31 March 2009

Red Cross officials held hostage in southern Philippines

Mary Jean Lacaba, 37, Filipino, Sulu Vice-Governor Nur-Anna Sahidulla, Eugenio Vagni, 62, Italian, and Andreas Notter, 38, Swiss, during a visit of the vice-governor at an undisclosed location.

Pope Benedict has appealed for the release of three Red Cross volunteers being held as hostages in the island province of Sulu in the southernmost part of the Philippines. One can only feel a sense of shame that any group such hold such people hostage. Please pray for them. Their captors, Al-Qaida-linked militants, had threatened to behead one of them at 2pm today, Tuesday, Philippine time, 6am GMT. As I write this at 6:40pm Philippine time, there is no report that such has happened.

Here is the CBCPNews report:

Pope appeals for release of Red Cross hostages

MANILA, March 31, 2009— Pope Benedict XVI made a last minute appeal for the release of three Red Cross workers being held hostage by al-Qaida-linked militants.

The Abu Sayyaf group threatened to behead one of their hostages today unless the government troops leave 15 villages in Jolo island.

The Vatican press office yesterday published a communiqué, saying that the Pontiff is concerned for the safety of the three—two Europeans and a Filipino, who were seized January 15.

Swiss national Andreas Notter, Italian Eugenio Vagni and Filipino Mary Jean Lacaba were abducted after they visited a water sanitation project in Sulu provincial jail.

Benedict XVI “wants to raise his voice and urge that humanitarian sensibility and reason prevail over violence and intimidation,” the statement said.

"The Holy Father, in the name of God, asks for their release and calls on the authorities to favor a peaceful outcome to the tragic situation.”

“The Holy Father, in the name of God, asks their liberation and begs the authorities to favor ever peaceful solution of this dramatic episode,” it added. (CBCPNews)

Chinese Chutzpah

Immaculate Conception Cathedral, Hong Kong

Imposter-priests have been with us for a long time. At best they are a nuisance, at worst can cause great distress to people, for example, who have gone to ‘confession’ to such a person. But at times you have to admire the ‘neck’ of these people.

One such is You Suibin, a young Chinese man who defrauded people in Hong Kong and in Macau, as reported in the 22 March Sunday Examiner, the English-language weekly of the Diocese of Hong Kong, edited by my Columban colleague from Australia, Fr Jim Mulroney. The story had already appeared on UCANews on 11 March.

The imposter claimed to be Fr Joseph Zhuang Zhoutan of Guangzhou Diocese. When he was found out, searches on the internet revealed his Chinese-language profile that gave his name in English as ‘His Eminence, Cardinal Francis Yau Hsui-bim SDB’. He was ‘ordained’ in 2000, so his ‘elevation’ to ‘cardinal’ in 2005 by Pope John Paul II is quite phenomenal! During his first five years as a ‘priest’ he managed to ‘study and serve’ in Britain, France, Germany, Poland, Spain and the USA. Quite a curriculum vitae, though it could also suggest that he couldn’t hold down a job anywhere! And all this despite being still in his early 20s!

Just over a week after I was ordained in December 1967 I celebrated Sunday Mass in Rush, County Dublin, where my paternal grandparents were from and where the Coyle family has lived since before 1800. After Mass I met an Irish priest(?) who said he was working in Fiji. The Columbans have been there since 1951 or thereabouts and I knew the names of all the men were there at the time. I was a little surprised when this man didn’t know any of them. However, being only eight days a priest I didn’t voice my suspicions to the parish priest. But he must have been an imposter.

I remember reading too about the late Bishop Cornelius Lucey of Cork having been taken in by the ‘Archbishop of Jamaica’ who turned out to be an imposter from Newcastle-on-Tyne, I think, in the northwest of England. A good rule of thumb is that Catholic dioceses are usually named after a city or town, even if one happens to be the only diocese in a country, eg, Suva in Fiji, Reyjavík in Iceland, Stockholm in Sweden. (East Anglia in England is an exception and the dioceses of Ireland go back to a time when there were no towns or cities there).

I’ve been ‘had’ a number of times by persons with (im)plausible stories, though never by an imposter-priest. (Real priests are prime targets of beggars, genuine and otherwise). The man I met shortly after my ordination didn’t ask me for anything. When you realize you’ve been caught you tend not to see the funny side of the situation, at least until the pain has subsided. But maybe putting ‘His Eminence’ before his name on his webpage was a ‘cardinal error’ by this young Chinese man. However, he was baptized a few years ago and is therefore a ‘son of Abraham’. And it is from the children of Abraham that we get the word ‘chutzpah’, something that You Suibin had in abundance.

24 March 2009

The Annunciation: Celebrating Life

El Greco, The Annunciation 1600s
Toledo Museum of Art, Toledo, Ohio, USA
The Annunciation was a favourite theme of El Greco

The Solemnity of the Annunciation is an appropriate time to highlight the sacredness of the life of the pre-born. A tireless defender of the rights of all human beings, especially those still in their mothers' wombs is Archbishop Charles J. Chaput OFMCap of Denver, Colorado.
Detroit, Mich., Mar 21, 2009 / 12:32 pm (CNA).-

Archbishop of Denver Charles J. Chaput delivered a speech on Saturday reflecting on the significance of the November 2008 election. Warning that media “narratives” should not obscure truth, he blamed the indifference and complacency of many U.S. Catholics for the country’s failures on abortion, poverty and immigration issues.
He also advised Catholics to “master the language of popular culture” and to refuse to be afraid, saying “fear is the disease of our age.”

The archbishop’s comments were delivered in his keynote address at the Hands-On Conference Celebrating the Year of St. Paul, which was hosted at the Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit.

You can read the full report here.

Archbishop Chaput is media-savvy and speaks calmly but clearly. He is not the caricature often depicted of those who defend the right of the pre-born to be born but who, allegedly, don't care for the child once its born. Here is one part of the report with my emphases and comments:

Noting that there was no question about President Barack Obama’s views on abortion “rights,” embryonic stem cell research and other “problematic issues,” he commented:

“Some Catholics in both political parties are deeply troubled by these issues. But too many Catholics just don’t really care. That’s the truth of it. If they cared, our political environment would be different. If 65 million Catholics really cared about their faith and cared about what it teaches, neither political party could ignore what we believe about justice for the poor, or the homeless, or immigrants, or the unborn child. If 65 million American Catholics really understood their faith, we wouldn’t need to waste each other’s time arguing about whether the legalized killing of an unborn child is somehow ‘balanced out’ or excused by three other good social policies.” (I've heard this point of view from priests, none of whom would ever say that abortion is right or good. But there seems to be an unwillingness to look at the horror of what it is).

Offering a sober evaluation of the state of American Catholicism, he added:

“We need to stop over-counting our numbers, our influence, our institutions and our resources, because they’re not real. We can’t talk about following St. Paul and converting our culture until we sober up and get honest about what we’ve allowed ourselves to become. We need to stop lying to each other, to ourselves and to God by claiming to ‘personally oppose’ some homicidal evil -- but then allowing it to be legal at the same time.” (I've often heard Archbishop Chaput speak on the internet and he is a mild-mannered person, but his language here isn't fuzzy).

Commenting on society’s attitude towards Catholic beliefs, Archbishop Chaput said, “we have to make ourselves stupid to believe some of the things American Catholics are now expected to accept.”

You can listen to Archbishop Chaput's Sunday homilies in Denver Cathedral here and, starting only with last Sunday's homily, listen to and view them here.

19 March 2009

St Joseph, Husband of Mary

Bartolomé Estebán Murillo, The Two Trinities (1675-82)

Something I’ve come to avert to only within the last couple of years is that the Church honours St Joseph today as the Husband of Mary.

I was blessed to have been born the son of a carpenter whose names were John Joseph, known to his own family and friends as ‘John’ and to my mother and her family as ‘Joe’, because someone had, unusually, shortened ‘John’ to ‘Joe’.

I never cease to thank God for the fact that my Dad was, first of all, a loving and responsible husband and, as such, a loving and responsible father.

Some of my married friends, especially those in Worldwide Marriage Encounter, are probably tired of hearing me remind them that their first vocation is to be spouses and, as such, parents.

When I was in kindergarten, and maybe even before that, I learned that St Joseph was the foster-father of Jesus. More recently I've heard him described as the legal father of Jesus, as he gave Jesus his name, and by that assumed that responsibility.

Yet, with all the titles we have for Mary, we’ve none that echoes the greatest title that the Church gives ot St Joseph on his solemnity today, 'Husband of Mary'.

And if we accept Lex orandi lex credendi, 'the law of prayer is the law of faith', the Church implies by the very title of today's feast that the primary vocation of every married person is to be a spouse, not a parent. It asks us to honour St Joseph first of all as the husband of Mary, rather than as the foster-father or legal father of Jesus, though, of course, it doesn't downplay the importance of that in any way.

17 March 2009

Snapshots of the faith in Ireland on St Patrick's Day

When I go home to Ireland I sometimes feel depressed at what I see as a colossal falling away from the Catholic faith. And reports I've read on some St Patricks' Day celebrations in recent years have led me to think that anything to do with the saint and with our Christian faith is purely coincidental.

However, there are signs of hope. Father Gerard Dunne OP highlighted on 22 February on his website, Irish Dominican Vocations, the first profession of Sr Lucy Conway OSsR, in the Redemptoristine Monastery, Drumcondra, Dublin. The Redemptoristines are contemplatives.

Father Dunne wrote: Yesterday, it was my great joy to attend the first profession of a Redempterostine nun, Sr Lucy Conway OSsR (pictured above), at their monastery in Saint Alphonsus Road in Dublin 9. The nuns at the monastery are neighbours of mine and I celebrate the Eucharist for them regularly. Sr Lucy's profession follows on from the recent first profession in the same community of Sr Maura Walsh. As you can imagine this event is one of significant importance to this enclosed contemplative community. I am deep in admiration for these nuns who four or five years ago had no vocations and were facing a very uncertain future. Their commitment to prayer and a deep desire to attract vocations has resulted in the fact that this community of thirteen nuns now has five of its members in formation. This is a truly remarkable achievement and a reminder to all religious orders, congregations, societies and dioceses in this country that if there is a will and a deep desire to foster, nourish and attract vocations then tremendous things can happen.

You can check out the Redemptoristines' website and find a report and many photos of Sister Lucy's profession on their blog.

Photo by Cyril Byrne: Brothers Tony Rice CSsR, Brian Nolan CSsR and Seán Duggan CSsR.

Meanwhile, Patsy McGarry reported in yesterday’s The Irish Times that three men made their final profession as Redemptorists in Dublin last Sunday:

They included Tony Rice (31) from Belfast. Educated at the Belfast Royal Academy he was a customer adviser with Abbey National before joining the Redemptorists in 2001.

Seán Duggan (29) is from Galway city where his parents run a family business in Renmore. He attended secondary school at St Joseph’s Patrician College in Galway, later graduating with a bachelor of corporate law degree from NUIG. He entered the Redemptorists in 2001.

The third man to make his final profession was Brian Nolan (30) from Limerick city. He attended secondary school at St Clement’s College, and studied at the Limerick Institute of Technology for two years, receiving a diploma in computer engineering. He worked in electronics for a year before joining the Redemptorists in 2000.

Another Redemptorist story was featured in The Irish Times on 14 February as Lorna Siggins reported on the annual novena in honour of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Galway Cathedral. This is a novena in the strict sense, ie, nine days, unlike the perpetual novena in honour of Our Lady of Perpetual Help that is so popular here in the Philippines since it was introduced by the Redemptorists in 1946 and which Filipinos have now brought to other countries.

The Irish Times has an excellent slideshow on the Galway novena here.

Ironically, the Redemptorists formally left Bacolod City, where I'm based, yesterday, handing over their church and monastery to the Diocese of Bacolod. The Irish Redemptorists came here around 1950. In 1996 the Vice-Province of Ireland, which covered the central and southern Philippines, became a separate province. Luzon is still a vice-province of Australia. As far as I know, the basic reason for the decision of the Redemptorists to leave Bacolod is lack of vocations to their congregation here in the Philippines.

May St Patrick, patron saint of Ireland and of Nigeria, who wasn't Irish, obtain the grace of a renewal of faith in Ireland.

Corruption in the Philippines has become family-based, says bishop

Corruption in RP has become family-based, says bishop

This story by Melo Acuna is from CBCPNews. I've highlighted some parts of it and have added [some comments]. 'RP' means 'Republic of the Philippines'.

MANILA, March 16, 2009—Call it corruption: the Filipino style.
When it comes to corruption, there’s one thing that makes the Philippines distinct from other countries, a Roman Catholic bishop has said.

Sadly but true, Balanga Bishop Socrates B. Villegas said what used to be strong family bonds have been ‘abused and corrupted.’

“The singular trademark of graft and corruption in the Philippines, it seems to me, is that our type of corruption is family-based,” he said.

One example, Villegas cited, is the “shadow of corruption” that perennially haunts President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and her husband. [In my almost 38 years in the Philippines I have never seen such shameless corruption, whether family-based or not, as today].

The controversy hounding former military comptroller Maj. Gen. Carlos Garcia, his wife and two sons—all get entangled in graft cases here and abroad is another example, he said.

Villegas said the “corruption syndicate” is either husband and wife partnership or a father and son connivance or a whole family in cahoots.

“Corruption is done through the family, with the family and in the family,” the 48-year old bishop lamented.

“I have always known that the Filipinos are known for strong family ties. Our strong family bonds have been abused and corrupted. It is our sad reality,” he said.

Bad to worse

The former protégé of the late Manila Archbishop Jaime Cardinal Sin said the country’s situation has “deteriorated” because of rampant corruption in the society.

The glaring proof that corruption has reached its alarming state, he said, is that “families are no longer just corruptible but have become blatantly corrupt and corrupting.”

“We have turned from bad to worse,” Villegas lamented.

Villegas’ statement is contained in his reflection in time for the feast of St. Joseph, the patron saint of the cathedral of the Diocese of Balanga, on March 19.


While a family-based corruption is not new, he also cited the “conjugal dictatorship” of former President Marcos and his wife.

In those days, he said, the country rallied and protested against crony families and fought the family political dynasties.

“The reasons for our social discontent thirty years ago have resurrected,” said Villegas, who was a former Manila Auxiliary bishop.

Today, Villegas also chairs the Episcopal Commission on Catechesis and Catholic Education (ECCC) of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP).

Praying together as family

Villegas then called on for the restoration of the integrity of the Filipino family which requires everyone to “start praying again in the family.” [I have often been edified by seeing Filipino families in restaurants praying grace together before they eat].

He said that the faithful cannot just dismiss the “time tested” wisdom of Father Patrick Peyton that “the family that prays together stays together.”

“When family prays, they stay together with God,” he added.

Villegas also said that there is a need to start “simplifying our lives because “the most essential things in life are not available in the malls as what is essential is invisible to the eye.”

He further cited the basics of family life where family members eat together, “not just to satisfy hunger but to be with one another.” [I've been convinced of this since I went to study in the USA in 1968 and saw that families had to really work at being families, with the family meal being central. Growing up in Ireland this was a given, Sunday dinner being the family high-point of the week, and I had never reflected on it].

He also stressed the need to start telling stories again in the family “simple day to day stories, trivial and seemingly unimportant things, fairy tales and legends for children” as he stressed the need “to share our dreams and visions, our hopes and plans, our nightmares and worries, our sadness and joys in the family living room.” [Conversation at the family meal enables this to happen naturally as does time spent with the children, especially when they are young].

Better nation

Can such family acts fight corruption? “Believe me—when fear of God is brought back to the family, we will be a better nation,” Villegas said. [The 'fear of God' is not that of a slave but rather a profound respect for God's will and a desire to do it].

“When a sense of honor and dignity returns to the home, we will be able to bounce back to moral uprightness. When our passion to preserve our good name is taught again, our youth and children will choose to die rather than sin. When lying and cheating and petty stealing are punished severely at home, society will have less criminals,” he said. [On thing I am profoundly grateful to my parents for is the honesty they lived by. We never had to be punished in this area because we imbibed their values].

Sounding ever optimistic, the bishop said as soon as honor takes precedence over money “we will be able to turn back the clock of corruption” simply because “the best school is the family” as there is “no teacher better than a credible parent.” [See my comment just above].

Villegas said there’s hope the corrupt and corrupting Filipino family “can become a sanctified and sanctifying family.”

He added that in a corrupt country, the first victim is the family and the country’s renewal will also begin in the family “by turning to the Holy Family.” (Melo Acuna)

13 March 2009

Obama is no champion of science

Father Raymond J. de Souza is a Canadian priest who writes a weekly column in the National Post, a daily newspaper. He also has his own website where you can access all his articles.

Father de Souza's topic yesterday was Obama is no champion of science. He makes the point that research with adult stem cells, which involves no ethical difficulties, has been producing results in terms of treatment for various diseases. Stem cell research, involving human embryos, which involves killing human life, is going nowhere in terms of leading to cures for anything. He begins thus:

The scientists were jubilant, as men are when dividing the spoils. On Monday, President Barack Obama signed an executive order making available federal funding for stem cell research that destroys human embryos. It was widely described, erroneously -- even on the front page of the Post -- as a reversal of George W. Bush's "ban" on embryonic stem cell research (ESCR). Bush never banned ESCR; it has always been legal in the United States to create and destroy human embryos in order to harvest their stem cells. Bush only prevented federal funding from being used for embryo-destructive research.

That should not have been a problem in a wealthy country that spends hundreds of millions to advertise Viagra. If ESCR was going to be the thaumaturgical wonder its proponents claimed, the gateway to cures for every malady known to man, then private funding should have been plentiful. A cure for Parkinson's (Michael J. Fox was enthusiastic), for spinal injuries (Obama spoke about the late Christopher Reeve), for Alzheimer's (Nancy Reagan agrees too) -- what Big Pharma company wouldn't invest in research that would yield such lucrative therapies?

You can read the whole article here.

Father de Souza is writing about a man who said on national TV while campaigning to become president of the USA that knowing when life begins was 'above my pay grade'. (He later apologised for his 'flippancy').

One thing about Barack Obama is that so far he is keeping his campaign promises to promote abortion, not only in his own country, but overseas. One is tempted to say 'Yankee Imperialist'.

12 March 2009

Day of Prayer for Persons with Dementia: 19 March

El Greco, altarpiece, Capilla de San José, Toledo, 1597-99

Day of Prayer for Dementia 19 March 2009
Feast of St Joseph, Husband of Mary
Dementia affects 700,000 people in the United Kingdom

My friend Frances Molloy, the Project Manager of Pastoral Care Project , based in the Archdiocese of Birmingham, England, has emailed me about a Day of Prayer on 19 March, the Solemnity of St Joseph, Husband of Mary, for persons with dementia and those who take care of them.

Frances founded the Pastoral Care Project in 1995 because of her awareness of the unmet spiritual needs of the frail elderly and those with dementia-related illness.

I got to know her shortly after being assigned by the Columbans to Britain in 2000 and became involved with the Project, though to a limited degree. I was struck by Frances's deep awareness of the spiritual needs of those with various forms of dementia, needs that those taking care of them were often unaware of. I was also struck by her deep Catholic faith and genuine ecumenical spirit.

Frances wrote, I was thinking about it and where St Joseph fits in . . . of course he does . . . but how to people who don't relate to saints? I was reminded of when Joseph and Mary found that Jesus was missing . . . yes, he’s missing so much in our lives. But often people share with me, as I’m sure they have with you . . . the fear when a loved one with dementia has slipped out of the house, or moved out of sight when they go shopping, knowing that they won’t be able to find their way back. So Mary and Joseph know what it felt like when someone they loved was missing.

Then there is the missing a loved one . . . ‘If only they were here now I might be able to give them more help’ . . . the sense of missing them just because love makes us feel that way.

All this is the Lord’s work I know because it has come about like a tsunami of the spirit

Archbishop Vincent (Nichols) has given it his blessing. Mass will be celebrated in each parish. Each school will pray. And Churches Together in England will promote it on their website this weekend.

Dementia affects 700,000 people in the UK

Two of those 700,000 are John and Bonnie Suchet (sooSHAY). John is a former TV newsreader whose wife Bonnie was diagnosed with Alzheimer's, one of the most common forms of dementia. He spoke about this on TV on BBC Breakfast on 17 February. You can find a link to this on the website of the Alzheimer's society here.

Prayers for Day of Prayer for Dementia 19 March 2009

Prayer for Healthcare Professionals

Written by Reverend Canon Edward Pogmore, Chaplain Co-ordinator, The George Eliot Hospital NHS Trust and North Warwickshire Primary Care Trust.

O Lord we pray for all those whose work is dedicated to the assessment and
care of those who experience confusion and profound memory loss.
For all who work as Healthcare Professionals in everyday care and research
into the causes of Dementia of many kinds.
May they be strengthened in their work of service with individuals, families
and friends.
Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Prayer for the bereaved

The Joy of Your Comfort
‘Your sorrow will turn to Joy’ (John 16:20)

Columban Father Pat Sayles,
The Prayer Trust, Our Lady & St Benedict’s, Alcester Road, Wootton Wawen, Henley-in-Arden, B95 6BQ.

You promised your disciples
that our sorrows would turn to joy.
For you are alive, Lord!
You do not leave us orphans.
Come into my heart
with your consoling love;
Come into my life, dear Lord;
with the joy of your comfort.
that our loved ones,
lost to us in this life
can be found in your loving embrace!
May they love in your love;
May they know your eternal joy
and dwell in your peace. Amen.

A parish prayer

Fr Timothy Menezes, StThomas More, Coventry.

Father of all goodness,
your Son brought healing of mind and body
to show that your Kingdom is here.
In our hour of need, we look to you,
we seek to understand your purpose,
Through Joseph, the faithful and honourable husband of Mary,
you show us care and compassion in adversity,
you give us a model of generosity and care.
We pray for those whose lives we share
and who live with the knowledge of weakness,
whose memory now fades,
whose enjoyment of life’s story is changing.
Make us aware of the needs of others,
of the dignity of life at every stage,
of the collective memory that we own.
Bless those who care for the sick,
who share the journey.
Your Kingdom come,
Your will be done,
in Your good time.
We ask this through the same Christ our Lord. Amen.

A prayer for schools

Healer of the sick,
we ask you to look to your world,
to the people you love.
Create in us a new mind,
so that we may sing your praises
remember your blessings,
and kneel before you in our time of need.
We pray for those whose lives we share
and who live with the knowledge of weakness,
whose memory now fades,
whose enjoyment of life’s story is changing.
We ask for understanding and hope,
that your Kingdom of Justice
will restore all that is lost,
and make us whole.
Be with those who help the sick,
a care often unrewarded,
and those – like St Joseph – who care for others,
a care beyond what is expected,
As you, Lord Jesus, gave sight to the blind,
gave speech where it was lost,
and drove out the power of evil,
give to those who suffer with illness of the mind
the peace that only you can give.

Here is the text of a poster, which I'm unable to reproduce here:

Dementia affects 700,000 people in the UK

Pray especially on 19th March
Pray sometime during the day.
Remember families who love dearly, and often find it difficult
to talk about the change dementia brings about.
Remember the professional services and care agencies.
Remember also the people whose loved ones died many years ago.
Some are finding it painful in coming to terms with their grief.
Grief often expressed in these words.
‘If my mother was living now I could care for her in a different way, and another familiar phrase voiced is ‘Did I love him enough? ‘

Pastoral Care Project. St Gerard’s, Father Hudson’s Campus Coventry Road Coleshill B46 3ED Tel: 01675 434035

Pope condemns Northern Ireland murders

The family of the Polish pizza delivery man wounded on Saturday night in Antrim, Northern Ireland, have announced that he is recovering well.

They also said ‘There have been many attempts made by the national and international media to seek interviews with us. While we thank all the media networks for their concern and interest, we want to stress that we have firmly decided to decline all media interviews’.

The name of the Polish man, 31 and the father of a 16-month-old son, hasn’t been revealed. He and his 19-year-old companion, local man Anthony Watson were wounded as they delivered pizza to Sappers Mark Quinsey and Patrick Azimkar of the 38 Engineers Regiment of the British Army, who, though unarmed, were murdered by members of the Real IRA (Irish Republican Army).

Vigils were held in a number of centres across Northern Ireland yesterday to protest the murders of the two young soldiers and that of 48-year-old Constable Stephen Carroll (in photo) of the Police Service of Northern Ireland murdered on Monday night by members of the Continuity IRA. Vandals destroyed some of the floral tributes to the murdered policeman, as if to highlight the utter evil of his murder.

At his general audience yesterday Pope Benedict said It was with deep sorrow that I learned of the murders of two young British soldiers and a policeman in Northern Ireland. As I assure the families of the victims and the injured of my spiritual closeness, I condemn in the strongest terms these abominable acts of terrorism which, apart from desecrating human life, seriously endanger the ongoing peace process in Northern Ireland and risk destroying the great hopes generated by this process in the region and throughout the world. I ask the Lord that no one will again give in to the horrendous temptation of violence and that all will increase their efforts to continue building – through the patient effort of dialogue – a peaceful, just and reconciled society.

10 March 2009

Evil in Northern Ireland

Christ in Agony on the Cross, El Greco

When I saw the headlines about the Antrim murders the other night I felt sick at heart. Two pizza delivery men, a 19-year-old local man, Anthony Watson, and a 32-year-old Polish man, not yet named, both seriously wounded, were described by an anonymous spokesman for the cowards who shot them as ‘collaborating with the British by servicing them’. The brave ‘soldiers’ of the Real IRA (Irish Republican Army) stood over the two unarmed, wounded British soldiers, Sapper Patrick Azimkar, 21, and Sapper Mark Quinsey, 23, and finished them off.

Today’s news tells of a policeman, not yet named, being murdered in Craigavon, Northern Ireland.

Only once in my life as a priest have I been seriously tempted to punch someone – I’ve often enough felt like doing that, a different matter – and that was on a picnic with members of the Ancient Order of Hibernians (AOH) in the New York area during the summer of 1982 when I helped in a parish after a year’s study in Toronto. I had been in the same parish the previous summer.

On 20 July 1982 the Provisional IRA murdered three cavalry men during the Changing of the Guard near Buckingham Palace, London. Many others, including spectators, were injured and some horses were also killed. At the same time a bomb exploded under a bandstand in Regent’s Park, London, killing seven bandsmen, members of the British Army, and injured many spectators.

None of the soldiers killed in these incidents were armed. Both groups were entertaining people.

One of those on the picnic I attended – my only ever involvement with the AOH, an innocuous group in Ireland itself – was a major in the US Army and a teacher at West Point Academy. He was of Irish origin. Yet he justified the murders of the cavalrymen and the bandsmen. He was totally beyond reason. He had no problem with terrorists murdering unarmed soldiers of a country that the USA claims to have a special relationship with. He seemed to be oblivious of the fact that the Republic of Ireland has its own legitimate Defence Forces, a body with an honourable record of peacekeeping with the UN. The IRA, whether ‘Official, ‘Provisional’, ‘Real’ or ‘Continuity’, has never had a mandate from Irish voters.

Though the ‘discussion’ between the off-duty US Army major and I was very heated, we didn’t come to blows. That would have been a contradiction of my position. Before going home I offered him my hand and he accepted it.

Back in 1976, when I was on my first visit home from the Philippines, I mentioned in a homily in my parish church in Dublin at Sunday Mass that a temple of the Holy Spirit had been murdered that week in Northern Ireland, a member of the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC), as the police there were then known. They are now called the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI). He had been killed by the IRA, the ‘Provisional’ variety, I think. A middle-aged man stood up and asked in a loud voice ‘Are we here to listen to the gospel or a political speech’. He then sat down.

Though I was stunned I continued and during the Prayers of the Faithful prayed for the policeman who had been murdered that week.

I remember the night of Holy Thursday 1998 very well. I was chaplain to a national youth camp of the Teresian Association in Malaybalay, Bukidnon, in Mindanao, here in the Philippines. I was listening as often as I could to the BBC World Service on my little Sony radio to get the latest news of the critical peace talks in Stormont, Belfast, and asking the young people to pray for the success of the talks. It was a great gift from God when the parties finally reached agreement in the early hours of Good Friday, beyond their stated deadline.

Incidentally, the violence here in the Philippines has always been much worse than in Northern Ireland since I came here in 1971. During the Marcos dictatorship every single incident in Northern Ireland was reported in the Manila papers but the atrocities here in the Philippines itself weren’t.

I hope that the Antrim and Craigavon murders were isolated incidents. But it’s hard to cope with raw evil and utter cowardice, both of which were very evident on Saturday night. Yet some of those involved in the worst atrocities in Northern Ireland have gone through a conversion experience and have found the Christian faith and gone on to work for peace.

I am happy to report that the AOH has unequivocally condemned Saturday’s murders.

The leaders of the four main Christian bodies, each of which is an all-Ireland organization, have issued a joint statement, reported in the Belfast Telegraph, in which they said, ‘The brutal murder of two soldiers and injuring of others including civilians at Massereene is a shocking development which is an attack on our whole community.

‘It takes us back to events which we thought we had left in the past and is a dangerous attempt to destabilise the peace process which must not be allowed to succeed.’

The Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference also issued a statement of condemnation .

It is worth pointing out that during the years of ‘The Troubles’ in Northern Ireland the media persisted in using the terms ‘Catholics’ and ‘Protestants; inaccurately. The conflict had nothing whatever to do with theology, though its roots lie in the political consequences of the Protestant Reformation. Genuine Catholics and Protestants, including the leaders of the four main Christian bodies, were praying and working together for peace during those years.
Clearly, we need to continue praying.

06 March 2009

Coping with mental health problems

The March-April issue of Misyon, the online magazine I edit on behalf of the Columbans in the Philippines, has been online since last Monday.

Father Tim Finigan kindly drew the attention of his readers on his blog, The Hermeneutic of Continuity , to an article, A Daughter's View on Manic Depression, by Elizabeth Parkes 11 when she wrote it, on how she helped her Mom, Jackie, cope with depression. Jackie has an article, The Agony and the Ecstasy, which she originally posted in her blog last November. Jackie has since taken a break from blogging. Father Tim highlighted Jackie’s article first time around.

The current issue of Misyon also has an article on Mary Doohan, a Dame of the Order of St Gregory the Great, 'for her work for the missions', which she accomplished by founding and developing The Little Way Association. Mary died last August at the age of 91 and one of her two Columban brothers, Father John, was buried here in the Philippines in January. Fr Liam dunne SVD, author of the article, compares Mary, born in County Clare, Ireland, as a missionary of the same stature as people such as Frank Duff, founder of the Legion of Mary, Fr Patrick Peyton CSC, 'The Rosary Priest' and Father (later Bishop) Edward Galvin and Fr John Blowick, founders of the Columbans.

03 March 2009

Jesus teaches the Our Father

Sermon on the Mount, Sistine Chapel, 1481-82, Cosimo Rosselli

Gospel for Tuesday, First Week of Lent

Mt 6:7-15 (RSV)

"And in praying do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. Pray then like this:

Our Father who art in heaven,
Hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come.
Thy will be done, On earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread;
And forgive us our debts, As we also have forgiven our debtors;
And lead us not into temptation, But deliver us from evil.

For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father also will forgive you; but if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

English Our Father Approved for liturgical use in the Philippines

Our Father in heaven,
holy be your Name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done on earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.
Do not bring us to the test but deliver us from evil

02 March 2009

A young DJ's simple expression of faith

Bacolod City, looking north

Here in the Philippines radio stations are almost all commercial, including those run by various dioceses, depending on advertising or on selling ‘block time’, usually to local politicians. AM stations play mostly ‘soaps’ in the local language or councillors or would-be councillors shouting into the microphone and criticising their off-air opponents as if they were addressing a public meeting.

FM stations play mostly colourless contemporary music – where are the great songwriters of the 20s, 30s and 40s? – introduced by DJs speaking English and trying to sound like Americans, with a nasal ‘mid-Pacific’ accent and for ever telling you that the time is ‘one - or whatever - o’ clack’. Some even use American names instead of their own.

Some years ago I met a young man here in Bacolod who used to be a DJ and he told me he deliberately put on what he thought was an American accent.

San Sebastian Cathedral, Bacolod City

Yesterday, Sunday, I was driving on my way to hear the confessions of some young people making a recollection. The schedule was the unearthly hour of 1:30pm when I’d normally be in bed. I had a station in that I never listen to, but that had passable music. The DJ was a young woman with a pseudo-American twang, speaking a mixture of Tagalog and English, not unusual here, where conversations are often a mixture of two or even three languages, changing in mid-sentence.

Then the young DJ, whom I had more or less dismissed in my mind, signed off and in doing so said very simply to the listeners, most of whom were probably teenagers and young adults, ‘Don’t forget our Sunday obligation to go to church and thank God for our blessings’.

Yesterday was a particularly good day for me, despite missing my siesta, and that young DJ’s simple expression of faith was one of God’s blessings.

San Sebastian Cathedral, interior

The Last Judgement

Michaelangelo's 'The Last Judgement', Sistine Chapel

Monday, First Week of Lent (Mt 25:31-46)

Jesus said to his disciples:

"When the Son of man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will place the sheep at his right hand, but the goats at the left.

Then the King will say to those at his right hand, 'Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.'

Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see thee hungry and feed thee, or thirsty and give thee drink? And when did we see thee a stranger and welcome thee, or naked and clothe thee? And when did we see thee sick or in prison and visit thee?'

And the King will answer them, 'Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.'

Then he will say to those at his left hand, 'Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.'

Then they also will answer, 'Lord, when did we see thee hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to thee?'

Then he will answer them, 'Truly, I say to you, as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me.' And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life."