Wednesday, September 24, 2014


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."

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Tuesday, September 23, 2014


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



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 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.


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.


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.


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... 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.


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?"
"One of the Twin Towers in New York is on fire."
"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.