30 September 2013

Bombing of church in Peshawar, Pakistan, 22 September 2013

Columban Fr Daniel O'Connor, a New Zealander who has been in Pakistan for many years, wrote this report five days after the bombing of a church in Peshawar, Pakistan, on 22 September that resulted in many deaths and injuries.

The prayerful and peaceful atmosphere created by the 600-strong congregation in All Saints Anglican Church, Peshawar, was shattered when two suicide bombers exploded their bombs and killed 85 people and injuring and maiming many more. Life will not be the same for their loved ones again, not for the Christian community, not for other minorities, and not for the majority of peace-loving Muslims in Pakistan.

Photos sent by Fr Tomás King, Columban Mission Unit Coordinator, Pakistan

All Saints Church is the second oldest church in Peshawar and was built in 1893. ‘Soon after the service ended we came out of the main hall. Some people were greeting each other and others were queuing for food when a suicide bomber blew himself up’, said Nazir John, whose clothes were stained with blood.

Pakistan has been plagued by terrorist attacks that have claimed the lives of their leaders and ordinary people, including the most vulnerable. The Christian Community has a number of crosses to bear as it tries to live, breathe, survive and thrive in Pakistan. The attack on Joseph Colony, Lahore, in March plus the false accusations of blasphemy against a teenage girl in Islamabad are recent reminders of the difficulties they have to endure.

Since 2002 Christians have generally been spared the wrath of the Taliban who have focused their so-called righteousness on ordinary Pakistanis, regardless of sect or religion, on state institutions and on the Shia community in particular in recent years. There had been an attack on a church in Bahawalpur in October 2001 where 16 people were gunned down, another attack on a church in Islamabad followed by a shooting at a Christian school in Murree and a church in Taxila. Back then it was argued that the attacks were a reaction to the invasion of Afghanistan and the aim was to punish the West. Now 11 years later a church has been targeted again with horrendous results. But on many occasions before 9 September 2001 Christians suffered the violence of members of the majority due to false accusations of blasphemy.

So what now is the question that arises? A claim for responsibility, whether authentic or not, was made by a group called Tandool Hafsa, a faction of the banned Tehreek-i-Taliban. A spokesman for the Tehreek-i-Taliban declared, ‘We have not done this. We do not attack innocent people’.

Imran Khan, Chairperson of the Tehreek-i-Insaf party, in reference to the USA’s use of drones on targets inside Pakistan as well as recent moves by the government and Taliban to sit down for peace talks, said, ‘Whenever such peace efforts are initiated, drone and terror attacks also escalate, apparently to sabotage the peace overtures’. Christians, who comprise roughly two percent of the estimated 180 million people of Pakistan, fear fresh attacks. After the 22 September carnage Anglican Bishop Humphrey of Peshawar stated: ‘I am afraid that this is the beginning; it can spread to the rest of Pakistan’.

In one district, the administrator and police have advised the Christian Community to raise the boundary walls of their church by at least eleven feet and to top it off with steel wire. Not very helpful advice!

After the bombing protest demonstrations, vigils and mourning processions erupted in hundreds of towns and cities across the country. In some cities there were incidents of violence where enraged protesters pelted vehicles with stones and blocked roads to vent their anger. Some protestors wielded sticks while others fired shots into the air. Tyres were burned and damage was caused to public property. This prompted police to baton charge and fire tear gas.

The protests paralyzed the life of Peshawar, the provincial capital of Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa province, where all shops stayed closed to express solidarity with their mourning neighbours, and presumably also out of fear of possible revenge attacks. Life in other large cities was also brought to a standstill on the day after the bombing as Christians and other minorities held demonstrations and protests.

Peace activists, representatives of civil society, lawyers and students from various universities also participated and expressed their condolences and solidarity with the Christian community. Protestors carried banners and placards with slogans demanding protection for minorities and the immediate arrest of the culprits involved in the tragic incident. Because of the gravity of the situation the authorities made tighter security arrangements.

Bishop Sadiq David of the Church of Pakistan, in reference to the violent demonstrations said:

It is unfortunate that doing harm in reply to harm has become part of Pakistan’s culture. We are aware of the burning of tyres and road blockages by our youth, but we do not endorse this. We know they are angry but we want to tell them that this is not the way. It does not benefit anyone. There are other ways of registering grievances than resorting to violence.

Meanwhile family and friends of loved ones killed were in deep mourning preparing bodies for burial and walking in mourning processions to the cemeteries. All schools run by the various churches, where children from all religious traditions attend, were closed for three days as an act of solidarity and protest.

In the Columban parish of Badin a peaceful protest rally of a couple of hundred people was held, with participants walking from the church compound through the main streets to the press club. Other minority groups also joined including representatives of the Gujarati Hindu community, many of them women.  The Gurjaratis are low caste Hindus and like the Punjabi Christians are predominately those who sweep the streets and clean the sewers and because of this work are treated as second citizens. Normally they keep a low profile but on this day they carried the tools of their trade. 
Other Hindus and members of the minority Shia community visited the Church compound to express sympathy and solidarity.   

The National Assembly adopted a joint resolution to condemn what it called a ‘heinous, brutal and inhuman terrorist attack, not only against the Christian community but against all Pakistanis’. A minute’s silence was observed for the Christian fatalities, followed by a Fateha prayer for the Muslims who died.

The government has vowed to pursue the mastermind of the attack. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif joined in the condemnations and expressed deep shock and sorrow over the loss of precious human lives. He stated that terrorists have no religion and that targeting innocent people was against the teaching of Islam. Such cruel acts of terrorism reflected the brutality and inhumane mindset of the terrorists. Leaders of most political parties condemned the attack.

Muslim Ulema from different schools of thought condemned the suicide attacks on the church as ‘un-islamic’, stating;

 The attacks were against the teaching of Islam. Islam does not allow attacks on innocent minorities and makes it mandatory to protect their lives and property. We believe that the attack on the church was a conspiracy against Islam and Pakistan. In Islam the murder of an innocent human being is the murder of the entire humanity. 

The Ulema also urged the government to take effective steps to safeguard minorities in the country and bring to justice the perpetrators because they violated the Constitution of the country which guaranteed complete protection to minorities.

The highly respected non-governmental organization, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), was sickened by the brutal attack. ‘The massacre of Christian citizens is an affront to the values that Jinnah’s Pakistan must stand for, it is an insult to the principles propagated by Islam and a damning citizens’ indictment at the State for its failure to protect its citizens, especially minorities and their religious freedoms’.

At a peaceful and prayerful protest in Karachi organized by the National Justice and Peace Commission of the Bishops’ Conference, at which Archbishop Joseph Coutts and a large number of people gathered outside St Patrick’s Cathedral, people shared their feelings.

Saify Ali Khan, an advocate of the Supreme Court, said that what happened gave a wrong message to the international community about Pakistan. ‘It is really the terrorists who are against Islam here. They are not Muslims because Islam gives the message of love for the entire humanity’. A young girl commented: ‘I do not want to think about people being killed when I am at church with my parents’. A young woman quietly said: ‘For the culprits responsible for the bomb attacks in Peshawar, I can only say, “Forgive them, Father, for they do not know what they do”’.

In such circumstances, such magnanimity and humanity gives a glimpse of a more peaceful future. 

28 September 2013

'At his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus . . .' Sunday Reflections, 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year C

Dives and Lazarus, c.1595, Leandro Bassano

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)                                  

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

Gospel Luke 16:19-31 (Revised Standard Version – Catholic Edition)

Jesus said to the Pharisees:

"There was a rich man, who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, full of sores, who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man's table; moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. 

The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham's bosom. The rich man also died and was buried; and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes, and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus in his bosom. And he called out, 'Father Abraham, have mercy upon me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in anguish in this flame.'

But Abraham said, 'Son, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.'

And he said, 'Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father's house, for I have five brothers, so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.'

But Abraham said, 'They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.' And he said, 'No, father Abraham; but if some one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.' He said to him, 'If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced if some one should rise from the dead.'"

Responsorial Psalm (NAB Lectionary)

An Indian Missionary of Charity who was based in Hong Kong for some years told me of something that happened there shortly before Christmas 2009. Yang was what Sister called a ‘street-sleeper’, ie, someone living on the streets. Strictly speaking he wasn’t, as he had a little place where he lived with his mother. Both were Buddhists. Yang was in poor health and couldn’t get a job. He mixed mostly with those who were ‘street-sleepers’.

He first came across the Missionaries of Charity when they were distributing lunch-boxes to very poor people in the street. He began to come to their place regularly for a meal and made a point of coming to the annual Advent celebration when gifts would be distributed and a meal provided. Yang’s mother often wondered where he got his regular meals. ‘From Sister’ was his answer to her queries but she didn’t know who ‘Sister’ was.

Yang didn’t attend the Advent celebration in 2009 because he was in hospital but he asked his mother to go in his place. When she arrived the celebration was over but the Sisters had kept one meal in case someone would arrive late. So they gave it to her.

A day or two later, around 19 0r 20 December, Yang died. Some time after that his mother came to the Sisters to express her profound gratitude to them for their kindness and hospitality to her son and to herself.

Yang and his mother experienced the personal love of Jesus for them through the Missionaries of Charity who took care of the many Lazaruses outside their door. And Sister told me that food never ran out. It was constantly supplied by hotels and restaurants.

Jesus gives a name to Lazarus but not to the rich man, though 'Dives', the Latin for 'rich', is often used as a name for him, such as in the ballad below. It is difficult to give a name to each person in a refugee camp where there may be tens of thousands, a sight we are all too familiar with. Yet people are extraordinarily generous when a calamity occurs, whether caused by nature or by man. And there are many who leave the comfort of their own home and homeland to take care of those in such places who have nothing.

Each person in a refugee camp has a name, a family, a history, hopes, God-given talents, an invitation to live with God for ever in heaven. And even in the relatively affluent West many are in need because of the economic situation. The Capuchin Day Centre in Dublin, for example, which initially helped individuals really down on their luck, as we say in Ireland, is now helping families that in the past didn't experience hardship. 

There is much to be done to bring the Gospel to change the lives of the many Lazaruses throughout the world - working for peace, working for justice at the level of legislation and so on. God calls some to serve Lazarus in this way. But while the slow work of peace-building and the rest goes on, Lazarus is outside our door each day in need of sustenance to help him survive till the following day.

'Dives' is the Latin word for 'rich'. Though Jesus gave a name only to the beggar in the parable, Lazarus, 'Dives' is often used as a name for the rich man. Above is an old English ballad based on the parable. Some of you may recognise the melody as the same one used for the Irish song The Star of the County Down. I found the lyrics of the song here but adjusted them in places. Ballads have variations. 'Divès' becomes 'Diverus' at times.

As it fell out upon a day,
Rich Divès made a feast,
And he invited all his friends,
And gentry of the best.

Then Lazarus laid him down and down
And down at Divès' door:
'Some meat, some drink, brother, Diverus,
To bestow upon the poor.'

'Thou art none of my brother, Lazarus,
Lie begging at my door;
No meat, no drink will I give to you,
Nor bestow upon the poor.'

Then Divès sent to his merry men,
To whip poor Lazarus away;
They had no power to strike one stroke,
But flung their whips away.

Then Lazarus laid him down and down
Even down at Divès' gate:
'Some meat, some drink, brother, Diverus,
For Jesus Christ’s sake."

"Thou art none of my brother, Lazarus,
Lies begging at my gate;
No meat, no drink will I give to you,
For Jesus Christ’s sake.'

Then Divès sent his hungry dogs,
To bite him as he lay;
They had no power to bite at all.
They licked his sores away.

As it fell out all on a day,
Poor Lazarus sickened and died;
There came an angel out of heaven,
His soul therein to guide.

'Rise up! rise up! brother Lazarus,
And go along with me;
For you've a place prepared in heaven,
To sit on an angel's knee.'

As it fell out all on a day,
Rich Divès sickened and died;
There came two serpents out of hell,
His soul therein to guide.

'Rise up! rise up! brother Diverus,
And go with us and see;
A dismal place prepared in hell
From which thou canst not flee.'

Then Divès looked up with his eyes
And saw poor Lazarus blest;
'Give me one drink, brother Lazarus,
To quench my flaming thirst.

'O, was I now but alive again
In the space of one half hour!
O, then my peace would be secure
The devil should have no power.'

Photos from Wikipedia.


18 September 2013

'He who is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much.' Sunday Reflections. 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year C

Girl with a Pearl Earring, c.1665, Johannes Vermeer [Web Gallery of Art]

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)                                  

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

Gospel Luke 16:1-13 [Short form 10-13] (Revised Standard Version – Catholic Edition)

Jesus said to the disciples, ["There was a rich man who had a steward, and charges were brought to him that this man was wasting his goods. And he called him and said to him, 'What is this that I hear about you? Turn in the account of your stewardship, for you can no longer be steward.' And the steward said to himself, 'What shall I do, since my master is taking the stewardship away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. I have decided what to do, so that people may receive me into their houses when I am put out of the stewardship.' So, summoning his master's debtors one by one, he said to the first, 'How much do you owe my master?' He said, 'A hundred measures of oil.' And he said to him, 'Take your bill, and sit down quickly and write fifty.' Then he said to another, 'And how much do you owe?' He said, 'A hundred measures of wheat.' He said to him, 'Take your bill, and write eighty.' The master commended the dishonest steward for his shrewdness; for the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light. And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous mammon, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal habitations.]

"He who is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and he who is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much. If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful in that which is another's, who will give you that which is your own? No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon." 

Antiphona ad Communionem / Communion Antiphon (John 10:14)

Ego sum pastor bonus, dicit Dóminus;
et cognósco oves meas, et cognóscunt me meae.

I am the Good shepherd, says the Lord;
I know my sheep, and mine know me.

May 1888, Arles, Vincent van Gogh [Web Gallery of Art]

Shortly before I came back to the Philippines from Ireland I dropped by the house of Brian, a childhood friend in Dublin. Over coffee we chatted about many things, ranging from the current situation of the Church in Ireland to the days when we were growing up.

In the course of our conversation the small Jewish community in Dublin came up. It has never quite reached 4,000 in Ireland and the majority of the now fewer than 2,000 live in Dublin. I told Brian that my father, who spent all his working life as a carpenter on building/construction sites, most of those years as a highly respected general foreman, had built a house for a wealthy Jewish couple in the late 1950s. 

Shortly after the house was finished a very expensive car stopped outside our house, in a street of terraced houses where nobody had a telephone and very few had cars. The few cars that were there were the kind that Pope Francis might have been interested in had he been around! The driver knocked on our door and turned out to be the owner of the new house my father had built. He came to invite our family to dinner the following week in his new home. My father had helped build many new homes over the 54 years of his working life but this was the only occasion when he had been thanked in such a way.

We enjoyed the gracious hospitality of the family and it was the only time I ever visited a Jewish home in Ireland.

Brian then told me a story about his father Jimmy, whom I had known well, a house painter and decorator. He had painted and decorated the houses of many Jewish families in Dublin over the years. This was mainly due to an incident the first time he was asked to work in a Jewish home. While scraping the old paint from the stairs he found a diamond ring stuck in a corner. He immediately brought it to the owner and said 'I found this on the stairs'. 'I know', said the owner, 'I put it there!' 

The word spread through the Jewish community that Jimmy was trustworthy. Over the years he had many Jewish clients. 

He who is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much.

Jewish Museum, Walworth Road, Dublin

When I told the story of Jimmy and the diamond ring to my sister-in-law Gladys she told me that her engagement ring had been stolen while she and my brother Paddy were having renovations done to their home a few years ago.

I remember too how upset my father was when he was renovating a Georgian house in Dublin. He discovered that the knocker on the front door had disappeared and it could only have been one of his workmates who took it. He was unable to trace the knocker or find out who the thief was.

He who is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much.

The current major story in the Philippines is the 'pork barrel scam'. PHP10 billion - roughly US$200,000,000 or €200,000,000 - of taxes paid by the people have disappeared. Some senators and members of Congress are alleged to be beneficiaries of this along with others.

Today's gospel speaks to situations like this. Corruption on such a vast scale begins in the classroom when a child learns that though cheating isn't right the main thing is not to be caught. The man who stole my sister-in-law's engagement ring and my father's workmate who walked away with the valuable knocker from the front door of the Georgian house were earning salaries. What values were they passing on to their families?

One thing that both my parents instilled in me was that I must not keep anything that isn't mine. When I was a toddler I came home from a park up the road from where we lived with a leather football. This was in the mid-1940s, around the time World War II ended when such things would have been very scarce and expensive. They asked around the neighbourhood and it was only when nobody claimed the ball that our family kept it.

Honesty and trustworthiness at such basic levels are  a foundation for justice. I've known of individuals 'working for justice' who weren't paying their own workers a proper wage. I've known many others such as my father, such as Jimmy, who didn't talk much about justice. They simply behaved in a just and honest manner and treated others with respect.

God invites every single one of us to share for ever in the riches of eternal life. Eternal life begins in the here and now. We make our choices in the here and now.

No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.


I mentioned two diamond rings above. I couldn't find a painting with a diamond ring but Vermeer's Girl with a Pearl Earring is a work of such extraordinary beauty that I used it instead.

I'm posting this a little early because I will be giving a directed retreat for eight days, the evening of 19 till the evening of 27 September, to six Missionaries of Charity in Tagaytay City, south of Manila. I know from being there before that it is difficult to connect with the internet.

I would be grateful for your prayers for the Sisters and myself.

Photos from Wikipedia.

13 September 2013

'Rejoice with me, for I have found . . .' Sunday Reflections, 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year C

The Prodigal Son, 1651-55, Salvator Rosa [Web Gallery of Art]
Luke 15:11-32

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)                                  

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

Gospel Luke 15:1-32 [1-10, short form] (Revised Standard Version – Catholic Edition)

Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear Jesus. And the Pharisees and the scribes murmured, saying, "This man receives sinners and eats with them." So he told them this parable: "What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, 'Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost.' Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. "

Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and seek diligently until she finds it? And when she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, 'Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin which I had lost.' Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents."

[And he said, "There was a man who had two sons; and the younger of them said to his father, 'Father, give me the share of property that falls to me.' And he divided his living between them. Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took his journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in loose living.

And when he had spent everything, a great famine arose in that country, and he began to be in want. So he went and joined himself to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed swine. And he would gladly have fed on the pods that the swine ate; and no one gave him anything. But when he came to himself he said, 'How many of my father's hired servants have bread enough and to spare, but I perish here with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, "Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me as one of your hired servants."' And he arose and came to his father.

But while he was yet at a distance, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. And the son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.' But the father said to his servants, 'Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet; and bring the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and make merry; for this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.' And they began to make merry.

"Now his elder son was in the field; and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. And he called one of the servants and asked what this meant. And he said to him, 'Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has received him safe and sound.' But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, but he answered his father, 'Lo, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command; yet you never gave me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your living with harlots, you killed for him the fatted calf!'

And he said to him, 'Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. It was fitting to make merry and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.'"]

Responsorial Psalm (NAB Lectionary)

A few days after I went to Ireland on vacation in May a man came to me after Mass one morning. I'll call him Tom. He told me with great joy that he had drifted away from the Church for a number of years, though he wasn't quite sure why. This happened after his wife died. But a friend of his, another widower whom I'll call Jim, gently kept encouraging him to come back. Tom is a couple of years short of 70 while Jim is a couple of years above.

Tom decided on the morning of Ash Wednesday this year that he'd go to Mass. He wasn't quite sure at the time why. But he's been going every day since with Jim. They usually have coffee afterwards in the parish hall. I joined them from time to time and came to know both as friends, two men quietly living their faith.

In his first general audience as Bishop of Rome, on Wednesday 27 March, Pope Francis said, God does not wait for us to go to him but it is he who moves towards us, without calculation, without quantification. That is what God is like. He always takes the first step, he comes towards us

But God usually approaches us through others. In the same talk, given during Holy Week, Pope Francis said, Following Jesus means learning to come out of ourselves — as I said last Sunday — in order to go to meet others, to go towards the outskirts of existence, to be the first to take a step towards our brothers and our sisters, especially those who are the most distant, those who are forgotten, those who are most in need of understanding, comfort and help. There is such a great need to bring the living presence of Jesus, merciful and full of love!

As he has done so often since, Pope Francis speaks of God's mercy and alludes to today's gospel (though some priests or deacons may not read the parable of the Prodigal Son): God always thinks with mercy: do not forget this. God always thinks mercifully. He is the merciful Father! God thinks like the father waiting for the son and goes to meet him, he spots him coming when he is still far off....

What does this mean? That he went every day to see if his son was coming home: this is our merciful Father. It indicates that he was waiting for him with longing on the terrace of his house

Jim is a former professional footballer. A good player is constantly 'reading' the game and when he gets possession of the ball he knows who to pass it to or, if there is an opening, to take a shot at goal. Not every forward movement results in a goal because a good defender 'reads' the game too and knows when and how to shut down an attack. But the forwards keep looking for opportunities to score and the backs for ways to stop them from scoring. 

In the two short parables Jesus speaks of individuals who know they have lost something valuable. In the case of the woman it was the equivalent of a day's wage. In each case the owner goes in search of what has been lost. Sometimes we may not know ourselves that we have lost something precious. That was the case with Tom. But Jim his friend could see what Tom had lost. And as a good footballer would do, he 'kept his eye on the ball', looking for a way to enable Tom not only to see that he had lost something precious but to find it.

That's what happened. And in the same talk on Wednesday of Holy Week Pope Francis urged us 'to come out' in order to meet others, to make ourselves close, to bring them the light and joy of our faith. To come out always! And to do so with God’s love and tenderness, with respect and with patience, knowing that God takes our hands, our feet, our heart, and guides them and makes all our actions fruitful. .

Pope Francis mentions a number of aspects of following Jesus: light, joy, respect, patience. He emphasises that the one seeking us out is our loving God who takes our hands, our feet, our heart, and guides them and makes all our actions fruitful.

Jesus waited for the opportunity to strike, taking first of all Jim's caring heart and then, in a way that a soccer player would appreciate, 'took his feet' to 'score the goal' that was the joyful return of Tom to the Church.

This setting of Psalm 51 (Psalm 50 in the Vulgate and liturgical books) from which the verses of today's Responsorial Psalm are taken, is by Gregorio Allegri (1582-1653) who was a priest in Rome.

Moses, 1640-45, Carlo Dolci [Web Gallery of Art]
First Reading: Exodus 32:7-11, 13-14

11 September 2013

Standing with Fr Ray Blake

This is a follow up to my post on 9 September, Fr Ray Blake, English priest-blogger, misrepresented by local journalist and others. I came across the photo above on a number of other blogs since. I took it from The Epomynous Flower. I do not know who designed it.

There is much misrepresentation in the media of the Church and its mission and of some of its members who are faithfully carrying out that mission. This misrepresentation extends to matters on which the Church speaks. One example was the recent introduction of legislation allowing abortion in the Republic of Ireland for the first time.

Some misrepresentation is the result of ignorance and may contain no malice whatever. But when a person who is actively involved, along with his parishioners, in helping the destitute every day is described as 'complaining' about them when he is simply showing one unpleasant aspect of reality, one has to ask if only simple, genuine ignorance is involved.

Journalists often provide a great service to the community by calling others to task, including bishops and priests. Many journalists have lost their lives for speaking the truth. But sometimes it may be necessary to call a journalist to task.

St Francis de Sales, patron saint of journalists. [Wikipedia]

Maybe we can direct some prayers through the intercession of St Francis de Sales, patron saint of journalists, for those directly affected by this situation.

09 September 2013

Fr Ray Blake, English priest-blogger, misrepresented by local journalist and others

St Mary Magdalen's Church, Brighton, England

Fr Ray Blake is parish priest of St Mary Magdalen's, Brighton, in the Diocese of Arundel and Brighton on the south coast of England. He is also a blogger with a wide readership. I have been a regular reader of his blog for some years and am struck by two aspects of his writing in particular: his faithfulness to the Church's teaching and his commitment to those on the fringes of society such as immigrants in difficulties, drug addicts, alcoholics, beggars. 

On 10 August this year he posted The Trouble with the Poor. It begins this way: The trouble with the poor is that they are messy.

There is a secluded area between the church and our hall, a passage, occasionally we find someone has got a few cardboard boxes together and has slept there and if it has been raining leaves a sodden blanket, cardboard there to be cleaned up, often it also smells of urine and there is often excrement there and sometimes a used needle or two.

There is a man who comes into the church, especially during the trad Mass and during the silence of the Canon will pray aloud, "Jesus, I want you to bless Fr Ray and ...., and God, can you persuade the good people here to give to the poor, I am poor", unchecked he will take his cap off and have a collection. It makes a mess of our prayers, it stops some coming to Mass here.

This post, along with many others he has written, has shown Father Ray to be a person who is very much involved with the poor.

The Charity of St Lawrence, 1815-20, Bernardo Strozzi [Web Gallery of Art]

On 5 September, The Argus, a Brighton-based paper published an 'exclusive' article about Father Ray's blogpost under the by-line of Bill Gardner, 'Lying and messy' poor sent by God to test us, says Brighton priest. The article begins, A complaining priest claims “lying” poor people have been sent by God to “test my holiness”.

Nobody reading Father Ray's article with an open mind or reading his blog regularly could describe him as 'a complaining priest'. Here in the Philippines I have been trying to deal with people looking for money all the years I have been in the country since 1971. I have been stopped on the street in Ireland and in England, sometimes in places such as railway stations. Even as a seminarian, when we wore a black suit and black tie when outside the seminary, I was a target of beggars as were other seminarians and priests.

Some asking for help are in real need. Some are con-artists. I have never really learned how to meet with grace persons who approach me for help or how to distinguish those in real need from those on the make. I prefer to direct whatever money comes my way to help those in need when I know this really responds to their needs, eg, a home run by religious sisters for girls many of whom have been abused, while respecting their dignity - and mine.

I have never had the experience of having what I wrote totally distorted, the experience Father Ray has had.

Laurence England, a parishioner and parish secretary at St Mary Magdalen's and a blogger, sent this letter to The Argus. Inter alia Mr England writes: Fr Blake also helps other poor and homeless people who come to his door. They are not all honest and some do indeed lie in order to get money. I know this is true because I am the secretary at the Church and often respond to callers and give from the poor fund established by the Church for their relief. Despite this, if you read his post, it was about how Christians should respond to the poor, not an attack on the poor themselves.

Father Ray is wondering if he should continue blogging. Perhaps you might visit his blog and post a word of encouragement. Pope Benedict has spoken of our responsibility to use the internet to preach the Gospel to what he calls 'this digital continent'. Some will listen and accept, some will listen politely and walk away, some will malign those who preach the Gospel and some will deliberately refuse to see how persons such as Father Ray are powerfully living the Gospel.