal of the Catholic Christian faith in Europe. He ends his talk by describing St Columban in terms of his impact on that continent: 'A man of great culture - he also wrote poetry in Latin and a grammar book - he proved himself to be rich in gifts of grace. He was a tireless builder of monasteries as well as an intransigent penitential preacher, spending all his energy to nourish the Christian roots of Europe, which was being born. With his spiritual energy, with his faith, with his love for God and for his neighbor, he truly became one of the fathers of Europe: He shows us even today the roots from which our Europe can be reborn.'

'Expectant fathers'

Father Leo Patalinghug, a Filipino-born priest of the Archdiocese of Baltimore, USA, where he was raised, has been featured in Misyon, the magazine I edit: From Black Belt to White Collar by Gee-Gee and Miggy Dimayuga, July-August 2007. He has his own blog and a weekly email in which he gives both 'Food for the Soul' and a recipe for food for the body. He is now on the staff of the seminary in Baltimore and uses his ability in cooking to bring families together. This week he reflects on the fact that seminarians are, in a real sense, 'expectant fathers. He explains:

Expectant Father!

This past week I had the good fortune to visit the Diocese of Charlotte to lead the seminarians’ retreat and participate in the ordination of two new priests. I sometimes refer to seminarians as "expectant fathers." That can make a few people uncomfortable until they realize that is exactly what they are. These are men who, upon ordination, will be called "Father." I knew both of the newly ordained priests personally. Fr. Tri Truong, a native of Viet Nam, studied at Mt. St. Mary’s Seminary where I currently serve on faculty, and Fr. Brad Jones who entered seminary with me back in 1993. After a few discernment considerations and some reflection time in different religious orders, 15 years later Brad Jones, would finally be ordained a priest of Jesus Christ. He is now "Father" Brad Jones!

With the upcoming Father’s Day weekend, I would never want to take away from the great responsibility of biological fatherhood by talking about the priesthood. But there is a complimentary correlation. In an age when people focus on deadbeat, overly competitive, uninvolved, pushy, or even absent fathers, we need to focus on the good examples of dads! Practically gone are the days of shows like Father Knows Best! That lack of respect for the father figure is not only evident in societal families – it is now quite evident in the Church family where more and more people challenge the relevance and importance of spiritual fathers of an all-male priesthood of Jesus Christ. In this week’s Blast, I want to make a connection between spiritual fatherhood of priests and the physical fatherhood of dads. Both types of fatherhood complement and must encourage one another. Both require fidelity to one spouse. In the husband’s case, he promises faithfulness to his wife and bride. For the priest, he is called to a total celibate commitment to his "Bride," the Church. Both require a self-giving attitude and a pro-creative openness to life; the husband does not impede the love between he and his wife. He also must work with her to raise up the children to the Lord by sharing his own faith with them. Similarly, the priest gives himself totally in his celibate sacrifices. He too cooperates with the "Mother Church" to bring up and elevate children in a new spiritual life through the waters of Baptism and the graces of the sacraments. While many other connections can be made, it seems the most important "job" shared between "dad" and "father" is the mission to bring their respective "bride" and "children" to Heaven!

That’s a father’s job! And it is God the Father’s greatest desire! Joyfully, the Diocese of Charlotte now has two new "Fathers" to help bring God’s children to Heaven! The Bishop Emeritus of the Diocese of Charlotte, Bishop Curlin, watched the current Bishop, Peter Jugis, lead the ordination ritual. The parish church of St. Vincent DePaul was packed, and more than 50 priests were on hand to concelebrate this grand event. It’s amazing how this small Catholic Diocese, recently considered catholic missionary territory, has experienced a noticeable increase of priestly vocations. This enthusiasm for priesthood is, in part, a result of the strong, humble and tireless efforts of the spiritual fathers already serving there. This small diocese now has 15 impressive seminarians with more coming in the ranks. After leading their retreat last week, I saw firsthand how these men are learning all of the qualities needed to be a good spiritual father – strength, responsibility, prayer, and love! Needless to say, I had a blast spending time with these expectant fathers! Be sure to check out pictures on the website to see how these seminarians not only prayed hard, but also played hard. At one point in the Liturgy of Ordination, right after the Final Blessing, there is a touching moment when the Bishop – the spiritual father of the Diocese – receives the blessings of the new "father." The blessing of the new priest imparts a unique spiritual grace for the recipient. In response, the person who was blessed will often kiss the hands of the newly ordained priest. Often, it’s the other way around; usually the faithful are accustomed to kissing the ring of the Bishop. But this kiss the Bishop gives to the hands of the new priests demonstrates the respect and love for the priest’s new responsibility – to be an image of God the Father and the hands and feet of Jesus Christ! As archaic as it may seem, this tradition has been carried to cultures beyond the church, including my own Filipino culture. It’s customary for the younger Filipino generation to greet parents, elders, and others in authority by placing to their forehead the hand of the person to whom they are offering respect. This gesture, called "mano po" (i.e., hand please), mimics the kiss of the hand that is given to the Bishop’s ring. Seeing the Bishop kiss the hands of Fr. Tri and Fr. Brad Jones – this long time "expectant father" – brought back humbling memories of when my dad kissed my hands after ordination to the priesthood!

Fatherhood is definitely something worth respecting and celebrating! It’s easy to focus inordinately on deadbeat, uninvolved, irresponsible, and unloving men, but doing this could cause us to label all children from single parent homes as "oppressed victims," foregone fatalities, ruined due to the absence of a fatherly presence. In this myopic view, we can lose focus on something worth celebrating: fatherhood! Therefore, I want to focus on those dads and spiritual fathers who are devoted to their bride and children, especially in how they help raise their children in Faith. I also want to encourage fathers to make sure they are going to church with their children and sharing their own love for God with the whole family. A dad’s presence does matter! I pray that the fatherly qualities of priests and the fatherhood of dads will always remember their most important job in this vocation: to feed his children with "Food" that will make them healthy – body, mind, and soul. By feeding the children with true, good and holy things in life, we will give them the strength to taste the Eternal Banquet of Heaven. If you see a newly ordained priest, don’t be afraid to ask for a blessing. And in respect and love for his new office, kiss his hand. You can actually receive a plenary indulgence for it! And when you see your dad, be sure to consider how the work of this man’s hands have fed you, loved you and protected you. If you’re not Filipino, you may find it odd to kiss his hands, so instead, just give the big guy a hug and kiss instead. And, more importantly, keep your dad in your prayers and remember to put fatherhood back in God’s hands where it belongs!

Father Leo here has a beautiful story about a family he saw in a restaurant:

Big Daddy Barbecue

While I was in Charlotte, I ate in a wonderful barbecue restaurant, a landmark known as "Carolina Bar-B-Q." I sat within perfect view of a unique and inspiring family. The mother and grandmother helped feed two infant children, while the dad sat in a wheelchair, eating his meal – through a straw. And although I didn’t know this family at all, two things were obvious: one, something terrible happened to this young father; and two, this woman loved her husband – in sickness and health. Also obvious was this man’s love and gratitude for his wife and mother (perhaps, mother-in-law). Although paralyzed, I could see him smile as he looked lovingly on his wife and young children. The touching scene made me pray for this family’s future. In an age where "Unfaithful Women" and the City reaches box office status, I could only pray that this woman’s love for the father of her children be true and everlasting. And even though this dad couldn’t fully enjoy the barbecue his family was eating, nor was he able to do much for them physically, but I’m sure he was able to love them with his whole heart, mind, and soul – especially with his prayers for them! This old-time restaurant, equipped with model train tracks looming over our heads was full of "North Carolina Charm!" The barbecued pork and chicken I ate were excellent! But the meal was even better seeing such an inspiring family!

To help recreate this tasty and inspiring meal, and to relive some of the southern Barbecue foods of North Carolina, click here for my version of a Big Daddy Barbecue Sauce! For the recipe, click here. (I don't have the slightest interest or talent in cooking - only in eating!)

A Father’s Day Prayer (This is, I think, Sunday, 15 June, in places that observe it, such as the USA and the Philippines. I think that this is Father Leo's Dad in the photo).

I think I’ve said enough about how fatherhood MUST be appreciated because every father is called to be an image God the Father! So, along with the respect, hugs, and kisses many dads may live for, the best gift we can give to them is heartfelt prayer!

Let us pray: Father in Heaven, bless our dads with your grace, strength, and Faith. We pray for those families that may not have a fatherly presence. Be their Father, Lord God, so that your children may always know the gift and the perfect image of Fatherhood through You. We pray that all our dads and our spiritual fathers, especially our newly ordained priests, will help all of us become saints, so that we can celebrate an eternal Father’s Day in Heaven. Amen!

05 June 2008

Father Ragheed Ganni Remembered

Vatican Radio has a short item on the first death anniversary of Father Ragheed Ganni. It includes part of an interview with Monsignor Liam Bergin, Rector of the Pontifical Irish College in Rome, which held a seminar to remember some of the Church's martyrs. Monsignor Bergin recalls some of Father Ragheed's personal qualities.

04 June 2008

'I cannot shut God's house!' - Fr Ragheed Ganni's last words

The more I read about this young priest, Fr Ragheed Ganni, murdered on Pentecost Sunday 2007 in Mosul, Iraq, after celebrating Mass, the more I see a man who truly lived his priesthood, a man who was cheerful and who enjoyed life but was ready to die if necessary for his faith. In his case this wasn't just a resolution that many of us make in the fervor of a retreat, for example, but in the reality of the war in Iraq and threats by some against Christians.

We will be featuring Father Ragheed in the July-August issue of Misyon, which I edit. In the current May-June issue you can read about Father Rey Roda OMI, murdered here in the Philippines last January because, like Father Ragheed, he chose to stay with his people.

Check out the new website dedicated to Father Ragheed Ganni. It is in both English and Arabic, a gentle reminder to us that there have been Arab Christians since the time of the Apostles and that not all Arabs are Muslims. It's also a reminder to us that not all Catholics are members of the Latin or Roman Rite of the Catholic Church. Father Ragheed was a member of the Chaldean Rite of the Catholic Church.

AsiaNews published the story below yesterday. The Pontifical Irish College in Rome, where Father Ragheed stayed while studying for the priesthood, doesn't yet have a report on the even held on 31 May and mentioned below. However, their website has a page dedicated to Father Ragheed.

On the first anniversary of the murder of the Chaldean pastor of Mosul, the only witness to the killing speaks out: Ragheed was killed because he was not afraid. The woman, the widow of one of the three subdeacons slaughtered together with the priest, is living in Syria, waiting to start a new life with her children.

Damascus (AsiaNews) - He could have run away, saved himself, but he went to meet his destiny without fear. Fr Ragheed Gani, killed one year ago in Iraq, died because up until the very end he remained convinced that Christians should not be afraid, that "God's house cannot be closed!". On the first anniversary of the "martyrdom", the only witness to it is speaking out: Bayan Adam Bella, wife of one of the three subdeacons murdered in cold blood together with their pastor on June 3, 2007, in Mosul. This is the same diocese that last March lost its bishop, Faraj Rahho, also a victim of terrorism.

The woman, interviewed by Ankawa.com, is now a refugee in Syria together with her four children. They live with her brother-in-law's family. She suffers greatly and is full of questions over a fate that she is still not able to understand, and over her continuing difficulties in obtaining a visa. But now, twelve months later, she finally has the strength to give a more complete account of those tragic moments. After celebrating the Eucharist in his parish, the Church of the Holy Spirit, Fr Ragheed had departed by car together with one of the deacons, his cousin Basman Yousef Daud. Bayan was in a car behind them, together with her husband, Wahid Hanna Isho, and the other deacon, Gassan Isam Bidawed. Recently the three had begun to accompany the priest wherever he went in an effort to protect him after repeated death threats.

"At a certain point", the woman recounts, "the car was stopped by armed men. Fr Ragheed could have fled, but he did not want to, because he knew they were looking for him. They forced us to get out of the car, and led me away. Then one of the killers screamed at Ragheed, 'I told you to close the church, why didn't you do it? Why are you still here?'. And he simply responded, 'How can I close the house of God?' They immediately pushed him to the ground, and Ragheed had only enough time to gesture to me with his head that I should run away. Then they opened fire and killed all four of them". At this point, Bayan fainted. In the hours immediately after the killing, the bodies remained abandoned on the road because no one dared to get close to them. They were all buried in Karamles.

Bayan has many questions: "Why did they make me a widow, why did they tear the word 'papa' from the mouths of my children? What did we do wrong? What did my husband do?", she asks, addressing the terrorists. In August of 2007, she asked the UNHCR for humanitarian asylum in the West, but the difficulties are enormous. "At first no one believed my story. How can they shut the door in the face of such suffering?". In January of 2008, she met again with UN staff. Now she is waiting for nothing more than to start life over for herself and her children.

Ceremonies commemorating the four martyrs were held in northern Iraq. In Rome, the Pontifical Irish College organised a conference last May 31 entitled "Witnesses to Christ, Past and Present", to recall the sacrifice of Ragheed, a former student of the college. Cardinal Kasper, head of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity, and Monsignor Parolin, undersecretary for relations with states, participated in the event.