Columbans Ireland

Oct 18th
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Reflection - Forgive and Find Freedom

Reflection - Forgive and Find FreedomThe story is told of a good and prayerful woman who claimed to have had a vision of Christ. She went to see the bishop. "Did you talk to him?" he asked. "Yes," she replied, "I did." "Well," said the bishop, "the next time he appears to you ask the Lord this question: 'What was the bishop's greatest sin before he became a bishop?'" About three months later she returned. When she came in the bishop asked her, "Did you see the Lord again?" "Yes," she replied. "Did you ask him the question about my sin?" "Yes, I did." "And what did he say?" She smiled as she answered, "The Lord said, 'I don't remember any more.'"

Like the story of the prodigal son, embraced by his Father, the bishop's sins were not held against him. Nor are ours. So often it is we ourselves who hold on to the memory of our transgressions and lacerate ourselves, refusing to trust the mercy of the Father. Worse still, we harshly bind others, clutching the hurt they caused us, subtly or overtly reminding them of their offence.

How much pain there is in life from this accusatory, unforgiving attitude. How much pain when we refuse to let go and forgive ourselves, when we stop short of forgiving others. Some hurts alas, go back generations and are nursed and kept alive through the years. It is often seen as a matter of family honour not to forget, not to forgive but to fuel the resentment by retelling the story.

Columbans Who Died Violently on Mission

Fr John Keenan was part of a pilgrimage group of Columban priests, lay missionaries and co-workers, who joined four relatives of Fr Francis Vernon Douglas in visiting places associated with the missionary's death.

Pope Francis has said that there are more martyrs for the faith in modern times than in the early Church. One such martyr is Fr Francis Vernon Douglas who was martyred by Japanese soldiers in July 1943 in Paete, Philippines.

Born in Johnsonville, Wellington, New Zealand on Sunday 22 May 1910 to Catherine Gaffney from Ireland and George Douglas from Australia, Francis Vernon Douglas was the fifth of eight children.

In his youth he excelled at rugby and cricket, and later he studied for the priesthood for the Archdiocese of Wellington. He was ordained on 29 October 1934. After an enjoyable and successful year as an assistant priest in New Plymouth, he felt God wanted him to become a missionary. He joined the Society of St Columban and arrived in Manila in 1938.

His first assignment was as parish priest of Pililla, where he struggled with the Tagalog language. The parish was run-down having been 40 years without a resident priest. With the local people, he gradually renovated the church and through liturgies, and catechesis, they gradually built a loving Christian community.

During World War II, many of the people in the hills resisted the Japanese military police known as the Kempeitai. Fr Douglas tried to remain neutral between the Kempeitai and the Filipino-American guerrillas. But in the eyes of the Japanese he was ‘an enemy alien’ and was suspected of collaborating and spying for the guerrillas.

On 25 July 1943, the people were looking forward to their annual fiesta in honour of St James the Apostle. However, this was abruptly interrupted when the Japanese Army decided to zone off the area. No one was allowed to leave. All males from fourteen upwards were rounded up and incarcerated. For several days, some 250 men were interrogated and tortured, deprived of sleep and mercilessly beaten until they gave information or died.

Fr Douglas was abducted from his parish on Saturday, 24 July 1943 and brought by truck to the parish Church of Paete, Laguna, some 30 kilometers away. It was used as a concentration camp for some 1,700 men and youths held in atrocious conditions.

The sacristy was used as a torture chamber and many prisoners died there. Here Fr Douglas was severely tortured. He was given the dreaded water–cure but still refused to give any information. Later he was tied to the altar rails and further beaten.

Later he was manacled to a post under the choir loft. He was left to stand for two days and two nights and allowed neither food nor drinks even though the people had brought some for him. His eyes, swollen and bloody were fixed on the tabernacle while he fingered his rosary beads. Realising that the end was near he asked to see the local parish priest, Fr Nicomedes Rosal, to whom he made his last confession.

As night was falling, he was bundled into the back of a truck and driven off into the night in the direction of Sta Cruz (capital of Rizal Province). He was never seen again. The speculation is he died from the effects of the beatings and torture, or that he was killed and buried in an unmarked grave in a rice-field in the vicinity of Sta Cruz town.

Fr Vernon’s faith, courage, commitment and fidelity to the end are an inspiration and example for all of us. Devotion to him is growing in his home parish in New Zealand and especially in Paete where he suffered so much before being killed. •

Fr John A. Keenan is from Scardaune, Claremorris, Co Mayo. He has served in the Manila area of the Philippines since 1966, apart from ten years spent in Ireland, England and Scotland.
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The Bank that likes to Say 'Yes'

Fr Seán Connaughton gives thanks for the Grameen banking system which operates on the belief that most of its poor borrowers can be trusted to repay their small loans.

The Grameen Bank was founded in 1970 by Professor Muhammad Yunus, a former professor of economics at Chittagong University in Bangladesh, as a response to the grinding poverty he witnessed which left so many families eking out an existence. He believed that banking needed to rediscover the true meaning of ‘credit’ which is ‘trust’. In his book, ‘Banker of the Poor’, Professor Yunus highlights how over the years, as commercial banking has become institutionalised, it has built its entire edifice on the basis of mutual distrust.

In Professor Yunus’s philosophy, everyone has the right to credit. Accepting the Nobel Prize for Economics in 2006, he said, “I believe that we can create a poverty-free world because poverty is not created by poor people. It has been created and sustained by the economic and social system that we have designed for ourselves: the institutions and concepts that make up that system; the policies that we pursue.”

My Life in Wuhan

Volunteer teacher, Tadhg O’Sullivan, recalls some of his experiences teaching English in China through the AITECE’s programme for graduates.

The Irish non-profit agency, AITECE, offered me, as it offers anyone who has a degree, the opportunity to live and teach English in China. It has been a pleasure to teach in the compact city of Wuhan, where 12 million people inhabit a bustling metropolis, and one in every twelve is a student. In Wuhan, I was given an apartment on Hubei University’s campus and health insurance for the first year at no cost. I receive a good wage for my 14-hour working week.

The local Catholic Patriotic Church provides ample opportunities to make friends with other foreigners and Chinese alike. Fr Dan Troy, an Irish Columban, says Mass at this Church, which is a vibrant parish with the French and African students providing a choir of powerful voices that echo through the alcoves every Sunday and are backed up by sterling piano and fiddle music.

I spent my first Chinese New Year with Fr Jin who graciously invited me to his family home outside Xian city, which boasts the Terracotta Warriors. Around the city centre stands a 17km wall. This fully restored structure is complete with four guard towers and two armories which you pass as you walk or cycle on it. You can enjoy panoramic views of the city and it hosts an annual marathon. The ancient Nestorian Stone ‘stele’ records the entry of Christianity to China in 635AD. It sits among hundreds of other stone ‘steles’ in the Beilin museum.

A Call to Ecological Conversion

The big issue facing Pakistan's 200 million people isn't terrorism according to Fr Liam O'Callaghan – it is climate change.

In March 2016, an article in Foreign Policy by Sualiha Nazar highlighted how the major issue facing the people of Pakistan is climate change and its consequences, not terrorism. But this ground-breaking article has been largely ignored across political, economic, social and religious life in Pakistan. Although Pakistan has contributed very little, in relative terms, to the build-up of human-produced greenhouse gases - the main cause of global warming and climate change - it is suffering disproportionately from the consequences of climate change. Pakistan is in fact numbered among the world's top 10 countries most affected by it. Since 2010, there have been catastrophic floods during the monsoon season, due to increased rainfall and melting glaciers in the Himalayas, displacing millions of people and causing billions in economic losses.

In the south, the Thar desert, where some Columbans work, and Baluchistan have suffered severe drought, which is crippling agriculture and the economy there. Temperatures are increasing year on year; in July 2015, the hottest year the planet has known since records began in 1880 (NASA), an estimated 2,000 died in Karachi from the effects of a heat wave.

To Visit the Imprisioned

Fr Michael J. Hoban explains how the Year of Mercy spurred his vicariate in Santiago de Chile to live out the corporal work of mercy of visiting the imprisoned.

The Jubilee Year of Mercy was a unique opportunity for the Church in Chile to be missionary and to reach out to those who feel there is no place for them in society. Our vicariate in Maipo is one of seven in the Archdiocese of Santiago. It is located on the southern outskirts of the sprawling city of Santiago and includes two very different municipalities: Puente Alto (the most populated municipality in the country) and San José del Maipo (a rural municipality nestling in a canyon of the Andes Mountains). Cardinal Ricardo Ezzati invited each vicariate of the Archdiocese of Santiago to emphasise one of the corporal works of mercy and to implement that particular work of mercy in a special way. The priests, Sisters, deacons and lay pastoral agents of Maipo decided we were called to live out the corporal work of mercy of visiting the imprisoned.

We based our decision on the fact that Puente Alto has a prison with 1,300 male inmates. It was built to house 700 inmates. The inmates are living in overcrowded conditions in large dormitories with bunk beds. Each bunk bed has mattresses for three men. The man on the top can touch the ceiling with his nose! The food rations provided by the prison authorities leave a lot to be desired and so the inmates rely on their families to bring them food which they cook and share among themselves. Many of the inmates come from the Columban parishes of San Matías and Santo Tomás.

Adventures on Tide Island

Columban Fr Colin McLean shares how he celebrated some of the major religious feasts of May and June on Tide Island, which lies off the coast of Salvador, in north-east Brazil.

Island life is shaped by the ocean. The weather determines whether you can cross to the island from the mainland, a jetty at São Tomé de Paripe. My usual mode of travel to the island communities, a trip of 40-50 minutes, is by motorised canoe. When the weather is bad, especially when there is a strong wind, it becomes dangerous to cross.

The tides determine when people can cross from the community of Praia Grande to the community of Santana and from Santana to the community of Nossa Senhora das Neves. The church of Nossa Senhora das Neves (Our Lady of the Snows) is reputedly the third oldest church in Brazil. There are six other communities on the island, all reachable by motorised canoes that take between five and eight people, and a few larger boats that can take up to 50 people. The ocean also encourages the three largest communities to hold processions using boats on the sea to celebrate major feasts.

Corpus Christi (May 2016)
On the morning of Corpus Christi I had a few qualms about crossing the bay in the usual motorised canoe when I saw that the sea was a bit choppy. But I decided not to call it off as I had suggested to the two communities in which we were to have the procession that they decorate the floors of their churches with designs made from sand, sawdust etc, and I didn’t want to disappoint them.

Outreach to Refugee Families in Myanmar

Fr Pat Colgan reports on his visit with Fr Jovito Dales to boarding houses and camps for internally displaced persons (IDP) which the Columbans support in Myanmar.

On our visit to three Society-supported boarding houses in Banmaw town, which cater exclusively for young internally-displaced persons, we were heartened to hear that thirty-one of them had passed their Tenth Standard state exams (the equivalent of passing the Junior Cert/GCSEs). One is now a tutor for other young men at the boarding house, another is a firefighter, and another is a student of chemistry at Banmaw University. The male students sang us a lively Kachin song they had composed which expressed thanks to their Columban benefactors as well as being a plea for continued support from those benefactors.

Winding Ways Towards Education

Sr Kathleen Melia explains how a pre-school set up by the Columban Sisters for Subaanen children has both improved the lives of the children and recognised their cultural uniqueness as a people. The current school year began in Midsalip, Mindanao, Philippines with more than two hundred Subaanen children enrolled in the pre-school administered by the Columban Sisters. School for these children is a very happy place. They are with children of their own unique tribal culture and language, and the teachers are Subaanen like themselves. There are no culture or language barriers in these schools. When the children share their stories about snakes that fly, eagles that eat monkeys, the shy tarsiers that appear at night or the wild pigs that eat their crops, they know that their teachers will listen with wonder and appreciation. All are affirmed in their reverence for the sheltering mountains, the forest trees, and the cooling streams of their ancestral homes. All appreciate the rituals of thanksgiving to 'Megbebaya', God, that are part of their life.
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Columban Martyrs

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