Criminals at Nine Years Old? Fr Shay Cullen’s Reflections, 25 January 2017

by Father Shay Cullen 
[Photo from Preda website]
Andres is just one 10-year-old child and he has lived on the streets of Metro Manila most of his life, like thousands of other street children. They are abandoned, work as scavengers, market boys or girls and are vulnerable to sexual and physical abuse by adults. They are uneducated and without family or social welfare, care and protection. They are completely vulnerable to the influence of those who can give them food or money. 
Andres was a survivor. He worked as a scavenger collecting plastic bottles and other pieces of junk to sell in order to buy enough food for the day. But it was never enough. He only knew he had to get food and anything he did to survive was the right thing for him to do. He didn’t get enough scraps one day and he saw a cell phone on a vendor’s tray at the market and he took it. He sold it and bought food. Andres, like most children, didn’t know if this was right or wrong. The moral or legal issues were not a reality for him. He was just hungry. He was arrested by the barangay tanod (village guard) and charged with theft. Was he a criminal?  
There is a majority of Filipinos who say, ‘No, he is not’. The Philippine Congress on two previous occasions said he is not. There are now voices of the police and local district officials who blame children as young as nine years of age as notorious criminals and they say that children should be treated as criminals. They are trying to persuade congressional representatives to amend the law and to lower the minimum age of criminal liability of Filipino children from 15 to nine years of age. They think that a child should be allowed to go without any intervention to help him/her know right from wrong. The law directs that help and intervention be given for children in conflict with the law. This lowering of the age of criminal liability would be detrimental to children and should not be changed. 

Full article on Preda website here.

‘Blessed are . . .’ Sunday Reflections, 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

Sermon on the Mountain, Károly Ferenczy, [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 Matthew 4:12-23 [or 12-17]  (NewRevised Standard Version, Anglicised Catholic Edition) 

When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:

‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

‘Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

‘Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.

‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

‘Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

‘Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven.’

Isenheim Altarpiece (First View)Matthias Grünewald 

[Web Gallery of Art]

Quicumque enim vult perfecte vivere, nihil aliud faciat nisi quod contemnat quae Christus in cruce contempsit, et appetat quae Christus appetiit. 

Whoever wishes to live perfectly need do nothing other than despise what Christ despised on the cross, and desire what Christ desired. (St ThomasAquinas).

In the video below Fr Robert Barron (now Bishop Barron, Auxiliary of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles) offers a reflection on the Beatitudes based on St Thomas Aquinas and the painting of the Crucifixion by Matthias Grünewald, part of the Isenheim Altarpiece (First View).

Fr Barron uses the word ‘happy’ rather than ‘blessed’. The Jerusalem Bible uses ‘happy’ but the New Jerusalem Bible returned to the more widely used ‘blessed’. However, Fr Barron explains elsewhereThe Greek term in Matthew’s Gospel is makarios, which is probably best rendered with the simple word ‘happy’. The law that the new Moses offers is a pattern of life that promises, quite simply, to make us happy.

Fr Barron’s words reflect those of St Paul: When I came to you, brothers and sisters, I did not come proclaiming the mystery of God to you in lofty words or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified (1 Corinthians 2:1-2). 

They reflect the words of Jesus himself: for I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me (John 6:38).

They reflect the words of Bishop Edward Galvin of Hanyang, China, Co-founder of the Missionary Society of St Columban to which I belong: We are not here to convert China but to do God’s will. The Columbans were founded to preach the Gospel in China but experienced a real sharing in the Crucifixion of Jesus and were all expelled by the early 1950s, including Bishop Galvin himself. (Columbans are working again in China in very different circumstances).

The late Swiss theologian Fr Hans Urs von Balthasar writes  in his book Light of the World about today’s gospel: What Jesus says here in programmatic fashion is no generalized morality that anyone could understand, rather, it is the pure expression of his most personal mission and destiny. He is the one who has become poor for our sake, who wept over Jerusalem. He is the nonviolent one against whom all the world’s violence rages and is shattered. He is the one who hungers and thirsts for God’s justice, who reveals and accomplishes God’s compassion on earth. He has the pure heart that always sees the Father; he is, as Paul says, ‘our peace’ by virtue of having destroyed enmity with his crucified body (Ephesians 2:14-17). He is the one who is persecuted by the entire world because he has incarnated God’s righteousness. In all of these he is the blessed one because he perfectly incarnates and mediates the salvation God intends for the world. He exults in this even in the midst of tribulation in the world (Luke 10:21) and he will eternally exult in this as the One who returns to the Father with his mission accomplished. He begins his ministry of proclamation with a self-portrait that invites his listeners to follow him.

God wants us to be our brother’s keeper. To feed the hungry, to clothe the naked, to shelter the homeless, to instruct the ignorant, at a personal sacrifice, is what God wants us to do. What we give to the poor for Christ’s sake is what we carry with us when we die. As Jean-Jacques Rousseau says: ‘When man dies he carries in his clutched hands only that which he has given away’. Peter Maurin.

Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven.

Les Béatitudes – The Beatitudes sung in French 

Columban Fr Charles Flaherty RIP

Fr Charles Flaherty

(15 January 1926 – 20 January 2016) [Source]

Fr Charles B. Flaherty, son of Catherine Bowen Flaherty and James F.F. Flaherty, was born on 15 January 1926 in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, USA.

Downtown Pawtucket across the Blackstone River [Wikipedia]

His grade school years were spent at St Joseph’s, Pawtucket, RI. Between 1940 and 1944 he went to high school at St Columban’s Minor Seminary, Silver Creek, NY, and in 1944-45 he did his Spiritual Year at St Columbans, Bristol, Rhode Island. From Bristol he transferred to St Columban’s Major Seminary, St Columbans, near Omaha, Nebraska, where between 1945 and 1951 he studied Philosophy and Theology. He was ordained on 23 December 1950 at St Joseph Cathedral, Buffalo, New York, by Bishop John F.  O’Hara.

St Joseph Cathedral, Buffalo [Wikipedia]

After his ordination, Father Charlie returned to St Columban’s Minor Seminary, Silver Creek, NY, this time as teacher, from 1951 to 1953, and then attended Catholic University of America, Washington DC, from 1953 to 1955 where he received an MA in Classics.

From 1955 to 1956 he served as Dean at St Columban’s College and Seminary, Milton, Massachusetts. There he also taught. In 1956 he became Rector of his old high school, St Columban’s Minor Seminary, Silver Creek, NY, and there, until 1962, he oversaw the greatest growth of the student body as well as the expansion and renovation of the seminary buildings. Through participation in the campus sports activities during those years he developed an excellent relationship with the student body.

During his time at Silver Creek Father Charlie was struck with a severe case of rheumatoid arthritis. It was thought that he would never walk again. However, thanks to his own determination and the help of medical personnel he regained his mobility during a six-month stay in hospital. Some of those medical personnel became life-long friends.

Whitby Harbour, Yorkshire, England [Wikipedia]

Because of his expertise in running a successful high school, Father Charlie was called upon in 1962 to head up a new project, this time in England: a high school for boys in the town of Whitby, Yorkshire. While awaiting the opening of the new school he spent a year teaching Greek and Latin at St Laurence College – the Benedictine college at Ampleforth, Yorkshire – where he got to know the Abbot, Basil Hume. They became fast friends during that year and on Hume’s invitation Father Charlie continued to teach the classics there, one day a week, commuting from Whitby from 1963 to 1967. Their friendship continued long afterward and in 1976, when Hume was made Archbishop of Westminster, London, Father Charlie received from him an invitation to attend his inauguration.

Statue of Basil Cardinal Hume OSB

Newcastle upon Tyne, England [Wikipedia]

Two unforeseen circumstances brought the Whitby project to an end in 1967: first, the mansion purchased for the school was a ‘listed’ building, that is, its external structure could not be legally altered – a revelation that was not made prior to purchase. Secondly, the school’s restricted grounds were completely surrounded by public school property. Therefore there was no possibility of expansion, and without expansion little hope of a future for the school.

So Father Charlie was next appointed to the Columban seminary in Turramurra, New South Wales, Australia, where he taught from 1967 to 1971.

From 1971 to 1974 he was the Education Director for the whole Columban Society. This was a particularly important role in the Society during in the post-Vatican II era. After those years of educational guidance he served from 1974 to 1976 as Rector of St Columban’s Major Seminary, Milton, MA, and following that he served as a member of the U.S. Regional Council from 1976 to 1983. Almost concurrently, he was Vice Rector of St Columban’s Theologate and Director of Spiritual Year at 40 Mt Vernon St Cambridge, MA (1977-83). In June of 1980 he received an MAS degree in Spirituality from the University of San Francisco, California.

After all those years in academe he got an appointment to Vocation work in June of 1983, and worked out of the Columban house in Quincy, MA, where he lived until 1989.

Centre Street, West Roxbury [Wikipedia]

Prior to his retirement in 2001, he served as parochial vicar at St John Chrysostom Parish, West Roxbury, MA. After retirement he did weekend ministry in the same parish, where the content and style of his preaching continued to be appreciated. He developed close friendships with many people in that parish.

While there he helped to provide space for celebrations during reunions of Columbans and former Columbans with their wives and families. At the July 2000 reunion the organizers made him the honoree since he was then celebrating his Golden Jubilee.

With his passing, his welcoming smile and cheerful disposition will be missed by many. May he rest in peace.

St Columban, Bristol, Rhode Island, USA

The obituary was written by Fr Timothy Mulroy, Columban Regional Director, USA, and is slightly edited.

Columban Fr Michael Harrison RIP

Fr Michael Harrison

(21 March 1924 – 17 January 2017)

Michael Harrison was born on 21 March 1924 at Bunduff, Castlegal, County  Sligo, Ireland. He was educated at Castlegal National School and Summerhill College, Sligo. He came to St Columban’s, Navan, in 1942 and was ordained priest on 21 December 1948. 

Mullaghmore, County Sligo [Wikipedia]

This is near where Fr Harrison grew up

The following year he was appointed to graduate studies in the USA. He completed an MA in history at Fordham University, New York City, and followed this with training in journalism at the Denver Catholic Register.

In 1952 he was appointed to the Philippines as Far East correspondent of the National Catholic Welfare Conference, , the forerunner of today’s United States Conference of Catholic Bishops a post he held until 1956. He was then called back to work in the Central Offices of the Columbans in Bellevue, just south of  Omaha, Nebraska, USA, and travelled through Korea and Japan on his way home. He spent the next fifteen years in charge of the Mission Office where he was credited with organising the mail operation to new levels of efficiency.

St Columbans, Belleview, Nebraska [Source]

He is like a tree that is planted beside the flowing waters, that yields its fruit in due season, and whose leaves shall never fade; and all that he does shall prosper (Psalm 1:3, Grail translation).

From 1972 to 1975 he was editor of the magazine of the Columbans in the USA, now known as Columban Mission. In the years that followed he served in the Columban houses in West Chester, near Philadelphia, in Quincy, near Boston, in Philadelphia and in Westminster, California.  In 1984 he was appointed secretary to the Columban Central Administration in Ireland for three years. 

St Columbans, Belleview, Nebraska [Source]

Like the deer that yearns for running streams, so my soul is yearning for you, my  God (Psalm 42:1, Grail translation).

There followed appointments to Los Angeles and Omaha before being asked to serve as Superior of Collegio San Columbano in Rome in 1992. Health problems cut short this appointment and he was assigned instead to Bristol, Rhode Island, where he served as vice-superior and bursar. He left Bristol for Ireland in 2011, where, from his room  in St Columban’s, Dalgan Park, he relied on modern technology to stay in touch with a wide circle of relatives and friends.

The variety of the tasks entrusted to Father Michael over the years are an indication of his many gifts, his discretion and his quiet competence. Congenial, wise and never judgemental, he was deeply appreciated by his colleagues and by the staff of the many houses in which he served. He transferred to the Dalgan Nursing Home at the end of 2015 and died suddenly there on 17 January 2017.

May he rest in peace.

Perhaps the best know person associated with Fr Harrison’s native county is poet WB Yeats (1865-1939). And perhaps his best known poem is Lake Isle of Innisfree.

Lake Isle of Innisfree

I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,

And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made;

Nine bean rows will I have there, a hive for the honey bee,

And live alone in the bee loud glade.


And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,

Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;

There midnight’s all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,

And evening full of the linnet’s wings.


I will arise and go now, for always night and day

I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;

While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,

I hear it in the deep heart’s core.

Isle of Innisfree, Lough Gill, County Sligo [Wikipedia]

‘The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light . . .’ Sunday Reflections, 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

Neubrandenburg, Caspar David Friedrich [Web Gallery of Art]

The people who sat in darkness
    have seen a great light,
and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death

light has dawned (Matthew 4:16, NRSVCE).

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

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

Gospel Matthew 4:12-23 [or 12-17]  (New Revised  Standard Version, Catholic Edition, Canada)

Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:

“Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali,
    on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—
the people who sat in darkness
    have seen a great light,
and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death
    light has dawned.”

From that time Jesus began to proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

[As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” Immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.]

Missa Brevis in G Major, Kyrie, Mozart
Lumen Choir, conducted by Jooyoung Kim
‘Once upon a time’, 5th Annual Concert (1 December 2012)
Moonjeong-dong Catholic Church, Seoul, South Korea

Last Sunday here in the Philippines was the the Feast of the Santo Niño (Holy Child). The gospel was Matthew 18:1-5, 10 in which Jesus tells us Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. I saw his words come to life at the end of Mass in Holy Family Home for Girls here in Bacolod City where I live.

In January 2014 four new girls came to the home. One, whom I’ll call ‘Josie’, was aged 14 and profoundly deaf. Her main way of communicating was Sign Language. The Sisters, staff and some of the girls began to learn some Sign Language. The other three new girls included two aged ten and one aged six.

At the end of Mass I saw ‘Josie’ sitting and quietly crying. I wasn’t quite sure why. One of the ten-year-old new girls, rather small for her age but very lively and whom I’ll call ‘Grace’, went over to ‘Josie’ and put her arms around her to comfort her. Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

The majority of the girls in Holy Family Home have had horrific experiences, in most cases within their own family circle. They truly have sat in darkness.

[‘Josie’ was able to go home last year. We discovered that she had some hearing and, with hearing aids, she has improved her speech and hearing considerably. The other three girls are still at Holy Family Home].

The Virgin and Child with St Martina and St Agnes, El Greco [Web Gallery of Art]

I will celebrate Mass again in Holy Family Home on Monday evening to mark the feast of St Agnes, 21 January. Each year in the Home we combine a celebration of St Agnes the Martyr (c.291 – c.304), patron saint of chastity, of young girls and of rape victims, and Blessed Laura Vicuña (1891 – 1904), a patron of abuse victims who offered her life for the conversion of her mother and whose feast day is 22 January. (We moved the celebration this year to 23 January for liturgical reasons). 

Each year I tell the girls that the life of Blessed Laura, whose father died when she was young, was so like their own and that she became a saint in the midst of and through her sufferings, especially the cruelty of her stepfather who wasn’t married to her mother. Despite her young age she had the maturity, generosity and holiness to offer her life so that her mother would return to the Lord. She told this to her mother when she was dying. It was the physical abuse of her stepfather that led to her death. Laura’s prayers were answered.

Blessed Laura Vicuña aged 10 [Wikipedia]

Laura understood the stark reality of the words of Jesus in today’s gospel: Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near. She also understood the power of God’s mercy. Repentance and God’s mercy are central to the preaching and teaching of Pope Francis. Since Blessed Laura, born in Santiago, Chile, and died in Argentina he must be familiar with her life that embodied what he has spoken about so many times.

Holy Family Home exists because of the sins of adults against girls, some only small children. It is a place where most of the girls have sat in the region and shadow of death. I have brought many visitors there and the one word they nearly all have used to sum up their experience is ‘joy’, a joy they find among the girls and among the Capuchin Tertiary Sisters of the Holy Family and the staff. Those who live there are a testimony to the truth of the words of Isaiah that we listen to in the First Reading and the Gospel this Sunday and that we listened to at the Mass During the Night at Christmas: 

The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned.


Call of the Sons of Zebedee, Marco Basaiti [Web Gallery of Art]

The second part of today’s gospel tells us of the call of the first disciples who were later called to be apostles, the brothers Simon Peter and Andrew, and the sons of Zebedee, James and John. Though Immediately they left their nets . . . Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him we know from the gospels that they continued to fish from time to time and to encounter stormy weather.

Here in the Philippines most fishermen are poor and go to sea in very small boats. In some countries larger boats go far from land and often encounter very dangerous weather. And a very large percentage of international seafarers – the largest group, I think – are Filipinos.

In Britain and Ireland the members of the Royal National Lifeboat Institute (RNLI) mostly volunteers, and their counterparts throughout the world, often put their lives in danger to save those in danger at sea. Irish Lifeboats covers both the RLNI in Ireland and Community Rescue Boats Ireland (CRBI). Last September Caitriona Lucas (41) a volunteer in the Irish Coast Guard and mother of two, died during a search-and-recovery operation off the west coast.

Irish musician and songwriter Phil Coulter, who lost a brother in a drowning accident, wrote a wonderful song about those who risk their lives at sea to save the lives of others, Home from the Sea. Here is a video of the song with Phil Coulter’s musicians, a choir of members of the RNLI and the late Irish singer Liam Clancy, than whom there was no one better to put across a ballad.

In our prayers today let us remember our fishermen, our seafarers and those involved in rescue work at sea. Let us remember too the members of a number of European navies who have saved countless refugees in the last couple of years travelling in unsafe boats from north Africa to southern Europe. Tragically, many refugees never made it.

Home From the Sea

On a cold winter’s night, with the storm at it’s height,
A lifeboat answers a call.
They pitched and they tossed, ’till we thought they were lost,
As we watched from the harbour wall.
‘Tho the night was pitch black, there was no turning back,
For someone was waiting out there,
And each volunteer had to live with his fear
As we joined in a silent prayer.

Home, home, home from the sea,
Angels of mercy, answer our plea.
And carry us home, home, home from the sea,
Carry us safely home, from the sea.

As they battled their way past the mouth of the bay
It was blowing like never before.
As they gallantly fought everyone of them thought
Of loved ones back on the shore.
Then a flicker of light and they knew they were right.
There she was on the crest of a wave.
She’s an old fishing boat and she’s barely afloat.
Please God, there are souls we can save.


And back in the town, on a street that runs down
To the sea and the harbour wall.
They had gathered in pairs at the foot of the stairs,
To wait for a radio call.
Then just before dawn, when all hope was gone,
Came a hush, and a faraway sound.
‘Twas the coxswain, he roared, ‘All survivors on board,
Thank God, and we’re homeward bound’.



Then just before dawn, when all hope was gone,
Came a hush, and a faraway sound.
‘Twas the coxswain, he roared, ‘All survivors on board,
Thank God, and we’re homeward bound’.

The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned.

Justice for Abused Children. Fr Shay Cullen’s Reflections, 13 January 2017

Justice for Abused Children

by Fr Shay Cullen

Preda Girls Home

She was a very traumatized and broken 15-year-old child, continuously raped and abused by her own father until she was rescued by the Preda social workers and brought to Preda Home for Girls. Had Gina not had a refuge free from fear and safe from her abuser, her own father, she would have run away from home and surely would have been a victim of human trafficking.

As many as 70 percent of children abused in their own home that run to the streets are picked up by pimps and traffickers and sold into sex bars.

But Gina was saved before that happened. In the weeks before June 2007 she was raped repeatedly and suffered acts of abuse by her own father. Her mother left the three children with their unemployed father while she worked as a domestic in Manila. This is the plight of many families where the mother works away from home or abroad as an overseas worker. The children are left unprotected and vulnerable at times.

In the Preda Home Gina was welcomed, given affirmation and support and helped to feel at home and safe and secure. No further abuse would happen to her. This made her relax and cry with relief that she had been rescued and was understood and believed.

She had emotional expression therapy over several months and brought out all her anger and pain directed at her father. She had extensive counseling. She gave her life testimony and joined in the many group activities at the home. There were values training, education on children’s rights, music, art, sport, games, discussions and outings to resorts, to the beach, and other positive experiences. These are all part of the Preda human development program. Legal cases for dozens of victims are on-going. Many others are archived in the court because the arrest warrants for the suspects have not been served.  So justice is stymied.

Full post on Preda website here.

‘I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.’ Sunday Reflections, 2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

Madonna and Child with the Lamb of God

Cesare da Sesto [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 1:29-34 (New Revised  Standard Version, Anglicised Catholic Edition) 

The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’ I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.” And John testified, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.”
Sunday Reflections for the Feast of the Santo Niño (Philippines) are here.

San Alfonso de Liguori Parish, Rome, 6 January 2014.

Some wonderful photos of Pope Francis with the lamb here.

My friend Frances Molloy in England, founder and project manager of Pastoral Care Project, a ministry in the Archdiocese of Birmingham to persons with dementia and to their carers, told me a beautiful story in an email just after Christmas:

Behold . . . My granddaughter aged 4 was playing with ‘Jesus’ family’, as they are known to her, our hand-knitted nativity set, and she noticed the empty manger. A little later she came to me and said, ‘Grandma, I’ve put the lamb in the manger’. Quite a moment . . .

The Lamb of God is one of the names of Jesus, pointing towards his sacrificial death on Calvary. St John the Baptist, who introduces Jesus to us with the words Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! was to be martyred not long afterwards. The purpose of the mission of St John the Baptist was that he [Jesus] might be revealed to Israel. This is the mission to which each of us is called.

In his letter to the ten new cardinals he announced in January 2014 Francis writes: And, although this may appear paradoxical, the ability to look further and to love more universally with greater intensity may be acquired only by following the same path of the Lord: the path of self-effacement and humility, taking on the role of a servant.

St John the Baptist followed that path: After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me. His mission was to lead people towards Jesus. One of the ten new cardinals was Archbishop Orlando B. Quevedo OMI of Cotabato where just more than half of the 12,000,000 plus people are Catholics. Most of the others are Muslims.

Fr Nelson Javellana OMI

‘Martyr of clean and honest elections’, 3 November 1970 [Source]

The first Oblates came to the Philippines in 1939 from North America and included Canadians and Americans. They went to parts of Mindanao with a large Muslim population. Like the Columbans, to which I belong, they have their martyrs, as Fr Eliseo Mercado Jr OMI writesThe OMIs have had their share of martyrs in their 70 years in the Philip­pines. The first martyr was election-related. Fr Nelson Javellana and his volunteers of the first Philippine move­ment for clean and honest elections were ambushed near Tambunan, Cotabato on 3 November 1970. Three martyrs shed their blood in Sulu and Tawi-Tawi. They are Bishop Benjamin de Je­sus on 4 February 1997, Fr Benjamin Inocencio on 28 December 2000 and Fr Jesus Reynaldo Roda on 15 January 2008.

Bishop Benjamin de Jesus OMI

‘Martyr of Jolo’, 4 February 1997 [Source

Cardinal Quevedo, who has been deeply involved in Christian-Muslim dialogue in Mindanao for many years, would have known those four men very well. He knows what is is to follow the same path of the Lord.

Below is an article published in, the Columban magazine I edit here in the Philippines, in May-June 2008, the first online-only edition. The author, Fr Roberto C. Layson OMI, whose ordination on 10 December 1988 I attended, was working with Bishop Benjamin de Jesus when he was murdered in 1997. Here he writes about his friend and confrere Fr Jesus Reynaldo A. Roda OMI whose life and death proclaimed Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! 

They Too Mourned For Him

by Fr Roberto C. Layson OMI

Fr Jesus Reynaldo A. Roda OMI, ‘Father Rey’, expected it all along. But not the people of Tabawan, whom he had served for ten years before his brutal murder on 15 January at the hands of his abductors. One of Father Rey’s Muslim scholars described the immediate reaction of the local people: ‘It was as if a big bomb was dropped in our midst and we got the shock of our lives. The whole island mourned. Some lost their appetite. Some kids don’t want to go to school anymore’.

Father Rey

‘Martyr of Jolo’, 15 January 2008

Desecration of Sacred Grounds

Tabawan is one of the beautiful islands of Tawi-Tawi, the southernmost province of the Philippine archipelago. It is inhabited by peace-loving Samals and prides itself on being a peaceful and tolerant society. That is why the brutal murder of a missionary priest in this island is hard for the local inhabitants to accept. Ultimately, they saw it as a desecration of their sacred ground.

The Oblates of Mary Immaculate, a missionary congregation, started to establish mission stations in the Muslim-dominated provinces of Cotabato, Sulu, and Tawi-Tawi in 1939. Since then, they have been living with Muslims while serving the minority Christian population of the islands.

After World War II, the Oblates put up Notre Dame Schools in the islands to respond to the increasing demand for education in the region. These were welcomed by the local Muslims. Not only that. Over the years, the local people also started to develop strong affection for the missionaries. This was especially true in the case of Fr Leopold Gregoire OMI, a Canadian.

Fr Gregoire was the director of Notre Dame School in Tabawan for 20 years until his death. He died many years ago but until now, not only the Notre Dame community celebrates his birthday every year but the entire island. The celebration is called ‘Father Gregoire Day’ and goes on for three days with a lot of fanfare. The town has a population of more or less 20,000, with only thirty Christians.

For Love of Others

It was around 7:30 in the evening. Father Rey was praying inside the chapel, as he used to do after supper, when he was taken forcibly by his captors. When he refused to go with them, they shot him dead. The Oblates in the Vicariate have agreed among themselves not to go with the attackers in the event of a kidnapping attempt. The reason is that in many kidnapping incidents in Mindanao, the subsequent military operations usually take their toll not only among the combatants but also among the civilians. Father Rey chose to sacrifice his life in order to prevent the loss of more lives.

There were some students at the campus at the time of the killing. They were taking a computer class. The class is held in the evening because it’s the only time that the school generator is running. There is no electricity on the island. When the armed men left, they took Mr Taup, a Muslim teacher, with them.

Fr Benjamin Inocencio OMI

‘Martyr of Jolo’, 28 January 2000 [Source]

Losing one of their own

Ordained on 10 May 1980, Father Rey had deep compassion for the poor. He was in the forefront of justice and peace work in the Diocese of Kidapawan during the Martial Law days. Prior to his assignment in Tabawan, he was a missionary in Thailand where he interacted with Buddhist society. In Tabawan, he not only directed the school and supported many scholars but also implemented several socio-economic projects for the poor in close coordination with a number of NGOs and government agencies. In 2003, he was actively involved during the surge of deportees from Sabah, Malaysia, providing them with food and shelter.

The death of Father Rey brought back to my memory that fateful day, 4 February 1997, when Bishop Benjamin de Jesus OMI was murdered in front of Mt Carmel Cathedral in Jolo. This was followed nearly four years later by another tragedy when Fr Benjamin Inocencio OMI was murdered at the back of the same cathedral on 28 December 2000.

Just like what happened after the deaths of Bishop Ben and Father Benjie, the Muslims mourned. They also mourned Father Rey’s death, especially the people of Tabawan whom he had learned to love. They literally had lost one of themselves.

One in Sorrow

I saw Samud being interviewed by Ces Drilon on ABS-CBN TV. He is the same convento boy, a Muslim, whom I met when I was based in Bongao from 1990 to 1994. The day after the killing, Fr Raul M. Biasbas OMI, a classmate of Father Rey on another island in Tawi-Tawi, called Samud by cellphone to ask what had really happened. ‘I’m very sorry, Father, I was not able to protect Father Rey,’ he answered in tears.

I spoke to Wija, one of Father Rey’s scholars, also a Muslim. She called him ‘Tatay’, ‘Dad’. During the commotion at the convento with the armed men, she rushed to help him but he shouted at her, ‘Anak, tumakbo ka na!’, ‘Run, daughter!’ She accompanied the body of Father Rey from Tabawan to Cotabato on board a military helicopter provided by the Philippine Air Force. She brought with her an album containing pictures of Father Rey and herself, which she keeps with fondness.

In Bongao island where Father Rey was waked for two days, Muslims and Christians filled Holy Rosary Church. The Muslims even brought food during the wake. In Cotabato City, Muslims and Christians were crying along the highway as Father Rey’s remains were transported from Awang Airport to a funeral parlor in the city. Many Muslims also came during the wake and attended the burial at the Oblate cemetery in Tamontaka.

This was very consoling. While we grieved for the death of Father Rey, we found solace not only in the support of fellow Christians but also in the support given by Muslims, including the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and several NGOs, through their personal condolences and public condemnations of the murder.

Boundaries Transcended

To me, this outpouring of support reveals that human goodness transcends even religious boundaries. Indeed, it is possible for Muslims and Christians to work together to create a peaceful society if only we learn to shed our human biases and focus on doing God’s will for his people.

We do not exactly know what Father Rey was telling God when he was praying inside the chapel. Perhaps, he was telling Him about his many dreams for the people of Tabawan. Now that he is gone, only the memory of Father Rey remains in the hearts of the Muslim and Christian inhabitants of this island.

Father Rey [Source]

Father Rey would have turned 54 on 5 February, less than a month after his murder.

Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world (John 1:29)Authorized [King James] Version). From Handel’s Messiah.

Feast of the Santo Niño (Philippines). Third Sunday of January, Year A

The original image enshrined at the Minor Basilica of the Santo Niño de Cebú.
First Reading Isaiah 9:1-6 
Second Reading  Ephesians 1:3-6, 15-18
Gospel Matthew 18:1-5, 10
At that time the disciples approached Jesus and said, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” He called a child over, placed it in their midst, and said, “Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever receives one child such as this in my name receives me.
“See that you do not despise one of these little ones,for I say to you that their angels in heaven always look upon the face of my heavenly Father.”
Sunday Reflections for the Second Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A (outside of the Philippines) are here.

The Sleeping Sto Niño 

(There are many versions)


by Simeon Dumdum, Jr.

This first appeared in Cebu Daily News four years ago. It is used here with permission. Simeon Dumdum, Jr, known to his friends as ‘Jun’, is a retired Regional Trial Court judge, a writer and a poet.

Not too long ago, a couple gifted us with a wood carving of the Child Jesus. It has the size, curls and royal garments of the Santo Niño of Cebu, as well as its crown, globe and scepter. Except that the globe lies on a seat and the figure reclines on it, sleeping – the scepter resting on a leg.

The statue, which has apparently gained popularity, goes by the name Sleeping Santo Niño.

In the house we give pride of place to a copy of the standard, the official representation enshrined in the basilica. It occupies the center of a table that serves as altar, together with the crucifix and the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe. But I am unsure as to where to put the Sleeping Santo Niño. My decision on the matter would almost certainly depend on whether it is a holy object or a mere artistic item – an objet d’art. I have since been inclined to the latter, having dragged my feet towards having it blessed (terrified of the priest’s refusal or ridicule), and for the moment having installed the statue above a console together with a paper weight portraying the head of a plumpish baby angel.

How did the first Sleeping Santo Niño come about? Did the one who carved it, true to his restless, artistic soul, make it purely for the purpose of creating something different, just as others have come up with their own different versions of the Holy Child, many of them clearly out of character, such as a Santo Niño holding a saw, a sight that would have terrified good St. Joseph himself.

Did the carver want to make such a statement? By the way, the official statement of the official representation of the Santo Niño is of the universal Kingship of Jesus, who is God, who became man, and is shown as a child to stress the need in the kingdom for the childlike virtues –dependence, trust, simplicity.

Someone, who apparently was losing in his grapple with faith, wrote about the Sleeping Santo Niño being a revelation of the “real” character of God – detached, indifferent, unconcerned with human problems.

Christ in the Storm on the Sea of Galilee, Rembrandt, 1633

Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston [Web Gallery of Art]

This was exactly what the disciples felt when, while aboard a boat on the lake, a storm arose and the waves began swamping them, and Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. Mark tells us that they woke Jesus up, saying, “Teacher, don’t you care that we are about to die?”

Jesus got up and rebuked the wind, commanded it to stop, and then turned towards the disciples to chide them, “Why are you cowardly? Do you still not have faith?”

I doubt that the originator of the Sleeping Santo Niño had this episode in mind when applying chisel to wood. Likely as not, he thought of a tender human scene – Baby Jesus, like any infant elaborately dressed up by its parents for a pageant and unmindful of adult concerns, succumbing to sleep, the thing that infants most need and yield to no matter the occasion.

But subconsciously the carver has conveyed to me the message that Mark gives in the incident about the storm on the lake. It was not accidental that Jesus slept on a cushion at the stern (neither was it inconceivable – it was evening, and as usual Jesus must have had a full day). His rebuke being proof, he gave the disciples a lesson on faith – of reliance on the protection of the Father so complete that like him they should have slept the storm away, as well as that his mere presence among them should have been assurance enough of safety. After all, he had power at any time to tell off the wind and the waves.

People who complain that God does not intervene enough in human affairs really want Him to do the work for them. But really with full faith in God they should first act, carry out their roles, let the play of their lives unfold, and not always whine for the Author to appear. Incidentally, C. S. Lewis tells us, “When the author walks on the stage, the play is over.”

Perhaps the Sleeping Santo Niño deserves a second look. It does no more than remind, not of a divine pastime, but of the proper human attitude – trust. The God who appears to sleep is really an unsleeping God – as watchful as a parent is of an infant that is learning to walk, and coming to its aid only when necessary.


I love Jun’s reference to the sight of the Child Jesus holding a saw as something that ‘would have terrified good St Joseph’! As the son of a carpenter named Joseph myself I felt embarrassed the first time I tried to use a saw and didn’t have a clue. I still don’t!

 Pope Francis in Manila speaking about his statue of the sleeping St Joseph.

Prayer Intentions of Pope Francis for January 2017

Pope Francis and Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople [Wikipedia]

Jerusalem, May 2014 

Universal Intention
Christian Unity: That all Christians may be faithful to the Lord’s teaching by striving with prayer and fraternal charity to restore ecclesial communion and by collaborating to meet the challenges facing humanity. 
This Reflection is from the website of The Pope’s Worldwide Prayer Network (Apostleship of Prayer) USA.
Urgent Intention
Homeless People Affected by the Cold: That in these days of such great cold that we think of all the people living on the streets, affected by the cold and by the indifference of others. We pray for them and ask the Lord to warm the hearts of others to help them.
Homelessness in Dublin, Ireland
In the Northern Hemisphere January is the middle of winter in areas that do not have a tropical climate.

Columban Fr Keith Gorman RIP. ‘Having breakfast with Jesus on the shores of eternity.’

Fr Keith Gorman
(21 January 1920 – 19 December 2016)
          Keith Francis Gorman was born in Brisbane, Queensland, Australia, on January 21, 1920, an only son between two sisters. In 1937 he came to St Columban’s, Essendon, where he did his Spiritual Year and Philosophy. Then in 1940 he went to St Columban’s Seminary in Omaha, Nebraska, USA, to do Theology as WWII prevented him from travelling to Ireland. He was the first Australian Columban seminarian to do this but he was joined by others the following year. He was ordained in St Joseph’s Cathedral, Buffalo, New York, USA, on 18 December 1943 by Bishop John Aloysius Duffy. 
Church of the Assumption, Yakatamachi, Wakayama City [Source]
          In 1944 Father Keith returned to Australia and worked in a number of parishes until 1948 when he was appointed to China but this was changed to Japan after a few months in Shanghai. He studied the Japanese language in Yokohama and was then appointed as pastor at the parish of Chigasaki, Diocese of Yokohama. After vacation in 1955 he was appointed pastor at Yakatamachi in Wakayama City.
          Fr Barry Cairns, a New Zealander, writes about his experience as a young priest in Yakatamachi with Father Keith here.
          In 1964 Father Keith was appointed to the Australia – New Zealand Region, stationed at first at the Columban House in Toowong, Brisbane. Then he did parish supplies for three years and Columban promotion in the Archdiocese of Perth.  This was followed by a few years as Bursar at the seminary in Turramurra, New South Wales, and then as Vocations Coordinator in the state of New South Wales.
Father Keith the gardener
          In 1975 Father Keith began a ministry to the aged as chaplain at Nazareth House Aged Care, Turramurra. After a sabbatical and some studies in the subject of ageing he continued in this ministry as chaplain to the retired Presentation Sisters at Windsor in Melbourne.  Around the same time he helped to found ROTA – Religious of the Third Age – a social and spiritual organisation for retired Religious. During this period he wrote a number of articles on the theme of ageing, some of which were printed in The Far East.
Embracing the 21st Century
          Read Father Keith’s Old Age, a Gifted Time.
          Father Keith himself retired to St Columban’s, Essendon, a suburb of Melbourne, in 1997 and was a lively and cheerful presence there until a fall in September 2012 resulted in hospitalization and a subsequent move to Mercy Place Aged Care, Parkville.
‘A humble man with time and respect for everyone’

          He is remembered as a humble man who always had time and respect for everyone. He excluded no one. He was fun-loving and always ready to laugh, share a joke – even one on himself – and join in whatever was going on. In one of his articles he wrote that his idea of heaven was having breakfast with Jesus on the shores of eternity, following the scene in John 21.  May he be enjoying that breakfast now. 

Having breakfast with Jesus on the shores of eternity’ [1:57 – 2:50]
From The Gospel of John directed by Philip Saville.

          You may read some of Fr Gorman’s Reflections here.

St Columban’s, Essendon

          I met Father Keith on my first visit to Australia in May 1990 in St Columban’s Seminary, Turramurra, near Sydney, which is now closed. I was struck by his delightful personality and sense of humor. I remember him laughing when I quipped that he had been ordained so long ago – the year I was born – that the ceremony had been in Aramaic! I met him again in Essendon in 2009 when I was doing mission appeals in Melbourne. While I was there he won a very large TV in a raffle in a nearby Anglican parish and his delight was utterly childlike when it was delivered.

          And what a beautiful image of heaven he had: Having breakfast with Jesus on the shores of eternity

          The light of heaven upon Father Keith  – and may we all join him with Jesus for breakfast on the shores of eternity when our time comes!