‘Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.’ Sunday Reflections, 12th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

Jeremiah Lamenting the Destruction of Jerusalem, Rembrandt [Web Gallery of Art]
First Reading, Jeremiah 20:10-13

Gospel Matthew 10:26-33 (New Revised  Standard Version, Anglicised Catholic Edition)

Jesus said to the Twelve:

 ‘So have no fear of them; for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops. Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground unperceived by your Father. And even the hairs of your head are all counted. So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.

‘Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven.

I think it was during the summer of 1968, a few months after my ordination, that my parents and I visited the motherhouse of the Columban Sisters in Magheramore, County Wicklow, on the east coast of Ireland. We were deeply struck by the extraordinary gentle warmth of Sister Joan Sawyer from Country Antrim, Northern Ireland, who showed us around. 

In December 1983 when I was giving a retreat to Columban Sisters in their convent in San Juan, Metro Manila, we got the shocking news of her violent death in Lima, Peru.

Sister Joan with friends in Peru

Joan Sawyer was a Columban Sister who was shot dead in Lima, Peru, in December 1983. She used to go to the Lurigancho Prison in Lima three or four days a week to visit the prisoners there. The prison held over 5,000 men. Conditions were bad. Out of 5,000 prisoners only 1,000 were sentenced. The rest were pending sentence or perhaps innocent. Joan used try to bring them some relief – medicines for some, a kind word for others, news about how she was progressing with their legal papers in the Ministry for Justice, etc. 

The large majority of prisoners came, in her own words, ‘from the poor sectors of Lima where they never had enough to eat, didn’t finish school and couldn’t find decent work’. On the morning of 14 December 1983 a group of prisoners decided that at all costs they were going to escape. They took as hostages Joan Sawyer, three Marist Sisters and social workers. After all-day negotiations with the prison authorities it was agreed that the prisoners and their hostages would be allowed leave the prison in the evening in an ambulance, the most inconspicuous mode of travel for getting out unnoticed. 

They were no sooner outside the prison gate than waiting police riddled the ambulance with bullets from all sides. Four bullets struck Joan, one through the back of the neck, two through her leg and one through her finger. When removed from the ambulance she was dead. Joan Sawyer was born in Donegore, County Antrim, in 1932. She entered the Columban Sisters in 1949 having previously worked as a secretary in Belfast. Subsequently she took her BA degree in Mundelein College, Chicago. She went to Peru in 1977 and was 51 years old at the time of her death. [Source].
Hilary Cross, Sr Joan’s niece, visited Lima for the 30th anniversary of the death of her Aunty Joan. In an article in the English newspaper The Guardian she tells of the two great sacrifices made her grandfather, George Sawyer, Sister Joan’s father. George was a Protestant who married a Catholic, Brigid Deegan, in the 1920s in the newly independent Irish Free State, now the Republic of Ireland. They had a mixed marriage in the 1920s, and it was hard to find their place in a free state that wasn’t really so free. So they moved north; my grandfather, George, the eldest son, losing his family farm for love of a sweet girl, Brigid, from ‘the other side’. They settled in Donegore, near Antrim, where George’s love of the land led him to labour on another man’s farm.
The article continues: Joan was the youngest of seven. Although all were much loved, it was said that ‘wee Joan’ held a special place in her father’s heart. Gentle, slight, spirited and with a deep faith, she left at the age of 17 to join a convent in the remote west of Ireland. That day George retreated to the land, unable to say goodbye. A man of great faith himself, he must have struggled to reconcile whose sacrifice this was, his love of a Catholic girl had lost him more than just his farm.
Hilary Cross at her Aunty Joan’s grave
The Story of Sister Joan Sawyer on the website of her native parish in Northern Ireland quotes from a letter written by a prisoner named Julio in Lurigancho Prison: Minutes before Sister Juanita [as she was known in Peru] was taken hostage I was speaking to her when she came with a packet sent in with her by my mother. I can still see her eyes which reached to eternity. Her love, pure and gentle, which reflected her great love for people. Her spirit of kindness and sacrifice towards us prisoners will be my most precious memory.
Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.
You may read more about Sister Joan on the website of the Columban Sisters here, here, here and here. The website is also the source of the photos above.
Columban Sisters carrying Sister Joan’s coffin [Source]

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‘I am the living bread that came down from heaven.’ Sunday Reflections, Corpus Christi, Year A

Main Altar, Monastery of Miraflores, Burgos, Spain

Gil de Siloe [Web Gallery of Art]

For Readings and Reflections for Corpus Christi, Year A,  click on the following: 

Corpus Christi, Year A

For places that celebrate Corpus Christi on Thursday, 15 June, you will find the readings for the Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A, here.

St Norbert in Adoration, Martin Pepijn [Web Gallery of Art]

 

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‘God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.’ Sunday Reflections, Trinity Sunday, Year A

The Trinity. El Greco [Web Gallery of Art]

For Readings and Reflections for Trinity Sunday  click on the following: 
 
Benedictus sit Deus, Mozart
Antiphona ad introitum 
Entrance Antiphon
Benedictus sit Deus Pater,
Blest be God the Father,
Unigenitusque Dei Filius,
and the Only Begotten Son of God,
Sanctus quoque Spiritus,
and also the Holy Spirit,
quia fecit nobiscum misericordian suam.
for he has shown us is merciful love.

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‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ Sunday Reflections, Pentecost, Year A

Pentecost, Sir Anthony van Dyck [Web Gallery of Art]

 

For the readings of the Vigil Mass of Pentecost and of the Mass during the day,  and for Reflections on Pentecost click on the following: 

Antiphona ad introitum

Alternative Entrance Antiphon [Rom 5: 5; Cf 8:11]

Cáritas Dei diffúsa est in córdibus nostris 

per inhabitántem Spíritum ejus in nobis. Allelúia, allelúia

The love of God has been poured into our hearts

through the Spirit of God dwelling within us, alleluia, alleluia.

Vs. Benedic, ánima mea, Dómino: et ómnia, quæ intra me sunt, nómini sancto ejus

Vs. Bless the Lord, O my soul; and all that is within me, bless his holy name. 

Vs. Glória Patri, et Fílio, et Spirítui Sancto. 

Sicut erat in princípio, et nunc, et semper, et in saécula sæculórum. Amen

Vs. Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.

Cáritas Dei diffúsa est in córdibus nostris 

per inhabitántem Spíritum ejus in nobis. Allelúia, allelúia

The love of God has been poured into our hearts

through the Spirit of God dwelling within us, alleluia, alleluia.

 

The text in bold is sung or said in the Ordinary Form of the Mass, though the rest may also be sung or said. The full text is sung or said in the Extraordinary Form of the Mass.

 

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‘The Lord goes up with shouts of joy.’ Sunday Reflections, The Ascension

The Ascension, Andrea della Robbia [Web Gallery of Art]

 

For Readings for the Ascension and the Seventh Sunday of Easter and for Reflections on the Ascension click on the following:

The Ascension

Three White Cottages in Saintes-Maries, van Gogh [Web Gallery of Art]

A work of art is the fruit of the creative capacity of the human being who stands in wonder before the visible reality, and who seeks to discover the depths of its meaning and to communicate it through the language of forms, colors and sounds. Art has the capacity to express and to make visible man’s need to go beyond what he sees; it manifests his thirst and his search for the infinite. In fact, it is like a door opened to the infinite — to a beauty and a truth that goes beyond the everyday. And a work of art can open the eyes of the mind and heart, carrying them higher(Pope Benedict XVI).

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‘Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me.’ Sunday Reflections, Fifth Sunday of Easter, Year A

St PhilipGiuseppe Mazzuoli [Web Gallery of Art]
 
Readings and Reflections: 
Canonizations in Fatima

Lucia Santos, left, and her cousins Francisco and Jacinta Marto [Wikipedia]

On Saturday 13 May Pope Francis will canonise Blessed Francisco Marto (1908 – 1919) and his sister Jacinta (1910 – 1920) in Fátima, Portugal, on the 100th anniversary of the first apparition of the Blessed Mother there to the three children.

A good friend of mine who is a priest and a Scripture scholar once pointed out to me that in all the places where the Church has affirmed that our Blessed Mother truly appeared it was to poor people. We can see this in such places as Guadalupe (1531) in Mexico, La Salette (1846) and Lourdes (1858) in France, Beauraing (1932-33) and Banneux (1933) in Belgium, Fátima (1917) in Portugal and Knock (1879) in Ireland. I have been blessed by having taken part in pilgrimages to all of these except La Salette and Guadalupe.

You may find this article of interest: The surprising connection between Our Lady of Fatima and Islam.

Ave de Fátima

Sung in Portuguese by the Choir of the Shrine in Fátima

 

Beatification in Dublin of Blessed John Sullivan SJ

Blessed John Sullivan SJ 

[Facebook. Portrait by Seán O’Sullivan]

Also on 13 May, for the first time in history, a beatification will take place in Ireland, that of Fr John Sullivan SJ (1861 – 1933), by  Cardinal Angelo Amato, Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. The ceremony will be held in St Francis Xavier Church, Gardiner Street, Dublin, a church that is closely associated also with the Venerable Matt Talbot (1856 – 1925). These two men grew up within walking distance of each other, but in totally different circumstances, John Sullivan in prosperity and Matt Talbot in poverty. God called both of them to sanctity, as indeed he calls each of us through our baptism. They responded to this call.

St Francis Xavier Church, Gardiner St, Dublin [Wikipedia]

For some reason, Dubliners rarely refer to their churches by their patronal name but rather by the street name. Had this ceremony been held in Dublin 50 or 60 years ago it would not have taken place in this or in any other church but in an open, public space. It will be interesting to see how the Irish media will cover the event.

Please pray this weekend for a renewal  of the Catholic Christian faith in Ireland where to a large extent in recent decades it has been rejected or marginalized as a purely private matter, and despised by some.

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Sunday Reflections, Fourth Sunday of Easter, Year A. Columban ordination to diaconate.

The Good Shepherd, Martin van Cleve the Elder [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 John 10:1-10  (New Revised Standard Version, Catholic Edition, Canada) 

Jesus said:

“Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.” Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.

So again Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture.  The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.

You’ll find the Reflections here.

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Columban Ordination to Diaconate

Bishop Honesto F. Ongtioco of Cubao ordained Erl Dylan J. Tabaco to the diaconate on 30 April in the Columban House of Studies, Cubao, Quezon City. The new deacon is from Holy Rosary Parish, Agusan, Cagayan de Oro City. He spent two years, 2014 to 2016, on First Mission Assignment in Peru as part of his preparation for the Columban missionary priesthood. You can read about his work there with children who are profoundly deaf and with young persons with intellectual disabilities here

Erl Dylan J. Tabaco with youngsters in Peru
 
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Bring Flowers of the Fairest, also known as Queen of the May, a very popular Marian hymn in Ireland, especially during the month of May, was written by Mary E. Walsh and is sung here by the late Irish tenor, Frank Patterson.

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‘Then there eyes were opened . . .’ Sunday Reflections, Third Sunday of Easter, Year A

Supper at Emmaus (detail) 1606, Caravaggio [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 24:13-35 (New Revised Standard Version, Catholic Edition, Canada) 

Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them,  but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?” He asked them, “What things?” They replied, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth,who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people,  and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning,  and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.” Then he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared!  Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.

As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” So he went in to stay with them.  When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?”  That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together.  They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!”  Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

You will find the Reflections here.

 

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‘My Lord and my God!’ Sunday Reflections, Second Sunday of Easter (or Sunday of Divine Mercy), Year A

The Apostle St Thomas, El Greco [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 John 20:19-31 (New Revised Standard Version, Catholic Edition, Canada)  

When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came.  So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

John 20:19-31 from The Gospel of John

 

We can read the words of Jesus to Thomas as a gentle rebuke that has led to the nickname he may carry for all eternity: ‘Doubting Thomas’. But I prefer to see him as the one who understood that the Risen Lord must carry the scars of his crucifixion and who made the most explicit act of faith in the whole of Sacred Scripture: My Lord and my God!

The First Reading today (Ats 2:42-47) opens with the words They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. ‘The breaking of the bread’ is an expression used for the celebration of the Eucharist. We can see in this sentence the essence of the Mass as we celebrate it today: listening to God’s word, praying and sharing in the Sacrifice of Jesus and sharing his Body and Blood.

Some commentators say that the failure of Thomas was not to listen to God’s word as related by his companions. Maybe he did fail here but did the others have the same awareness as Thomas had that the Risen Lord must carry his scars for all eternity?

In Evangelii Gaudium No 7 Pope Francis writes: I never tire of repeating those words of Benedict XVI which take us to the very heart of the Gospel: ‘Being a Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction’.

Thomas had been a companion of Jesus for two to three years but what he experienced in today’s gospel was precisely what Pope Benedict describes as the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.

Servant of God, Fr Emil Joseph Kapaun (20 April 1916 – 23 May 1951) celebrating Mass with American soldiers during the Korean War [Wikipedia]

In his general audience in St Peter’s Square on 31 October 2012 Pope Benedict said: I cannot build my personal faith in a private dialogue with Jesus, because faith is given to me by God through a community of believers that is the Church and projects me into the multitude of believers, into a kind of communion that is not only sociological but rooted in the eternal love of God who is in himself the communion of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, it is Trinitarian Love. Our faith is truly personal, only if it is also communal: it can be my faith only if it dwells in and moves with the ‘we’ of the Church, only if it is our faith, the common faith of the one Church.

Pope Francis re-echoes this in Evangelii Gaudium Nos 264 – 268: We need to implore his grace daily, asking him to open our cold hearts and shake up our lukewarm and superficial existence . . . Sometimes we lose our enthusiasm for mission because we forget that the Gospel responds to our deepest needs, since we were created for what the Gospel offers us: friendship with Jesus and love of our brothers and sisters . . . The word of God also invites us to recognise that we are a people . . . Mission is at once a passion for Jesus and a passion for his people. When we stand before Jesus crucified, we see the depth of his love which exalts and sustains us, but at the same time, unless we are blind, we begin to realize that Jesus’ gaze, burning with love, expands to embrace all his people. We realize once more that he wants to make use of us to draw closer to his beloved people. He takes us from the midst of his people and he sends us to his people; without this sense of belonging we cannot understand our deepest identity.

What both Pope Benedict and Pope Francis are saying is that while our faith is in a person, Jesus Christ the Risen Lord, it can never be a question of ‘Jesus and me’. Pope Benedict says, faith is given to me by God through a community of believers that is the Church and projects me into the multitude of believers and Pope Francis emphasises that He takes us from the midst of his people and he sends us to his people; without this sense of belonging we cannot understand our deepest identity.

In other words, I can only know myself as a brother or sister of Jesus, as a son or daughter of God the Father when I know myself as a member of their family, which I have become through my baptism.

And that awareness of who I am is strengthened when I join other members of God’s family every Sunday as they devote themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.

British soldiers at Mass in the Netherlands during World War II [Wikipedia]

Many Irish Columbans served as chaplains in the British Forces during World War II. One, Fr Patrick McMahon, died in action in Normandy, France, after rescuing a Canadian soldier on 14 August 1944.

In the Office of Readings, prayed by priests, monks, nuns and others as part of the Prayer of the Church, there are two readings. The first is from the Bible and the second usually from writers in the early centuries of the Church. On Thursday, Friday and Saturday of Easter Week the second reading is from Instructions to the Newly Baptized in Jerusalem also known as The Jerusalem Catechesis, written, as far as I know, by St Cyril of Jerusalem. The author says, Just as the bread of the Eucharist after the invocation of the Holy Spirit is no longer just bread, but the body of Christ, so when the Holy Spirit has been invoked on the holy chrism it is no longer mere or ordinary ointment; it is the gift of Christ, which through the presence of the Holy Spirit instils his divinity into us [Friday].

For the Saturday reading the author tells the newly-baptized: Do not, then, regard the bread and wine as nothing but bread and wine, for they are the body and blood of Christ as the master himself has proclaimed. Though your senses suggest otherwise, let faith reassure you. You have been taught and fully instructed that what seems to be bread is not bread, though it appears to be such to the sense of taste, but the body of Christ; that what seems to be wine is not wine, though the taste would have it so, but the blood of Christ

When I celebrate Mass with the Deaf here in Bacolod City, a group whose needs the late Columban Fr Joseph Coyle was the first priest to respond to and whose vision is being carried on now by many others, both Deaf and hearing, after the consecration of the bread and again of the wine, I hear from speaking people who are present the words of St Thomas, My Lord and my God. Just like St Thomas, they recognise the presence of the Risen Lord in the bread and the winde that have no become his Body and Blood.

Fr Emil Kapaun and Fr Patrick McMahon recognised the presence of Jesus in the bread and wine that became the Body and Blood of Christ each time they celebrated the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. They also recognised the presence of Jesus in the wounds of the soldiers they tended and in whose service they sacrificed their lives – following the example of St Thomas who, according to tradition, was martyred in India.

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Regina caeli is sung during the Easter Season at the end of the Church’s Night Prayer (Compline).

The Coronation of the Virgin, Fra Angelico [Web Gallery of Art]

Regina cæli, lætare, alleluia:
Quia quem meruisti portare, alleluia,
Resurrexit, sicut dixit, alleluia,
Ora pro nobis Deum, alleluia.
V. Gaude et lætare, Virgo Maria, alleluia.
R. Quia surrexit Dominus vere, alleluia.
 
Oremus.
Deus, qui per resurrectionem Filii tui, Domini nostri Iesu Christi,
mundum lætificare dignatus es:
præsta, quæsumus, ut per eius Genitricem Virginem Mariam,
perpetuæ capiamus gaudia vitæ.
Per eundem Christum Dominum nostrum. R. Amen.
Queen of Heaven, rejoice, alleluia.
The Son whom you merited to bear, alleluia.
Has risen, as He said, alleluia.
Pray for us to God, alleluia.
V. Rejoice and be glad, O Virgin Mary, alleluia.
R. For the Lord has truly risen, alleluia.
Let us pray.
O God, who through the resurrection of your Son Jesus Christ
gave rejoicing to the world,
grant, we pray, that through his Mother, the Virgin Mary,
we may obtain the joy of everlasting life.
Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

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