Wednesday, May 22, 2013


Me at five months being held by my grand aunt Rita, with my brother Carl looking on.  We lived in a wooden home with tin roofing in the 60s.  You can see her sewing machine at the bottom left corner.

She was my grandmother's younger sister, Rita Perez Torres, born in 1901.

She never married and was the true mother of the household of six children, all born to a single mother, my great grandmother, Maria Perez Torres, born in 1874.

It was she who cooked and sewed and changed diapers while my grandmother, the oldest of the six, worked from the time she was 16 years old teaching in the public schools.

Everyone called her Nina (godmother) because she was the godmother of many children.

Nina never learned to speak much English.  When she did speak it, she sometimes mispronounced the words, including my own name!

I was already 9 years old when she died, so I have clear memories of her.

There were some years she worked, in the kitchen of the public elementary school, for example.  But that meant she could be back at the house by 2pm or so.  As soon as everyone was up in the morning, she made breakfast : fried rice, bacon, eggs, toast, coffee.  She cooked the evening meal.  She kept house.  The only brother, Pedro, went to his ranch.  The two others in the home, sisters, went to work.  Two other sisters had already married and had their own homes.

Nina was always cooking.  One thing I will never forget is flamengko, a mixture of raw eggs, sugar, vanilla extract and a little liquor (rum, whiskey, what have you).  It was supposed to invigorate you and give sustånsia (sustinence, strength) to the weak.  I adored the smell of it!


Nina ran the house like a convent.  For years she would not allow TV into the home, and this was in the 1950s and 60s when we had only one TV channel (KUAM) and only from the late afternoon till midnight.  But she saw sin lurking in every corner.

She once pointed to the TV and looked at me and said, "Isao."  "Sin."  This was in 1970.  All I remember were shows like Gunsmoke.  Maybe it was Miss Kitty that turned her off.

She relented and allowed TV into the home when her sisters would take her to the neighbors for what was supposed to be a visit, but was timed so that Peyton Place was just coming on the TV.  Nina got hooked on Peyton Place and that's when she allowed TV into her own home.

I was only 5 years old and she asked me one morning what I wanted for breakfast.  I asked for bacon and she said I couldn't because it was a Friday in Lent.  I was only five!

Every night at 8 o'clock the TV was turned off and we all knelt in front of the living room altar (every room had an altar, or at least a religious picture or statue), and prayed the rosary.  If there was a novena to be said, she lead it.  In Chamorro.  There was no English at all in our prayer life.  The Angelus was also said in Spanish.  They sang nothing but Chamorro hymns.

The Christmas novena was my favorite, because of the belen (nativity scene) with fresh lumut (moss) from the jungle; the neighborhood kids came in and joined us, and hard-rock candy bought ten years earlier was passed out to us.


Nina was the heart of the family.  She grew attached to one nephew whom she helped raise and when he had to return to his parents, she practically died.  When another nephew married outside the Church, it took her years to recover and I wonder if she ever really did.

When another nephew was seriously injured in an accident, I saw her looking at pictures of the crash, which showed him bleeding, and I saw her cry and shed tears.  But this was a few years after the accident, and he was fully recovered, but she still was crying.

An older distant relative said that if she saw you walking past the house, she'd call you in to get something she had cooked or baked (she was always doing one or the other or both).  If you turned her down, she would cry right in front of you.

Nina kept a list of everyone's birthdays, wedding anniversaries, date of death - everyone's.  Distant relatives, godchildren, friends.

In 1971 she was diagnosed with cancer, in her neck.  I saw the tumor.

Her sisters decided to send her to Lourdes, with her youngest sister who had travel experience, was young and strong and spoke excellent English.

But the cancer did not go away.  Towards the end, she was in much suffering.  She would say in Chamorro, "Asaina!  Na' la' atdet este i piniti-ho, sa' ti chumilong yan i masa'pet-mo gi kilu'us!"

"Lord!  Make my pain worse, because it doesn't equal your suffering on the cross!"

Nina and her youngest sister Asunción (Chong), both dressed in brown as they were Secular Franciscans (Tetsiåria).

On January 28, 1972, Nina died.  I remember the drive from Saint Jude Church to the cemetery in Togcha.  The line of cars went from the descent down to Pago Bay up to the hill going up to Yoña.  Those were the days when everybody went to funerals and stayed for the whole thing, and didn't just pop in to pay respects then leave.

A rare photo - all five sisters together in one photo.

Nina is the first one on the left side sitting on the bed, her cancer advanced, months before her death.  This was in the new, concrete house built in 1971, which still stands.  To the right is my grandmother Maria, the oldest; next to her is Asunción (Chong), the youngest.  Standing on the right are the two sisters, besides my grandmother, who married.  First is Josefa (Epa) who married Antonio Cruz Artero, and then Ana, who married Judge Vicente Camacho Reyes.

The lady standing on the left was married to a Rodriguez, our distant relatives.  My grandmother's grandfather was Pedro Rodriguez Torres.

Saturday, May 4, 2013


Christ is our peace.  (Ephesians 2:14)

Notice that we say "Christ IS our peace," not simply that He gives us peace.  He Himself is the peace for which we long.

Why?  Because, in His own flesh, Jesus unites what used to be separated.  God and man were at odds since the fall of Adam and Eve; Jesus is both God and man.

Between heaven and earth was a huge divide; Jesus is from heaven, who came to earth to take on an earthly body, and ascended into heaven with that earthly body.

Since the fall of Adam and Eve, social divisions multiplied; husband versus wife, brother kills brother (Cain and Abel), the world cannot understand each other (Babel).  But, in Jesus, the Only Begotten Son of the Father, we all can be the adopted sons and daughters of the One Father of all (Pentecost).

One faith, one Lord, one baptism.

The unity, harmony and peace that ought to exist between Christians was, from the earliest times, expressed in the kiss of peace.  "Salute one another with a holy kiss."   It is interesting that two Apostles, Saint Peter and Saint Paul, both say the same thing in their epistles (1 Peter 5:14; Romans 16:16).  This must have been an early and fundamental Christian sign.

In fact, it was a common sign of friendship in the days of Jesus. 

SS Peter and Paul give each other a kiss of peace before going to their martyrdom

Christians would greet each other with a kiss.  This also took place during the liturgy, the sacred moment of Christian worship. 


There is no doubt that a kiss of peace was exchanged among Christians at the liturgy, but in varying ways.  At first it seems men and women kissed, even on the lips, as is seen in the story of Saint Mary of Egypt when she received Holy Communion from Zosimus.  Later, when the Church grew in size, men and women sat separately in church and exchanged this peace only among their own gender.

In some places, the sign of peace came before the Offertory, in reference to Matthew 5:23-24 to make peace with one's brother before offering to Lord.  The Apology of Saint Justin (around 150AD) places the kiss of peace at this part of the liturgy, just before the Offertory.

But in Rome it always came after the Consecration, that is, after the Holy Sacrifice had been accomplished, and before partaking of the sacrificial meal. 

Pope Innocent I (early 400s), writing to the bishop of Gubbio (Italy) says that, while it was the custom in Gubbio to call the congregation to exchange peace before the Consecration, he says it should come after the sacrifice is accomplished, so that the kiss becomes a sign of completion of the celebration of reconciliation.   

In other words, to symbolize that we can only offer peace to each other because of the peace which Christ is for us.  It was His sacrifice on the cross that put all divisions to death, reconciling us with God and with each other.  Therefore, we save this exchange of peace for after the Consecration and before we receive the Sacrament of Peace and Unity, the Body and Blood of the Lord.

You will notice that there is a marked attention on the idea of peace once the Our Father is said.

"...graciously grant peace in our days..."

"Peace I leave with you, my peace I give you..."

And even after the sign has been given, the last invocation of the Agnus Dei (Lamb of God) is "grant us peace."

The idea is that, now that the sacrifice has been accomplished, Christ has become our peace, He has achieved our peace and is able to give that peace to us.


In time, the kiss of peace was restricted to the sacred ministers at a Solemn High Mass.  Even there, the physical kiss on the mouth was reduced to an embrace. 

It is a fact of history that many things, good in themselves, became subject to abuses.  Even in the time of Saint Paul, he was writing against certain abuses that Christians did during the Sacred Liturgy (1 Corinthians 11).

So the Church began to reduce or modify those things that were frequent victims of abuse.

In 2007, over 30 years after the re-introduction of the sign of peace among the faithful in the Mass, Pope Benedict XVI pointed out some of the problems with the sign of peace.  There are times, he said, the sign can be "exaggerated," causing a "certain distraction" in the people just before receiving Holy Communion.  This already points to specific abuses that this gesture can suffer.


In 1970, the sign of peace by the entire congregation was restored to the Mass as an option.  The older Sacramentary, the one we have been using for many years before the latest Roman Missal, said that the priest (or deacon) may invite the people to exchange a sign of peace.

In the new Roman Missal, the priest (or deacon) invites the people to offer each other a sign of peace, "if appropriate."  We are not told by the liturgical books what is "appropriate." 

Since 1970, virtually every priest has taken the option that it no longer feels like an option.  If a priest were to refrain from using the option, he would have to do much explanation among the people beforehand.
(No. 82 in the General Instruction of the Roman Missal)

1. WHAT sign?

The Roman Missal says it is up to each conference of bishops to decide the specific sign in accordance with local custom.  The US Bishops have not decided on a specific sign, but leave it up to local custom.

Here's an interesting note.  Guam does not fall under the US Conference of Catholic Bishops.  Neither does the Northern Marianas.  We fall under the Pacific Conference of Catholic Bishops.  That conference, made up of islands vastly different from each other in numerous ways, leaves it up even more to local custom.

Herein lies the recipe for a few problems.  "Local custom" doesn't seem to be a precise formula.  We live in a multi-cultured world.  In one pew at Mass, there could be people whose cultural background make physical contact with non-relatives uncomfortable, and other people in the same pew who are quite used to it. 

When I was young, we "had" to shake hands with elderly people who, according to our culture, we ought to have reverenced by putting their hands up to our noses.  Shaking everyone's hand was what the American priests told us to do; shaking everyone's hand was not our culture, at the time.

Many married couples refuse to shake hands, seeing that gesture as less than what their relationship calls for.  So they kiss; sometimes on the cheek, sometimes on the lips.  At least in this instance, because husband and wife will not kiss others on the lips, their "kiss of peace" has become an expression of their marital love, rather than of their unity as believers.  In a sacramental marriage, it is true that there is more than a natural relationship, but I wonder if the Kiss of Peace in the liturgy is meant to express a bond that is particular to husband and wife.

A basic problem with the sign of peace when not understood is that, when people are told to interact with each other, even in Mass, they can fall back spontaneously on their natural feelings, as seen in the example above.

The sign of peace then becomes, unfortunately, a natural experience; of friendliness, human contact, family love; rather than a spiritual experience of unity based on a union with Christ and His sacrifice.  There's nothing wrong with natural friendliness.  But that's not why Christ suffered and died for us.

2. Sobriety

The Roman Missal also says that the sign of peace should be done in a sober way.  This ties in with Pope Benedict's remark in 2007 about the need for restraint in making this gesture.

In Mass, we are dealing with sacred signs and symbols, and the realities to which they point.  The great danger of the sign of peace when misunderstood, and the lack of precision surrounding it, is that it can become an expression of natural friendliness.  Even there, not everyone experiences natural friendliness when shaking hands in church. 

3. Proximity

The Roman Missal is also clear that we are to offer the sign of peace, if invited by the priest or deacon, "only to those who are nearest."  This would mean to exchange the sign with the persons in our immediate vicinity.

Wandering about, even across the aisle at times, to give people the sign of peace is a liturgical abuse.  The purpose of the sign of peace is not for us to make actual contact with everyone, but to express a spiritual reality that transcends the limited physical expression it is supposed to be.


Another danger that can happen at the sign of peace, when people are not properly catechized, is that they use this moment to make a first step in reconciling with someone else.  It often happens in our small island that people at odds will meet up at a funeral or wedding Mass.  By force of circumstance, these two people can sometimes sit in the same pew.  Come the sign of peace, they turn to each other and the dam breaks.  Tears flow, apologies are made and the interminable hugging commences.

There are times when the celebrant at Mass has to wait (he shouldn't) for the people to "calm down" after these extended and liturgically abusive exchanges of peace. 

The Kiss of Peace is not meant to be our chance to achieve reconciliation.  That should be done even before Mass starts; in the sacrament of Penance; in our personal outreach towards those we have offended or who have offended us.

The Kiss of Peace is to manifest the reconciliation we already have, through Christ our Lord.

Although the Kiss of Peace is limited in the traditional Latin Mass to Solemn High Masses with deacon and subdeacon (and Pontifical Solemn High Masses), it makes a great impression, keeping the spiritual nature, the sobriety and restraint called for by the Church.

The Kiss comes after the celebrant's prayer for peace, which is made right after he has said, in the Agnus Dei, "dona nobis pacem," "grant us peace."

He then kisses the altar, the symbol of Christ, who is the very altar of His own sacrifice, His Sacred Body and Blood.

By kissing the altar, the priest is kissing Christ our peace, and thereby receives the peace of Christ.  Now he can give this peace to the deacon.

The deacon approaches the priest, and since the deacon is asking for the peace from the priest, it is the deacon who bows to the priest.  They embrace.  The priest wishes peace upon the deacon "Pax tecum."  "Peace be with you." The deacon responds, "Et cum spiritu tuo."  "And with your spirit."

The bestower of peace, the priest, places his hands on the shoulders of the one receiving the peace, who places his open hands under the elbows of the priest.

The deacon now repeats this pattern, bestowing peace upon the subdeacon.

Although the congregation is not involved in making this exchange, they are witnesses of it among the sacred ministers and participate in this gesture in that way.  When they see the celebrant receive Christ's peace, represented by the kissing of the altar, and how this peace passes from Christ to celebrant to deacon then subdeacon, the faithful are edified by spiritual realities and not by human contact alone.

They are visibly reminded that Christ is our peace.  No other.