Monday, December 15, 2014

LIVING STATIONS OF THE CROSS



1992 was my 2nd year as pastor of San Roque parish in Saipan.

By then, I figured the people had a year to realize I wasn't too off my rocker and would be open to my ideas. As Lent approached, I got the idea to have our catechism children and teens be involved in a Living Stations of the Cross. They would enact the Stations, dressed for the part.

With the help of some parishioners, I went to fourteen homes in the village and asked the families if they would be willing to be one of the Stations. I made sure to ask some of the families that needed a boost, shall we say, in their Sunday Mass attendance. All the families said yes, and even agreed to furnish the life size wooden crosses to mark each of their homes as a Station.




Getting the costumes was the next chore.

Fortunately, I had already become good friends with a Filipino businessman on Saipan, Mr. Antonio Heras. Tony was looking for a priest to say Mass at his company compound on the feast of St Joseph the Worker for his fifty or so Filipino workers. He was already friends with one of the Spanish Mercedarian sisters on Saipan, since Tony was old-school and spoke Spanish. This Mercedarian asked me to say the Mass, and that's how Tony and I became friends. My ability to speak Spanish, cook him a pasta dish he really liked and steady supply of banter made us close.

Tony put all his Philippines resources at my disposal. I designed on paper the Roman soldier's helmet, sword and shield. This was sent to Manila for his office people to source out to papier mache craftsmen. The soldiers' red capes and the garments for the Jews we simply made ourselves on Saipan. Our catechism teachers and aides were very helpful in making this happen.




I told the boys playing Roman soldiers to whip our Jesus character as he walked.  Of course, it was hardly felt but the sight of it made many an eye tear up on the road.




I knew the children and teens would be the main players in this, but I wanted it to be a community experience. So I asked the regular techas, or prayer leaders, all adults, to lead the Stations in Chamorro and sing the traditional hymn for each Station. So, young and old all became part of this prayerful experience.




It was a prayerful experience. There was a somber mood to the whole thing. Even little children stayed true to the ambience. As we walked from Station to Station, I had two young boys beat the drum, military style. That also helped create the right mood. We felt that someone was marching to his death.




The role of Jesus was key.

And I was blessed to have Aldibert as one of my confirmation students. He was, at age 16, already a young man and able to portray Jesus, especially with his long hair. But more than that, Aldibert, without any coaching how to act, naturally acted the part. You can see it in his face.

When it came time to nail the Lord to the cross, I had Aldibert actually lie on the cross. Then I instructed someone to bang very hard with an actual hammer on the wood, but avoiding Aldibert's hands, of course. PANG! PANG! I think that definitely was a moment that got the tears rolling.




When I look on these pics I took almost 23 years ago, I am amazed at these young people. With only two or three practices, all inside the church; with no experience or training in acting, innocent as they were, it seems as if the Spirit just lead them into the mystery of the Passion. I think they were transported to that scene, because it shows in their faces and demeanor in these pics.

It really isn't hard to evangelize and catechize people, if you are open to using traditional methods used with success for hundreds of years.

Besides the obvious effect it had on the children, a feeling of great satisfaction came over me when one of my parishioners, a lady in her 80s who only spoke Chamorro, told me, "I have seen many priests come and go, since before the war. Never have I seen anything like this."  It was good to know she also was touched by grace by this.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

HOLY SOULS? OR POOR SOULS?


Angels taking some souls in Purgatory to Heaven
Yes, even Popes, bishops, priest, monks and friars pass through its cleansing flames

One of our friary volunteers was writing out the intentions before Mass and she asked me, "Holy Souls, or Poor Souls?"

I said, "Why?"  She said, "The person giving this intention wrote down 'Holy Souls." I never heard of that. Just 'Poor Souls in Purgatory.'"

She is Chamorro, so I reminded her, "Do you remember that sometimes in Chamorro we say 'Animas benditas giya Putgatorio?' Those words 'animas benditas' mean 'blessed, or holy, souls.'" I went on to explain it further :

The souls in Purgatory are holy. They are holy because they died in sanctifying grace, otherwise, they would never have made it as far as Purgatory! Sanctifying grace is the grace that makes us holy; it sanctifies us. They died in this grace, as friends of God. Their mortal sins had been forgiven.

But because of venial sins, spiritual imperfections or incomplete satisfaction for forgiven sins, they are undergoing now a process of purification (purgation). It is a painful process, and those souls can do nothing for themselves to bring relief. Those souls are "poor." They lack the power to alleviate their suffering. They are also "poor" in the common sense that we use when talking about people for whom we have pity.

But this painful process of purification, which consists in the delay of heaven, which causes them terrible pain (the saints tell us that the pains of purgatory are more intense than those of earth), is making them perfectly holy, such that when they are perfectly cleansed, they are now able to see God face to face, which is heaven.

The souls in Purgatory are holy, because they are being made perfectly holy. The souls in hell also suffer, but their pain does not make them holy. Theirs is the pain of condemnation, not purification. Theirs is the pain of the spiritually dead. The pain of the souls in Purgatory is the pain of the spiritually alive, who are being treated, as a spiritual patient. Their pain is medicinal, making them spiritually perfect, healthy and whole.

The souls in Purgatory are holy, because they are on the way to heaven. There is no way they can NOT go to heaven. That sentence has already been pronounced by God, and when our souls leave our bodies in death, we die either in the state of sanctifying grace, or we die in the state of mortal sin. There is no change in this from the moment we die. So, those souls in Purgatory are definitely going to heaven. They are holy. But the delay of heaven is sheer torture for them, especially now that they realize that many saints did not pass through Purgatory but went straight to heaven when they died. They understand that they, too, could have been saints, but did not give their spiritual life their 100%. So they suffer the regret of not becoming saints while on earth.

Knowing all this, how could we not pity the Poor and Holy Souls? How could we not shudder at the thought of our own future suffering in Purgatory, if we do not give our spiritual life our 100%? We all have crosses. A sure way of gaining much merit and reducing our time in Purgatory (if we end up not by-passing it altogether), is to accept our crosses and follow Jesus, as satisfaction for sin.

Let us also pray and sacrifice for the Holy Souls, for they will pray for us before God in Heaven. That, too, will help us reduce our time in Purgatory, or, if we cooperate with God's graces, make us saints here on earth so that heaven will be ours the moment we die.

The Spanish mural above says, at the bottom :

"Have compassion on me,
at least you my friends."


For more information :

http://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG0015/__P2N.HTM






Tuesday, September 23, 2014

FATHER MEL


Father Mel McCormack, OFM Cap
Died September 24, 1992

"Mel" was not short for Melvin or Melchior or anything else. There was an Irish saint named Mel of Ardagh, and Father Mel was an American of Irish descent.

"Mel" is also a Latin word. In Latin it means "honey." I was always tempted to say, "Hi, Father Honey" but I never had the nerve. Father Mel was a crusty old Irish New Yorker. He was a good soul, but foolishness was not something he tolerated much.


Father Mel in the Capuchin seminary before World War II

Father Mel was born in Yonkers, New York, just up from the Bronx. He had a New York accent all his life, but it was a mellow one. Yet, his working-class origins came out in a distinct manner of speech. He would say, "And he come up...." instead of "And he came up..." "Bishop Baumgartner was in Manhattan, and he come up to Garrison to visit," is something he would say.

Fresh out of seminary, he was assigned to the Guam mission and arrived here in September of 1941, the last batch of American friars who got here in time for the start of World War II three months later in December of 1941.

In those mere three months, Father Mel said he was assigned the care of Dededo (which he pronounced Day - dee - doe). He lived in Agaña, with the main community of friars, and drove up to Dededo on Sundays. There may have been other days he'd go up there.

He recalled vividly the outbreak of the war and how he returned to Agaña to turn himself into the Japanese. He spent the rest of the war in POW camp in Japan. He didn't say much about Japan or the Japanese when I knew him, but I got the impression he didn't miss Japan!


All Souls Day
before Vatican II

Returning to Guam after the war, he did a lot. He built the present church in Agat. He was pastor for a long time in Piti. He served a bit in Saipan and also at Father Dueñas Memorial School.

By the time I got to know him in the fall of 1981, he was a senior friar but still in Piti. But shortly thereafter he gave up parish work and settled in at the friary. He retained one job, previously held, as advocate of the Marriage Tribunal. As advocate, he dealt first with people seeking annulments and guided them through the process. It was a part-time job. He'd go down to the Chancery just in the morning and be back at the friary for lunch by 11:30.



Wearing his trademark zori

I was asked one year to do some clerical work for him at the Tribunal. I would transcribe tapes of the interviews the panel of judges would have with people seeking annulments. I'd sit there on one side of the room, and Father Mel would sit at his desk on the other side. I'd hear him converse once in a while with people coming in for annulments. He usually tried to find out who their parents were, to see if he knew the family. He'd also see if they knew how to speak Chamorro and, when they didn't, he would chide them.



Having a chat with (then) Msgr Felixberto Flores on the friary patio in the 1960s

Father Mel loved detective stories and had the habit of pouring the leftover syrup of his canned peaches into his glass of milk. He was from that old school, both Capuchin and urban New York that went through the Great Depression. He wasn't into anything fancy and he kept everything simple, down to his trademark zori or Japanese rubber slippers. He always wore his habit.

He was fond of sending recordings of himself on cassette tape to his family in the States, instead of writing letters. He did the same with me when I was studying in the States, and I would then have to do the same. But I never had much to say and could never record more than 15 minutes. When he died, I found his collection of cassettes and played them. His sister could use up the entire 60 minute cassette with family news. He, also, would fill up a whole cassette. His family still called him Dick, as his baptismal name was Richard.


Speaking to the faithful at a procession in the 1950s. Looks like Saint Francis, and there are Secular Franciscans (Third Order) in the crowd, in their brown dresses and scapulars. He probably spoke in both Chamorro and English to the people.

It was he who said, in public, that he was glad to die on Guam because he could die in peace, knowing that the Chamorro people have a great devotion to the dead and would never forget to pray for his soul.

Requiescat in pace, Patre Mel.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

PALEX



PALEX?

Yes, it stands for Påle' (Father) and Alex, the priest's name.  His name was Father Alexander Feely, and he was a Capuchin missionary on Guam for most of his life. That's how he abbreviated his name. Pale+Alex=palex.

He died today, 33 years ago. And I was able to get to know him a bit.

I became a Capuchin postulant in August that year, and I didn't live at the Friary but at home. But home was just down the street from the Friary and I would go to the Friary nearly every day for Mass and prayers. For ministry, I was asked to spend a few hours once a week with Fr Alex at the hospital, where he was chaplain.

He was "retired" by then. He was elderly and running a parish wasn't for him anymore. He came to Guam in 1940, before the war. He was sent, with the other Capuchins, to prison of war camp in Japan when the war broke out. After his release and some rest time in the U.S., he returned to Guam. He served in many places, notably in Agat and Santa Rita.

I didn't know him before I became a postulant because he was not assigned to my home town, Sinajaña. But I do remember he was one of several Capuchin priests who promoted the Fatima Crusade in the mid 1970s. He, and Father Mel, went to whatever parish would allow them, and preach on Fatima and enroll people with the scapular. I went to the one they held at Agaña Heights Church. I was 14 or 15 at the time. The church was packed that night.

Fr Alex was one of a small group of older friars who thought the people were losing their traditional faith. They were convinced that the message of Fatima had to be strongly emphasized. And so they did.

To understand Fr Alex better, one should remember that he was born in Scotland, the son of Irish immigrants. Ireland was very poor for many centuries, when ruled by the British. Many Irish, 99% of them Catholic, moved to England and Scotland seeking jobs. Scotland was, at the time, very Protestant, of the Calvinist bent, and Catholics suffered social discrimination. Then his parents moved to the U.S., where things were better in New York, full of Irish Catholics!

So Fr Alex developed a low opinion of Protestants. That side of him went sleeping for many years, while he was on strongly Catholic Guam and the Northern Marianas. But, in the early 70s, some Protestants, especially the "born again" and pentecostal types, were gaining converts among Chamorros here. That sent Fr Alex into orbit! He would preach against them from the pulpit. That turned off even some Catholics.

He would drink only one kind of soda, RC. If you asked him why, he'd say "RC for Roman Catholic," even though it really stood for "Royal Crown."


The first day I went to spend time with Fr Alex at the hospital, he showed me his office. In it was a small bed, for when he was tired. Perhaps he even spent the night there at times.

Then we went to the patients' rooms. In those days, 95% of the patients were Catholic. Fr Alex would just walk in. As he pushed the door open, he would call out, with his booming voice, "Abe Maria Purisima!" Then he would talk to the patient and tell them a very corny joke. Really bad, corny jokes. But he would laugh and so would others, to humor him, mostly.

Once he pointed to a sign on the door. It just said NPO. He said to me, "Do you know what that stands for?" How would I have known?  He said, "It's Latin. It means 'Nil per os.' You know what that means?"

Again, how would I know at the tender age of 19?

"It means 'Nothing through the mouth.' The patient cannot eat or drink through the mouth. So I just have to bless the patient with the Host."

"Oh," I said sheepishly.


The day before he died, we were at morning prayers, and during one pause, when there was absolute silence, Fr Alex let out the biggest burp. It resounded in the chapel. He was sitting right behind me.

The next day, sometime in the mid morning, while going around visiting patients, Fr Alex had a massive heart attack, right in the hospital. Everyone said, "What better place to have a heart attack?" The nurses, many of them locals or Filipinas, mostly Catholic, took good care of him, who was like a grandpa to them. He would tell them corny jokes, too.

He didn't die right away. I remember going up to ICU with a few other friars to visit, and there was Fr Donan, another Irish and New Yorker (who served Padre Pio's Masses during World War II), holding Fr Alex's hand and praying the rosary into his ear. Fr Alex was tied up with wires and tubes and in a coma, but there was Fr Donan doing something he knew would console Fr Alex.

The next day Fr Alex died.

We still have some books lying around the friary with PALEX written on them in big letters.

Being silly, immature kids at the time, we young postulants said that it was that big burp that did him in, the day before his heart attack.

Rest in peace, Fr Alex.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

THE HOLY NAME OF MARY



The universal Church calls it the Most Holy Name of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The Spaniards, and those they influenced, also call it, at times, the Sweet Name of Mary.

Spain was the first to ask and receive, in 1513, the Pope's permission to celebrate a feast in honor of her name. The diocese to observe it first was Cuenca, and the date chosen for it was September 12. But historical events would help make it a universal observance.

In 1683, or 170 years later, the Catholic Poles and Austrians were fighting against the Muslim Turks, menacing Europe. The Polish king John Sobieski prepared himself for war by going to daily Mass and receiving communion. At stake was the great city of Vienna.

The Catholic and Muslim forces were to do battle on September 13, but the Turks were hemming in on the city so much that Sobieski had to strike on the 12th, the feast of the Holy Name of Mary, even though they were outnumbered vastly by the Turks.

After a full day of fighting, the Christians held the Turks back.  As the Turks were exhausted, Sobieski let loose the largest cavalry charge in history. Eighteen thousand men on horses descended from the hills onto the tired and dispirited Turks. The Turkish line was broken and then the Turks gave up. Just a few hours later, Sobieski was in the deserted battle tent of the Turkish commander.

As the Turks were giving up as the day ended, a cloud passed over the crescent moon (symbol of the Muslims) and hid it from view. It was an ominous sign.


King John Sobieski sends word to the Pope : "I came, I saw, God conquered."

The victory was credited to the Holy Name of Mary, whose feast it was that same day. Therefore, Rome extended the feast, till then mainly a Spanish devotion, to the whole Catholic world.


WHAT'S IN A NAME?




The name "Mary" is derived from the Hebrew name Miriam. The only woman so-called in the Old Testament is the sister of Moses. Scholars disagree as to the meaning of Miriam. By the time of Jesus, the name became very popular (notice the number of different Marys in the Gospels) and had been altered a bit to Mariam when the Jews dropped Hebrew and began to speak Aramaic, a close cousin, as their language of daily life.

Among the many explanations offered for the past (almost) 2000 years as to the meaning of the name "Mary," or "Miriam," one very highly favored by the Church Fathers is "Lady," as in "mistress," a lady of power and status. This would make sense in view of the fact that her Son is King.

But its meaning becomes even clearer when one remembers that Mary is the New Eve; she replaces the old Eve. If you look at the Marian symbol above, you see the phrase "Ave Maria." "Hail Mary." If you read "Ave" backward, it spells "Eva." Mary reverses the sin of Eve (Eva). Eve rebelled and Mary obeyed. Eve brought death into the world, Mary brought Life into the world, Jesus the Savior.

Eve was supposed to be Queen, as Adam was King. After all, they were the first humans. But, when they sinned, they lost the dominion God wanted them to have. Instead, the woman became subject to the man, and the man had to fight the earth, as it were, for it to produce food. Because we are sinners, we became slaves; slaves to our rebellious passions. But Mary changed all that. By giving us our King, men and women can become kings and queens again, over their own selves first of all. Slaves have been set free, and can follow the will of God now, through the grace of Christ. Mary is Lady, as Christ is King.

ON GUAM - SOMETHING SPECIAL


For us on Guam, this feast means something very special to us because our Cathedral has as its patroness the Dulce Nombre de Maria, the Sweet Name of Mary, after the Spanish fashion. Not only is this church our Cathedral, it was the first Catholic church built in the Marianas. It was named by Blessed Diego Luis de Sanvitores. The image of Our Lady of Camarin is here.

GONE AND BACK AGAIN

Did you notice that the Agaña Cathedral is celebrating the feast of the Dulce Nombre de Maria back around September 12, as opposed to near September 8, as it has been doing for many years? Why the shift?



If you look above at the General Roman Calendar of the early 1970s, you will see nothing for September 12. In 1969, Rome took away the feast of the Holy Name of Mary. The feeling at the time was that it was a duplication of the feast of the Birth of Mary, which was just a few days before. Obviously, Mary would have gotten her name around the time of her birth.

So what were we to do, if we had a cathedral named after the name of Mary? The decision was made then to celebrate it as close to September 8th as possible, since the devotion to her holy name was absorbed into the feast of her birthday.

But then...



...in 2002, St Pope John Paul II restored the feast of the Most Holy Name of Mary on the calendar, and on September 12, but as an Optional Memorial. An optional memorial is something up to the priest to observe or not, when he says Mass that day. But, it's good enough for us! The decision has been made, it seems, to celebrate Dulce Nombre back on September 12 or as close to it as possible, since we normally celebrate feasts on Guam on the Saturday closest the actual day.

This is how September 12 looked like in the good old days....


From the 1962 Missal. It was a 3rd class feast. There was nothing optional about it! The priest had to observe it, unless something of higher precedence coincides, such as a Sunday.

SEEING 9/11 LIVE


A quarter before11pm on Guam, on September 11, 2001, I was driving back to the Friary on Guam's lonely, quiet roads for that time of night.

My cell phone rang and when I answered it was a priest friend of mine.

"Have you heard the news?"
"No."
"One of the Twin Towers in New York is on fire."
"Really?"
"Come watch. It's live on CNN."
"Okay. Be there in a minute."

Guam is rather small so it didn't take me long to drive to this priest's rectory, where he lived all alone. He ushered me in and I sat in front of the TV. This was now a little after 11PM . CNN was already filming live the North Tower billowing in gray smoke. I don't remember when someone on CNN finally said a plane crashed into it.

I remember thinking, maybe they can somehow put the fire out, big as it was, and save lives. That was my silent prayer as the priest and I kept looking at the live footage.

As we were talking, not looking at each other but our eyes glued to the screen, we were coming up with various explanations and means of rescue.

Then - before our eyes - we saw a plane fly into the second tower. My mouth dropped. I just couldn't believe it. Was this a movie? It's so hard to explain how incredible it all felt. One didn't trust what one was seeing.


It was only then that it first occurred to me that this was no accident. Arab terrorists were far from my mind, but I did think this was planned. Who, why...I didn't know.

It was impossible to be sleepy by then. We kept talking and listening to what scraps of information, and conjecture, were being reported.

Then wham! Another unbelievable sight! The one tower started to fall on itself, before our eyes. Neither of us could talk. In my mind, I just thought of all the lives lost. Massive numbers of people. My heart sank.

Then a half hour or so later, the other tower fell. It was too much to take in. I became numb. This all happened live and I saw it happen on the TV screen.

I didn't stay up much more than another half hour. I went to sleep, still overcome with disbelief. And the next morning the name of Osama bin Laden was already in the news.

It was a few days later that a relative said that Jean, my godmother, was working at the WTC, on a floor above the crash zone. She was presumed dead.

Several weeks later, we had a Capuchin event on Guam, our 100th Anniversary, as a matter of fact, and I felt awkward that friars from New York, where we are based, travelled to this occasion. It was hard to be joyful about our Centenary, when our friars from New York had to live through this.

The following month, in October, there was a friar event in New York, and I was expected to go. When I was in New York, a month after 9/11, the city was eerily quiet. It was still New York and still busy, but not like before. People were naturally more somber.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

EIGHT MEN


Father Jesus Baza Dueñas

EIGHT CATHOLIC MISSIONARIES KILLED

Practically all of us on Guam have heard of Father Jesus Baza Dueñas, killed by the Japanese. But fewer people know of the seven other Catholic clergy and religious also killed by the Japanese in other parts of the Marianas and Micronesia.  Here they are :

GUAM

Fr. Jesus Baza Dueñas - Chamorro - Tai, July 12, 1944

Dueñas was killed by the Japanese, after several days of torture and beatings, on suspicion of helping the American Navy radio man George Tweed.

LUTA (ROTA)

Br. Miguel Timoner, Jesuit - Spanish - Luta, November, 1944

Brother Timoner was an assistant to Father Juan Pons, the Jesuit priest of Luta.  Pons and Timoner were the only two Spaniards on Luta, and the only two Catholic missionaries.  Pons was afflicted with a very infected sore on his leg, which ultimately contributed to his death.  Timoner was killed on suspicion of being an American spy.

PALAU

On September 18, 1944, the Japanese killed six Jesuits in a jungle area on a hill in Ngatpang, Palau. Three of them had been stationed in Yap and the other three in Palau.  They were executed because the Japanese feared they would help the Americans if the U.S. should ever invade Palau and Yap.

The Three Missionaries on Yap

Fr. Bernardo de la Espriella (Colombian)

Fr. Bernardo was a long-time missionary in Yap, which was perhaps the most difficult Catholic mission in Micronesia, as the Yapese were very reluctant to become Christians.  But Espriella was tireless in making attempts, going from village to village, and even island to island.  By the 1930s, times had changed and the missionaries found themselves in demand as more Yapese became interested in baptism.  One of Yap's most renowned sorcerers came to Espriella to embrace Catholicism, giving to the priest the tools of his trade.

Espriella was one of the first to penetrate the atolls of Ulithi in modern times. He used large posters showing the main doctrines of the faith, and let interpreters explain them in the local language. Then he would teach the people, from the elders to children, basic prayers already translated into their mother tongue. He would stay with the people till close to midnight explaining the faith.


Fr. Bernardo de la Espriella, SJ

A true missionary, Espriella was always on the move to another island.  In these remote, smaller atolls, he sometimes faced great opposition from chiefs and sorcerers. On some voyages, the seas were very rough and a typhoon once pushed his boat 400 miles off course.

Fr. Luis Blanco (Spanish)


Fr. Luis Blanco, SJ

Arriving sometime later, Fr. Blanco became partners with Espriella in the mission of Yap.  He, too, started to make sea voyages to the outer islands in Yap district, facing the same opposition and at other times indifference of many of the islanders. But, a few always found interest in Christinaity and Blanco formed them to know the basic teachings and to pray the rosary when priests were absent.

Just before the outbreak of World War II, the Jesuit missionaries in Yap could count 2000 Catholics among the 3000 people living in Yap.

Br. Francisco Hernandez (Spanish)


Br. Francisco Hernandez, SJ

Brother Francisco was also stationed in Yap.  Like many Jesuit missionary brothers, he did much of the hands-on jobs of building and maintaining the physical structures of the mission.

The Three Missionaries on Palau

These two priests worked not only in Palau, but even on very small islands like Tobi, where they experienced unbelievable success.  Of course, there were just as many hardships, especially when war got closer.

Fr. Elias Fernandez (Spanish)

Father Elias was a strong presence among Catholics in Palau. He enjoyed better health when imprisoned than his confrere Father Marino. It was he who asked Rudimch, a Catholic layman, to get fish and taro for Father Marino.

Father Elias is said to have been the priest who, in the 1930s, received the conversion of an entire island! This island is Tobi, many miles southwest of Palau.  The people of Tobi have their own language. The islanders believe that Father sits in heaven to this day, monitoring the islanders. For some reason, many internet sources say the famous priest of Tobi is Father Marino, but the Jesuit sources themselves say it was Father Elias.

Fr. Marino de la Hoz (Spanish)

There is a sad story about a Palauan lady who chanced coming upon the hut in Ngatpang where the Catholic missionaries were under house arrest by the Japanese in 1944. She saw Father Marino lying on the floor, completely weakened from malnutrition.

Br. Emilio Villar (Spanish)

As most of the brothers working in the missions, it was he who cared for the material needs of the priests and did a lot of manual labor for the mission. He was called "Elmano" by the Palauans; their pronunciation of the Spanish word "hermano," or "brother."


The Three Jesuit Martyrs of Palau


Saturday, June 21, 2014

THE WANDERING JESUS


SINAJAÑA 1967

As far back as I can remember, my family has been responsible for one of the three Lånchon Kotpus in our parish of Saint Jude in Sinajaña.

A Lånchon Kotpus (Corpus Ranch) is the outdoor temporary altar, or station, set up to receive the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament during the Corpus Christi procession. Corpus Christi is an annual feast commemorating our belief in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. The Latin phrase means "The Body of Christ."  The bread and wine at Mass are substantially changed into the Lord's true Body and Blood, though the appearance of bread and wine remain.

We process with the Blessed Sacrament through the streets of the village, not only to publicly express our faith, but also as a kind of symbolism of our pilgrim journey on earth, like the wandering Hebrews in the Old Testament, freed from Egyptian slavery but still a ways off from the Promised Land. The followers of Christ have also been set free from sin and death, but must still travel through life till we reach heaven's doors.

As the Hebrews received bread (manna) from heaven and water from the rock, the Lord feeds us with His Body and Blood. We remember this as we carry Him with us in our procession.



Låncho at the home of Ruperto Aguon Villagomez in Sinajaña
1960s


CORPUS IN THE 60s

Chamorro custom, molded by the Spanish missionaries for three centuries, is to have no less than three outdoor stations or Låncho. When the procession arrives at a Låncho, the priest sets the monstrance - the golden metallic and highly ornamented container in which the Sacred Host is placed - on the altar inside the Låncho for adoration lasting a few minutes.

These Låncho were almost always, according to tradition, in one of the homes of the village. Although my auntie Chong (Asuncion Perez Torres), my grandmother's sister, was chief of operations for one of these Låncho, the Låncho was not at our home. Our home in the 1960s did not have a suitable place for the Låncho. Usually, one wanted a home with a carport or a nice entrance to serve as a Låncho.

There was a house on the far end of the baseball field in the middle of Sinajaña. A road circled the whole community complex in those days. Urban Renewal in the early 1970s did away with that road and the house was also demolished and the land became uninhabitable with the new configuration. This house, pictured above, was owned by Ruperto Aguon Villagomez and family.

But all the fabric and other things needed for the Låncho were stored at our house. When Corpus Christi neared, everything came out of storage to be ironed and aired out. The statue of the Sacred Heart we used for our Låncho belonged to the Capuchin Friary and we would retrieve it just a day or two before the feast to dust off.

CORPUS IN THE 70s AND 80s


SINAJAÑA 1982

While Urban Renewal necessitated the demolition of many homes, it also required the building of new ones. My grand aunt built a new home in a new location, across the street from the public elementary school and very close to the church.

Our new home had a nice one-car carport which could easily be converted into a Låncho. My uncle Ning (my mom's brother) would build the frames and then the ladies would take over.

Our theme never changed : the Sacred Heart of Jesus. We continued to borrow the same statue from the Friary.

My Auntie Chong continued with her usual retinue of helpers : from the Bonño and Kaila clans especially.


This is the house, built in the early 70s, where my grandmother lived (and died) with her single sisters Asuncion and Rita. I also grew up in this house. The carport was converted into the Lånchon Kotpus every year till the late 80s, early 90s. This became the second home for the Låncho since the demolition of the old house by the baseball field.

CORPUS IN THE 90s



When my auntie Chong died in 1984, my mother stepped up and more or less kept the tradition going, but the artistic side of things fell on some others. Danny Toves, I remember, was very involved for some years. Terry Sablan (Akangkang), too. My Uncle Ning continued to be on the team. Members of the Kaila family, too. At times, Tan Kai Balentin donated flowers.

At some point, I don't remember when, it was decided to move our Låncho to yet a third location. But it was just next door, at the home built in the late 40s by Uncle Ben Reyes and Auntie Ana, my grandmother's sister. After both had died, it became Uncle Ning's house. It had a carport, too, with a nice driveway.

That house was destroyed in 1997 by Typhoon Paka, so Uncle Ning built the new one you can see in the pic above. He didn't build a carport but decided to put a canopy up for his car instead. The Låncho continued in this area, but under a similar canopy.


TODAY



When my mother died in 2005, Terry Sablan filled the spot. Of course, many hands helped as well. The Låncho continued in the same spot at Uncle Ning's house.

Then Uncle Ning passed away last year. The future of the house lay in mystery. Recently, it was bought by people we don't know. So, Sinajaña Mayor Robert Hofmann, a good friend and relative, offered to transfer the Låncho to yet a fourth location - the Veterans Park right in front of the church.

It was and still is, though, a continuation of the Kitå'an Lånchon Kotpus of Auntie Chong. The theme is the same, the Sacred Heart. The old Friary statue has been lost, and the design changes a little year by year. But it is still the same Låncho, even after four locations.

The Wandering Jesus, I call it. "Foxes have lairs and the birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head," Jesus said once. It is almost a parable of the way the world treats Jesus.

But there will always be a group, no matter how small, of dedicated believers who will always assure that the Lord has His place, even if it changes four times in sixty years.


DEDICATED TO MY GRAND AUNT


ASUNCIÓN PÉREZ TORRES
Tan Chong Kitå'an

who for around thirty years, year after year, dedicated her time, talent and money to giving Jesus a suitable place for adoration at Corpus Christi.  I pray she is now adoring Him in heaven.

Monday, May 12, 2014

A HOUSE BLESSING; OR TWO


At least once every two months, I get requests from people to come bless their homes; not because it's a new home (that happens, too), but because of noises, shadows and movements they can't explain and which disturb them, some more than others.

These past two weeks, I've had two requests for this, a little more than usual.

The first one, around two weeks ago, was at an older house in a very crowded neighborhood.  The owners have moved out to a new home and are planning to rent the old one out. But, while they lived there some years ago, some residents had weird feelings of a presence, heard things and saw shadows.

I went and blessed the home. Since no one lives there at the moment, while a renter is being found, I have no idea what, if anything, is going on now.

Today, however, was an interesting experience.

This home is in a very secluded area, with a huge banyan tree (trongkon nunu) about 200 yards from the house.  The perimeter of the property is surrounded by exposed limestone rocks.  Locals consider both the banyan tree and exposed coral rock areas of spirit habitation.

Two houses are on the property.  The owner is trying to rent out the first one, closest to the road.  Behind that house is one already rented out for some time.  It's in this second house that the residents are reporting some experiences.

The owner met me at a rendezvous point so I could follow him to the two houses, located in a rural area hard to find.  We parked, got out and went to the first house, which is presently unoccupied.  As the owner was turning the key to open the door, he said his arms felt tingly and I observed he had goose bumps and the hair of his forearm was standing up.

We entered the house, which was vacant of furnishing and there was a certain feeling to the place.  I didn't hear, smell or see anything, but I began to feel mildly uneasy.  Then again, it could simply be the power of suggestion.

After blessing that house, we went over to the second house.  This house was visibly occupied, with many possessions scattered outside.  A man and a little boy, about 6 or 7 years old, appeared from behind the garage. The man told me it was his wife who experienced things the most, and that she had gone to the store momentarily.

But he told me that they had never seen anything, but had heard the noise of children playing, and it wasn't their three children or anyone else. "They say they feel things, Father," he said, "but I try to just block it out of my mind."  "Usual for a man," I said to myself.

The little boy motioned to his dad to bend down and listen to what he had to say, which he whispered to his dad, cupping his dad's ear.

The dad bent up straight and told the boy, "Tell Father what you said."

The boy said that he saw dark circles on his mother's foot.  "Did the circles hurt your mom?" I asked.  He said, "No."

Just then, the mother drove into the property.  She parked by the garage, only the back half of the vehicle visible to me from my angle.

She didn't exit the car immediately, which had me concerned.  Some people get very apprehensive when a priest comes to the home, even if they are the ones who called him over.  The husband called to her, "Why are you crying?"  "Oh, boy," I said to myself, fearing even more now.

The woman got out of the car and answered, "Because I'm happy."

As soon as I heard that, my fears were relieved and I blurted out, "Because your house is getting blessed!"

She approached me, wiping away her tears, "Yes."

"Come over here," I said to her reassuringly.  "Tell me all about it," I said with no taint of anxiety or fear about the whole situation.

She confirmed what the husband said.  She saw nothing.  But she had strong sensations at times that there was someone in the house.  Not just the noise of children playing; but an adult presence.  She didn't know enough to say if it was a malignant presence or just dark and mysterious.  She did know she was uneasy about it.

She also confirmed that she did have dark circles on her feet awhile back.

I said, "OK, let's begin."

I explained that, if there were demons having a little fun scaring the family, they hate prayers said in the Latin language.  This, dear readers, I caution you,  is not official Catholic teaching.  You are free to put that idea aside.  But it is what we have learned from reputable, official exorcists (Fr Maginot in Indiana; Fr Amorth in Rome).

Fr Gabriel Amorth
Christ, presumably, expelled demons using Aramaic.  Latin was once the language of the very persecutors of the Faith.  Exorcisms have been done successfully in other languages.  Greek is an ancient language of the Church, and the earliest books of the New Testament are all in Greek.

But Latin has become, in time, a sacred language.  Precisely because it is not used by anyone anymore, except for a small group of academics, besides the Church, it has acquired a sacred function.  Perhaps this is why Satanists also use Latin in their black masses.  Satan mimics what is real, not what is false.

So while the demons are bound to take orders in the name of God no matter what language, the experience of these exorcists is that Latin is often the most effective language to use, though not the only one. Whatever may increase my chances of battling the demons, I will use!

After saying the prayers, blessing a house, adding the prayer to St Michael, I begin sprinkling the front door of the house, front side and back.  I recite the Pater Noster, Ave Maria and Gloria Patri while sprinkling all the rooms, all the doors and all the windows.  When possible, I ask the father of the house to follow me with a lit candle.  I also sprinkle the outside of the house, making sure to sprinkle all the doors and windows, and the four corners of the property.

For such a big lot, with two houses on it, I used up my entire bottle of holy water.

The holy water I use is also water that is blessed in Latin, using the old formula wherein salt that is exorcised and blessed is added to the water, which is also exorcised and blessed.

I made sure to bless the banyan tree and the coral rocks.  As far as I know, God created both of them and belong to Him.

Finally, I blessed the father, mother and two children.  A third son was at grandma's so I told the one boy present, "You're standing in for your brother," and he got a double dose of holy water.

I told the family to pray every day and every night as a family; to keep peace and avoid all bitterness and impurity.  I asked them to go to confession frequently and Mass when obligated by God's commandment. To pray before their family altar (which they have).  Negativity in our hearts, I told them, can be an open door to the demons.  Their "noses" take them to what smells like them.

I reminded them that it is possible that what they are experiencing could be signs from souls in Purgatory who need our prayers.  "There are no 'lost souls,'" I told them.  "God knows where every single soul is.  He judged them and sentenced them."  But, I said, God can allow a soul in Purgatory to give people signs that they are in need of Masses and prayer.  "The Mass," I told them, "is the greatest prayer, because it was the one said by Jesus, not just with words, but also with His own blood."  Padre Pio, I told them, saw many souls from Purgatory, either asking for his prayers or thanking him for his prayers.

Finally, I said demons can sometimes masquerade as human souls.  Once again, Padre Pio sometimes saw visions of saints and holy people, only to command them to praise Jesus, at which they vanished, leaving behind the stench of sulphur.  In reality, those were demons playing tricks on Padre Pio.

Above all, I told them to fear God, and no one else, not even spirits.  "Even the demons tremble in fear before God," I told them.

The mother, especially, seemed so relieved.  She asked me, "Is there anything I can give you?"  I said, "No."  "Anything?  Water?"  I said, "No, thanks."

"But," I said, "I did notice a large, old, black and white photo in a frame of two older people.  Who are they?"

"My grandma and grandpa," she said.

"What family?"  I asked.  She gave me the names.

I said, "Maybe I could borrow the photo, scan it and return it.  I do family histories."

She said I could.

I don't know what to make of these experiences and I don't claim to be able to know.  I am no mystic; I have no unusual powers.  It could be purely subjective experiences; the wind; natural sounds from sources residents are not aware of.  Or, it could be pesky demons trying to scare us; or poor souls in need of our prayers.

What I do know is that these blessings bring comfort.

I always tell them, "If these things bothering you continue, call me again.  Sometimes more than one blessing is needed."

So far, in 24 years, no one has called me back.  So far.  We shall see.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

SMALL IS GOOD...OR HOW I GOT TO HOLD A SAINT'S HAND...TWICE



When the late Father Tony Perez, our Minor Seminary Rector, told us in the fall of 1980 that the Pope was coming to Guam in February, besides many other things, I already "figured" out that I shouldn't expect to be able to get near him or touch him.

I reasoned that, as a college-level seminarian, I'd be put way in the back somewhere while dignitaries from Oceania, Asia and the U.S. would take the prime spots, followed by the local clergy and so on.

As it turned out, the seminarians, dressed in cassocks and surplices, were able to sit in the 3rd or 4th pews in the nave of the Cathedral on the evening the Pope arrived, to speak to the clergy, religious and lay leaders. Admission was by invitation only.  The Cathedral was standing room only, but we were up front.

More than that, I was seated towards the outer edge of my row.  The other end of that pew was by the central aisle, where the Pope would walk down.  So I cancelled all thought of ever touching him.  Except that, at some point, the Pope came down to us, touched everyone in the front row that you see in the photo, then turned to my side of the pews, the side facing the Cathedral walls.

That's how I was able to stand on the pew, reach over heads and touch his hand.  Every so briefly, but touch it I did.

You can see me standing on the pew in the pic above, in cassock and surplice, my left hand touching the back of my head or my neck.  I was facing the direction the Pope was moving.




The next day, the Pope said Mass in the middle of the street in Agaña.  I knew better than to expect to compete with a larger crowd this time.  And, sure enough, I wasn't able to get anywhere near the Pope.  But I was already happy I touched his hand the night before.

Then, after the Mass, I had to drive some visiting clergy to the airport.  But I wasn't expecting to be told, once I got to the airport, that we were to park, get down and wait in line right on the tarmac.  In line for what?  After a half-hour wait, I found out what.  In comes the papal limousine onto the tarmac, where we had been waiting, standing in a long line which you can see in the pic above.

Believe it or not, the Pope got out of his limo and greeted every single one in that long line you see above. Well, he was younger then and he was a robust, healthy man.  So I got to hold his hand again.  This time it was one-on-one.  He was right in front of me and he looked straight into my eyes.  I managed to stifle a "How ya doin', Your Holiness?"  and quietly kissed his ring and genuflected.

Many years later, as Capuchin Superior of Guam and Hawaii, I had to attend an international meeting of Capuchins in Rome in the year 2000.  Part of the agenda was a private audience with the Pope.  Just him and 200 friars.  Friars were anxious to get good seats in a fancy hall in the papal chambers.  I purposely stayed in the back of the room, with empty chairs on both sides of me so I could stretch out.  A friar asked me, "Aren't you excited?"  I said, "You see this hand?  Touched him on Guam in 1981....twice."

I also got to touch Pope Paul VI in 1972.  But that story's for later.

Being from a small island like Guam has its advantages.

We may still have to compete with 1 or 2 thousand people in some event, like a papal visit.  But not ten or a hundred thousand or more.

And if they ever ask you to be a driver....say "yes."

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

JOKE OF THE DAY : THE 1ST EASTER WAS ABOUT A PAGAN GODDESS



This bit of silliness is so lacking in evidence, based on a weak coincidence, that it really is a bad joke.  But since huge numbers of people are easily influenced by this kind of garbage, let's take it apart, bit by bit :

EASTER : You mean the annual feast of Christians celebrating the resurrection of Jesus from the dead? 

WAS ORIGINALLY : You mean the first time (originally) that Christians got together for a feast called Easter, it had nothing to do with Christ, but was instead a feast to celebrate the Babylonian/Assyrian sex and fertility goddess Ishtar?  If this is true, how could these Christians have been Christians at all?  What made them Christians in the first place if the Easter they were celebrating was a feast of Ishtar?

What evidence is there that the early Christian worshipped Ishtar?  Do we have religious art in the catacombs depicting early Christian worship of Ishtar?  Early Christian writings talking about early Christian worship of Ishtar?  No?

Funny, because we have early Christian art depicting and writings talking about the worship of Christ, and His rising from the dead.  Long before Constantine.

No, the evidence is clear that, from the beginning of Christianity, Christians believed in the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.  Early Christianity had nothing to do with Ishtar.

AFTER CONSTANTINE DECIDED TO CHRISTIANIZE THE EMPIRE : He allowed Christians to worship freely; to worship Christ, and celebrate His resurrection - something Christians had been doing for almost 300 years already by the time of Constantine.

EASTER WAS CHANGED TO REPRESENT JESUS : What's the proof of this statement?  Can we find an official document showing us that Constantine said, "I am changing Easter."  None?

The statement is that Constantine "changed" Easter; he didn't "invent" Easter.  So there was an Easter prior to Constantine.  What was this Easter?  The worship of Ishtar?  By whom?  By Christians?  That doesn't make sense.

Oh, by other people?  The pagans?  Then why "change" Easter?  What is there "to change" if Christians had already been celebrating the resurrection of Jesus?  The poster would make a whole lot more sense if it claimed that Constantine prohibited the worship of Ishtar, and compelled everyone to observe the Easter of Christians.  But Constantine did neither, as well!  What he did do was allow Christians, and any others who worshipped differently,  to practice their religion with freedom.  Edict of Milan, in the year 313.

Later emperors - not Constantine - waged a war against pagan worship in the Empire.  But there was never a question of changing a pagan feast called Easter from the worship of Ishtar to the celebration of Christ's resurrection.  Christians have been honoring that resurrection from the beginning.

ISHTAR - EASTER

The whole idea in this poster is based on a flimsy coincidence between the name of Ishtar and the Christian feast Easter.

It's a flimsy coincidence because "Easter" is merely the common (not official) English name of the feast.  Constantine never called Easter "Easter."   Constantine was not English.  The Greek and Roman Christians during the time of Constantine called Easter "Pascha," as the Greeks do today and as it is still known in Latin in the Roman Church.

Again, it's clear there is no connection between a pagan goddess from Babylonia/Assyria, and an old English word "Easter," many miles away, with the Greek and Roman lands lying in between.

The official name of this feast, no matter the language, is the "Sunday of the Resurrection of the Lord."
 
OTHER UNPROVEN CLAIMS

That Ishtar is (or was) pronounced Easter.  Scholars have studied the Babylonian writing system pretty well, and they all say Ishtar sounds like, well, Ishtar.

That eggs and bunnies were her symbols.  From ancient art depicting Ishtar, we can actually say what were her symbols, and eggs and bunnies never appear among them.

Eggs and bunnies are symbols of fertility, which means life.  Christ rose from the dead.  No surprise then, that Christians, in an informal and unofficial way, used earthly, known symbols of life and fertility to express their understanding of the Easter event.


Ancient Christians used different symbols to represent the resurrection of Jesus (and of ours, one day).  The peacock was one such symbol.  Folk belief was that the skin of the peacock never decays.  The peacock sheds its feathers once a year, only to grow more beautiful ones.  Christians saw this as a kind of resurrection - falling away only to bring forth a more glorious life.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

THE CAPUCHINS AND NATIONALISM

An Irish Capuchin who gave spiritual assistance to the Irish rebels in the 1916 Easter Rising


CLOSE TO THE COMMON PEOPLE

From the very beginning, Capuchins have been close to the common people, the people of the land.  The great majority of Capuchins themselves came from the common people.  Though some friars came from noble families, and though some friars ministered to and had influence over high-ranking people, the touch of the Capuchin friar was most felt among the simple people of the land.

Capuchins preached to the common people in a simple and direct way which people appreciated.  Capuchins were fearless in going into the homes of the poor when diseases were killing off people in epidemics.  It was this love from the common people that saved the necks of the Capuchins when others tried to attack them.

So some Capuchins have always been involved in cultural and national causes. 

THE IRISH EASTER RISING OF 1916

On Easter Monday, April 24, 1916, a small and ill-fated rebellion broke out in Dublin, Ireland against the British who were still ruling the country.

The Easter Rising failed and the Irish nationalist leaders, mostly Catholic, were arrested and most sentenced to death.

It was Capuchin friars who went to give them spiritual care during and after the fighting.  A hall in a Capuchin church served as a temporary hospital for the wounded.  In the violence of 1922, Capuchins were right in the building being attacked, staying with the men to bless any of the fallen and wounded, while the bullets flew.

Irish Capuchin friars became chaplains to the rebel leaders sentenced to death.  The friars heard their confessions and prepared them for the firing squad.  As soon as the man was shot, the Capuchin walked over to the body to give a blessing.  One Capuchin asked one of the condemned if he would say a prayer for the very soldiers about to shoot him dead.  They were, after all, soldiers who were doing what they thought was right.  Those soldiers saw themselves as doing their duty.  The friar did not want the Irish leader to die with anger, but to forgive as Christ had forgiven His enemies.

The Irish leader said, "I do, Father.  I respect every man who does his duty."


Father Albert Biddy, OFM Cap, ministered to Irish rebels and was arrested by the British as well

CULTURAL ADVOCACY

The Irish had been under British rule for 400 years and much of their culture had been lost.  Fewer Irish were conversant in their own Irish language.

Irish Capuchins were at the forefront of the Irish cultural and linguistic revival.  They formed groups, conducted classes, promoted Irish sports, published in the Irish language.

AGAINST THE TIDE

Being a nationalist was not always popular - within the Order and within the Church.

Political issues are usually not so black and white.

While almost everyone agrees with the big principles, like political rights and respect for native culture, when one gets to specific means, that's when the disagreement starts.

The Irish bishops, for example, were sympathetic on the whole towards Irish aspirations for freedom and cultural revival.  But the majority of the bishops thought the armed struggle at the time was not the way to go about it.

Among the friars, too, there was not total agreement about the means to be employed in a cause that was, in general, honorable.

So these Irish Capuchins who went to the spiritual rescue of the rebels stood out.  While bishops and many priests stayed away from them, the brown-robed friars were seen standing shoulder to shoulder with the Irish rebels.

The position of the Capuchin chaplains was based on the salvation of souls.  Politics aside, the rebels were mostly Catholic and death was a real possibility for them.  That justified their assistance; hearing confessions and anointing the wounded.  It was this philosophy that enabled other Irish Capuchins to serve as chaplains in - the British Army!

ANOTHER GOOD REASON FOR THE OVERSEAS MISSIONS

Capuchins have always been missionaries, but one side benefit of having missions away from the home country is having a place to send nationalist friars who may get in trouble in the home country.

The Irish Capuchins, for example, had missions in Oregon, which at the time lacked sufficient priests.  A number of Irish nationalist friars were sent there to work, rather than remain in political controversy in Ireland.

THE BASQUE NATIONALIST CAPUCHINS

In Spain, the Basque region is populated by people who are proud of their separate race, culture and language. 

The area was at one time strongly Catholic and many young Basques became Capuchin friars.

Many, but not all, also became vocal Basque nationalists.


Father Román María de Vera was one such Basque nationalist

Many Basque Capuchins were strong advocates of their own cultural and linguistic revival.  Their famous college in Lecároz was an influential center in the Basque nationalist cause.

When their politics created problems with the government, some nationalistic Basque Capuchins were sent to their missions in Argentina.

Some of these Basque Capuchins were missionaries on Guam.  When the American Navy had them replaced by American Capuchins, some of these Basque friars could not return home to Spain, because the government of Francisco Franco would not welcome them if they were classified as nationalists.  So some went off to the Philippines (then under American administration) and others to South America.

Bishop Olano

The retired bishop of Guam, Bishop Olano, had a brother who was also a Capuchin priest and a Basque nationalist.  Olano's brother had to leave Spain because of this and went to work in Argentina instead.  When Bishop Olano could no longer remain as bishop on Guam, he could not go back to Spain, given his brother's situation.  So Bishop Olano went to the Philippines in 1945 and only in the 1960s did he return to Spain.



Bishop Olano's brother, Father Miguel, Basque cultural advocate, who had to flee Spain because of his support for Basque causes