Pope Benedict's Prayer Intentions for January 2012
General Intention - Victims of Natural Disasters
That the victims of natural disasters may receive the spiritual and material comfort they need to rebuild their lives.
As a commentary on this we republish a recent post.
Update on aftermath of Sendong/Washi on Cagayan de Oro City and Iligan City
by Fr Pat O'Donoghue
Fr Pat O'Donoghue is the Regional Director of the Columbans in the Philippines. He visited Cagayan de Oro City and Iligan Ciy last week. He wrote this report on 8 January, the Solemnity of the Epiphany here in the Philippines
I arrived in Cagayan de Oro in the early afternoon of Monday, 2 January. The signs of the calamity were visible from the air as we approached the airport, but the full extent of the damage hits you when you stand on the river bank or visit those places where whole neighborhoods were simply washed away.
The damage to the water system was such that most of Cagayan still did not have running water when I arrived. On the way from the airport we saw groups of people surrounding trucks or fire hydrants where water was being dispensed while others were coming and going with all kinds of water containers – the innovative spirit of people once more shining through the difficulties. Drinking water was also being dispensed at points set up by the Red Cross and others who had large water purifying machines. The lack of water leads to many difficulties one of which is the difficulty people have in doing any kind of cleaning up. Water was restored to the western side of Cagayan by Thursday, January 5, a big help.
Holy Rosary Parish, which is served by the Columbans, was affected but, when compared to other parts of Cagayan and Iligan, only relatively so. Fr Paul Finlayson estimates about 100 families are affected with about 30 homes destroyed. Food and other immediate necessities have been provided for these families. At a meeting on Tuesday, January 3, attended by most Columbans in Mindanao, it was agreed that we will continue to cooperate with the Archdiocese of Cagayan de Oro which are doing a very good job of coordinating the relief operations, without prejudice to the specific needs of the parish.
What is the more pressing need now is that of rehabilitation, which must include relocation for most of those affected. There is little point in rebuilding homes in those areas that could be hit again in the immediate future. Getting this right and utilizing all the help that has been promised by the Government, foreign governments, aid agencies and private individuals is both a priority and a challenge. In the meanwhile, there is a need for some kind of intermediate accommodation so that people can get back to some normality. We will continue to provide any further 'immediate' aid where it is seen to be genuinely needed.
The effort now is to get people out of the evacuation centers which are mostly schools and churches and into temporary accommodation. Archbishop Antonio J. Ledesma SJ pastoral letter just before Christmas urged those who were not affected to 'adopt' a family and care for them not only during Christmas but also in the coming months until that family can go to a more permanent home. Of course, relatives are already doing this for their own families, but one of the fears that some people have is that if they leave the evacuation centers now they might lose their status as genuine claimants on the aid that is promised. There are a number of tent communities being set up also to give each family some way of being together.
There is a lot of pain not only for those directly affected but also for those who heard the cries of others for help and were unable to do anything. I’m not sure that time will heal all this, but certainly God can and the faith of many of these people is both challenging and humbling. One eight-year-old boy who lost his mother and two of his siblings had found a photo of her and would look at it and say, 'I will see you in Heaven, Mommy'.
There are the happy stories too: the child who was saved by riding on the back of a neighbor’s Labrador Retriever. The owners of the dog were not at home when the tragedy struck. Or my little friend Cedric, who is all of four years old, who clung to a floating refrigerator when he got separated from his parents. He was found by fishermen several miles away later that morning still astride the fridge.
There is much more that could be added to this, but I simply want to give you some snapshots of the situation as I experienced it. In truth it reduced me to silence, or more accurately perhaps, it called to silence. In so many ways it is overwhelming and yet people do what they can and many have sent help. At times I felt like an intruder, but as I listened to the stories and simply held a hand or embraced the person, I was glad I was there and privileged to be with such people.
I want to thank all those who have sent in money to our fund and to assure you that we will continue to monitor the situation in both Cagayan and Iligan so as to best use the money we have received. As I mentioned above, we see the greater need now to be that of rehabilitation and that is probably where we will use most of the money left in the fund and any that will get added to it. I hope that this is acceptable to all of you.
Finally, on this Feast of the Epiphany, may Jesus show His face to all those who are still suffering so terribly. May He also show His face to those who, by the help they send, the prayers they make or their work on the ground, have become that face of Christ for others.
Mission Intention - Dedication to Peace
That the dedication of Christians to peace may bear witness to the name of Christ before all men and women of good will.
As a commentary on this we reproduce a post on a Vietnamese man of peace whose caus for beatification was recently introduced.
Preaching Hope from Prison: François-Xavier Cardinal Nguyên Van Thuán
The extraordinary story, in his own words, of Vietnamese Cardinal Nguyên Van Thuan, Coadjutor Archbishop of Thành-Phô Hô Chí Minh (formerly Saigon) from 1975 till 1994. Just three months after his appointment he was imprisoned by the communist government. He spent thirteen years in jail, nine of them in solitary confinement. In 1998 he was appointed President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace in the Vatican. He gave the Lenten retreat to Pope John Paul and his staff in 1999 and died in Rome on 16 September 2002. Here are some edited extracts from the cardinal’s story.
In my initial period in prison I spent many months in an extremely narrow space without windows, half suffocated by the heat and humidity. Often I had great difficulty in breathing. They tortured me by leaving me under lights day and night for ten days and then depriving me of all light for long periods. One day in the darkness I noticed a tiny hole through which the light shone. From then on I used to put my nostrils there to breathe more easily.
Whenever there were floods snakes used to invade my cell and sometimes climbed my legs to avoid the water. They used to stay with me until the floods passed. I had no toilet but since I received hardly any food I had little need of one. My daily rations consisted of some rice and vegetables cooked with salt. From five in the morning until 11:30 at night there was a constant din of voices over loudspeakers. To distract myself I did exercises, jumped, danced, sang and prayed. Prayer saved my life. In moments of great suffering, sometimes when I wanted to pray I couldn’t. I was desperately tired, sick and hungry . . . often I was tempted to despair and rebellion. But the Lord always helped me.
Learning again how to pray
In my later years in prison five policemen guarded me. Some even studied Latin to censor any documents or telegrams sent to the bishops from Rome. One day a policeman asked me: ‘Can you teach me some song in Latin?’ I replied, ‘I’ll sing some and you can choose.’ He chose the Veni Creator (Come Holy Spirit) and asked me to write out the words. I did so not really expecting that he would learn them. But in a few days he had learned them really well and sang them every morning while he was on guard. I thought to myself: ‘When an archbishop cannot pray, the Lord sends him a policeman to sing the Veni Creator and help him to pray!’
On another occasion a farmer came to the prison and asked permission to visit me. The police permitted it and he spent a few minutes with me. When he was leaving he asked: ‘Please, pray for me,’ and he added: ‘Father, one prayer from you in prison is worth a hundred offered in freedom.’ That day the Holy Spirit sent a farmer to teach me the value of prayer in prison.
Writing about hope
While in prison I wrote several books. All our religious literature had been burned and permission to publish new ones refused. I wondered how, as a pastor, I could encourage the faithful. At that time I was in a closely guarded cell but children were allowed to visit me. One day I said to one of them: ‘Ask your mother to buy me a calendar-block.’ When I received it I wrote my thoughts on the back of a sheet each night and in this way I produced my first book, Pilgrims on the Road of Hope. I wrote the second, The Way of Hope in the Light of the Word of God in the Council in my years in exile, 1,700 kilometers from my diocese. At another time when I was feeling very low and had no desire to write I received a request from the Holy Father asking me to write some spiritual exercises. These later became the work Witnesses to Hope.
I have personally experienced the sorrow of a pastor forbidden to care for his people and forced to abandon his diocese. It caused me great torment to be in prison while the people were abandoned. But I discovered that it had all been God’s work. One night I sensed a voice in my heart saying: ‘François, God holds you in his hands. Always seek his will. God knows what he is doing. He will seek other collaborators who work better than you. Be at peace.’ That night I experienced a deep peace in my heart and I decided to seek God’s will every minute of my life.
At one stage while in prison five young jailers, university students, guarded me. One reason that I survived was because of their friendship.
Those in charge had forbidden them to speak to me. Initially my guards were changed every fifteen days. Prison authorities believed the guards risked being contaminated if left with me for any length of time. Eventually they stopped changing them because apparently they were afraid I would contaminate the whole force. And so the young students became my friends. The love of Christ has great power to change people.
I would chat with them through the door about my life, the various countries I had visited, my family, my childhood and so on. I taught them English, French, and even a little Russian. One day I asked one of them to bring something to trim a piece of wood. He did and I was able to make a cross. Even though all religious symbols were prohibited, I now had a cross in my quarters. I hid it in a bar of soap. Another time I asked for a piece of wire and a pair of pliers. My friendly policeman said, ‘I will bring them but you have to finish in four hours’ – the length of his particular shift. In four hours I had fashioned a chain for my cross. The cross was later enclosed in silver and it is the cross and chain I still wear.
Saying Mass in prison
The day I was arrested I had to leave everything behind me. The following day I was allowed to write and ask my friends to bring my clothes, toothpaste and other personal needs. I also asked them to include some wine ‘as medicine.’ My friends understood. They sent me a little bottle of Mass-wine labeled ‘Medicine for Stomach Aches’ and also some hosts hidden in a little burner used to keep the humidity at bay.
Every night I kept a tiny piece of bread for the following day’s Eucharist. And so every day for many years I had the joy of celebrating Mass with three drops of wine and one of water in my palm. This was my altar, my cathedral. For me it was the true medicine of body and soul something to stave off death in order to live for ever in Christ.
Photos in body of article from the Facebook account in honour of the Cardinal.
Prayer for the Beatification of Cardinal Francis Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan
O mighty and eternal God,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit
I offer thanks for giving to the Church
the heroic testimony of Cardinal Francis Xavier Nguyên Van Thuân.
The suffering he experienced in prison,
which he united with the crucified Christ
and commended to the maternal protection of Mary,
is for the Church and the world a shining witness of unity and forgiveness,
and of justice and peace.
His loving person and his Episcopal ministry radiate the light of faith,
the enthusiasm of hope and the warmth of love.
Now, my Lord, through his intercession and according to your will,
grant me the grace I am imploring in the hope that
he will soon be elevated to the honour of sainthood.
+ Giampaolo Crepaldi
Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace