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Oct 18th
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Home Far East March - April 2017

March - April 2017

Columbans Who Died on Mission

Fr Patrick O'Shea recalls the life and service of Fr Tom Murphy, who died on mission in Myanmar.

The unofficial Columban anthem contains a line about going forth on toilsome ways "by saints and heroes trod". I wonder if Fr Tom Murphy, who was born in Naas in 1906, ever thought when he was growing up that he would join that list of saints and heroes.
At Naas CBS, and later Mungret College, he would have been exposed to many presentations on vocation to priesthood. Given that he joined the Columbans in 1929 he was obviously thinking of dedicating his life to the service of the gospel as an overseas missionary. Past experience of Columbans, especially in the early days in China, would have made it clear that there were big risks involved in overseas mission. My impression is that the missionaries then understood and accepted the risks as what one early Columban missionary to China, Fr Cornelius Tierney referred to as "part of the bargain".

Fr Tom was ordained in 1935 and soon after was appointed to Burma. He was part of a group of young men with little experience of mission who took on new mission territory there in 1936. He worked in the Bhamo area, not far from the border with China. As well as the expected challenges of climate, language and culture, the new group was assigned to a remote part of the country where the people lived in tiny villages scattered over mountainous terrain. Bhamo was also notorious for cerebral malaria and Fr John Dunlea died after he contracted typhoid in 1940.

Reflection - March/April 2017

What are you giving up for Lent? The old favourites surface – sweets, ice-cream, favourite snacks, cigarettes. Some people forego the cinema while others will go without alcohol for the duration. The challenge of Lent may inspire people to brave the early morning cold to attend Mass during the week. Helping an old neighbour or serving in a food bank calls for generosity of spirit and self-giving.

We want to do something, some action that costs us so that we, in some small way, can make this journey with the Lord. Our focus is not on what we are doing, on what we are giving up, but on Jesus.

We do not want to be like the observant Pharisee in the parable (Lk 18: 29-14). "I fast, I give ..." No, rather we bow our heads with the despised tax collector: "God, have mercy on me, a sinner." This is a time when we journey with Jesus as he moves towards Jerusalem. The time in his public life when he feels the anger of the authorities, the rejection of those who once walked with him, the falling- away of even his close disciples. And awareness of the terrible suffering that awaits him is always in his consciousness.

We want to be with him. We live in a world of violence and destruction and have seen the unbearable suffering of peoples at home and far away. "To whom shall we go?" (Jn 6:68) was Peter's question; it is ours today. Only to Jesus, who, even as he hung on the cross, cried out, "Father, forgive them; they don't know what they are doing" (Jn 6:68).

Poppies and Pain

Drugs have wrought havoc in the state of Kachin in Myanmar. Sr Mary Ita O'Brien explains how the Diocese of Myitkyina is addressing addiction through the 12-Step Programme.

Kachin State in Myanmar is a land of beautiful mountain ranges, where the rivers Malika and Maika are born and together form the world-famous Irrawaddy River. Bordering China, it is home to around 1.2 million people including migrant workers who work in the gold and jade mines. It is rich in resources such as tropical deciduous and evergreen forests producing teak and other valuable wood, sugar cane, rice, gold, silver, copper, iron, lead, amber, jade crystal and coal.

In rural Kachin, small-scale poppy production and the use of opium for medicinal and recreational purposes has a long tradition. However, in the 1970s, the cultivation of opium increased as more people began to 'use' it. As demand grew, the sale of opium became more lucrative and slowly the poppy replaced other crops. Its processed form, heroin, replaced the traditional raw black opium. The injected form of heroin is more dangerous and addictive but it is cheaper and easier to use. What had been a herbal substance mostly used by adult males was now available to young people and women. Later yaba/yama - an amphetamine-type stimulant - was developed, and because it was affordable and available, it was popular with students, migrant workers, field labourers and those involved in human trafficking.

The Smile Behind The Struggle

Virgenia O. Vidad is programme coordinator of the 'Pedalling to Live' project in the Philippines helping those in dire need generate an income by running a tricycle service. It was started by Columban priest Fr Oliver McCrossan.

The family of Rodrigo Sabac live on the small island of Olutanga in the Filipino region of Zamboanga, Sibugay in Mindanao. The main source of income for people in the area is fishing, as well as farming small plots of land and cultivating seaweed. Forty-seven-year-old Rodrigo Sabac is an islander. His father is a fisherman and his mother looked after their eleven children. Growing up, it was always a challenge to have enough money to provide for the whole family's daily needs. Fishing is weather-dependent and when his father could not go fishing, the family couldn't eat. Rodrigo recalls that during the Sendong typhoon they were unable to go home for a day and a night and so they had to survive without food until other fishermen rescued them. At the time Rodrigo's main worry was whether they would even survive the typhoon.

Fishing is not an easy way to earn your living; you exist constantly between life and death. But for Rodrigo, there was little choice. He had to go out every night to catch fish to feed his family. Sometimes, it was rewarding and he would come home with many fish but there were other times when he came home with nothing. His mother's vegetable patch was what kept them going in the lean times.

'Silence' - What the Author Intended

Fr Barry Cairns draws on some letters written by the Japanese author, Shusako Endo, which hint at what the author was really trying to convey in his novel 'Silence'.  

Martin Scorsese's film 'Silence', starring Andrew Garfield, hit the screens at the start of the New Year and had a premiere before Christmas at the Vatican. The film is based on the historical novel by Japanese Catholic author, Shusako Endo. The novel and film portray a Portuguese Jesuit priest, Fr Sebastian Rodrigues witnessing his Christian flock being tortured and killed. He suffers with them. He asks, "Where is our God? Why does he keep silent?"

Finally captured himself, he seems on the surface to deny his faith by trampling on the image of Christ. But he does so to obtain the release of those under torture – that is the promise of his torturer. This is the crux of the story. To obtain their release, should he trample on the image of Christ or not? It is here that Christ breaks his seeming silence. Christ speaks to Rodrigues, "Yes, you may put your foot on my image. I, more than anyone, know of the pain in your foot. You may trample. It was to be trampled on by others that I came into this world. It was to share human pain that I carried my cross." For Endo, these comforting words of Jesus are the very purpose of his novel 'Silence' and of the many portraits of Christ which followed in later years.

I live in Yokohama and tucked into a lovely flower park quite near the Sacred Heart cathedral is a small but very interesting literature museum. In 2011, the museum published letters of Shusaku Endo written when he was writing this novel. They are written to his friend Professor Yoshie Hotta. Endo tells Hotta that he is aiming to portray the gentle, warm figure of God in Jesus – a God who fully understands and accepts human weakness. He is a God in Jesus who stands beside us in our human suffering – he is a God who actually suffers with us.
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