Saturday, April 26, 2014


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


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.


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."

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


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


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. 


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


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.


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!


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.


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