The Missionary Sisters of St Columbans, better known as the Columban Sisters, have just celebrated the 90th Anniversary of their foundation in Ireland 90 years ago. As we thank God for their service to the Church may we contine to pray for the Sisters and the people they serve in many countries.
Recently I was talking to a group of forty young boys who had been taken out of filthy jails and sub-human conditions in the so-called youth detention centers of Metro Manila. I told them, ‘You are the children of God and the most important in God’s family. That’s why you are here. You are free and have rights and dignity’.
They stared wide-eyed with incredulous looks of awe and bafflement. Jason, ten years old, jumped up, spread out his arms and began to spin around in a playful demonstration of ‘being free’. Everyone laughed and enjoyed the moment.
The boys between 9 and 16 are living happily in a beautiful home in the countryside and finding and experiencing their basic rights and joys that we, who have never suffered an injustice or been in conflict with the law or lost our freedom, take for granted and so hardly ever cherish and celebrate. You may never value it until it is taken away.
A large majority of the boys at the Preda Foundation’s New Dawn Home for Boys in conflict with the law are not convicted and not on trial. They are sent to get treatment and therapy and help for troubled lives. They are free to run wherever they want in the grounds. There are no guards, steel bars, wire cages and brutal treatment which they experienced in the jails and youth detention and so-called reformatory centers where they were locked up like animals without light, exercise, education or entertainment, affirmation or legal process.
It is the first time for them to experience such rights and respect and for them it is an amazing wonder. The Preda staff and I tell them the truth about themselves – ‘You are good, you have rights and dignity, you have had a hard life and made mistakes under the bad influence of adults but you can choose now to live another positive way’.
They listen with wide-eyed wonder and can scarcely believe this good news since they have hardly ever experienced being loved, wanted, valued, supported, fed and cherished. Instead they have been rejected all their lives and told they are a burden and a pest to their family and society and deserve punishment and imprisonment. They might as well have been on death row.
Now at Preda this bad experience and negative conditioning is being turned on its head. Now they are told – ‘You are free here at the Preda New Dawn Home for Boy to stay or leave. Know that you are of importance, value and are good in yourselves. Do not believe or think of yourselves as bad, criminal or useless young people. You are God’s children and the most important in God’s family. Jesus said so.’
Hearing and knowing this good news, each one, free of fear, reprimand and punishment, they can develop self-awareness, self-consciousness and begin to grow as persons. It is a vital part of being fully human and something they have hardly ever experienced. They feel respected and valued and can have a dream to reach a positive goal. They are assured that they will be helped to achieve a better, happier life for themselves and their future families when they grow up. What attitudes they have today will be how they will treat others in the future. They must learn and grow for the better.
It takes time for all this to sink in, so conditioned are these 9- to 16-year-old boys. We have to undo the harm and negativity that has been heaped on them from childhood by parents, relatives and local authorities. They have been branded by parents and society as worthless thieves, drug dependents and social outcasts. But they are not.
Normally good children who are misunderstood and unloved and branded as bad will likely become what they are called. Adults and parents must be careful never to physically, verbally or emotionally abuse children. They will rebel and find ways to retaliate. They feel injustice like everyone else.
At times I challenge parents of troubled, unruly and drug-taking children by asking how it is that they were born innocent but have become like this. I ask them, ‘Why do your children take pain-killers? Who is causing the pain? How have you treated and spoken to them as they were growing up?’
Inevitably the parents will respond defensively. ‘It’s not us, he (she) never listens to us, has no discipline, never obeys, steals, takes drugs, seldom goes to school, is a computer games addict, does not come home and prefers to be with the street gangs.’
Some parents admit that they voluntarily turned their child over to the detention center, ‘To teach him/her a lesson’, they say. Punishment is no cure for troubled and hurt children. It hurts and alienates them all the more.
To parents like that I usually respond, ‘How is it then that your son is here at Preda for two months and has never run away, does not steal, does not take drugs, is never violent, is helpful, does his duties, attends classes daily and respects the staff and other boys? Perhaps there is a problem in the home? With you he is a wild rebel. Here he is a normal respectful boy. Who needs to change, you or him?’ And so the parents have to reflect on their family life and ask if there is a lack of loving parenting.
What inspires and motivates the youth is to know that their parents are willing to cooperate and attend parenting seminars and to accept and admit that they too have made mistakes and are willing to reconcile with their child. The hope of family reconciliation and peace-making and acceptance back into the family is what motivates the boy to continue in the Preda home. The loss of love and friendship with parents and family is the greatest hurt and loss. Peacemaking and acceptance is the greatest gift.
This article appeared in the 21 September printed issue of Sunday Examiner, the English-language newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Hong Kong. The editor is Australian Columban Fr James Mulroney.
HONG KONG (SE): While the Islamic State continues its rampage of violence and death in Syria and Iraq the voices of Christians and secular authorities have been loud in their condemnation, but where are the Muslim voices?
The Vatican Insider reflects that this may have more to do with a reluctance on the part of the world to listen to their words than their silence. It quotes the Jesus magazine as calling this a sin of omission.
There are Muslims who have paid with their lives in protecting their Christian neighbours and, while these are often referred to as moderates in the western media, it is too weak a term to describe heroes who are martyrs for what they believe in.
“Many Sunni Muslims have raised their voices against the Islamic State, even though this is not always mentioned in the media,” the Jesuit international monthly, Populi, writes in its September issue.
“This is not just the case in the west, but also in more conservative Muslim countries,” it continues.
It quotes the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia, Sheikh Abdul Aziz ibn Abdullah Al-Sheikh, as calling both the Islamic State and Al Qaeda the number one enemies of Islam on August 19.
The grand mufti added that they do not share the common faith of all Muslims.
Populi also points out that the Wahhabi movement, which backs the Saudi Arabian regime, does share some of the doctrines subscribed to by the Islamic State, but has made it clear that it does not support its violent approach and the destabilising threat it poses.
The Italian Jesuit monthly also lists the Grand Mufti of Al-Azhar, from Egypt; and Shawqi Allam, as denouncing the Islamic State as a threat to Islam.
It then quotes the head of Turkey’s Religious Affairs Directorate, Mehmet Görmez, as saying, “The statement made against Christians is truly awful. Islamic scholars need to focus on this, (because it is) an inability to peacefully sustain other faiths and cultures and heralds the collapse of a civilisation.”
Missione Oggi, a magazine published by the Saverian missionaries of Brescia in Italy, adds, “Iraq’s Muslims are not all Islamic State extremists. Many are Muslims who want peace. Some have even died to defend Christians in Mosul.”
It goes on to tell the story of Mahmoud al ‘Asali, a professor of law who lectured on pedagogy at the University of Mosul
“He was killed, because he had the courage to tell Islamic State militants that is not the kind of Islam he believed in. He was fully aware of the risk he was running in stating this publicly. He refused to become an accomplice to violence and paid for this with his life.”
The Jesus magazine, in a column in its September issue, East East East, calls the poor media coverage of Al ‘Asali’s murder a sin of omission.
A monthly magazine published by Edizioni San Paolo explains, “His story shows that there are Muslims who are on the side of persecuted Christians. They are often referred to as moderates, but this is too weak an adjective when one considers the incredibly high price such people often pay.”
The latest Muslim voices to the condemnation of the Islamic State come out of France. CWNews describes what is dubbed the Paris Appeal issued on September 9 at the Grand Mosque in Paris as “unambiguously denouncing those terrorist acts, which are crimes against humanity and solemnly declaring that these groups, their supporters and their recruits cannot lay claim to Islam.”
The statement condemns what are referred to as barbarians for brutality, saying, “Their rash calls for Jihad and their campaigns to indoctrinate young people are not faithful to the teachings and values of Islam.”
The Paris Appeal is signed by Dalil Boubakeur, the rector of the Grand Mosque of Paris and president of the French Council of the Muslim Faith; Anouar Kbibech, the president of the Assembly of French Muslims; Abderrahmane Dahmane, the president of the Council of French Muslims; and several others.
Columban Fr John Griffin died in Wellington, New Zealand, 25 September 2014. Here is an article about him written by his fellow Columban and New Zealander, Fr Michael Gormly, from the website of the Columbans in Australia and New Zealand and published in 2010. Fr Gormly used this article for his obituary of Fr Griffin, adding a few details.
Father John Griffin was a missionary priest blessed with an engaging personality and relentless charm. His friendly, positive and expansive spirit influenced people in many mission situations. Throughout his career blessings emerged from family, friends, names, faces, travel, cultures, languages and music.
His travelling violin played a part too. He was a fiddler on the roof, making music, telling stories, bringing inspiration and hope to others. Faith came wrapped in warm-hearted affability.
Father Gormley describes Father John as ‘a fiddler on the roof’. The late priest liked to play music from Fiddler on the Roof.
Father John, born in Timaru, New Zealand, in 1927 commenced his missionary journey as a youthful volunteer in 1944. His theological studies were completed at Corpus Christi, Melbourne, with ordination sixty years ago, in 1950, at Dunedin.
Sacred Heart Basilica, Timaru, New Zealand [Wikipedia]
His first mission assignment was to the Philippines, to the province of Zambales, north-west of Manila. He first grappled with the intricacies of Ilokano, a language brought by migrants from provinces in Northern Luzon. He was to work in Ilokano parishes in the Diocese of Iba for twenty years.
San Narciso, Zambales, Diocese of Iba, where Fr Griffin was parish priest [Wikipedia]
A medical emergency in 1970 sent Father John home to New Zealand for the amputation of his right leg due to cancer. The medical specialist spoke of a choice, ‘Your leg or your life”. With an artificial limb, plus a car adapted to his needs, he joined the mission education team based in Lower Hutt.
Lower Hutt from the air, looking eastwards [Wikipedia]
In 1974 he was nominated by the Bishops’ Conference to head the National Missions Office. For ten years he brought his talent, charms and enthusiasm to promoting the mission cause in all corners of the country. In addition he established close personal contacts with Kiwi missionaries across the world.
Next, Father John volunteered to serve in Latin America, learn Spanish and settle in Chile. For ten years he assisted the Columban team in the capital, Santiago. On his return to New Zealand in 1995, he moved around the Diocese of Auckland with a message of mission awareness. He made a deliberate effort to keep mission alive in the local church. In retirement at the Columban Mission Centre he was by no means house-bound. Family, friends and colleagues enjoyed his company, visits, phone calls and emails.
Ageing and a loss of mobility led to dedicated healthcare and professional nursing at the Aroha Centre for the Elderly. He spoke of his final blessings In terms of ‘aroha’ – warm care and attention based on love and respect.Father John Griffin died peacefully in Wellington, New Zealand, on 25 September 2014, remembered as a gifted missionary priest with a remarkable interest and concern for people. One tribute says it well: ‘He arrived among us bringing short moments of joy and encouragement; he departed leaving long memories of friendship and celebration.’
In reviewing his life, Father John recalls wisdom learned as a youth. ‘You will receive much more than you will give; you will learn much more than you will teach’. He has no doubt that learning that truth and humbly accepting it has been the greatest experience of his life.
Praise to the Holiest, by Blessed John Cardinal Newman
Sacred Heart Basilica, Timaru, New Zealand
Father John, a tall, handsome, distinguished-looking and very kind man, wrote an amusing account of the unexpected obstacles he met while travelling from Australia to New Zealand for his ordination in 1950 in Ordination Misadventures.
“What do you think? A man had two sons; he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ He answered, ‘I will not’; but later he changed his mind and went. The father went to the second and said the same; and he answered, ‘I go, sir’; but he did not go.Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you.For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him; and even after you saw it, you did not change your minds and believe him.
The above scene, at the Coliseum in Rome, comes shortly before the end of the 1983 made-for-TV move, The Scarlet and the Black, which tells the true World War II story of Vatican-based Irish priest Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty, known as ‘The Vatican Pimpernel’ and played here by Gregory Peck, and Colonel Herbert Kappler, head of the Gestapo in Rome during the Nazi occupation from September 1943 till June 1944, played by Christopher Plummer. The priest has managed to save the lives of many Allied soldiers and others, getting under the skin of Kappler.
When the German knows that the Allies are about to liberate Rome he sends for the Irishman at night, guaranteeing his safety. The Wikipedia article on the movie tells us what happens after their exchange of ‘pleasantries’ above.
Colonel Kappler worries for his family’s safety from vengeful partisans, and, in a one-to-one meeting with O’Flaherty, asks him to save his family, appealing to the same values that motivated O’Flaherty to save so many others. The Monsignor, however, refuses, disbelieving that after all the Colonel has done and all the atrocities he is responsible for, he could expect mercy and forgiveness automatically, simply because he asked for it, and walks away in disgust . . .
Kappler is captured in 1945 and questioned by the Allies. In the course of his interrogation, he is informed that his wife and children were smuggled out of Italy and escaped unharmed into Switzerland. Upon being asked who helped them, Kappler realizes who it must have been, but responds simply that he does not know.
At the very end we read on the screen: After the liberation Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty was honored by Italy, Canada and Australia, given the U.S. Medal of Freedom and made a Commander of the British Empire. Herbert Kappler was sentenced to life imprisonment for war crimes. In the long years that followed in his Italian prison, Kappler had only one visitor. Every month, year in and year out, O’Flaherty came to see him.
In 1959 the former head of the dreaded Gestapo in Rome was [received] into the Catholic faith at the hand of the Irish priest.
The real Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty (1898 – 1963) [Wikipedia]
[You can view the whole scene between the Colonel Kappler and Monsignor O’Flaherty on Gloria TV here, starting at 06.10. The whole movie is available on Gloria TV in ten segments.]
St Paul tells us in the Second Reading, Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. The priest has been putting his life at risk time and again to save the lives of others, while the soldier has been taking the lives of others. But now Kappler looks beyond himself and wants to save the lives of his wife and two children.
St Paul tells us that Christ Jesus emptied himself, taking the form of a slave. Kappler in a real sense can be said to have emptied himself when he compares himself to a beggar and lame dog as he requests the priest to help his wife and children get to safety. Saving others is all part of your faith, he says to the priest. Brotherly love and forgiveness – that’s the other half of what you believe.
When the priest storms off with I’ll see you in hell first! Kappler says to himself, You’re no different from anyone else. Your talk means nothing. Charity, forgiveness, mercy – it’s all lies.
But when Kappler is being interrogated by officials of the Allies [here from 1:30 to 3:06] we discover that the Irish priest too had emptied himself by overcoming his anger at the request to help his enemy’s family to escape, and by enabling them to get to Switzerland.
Very few of us will have to face the kind of danger that Monsignor O’Flaherty faced. But every day we have to make choices, often between good and bad. The choice to forgive his enemy that the Irish priest made is the kind of choice that faces all of us, even if the perceived crime or ‘crime’ of our enemy or ‘enemy’ is rarely on the scale of those of Colonel Kappler. But the latter, in his need, felt the stirrings of hope in his heart, the stirrings of faith in a merciful God, when he approached his nemesis with his plea.
Those stirrings were dashed by the priest’s angry refusal. Charity, forgiveness, mercy – it’s all lies. But those stirrings were raised again when he learned that his wife and children were safe and knew that only one person could have seen to that. Then he knew he was wrong when he said, Charity, forgiveness, mercy – it’s all lies. Now he knew it was all true.
I don’t know if the Irish priest was familiar with these words of St Caesarius of Arles (c.470 – 27 August 542): Whenever you love brothers or sisters you love friends, for they are already with you, joined to you in Catholic unity. If they live virtuously you love them as people who have been changed from enemies into brothers and sisters. But suppose you love people who do not yet believe in Christ, or if they do, yet believe as the devil believes – they believe in Christ but still do not love him. You must love just the same, you must love even people like that, you must love them as brothers and sisters. They are not such yet, but you must love them so that they become such through your kindness. All our love, then, must be fraternal.
Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ He answered, ‘I will not’; but later he changed his mind and went.
Though the video above was uploaded in 2010 it shows what many Christians in Iraq have been suffering in recent years. As we continue to pray for the Christians in Iraq and Syria, many of whom have been driven in the last two months or so from the ancestral lands, may we and they find hope in the suffering of Christians and Muslims in the post-World War II decades in Albania, a country that is now free.
Last Sunday Pope Francis, before celebrating Evening Prayer in St Paul’s Cathedral, Tirana,was moved as he listened to the testimony
of Fr Ernest Simoni, 84, and Sister Marije Kaleta, 85, who had survived that persecution. To hear a martyr talk about his own martyrdom is intense, the Pope told journalists on the papal plane back to Rome the same evening. I think all of us there were moved, all of us.
Rome-based Catholic news agency Zenit carries a story datelined Tirana, 22 September, PopeWeeps Upon Hearing Witness of Religious Persecution in Albania. The article reports: Fr Ernesto Simoni Troshani, an 84-year-old diocesan priest, recalled when the Communist party came to power and began detaining and murdering priests, some he said who died saying ‘Long live Christ the King’. He also said that his diocesan superiors were killed by firing squad . . . After his witness, Fr. Troshani approached the Holy Father and knelt, kissing his ring. The Pope, visibly moved by his testimony, wept and held the priest in a long embrace.
Sr Maria Kaleta, an Albanian, spoke of extremely difficult decisions that Christians sometime had to make. She recounted how a woman from a communist family asked her about seeking baptism for her child. Sr Kaleta said she feared that it was a trap but nonetheless, brought some water and baptized the child. During that period, she remembered her desire to go to Mass, to receive the Sacraments.
Original fresco of Our Lady of Good Counsel in Genazzano, Italy [Wikipedia]
Our Lady of Good Counsel is the Patron of Albania. It was a copy of the fresco above that the bishops of the country gave to Pope Francis as a gift.
In his homily at Mass in Mother Teresa Square, Tirana, on Sunday Pope Francis said [emphasis added]:
Recalling the decades of atrocious suffering and harsh persecutions against Catholics, Orthodox and Muslims, we can say that Albania was a land of martyrs: many bishops, priests, men and women religious, laity, and clerics and ministers of other religions paid for their fidelity with their lives. Demonstrations of great courage and constancy in the profession of the faith are not lacking. How many Christians did not succumb when threatened, but persevered without wavering on the path they had undertaken!
I stand spiritually at that wall of the cemetery of Scutari, a symbolic place of the martyrdom of Catholics before the firing squads, and with profound emotion I place the flower of my prayer and of my grateful and undying remembrance. The Lord was close to you, dear brothers and sisters, to sustain you; he led you and consoled you and in the end he has raised you up on eagle’s wings as he did for the ancient people of Israel, as we heard in the First Reading. The eagle, depicted on your nation’s flag, calls to mind hope, and the need to always place your trust in God, who does not lead us astray and who is ever at our side, especially in moments of difficulty.
The readings used at the Mass were not those of the 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A but Exodus 19:3, 4b-6a, 7-8, Romans 15:14-21 and Luke 10: 1-9, 17-20. In the reading from Exodus God reminds Moses how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. The eagle is a national symbol of Albania and Pope Francis referred to this in his homily:
The Lord was close to you, dear brothers and sisters, to sustain you; he led you and consoled you and in the end he has raised you up on eagle’s wings as he did for the ancient people of Israel, as we heard in the First Reading. The eagle, depicted on your nation’s flag, calls to mind hope, and the need to always place your trust in God, who does not lead us astray and who is ever at our side, especially in moments of difficulty.
The Pope calls on young Albanians to be like the seventy-two disciples in the Gospel and, rooted in the memory of their own experience, to be missionaries to the rest of Europe:
Today, I have come to thank you for your witness and also to encourage you to cultivate hope among yourselves and within your hearts. Never forget the eagle! The eagle does not forget its nest, but flies into the heights. All of you, fly into the heights! Go high! I have also come to involve the young generations; to nourish you assiduously on the Word of God, opening your hearts to Christ, to the Gospel, to an encounter with God, to an encounter with one another, as you are already doing and by which you witness to the whole of Europe.
And St Paul says in the Second Reading:
For I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me to win obedience from the Gentiles, by word and deed, by the power of signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God, so that from Jerusalem and as far around as Illyricum I have fully proclaimed the good news of Christ.
The Roman Province of Illyricum included much of today’s Albania.
May the Resurrection of the Church in Albania be a source of hope for Catholics and other Christians being persecuted for their faith in other parts of the world, particularly in Iraq and Syria where in recent months Christians have been driven from their ancestral homelands, and in North Korea that in many ways resembles Albania under dictator Enver Hoxha.
“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the laborers for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard. When he went out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace; and he said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went. When he went out again about noon and about three o’clock, he did the same. And about five o’clock he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, ‘Why are you standing here idle all day?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard.’
When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, ‘Call the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.’ When those hired about five o’clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage.Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage.And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?’So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”
Vineyards in Languedoc-Roussillion region, France[Wikipedia]
I spent a grace-filled year in Toronto in 1981-82 doing a sabbatical at Regis College, a Jesuit school. The programme I was in was for persons with pastoral experience. Nearly all of us were priests or religious brothers and sisters, with one or two laypersons. One of the graces of that year was making new friends.
Five or six of us men used to go for an hour’s brisk walk almost every night after supper. One of them was Brother Luke Pearson FMS, a member of the Marist Brothers of the Schools, from New Jersey whose father was a Scottish Presbyterian and his mother an Irish Catholic. Brother Luke identified with his mother in terms of his faith but considered himself Scottish rather than Irish, even though he was American. He would surely have been following this week’s referendum in Scotland, which has resulted in the people of that country opting to stay in the United Kingdom.
In the 1990s Brother Luke came to be a member of the staff at the Marist Asia-Pacific Center in Marikina City, part of the urban sprawl that is Metro Manila, where junior professed brothers from the region have ongoing formation. Sadly, he later died of cancer.
At the end of our academic year most of us went to Loyola House in Guelph, Ontario, for its40-day Spiritual Exercises Institute, which includes a retreat of 30 days. Many of the retreatants were persons we hadn’t met before. We got to know them a little during the preparatory days before we moved into the total silence of the 30-day retreat, apart from three separate ‘repose days’ when we were off silence from after breakfast until late afternoon.
I began to notice as each repose day came about that I was finding it harder to remember who had been on the nine-month programme in Toronto and who hadn’t. In the silence we were gradually becoming a real community, even though after leaving most of us would never meet each other again.
At the beginning I saw myself and my companions from the Regis College programme as my core group who had borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat, as it were, while the others were those hired about five o’clock.
Unlike the parable, there was no sense of resentment but rather a sense of joy. We were all receiving an abundance of the Lord’s unbounded generosity with the graces he was showering on each of us, and on all of us as a community growing in the silence of prayer.
And my friendship with Brother Luke had grown deeper during that silence.
I recalled all of this while reflecting on and praying with today’s Gospel. There’s a great freedom in being able to acknowledge and to rejoice in the gifts that God has given others that may be different from those he has given me. When I can do that I will have a sense of gratitude to God not only for the gifts that others have but for those that I have.
I remember reading an obituary of a Columban who had spent 53 years in Japan and who died in Ireland, Fr Bede Cleary. He was described as a happy, enthusiastic, committed missionary and that people were touched by his friendliness, hospitality and selfless dedication. Among other things, he was involved with other Christians in bringing on pilgrimages of reconciliation to Japan former prisoners of war from Britain and other places who had suffered cruelly from Japanese soldiers during World War II and who carried bitterness and hatred in their hearts. One of the things that had led to these pilgrimages ws the discovery that young Japanese, born long after the War, were tending the graves of POWs who had died in Japan.
But what I remember most from the obituary written by another Columban in Japan, Fr Eamonn Horgan, was his description of three of the shortest books you could find in a library. One was How to Maintain a Car by Fr Bede Cleary. Father Bede was truly loved by his fellow Columbans as well as by the Japanese people he so faithfully served. But the Columbans in Japan could also see clearly that there were certain gifts he lacked!
Being able to laugh at what we and others lack while recognizing and thanking God for the many gifts each has is one of the graces that God wants each of us to receive.
If we are truly grateful to God for everything that he has given us, and for what he has given others that we may not have, when we come to receive the usual daily wage, which, if we follow his will, will be eternal life, we won’t provoke him to ask, Are you envious because I am generous?
Antiphona ad introitum Entrance antiphon
Salus populi ego sum, dicit Dominus.
I am the salvation of the people says the Lord.
De quacumque tribulatione clamaverint ad me,
Should they cry to me in any distress,
exaudiam eos, et ero illorum Dominus in perpetuum.
I will hear them, and I will be their Lord for ever.
Ps. 77 :1. Attendite, popule meus, legem meam:
Give ear, O my people, to my teaching;
inclinate aurem vestram in verba oris mei.
incline your ears to the words of my mouth.
Gloria Patri et Filio et Spiritui Sancto;
Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit.;
sicut erat in principio, et nunc, et semper, in saecula saecolurm. Amen.
as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be for ever. Amen.
Salus populi ego sum, dicit Dominus.
I am the salvation of the people says the Lord.
De quacumque tribulatione clamaverint ad me,
Should they cry to me in any distress,
exaudiam eos, et ero illorum Dominus in perpetuum.
I will hear them, and I will be their Lord for ever.
The text above in bold, in Latin and English, is used in Mass in the Ordinary Form. That and the rest is used in the Mass in the Extraordinary Form on the 19th Sunday After Pentecost.
Visit of Pope Francis to Tirana, Albania, 21 September
The Pope will celebrate Mass in Latin, with responses, readings and part of Eucharistic Prayer III in Albanian, in Mother Teresa Square, Tirana. Blessed Mother Teresa, born in Skopje, now the capital of the Republic of Macedonia, was an ethnic Albanian.
Of Albania’s 3,000,000 people 59 percent are Muslims, ten percent Catholics and seven percent Orthodox Christians. Catholics are a majority in northwestern Albania.
May the Calvary and Resurrection of the Christians of Albania give heart to the Christians of Iraq and Syria, as we continue to pray for them. Their Calvary, unlike that of the Christians of Albania who couldn’t leave their country, is one of exile, being forced to leave the place where their ancestors have lived and died and celebrated the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass for 2,000 years but where it cannot be celebrated any more.
St Teresa of Ávila, who lived from 1515 to 1582 in Spain, could never have imagined the internet, though if she were around today I’m certain that she’d be involved in thisdigital continent, as Pope Benedict calls it, and as a woman who travelled considerably, despite being a contemplative nun, she would certain journey along the digital highways – las ‘calles’ digitales – of Pope Francis.
Eighty-three followers of St Teresa, Discalced Carmelite nuns from 24 countries, recently created a virtual choir to sing and record the saint’s poem Nada te turbe – Let nothing disturb you. Sr Claire Sokol of the Carmelites in Reno, Nevada, wrote the music.
Meanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, “Woman, here is your son.” Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.
And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.”
Mother and child in a camp for displaced persons at Kutkai in Lashio
This article appeared in the 31 August 2014 edition of Sunday Examiner, the English-language weekly of the Catholic Diocese of Hong Kong and is used with permission. The dioceses of Myitkyina [“MITCHinah”] and Banmaw cover the Kachin State, where Columbans first went to work in 1936. Bishop Zahawang of Lashio, in the neighbouring Shan State, was formerly Auxiliary Bishop of Myitkyina.
HONG KONG (SE): “This incremental genocide of a generation has not attracted the needed attention of concerned people, raising doubts whether there is a deliberate attempt to destroy the youth of our lands,” the bishops of three dioceses in the Union of Myanmar say in a statement issued on August 20. [Full statement here.]
Bishop Francis Daw Tang, from Myitkyina; Bishop Raymond Sumlut Gam from Banmaw; and Bishop Philip Zahawng, from Lashio; say in their statement, “The prevalence of human trafficking and drug trafficking is an undeclared war on our people.”
The bishops are pointing out that a silent war has been raging in their dioceses for over three years, since a ceasefire agreement with the Myanmese Army broke down and hostilities resumed in 2011.
“We have seen the hundreds of innocent people killed and buried in unknown graves, thousands displaced to inhuman camps, destroying their dignity and raising serious questions about their future,” the bishops continue, calling the interludes of peace nothing but an illusion bringing frustrating disappointment.
A former drug educator with Caritas in Myitkyina, Peter Nlam Hkun Aung, told the Sunday Examiner in 2011 that he believes that drugs are one form of artillery being used by the Myanmese Military against the Kachin people.
“Soldiers offer cigarettes and candy laced with drugs to primary school children,” he said. “The children do not know what they are, they just take them. This is part of the war being waged by the military, they just want to turn our people into a mob of zombies.”
Apart from the drug war, the bishops believe that human trafficking is another weapon used to break up the cohesion of the social structure of the Kachin as a people.
“Poor and innocent Kachin women are commoditised by human traffickers and hundreds are forced into modern day slavery and sold across borders,” the three bishops say, adding, “War has wiped out the livelihoods of our people, forcing our young men to seek risky livelihoods.”
Father Cirineo “Dodong” Matulac witnessed the wholesale rape of the Kachin economy during a visit to the city of Muse, just across the porous border from the Chinese city of Ruili in Yunnan province. [Editor’s note: Fr Matulac is a Filipino Columban priest who worked in China before and is now based in Quezon City, Philippines.]
“Thousands of people and hundreds of trucks cross the border every day to trade,” he explained. “Hardwood like teak, precious gemstones like jade and rubies come from the Myanmar side of the border in exchange for cheap and non-durable manufactured goods from China.”
He also visited a camp for displaced people in nearby Manhkan, near the border with the Shan State and the controversial Dapein Hydroelectric Power Plant.
When the government began an expansion of the power plant in 2011 the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) intervened and the government moved against them, bringing an end to the fragile peace that had survived for some 17 years.
Father Matulac said that in the camp he met 56-year-old Hpadau Brang Mai, who talked freely with him as he remembered Father Matulac’s fellow Columban priests who were in the area when he was young.
“He is only one of hundreds of people in the displaced persons’ camp,” Father Matulac explained. “He has five children, but his 23-year-old son was killed by the military when he was working in the field on their farm.”
Brang said that he and his family fled, as they were afraid of the military as they shoot at the people indiscriminately.
Brang has been in the camp for two years and wants to go home, but the war situation prevents him.
Father Matulac said that Brang introduced him to a woman who told him, “There are many families here in this camp who have lost their sons and daughters to the army,’ and Brang added, ‘We don’t know the reason why they shoot us. I think they want to kill us because we are Kachin’.”
Father Peter Maran Tawng, from Caritas Myanmar, says that all up there are over 100,000 people living in displaced persons’ camps, but nobody knows the real number of people driven from their homes, as many parts of the country are inaccessible.
Father Maran said that the mega projects of the Chinese are certainly one reason for the tension with the government. He cited the partially completed Myitsone Hydro-Electric Dam, construction of which is currently on hold, but the people are upset because over 90 per cent of the power generated will go to China.
Gas pipelines into China and a railway line from Yangon to Kunming are also on the planning board and, Father Maran commented, “It seems that the Myanmar government has launched a campaign to slowly wipe out any opposition to these projects.”
Father Matulac added that on a visit to the pristine mountain resort of the Stone Village with seminarians, he was told that in November 2011 the army sent troops there and hundreds of local people died.
“The seminarians told me that some of these young soldiers are taken by force and enlisted in the army and sent to the Kachin state to fight,” Father Matulac said, adding that international agencies estimate that there are as many as 70,000 child soldiers used by the Burmese army and ethnic freedom fighters.
He added that records show a systematic recruitment and even trafficking of children as soldiers by the Myanmese military.
He explained that the seminarians told him, “The young soldiers are only trained to shoot. They fire at anyone, if they see a Kachin man, they think that he is KIA. The soldiers strafe the houses and rape the women, even pregnant women.”
Father Matulac added, “A young man named Columban told me his friend was also killed by the army. He was riding his motorcycle when he happened to pass by a troop of Burmese soldiers and he was shot in the head. Another young man said that his house was strafed by the soldiers. All of them had a similar story.”
The three bishops believe that the rape of natural resources is the reason behind the genocide. “Colonial era laws are enacted to usurp traditional ethnic lands,” they say. “Land questions may ultimately decide the future of peace in this land.”
They add, “We note with great concern attempts to grab the lands of those who are displaced.”
They insist that peace based on justice is the only way forward, but Father Matulac says that a new military vision will be necessary to achieve this.
He points to a sign posted on the military headquarters in Mandalay, which reads, “Tatmadaw (military) and the people cooperate and thrash all those who are harming the union.”
The Filipino missionary says that the operative word is union, as ethnic groups like the Kachin are not regarded as being an integral part of it.
“The silent war in the Kachin villages rages on, while the ordinary people are caught in between,” he concludes.
One of a number of songs celebrating in 2011 the 75th anniversary of the arrival of the Columbans in Banmaw (Bhamo) and the 50th anniversary of the building of St Patrick’s, now the cathedral of the Diocese of Banmaw.