To be a Holy Priest in the Future

Without priests no sacraments, without sacraments no Church… But there is another preliminary step to this simple logic: Without seminarians, no priests. And therein lies the future of the Church.

Yes, our support for seminarians is about nothing less than the future of the Church. The country in Latin America where we support the most priests is Peru. This is a still developing country, with modest growth in the cities, despite the suburban slums on the outskirts.

In the countryside however, and above all in the Andes, the mainly indigenous Aymara people still live almost everywhere in poverty. Nevertheless, there are many vocations among them, a real treasure for the Church.

In the seminary of Our Lady of Guadalupe, in the Altiplano, or high plateau, of Chucuito Province there are 48 seminarians currently training for the priesthood. This preparation includes not only the study of theology and philosophy, for at weekends they also go out into the villages, giving religious instruction, visiting the sick and the lonely, reaching out to the young.

‘We are learning to serve’, says Wilber Sucapuca Jaila, ‘and we are trying to satisfy the people’s hunger for God’.

His fellow seminarian Benjamin Huanca adds, ‘We don’t have much, but it’s not about material things. We have God in our hearts, that’s what counts.’

And Richard Pari Chambi speaks for all three, and for the other seminarians as well, when he says, ‘I am so happy in the vocation that God has granted me. I feel the desire within me to be a holy priest in the future.’

We are helping them to strive for this goal. With grants for each seminarian, we are helping the seminary to fill the holes in its budget.

‘The most important and fundamental thing for us is prayer and Holy Mass’, writes 19-year-old Denys Lerma Parillo. When he heard God’s call in his heart he at first thought, ‘I am not worthy, but nevertheless I am happy to be given this precious gift. And so I said, Here I am, Lord.’

It is the love of God and the love of Christ that moves these 48 young men, here in the mountains of Chucuito, just as it does the other 9 in the seminary of St Augustine in Iquitos, in the rainforest of the Peruvian Amazon, and the 20 others in St. Joseph’s seminary in Lurin, not far from the 8-million- strong metropolis of Lima, the Peruvian capital.

Their circumstances differ widely, but the ultimate reason for their response to God’s call is the same in every case. You are strengthening this motivation with your generosity. For the other thing that is true, always and everywhere, is this:

Without love for Christ, there will be no seminarians.


This article can be found in Mirror 0117.


A Good Shepherd - An Authentic Witness

It was 1:30 in the morning on July 28, 1981, and Guatemala was in the throes of a decades-long civil war. The three ski-masked men who broke into the rectory were Ladinos, the non-indigenous men who had been fighting the native people and rural poor of the country since the 1960s. They were known for their kidnappings, and wanted to turn Father Stanley Francis Rother, 46, into one of ‘the missing.’

Not wanting to endanger the others at the parish mission, he struggled but did not call for help. Fifteen minutes and two gunshots later, Father Stanley was dead and the men fled the mission grounds.

The five-foot-ten, red-bearded missionary priest was from the unassuming town of Okarche, Oklahoma., where the parish, school and farm were the pillars of community life. He went to the same school his whole life and lived with his family until he left for seminary.

Surrounded by good priests and a vibrant parish life, Stanley felt God calling him to the priesthood from a young age. But despite a strong calling, Stanley would struggle in the seminary, failing several classes before graduating from Mount St. Mary’s seminary in Maryland.

Hearing of Stanley’s struggles, Sister Clarissa Tenbrick, his 5th grade teacher, wrote him to offer encouragement, reminding him that the patron Saint of all priests, St. John Vianney, also struggled in seminary.

‘Both of them were simple men who knew they had a call to the priesthood and then had somebody empower them so that they could complete their studies and be priests and they brought a goodness, simplicity and generous heart with them in (everything) they did’ said Fr. Stanley’s biographer, Maria Scaperlanda1.

When Stanley was still in seminary, Pope St. John XXIII asked the Churches of North America to send assistance and establish missions in Central America. Soon after, the diocese of Oklahoma City and the diocese of Tulsa established a mission in Santiago Atitlan in Guatemala, a poor rural community of mostly indigenous people.

A few years after he was ordained, Fr. Stanley accepted an invitation to join the mission team, where he would spend the next 13 years of his life.

When he arrived to the mission, the Tz’utujil Mayan Indians in the village had no native equivalent for Stanley, so they took to calling him Padre Francisco, after his baptismal name of Francis.

The work ethic Fr. Stanley learned on his family’s farm would serve him well in this new place. As a mission priest, he was called on not just to say Mass, but to fix the broken truck or work the fields. He built a farmers’ co-op, a school, a hospital, and the first Catholic radio station, which was used for catechesis to the even more remote villages.

‘What I think is tremendous is how God doesn’t waste any details,’ Scaperlanda said. ‘That same love for the land and the small town where everybody helps each other, all those things that he learned in Okarche is exactly what he needed when he arrived in Santiago.’

The beloved Padre Francisco was also known for his kindness, selflessness, joy and attentive presence among his parishioners. Dozens of pictures show giggling children running after Padre Francisco and grabbing his hands, Scaperlanda said.

‘It was Father Stanley’s natural disposition to share the labour with them, to break bread with them, and celebrate life with them, that made the community in Guatemala say of Father Stanley, he was our priest,’ she said.

Over the years, the violence of the Guatemalan civil war inched closer to the once-peaceful village. Disappearances, killings and danger soon became a part of daily life, but Fr. Stanley remained steadfast and supportive of his people.

In 1980-1981, the violence escalated to an almost unbearable point. Fr. Stanley was constantly seeing friends and parishioners abducted or killed. In a letter to Oklahoma Catholics during what would be his last Christmas, the priest relayed to the people back home the dangers his mission parish faced daily.

‘The reality is that we are in danger. But we don’t know when or what form the government will use to further repress the Church…. Given the situation, I am not ready to leave here just yet… But if it is my destiny that I should give my life here, then so be it…. I don’t want to desert these people, and that is what will be said, even after all these years. There is still a lot of good that can be done under the circumstances.’

He ended the letter with what would become his signature quote:

‘The shepherd cannot run at the first sign of danger. Pray for us that we may be a sign of the love of Christ for our people, that our presence among them will fortify them to endure these sufferings in preparation for the coming of the Kingdom.’

In January 1981, in immediate danger and his name on a death list, Fr. Stanley did return to Oklahoma for a few months. But as Easter approached, he wanted to spend Holy Week with his people in Guatemala.

‘Father Stanley could not abandon his people,’ Scaperlanda said. ‘He made a point of returning to his Guatemala parish in time to celebrate Holy Week with his parishioners that year – and ultimately was killed for living out his Catholic faith.’  

 

Scaperlanda, who has worked on Fr. Stanley’s cause for canonisation, said the priest is a great witness and example, particularly in the Year of Mercy.

‘Father Stanley Rother is truly a saint of mercy,’ she said. ‘He fed the hungry, sheltered the homeless, visited the sick, comforted the afflicted, bore wrongs patiently, buried the dead – all of it.’

His life is also a great example of ordinary people being called to do extraordinary things for God,
she said.

‘(W)hat impacted me the most about Father Stanley’s life was how ordinary it was!’ she said.   ‘I love how simply Oklahoma City’s Archbishop Paul Coakley states it: ‘We need the witness of holy men and women who remind us that we are all called to holiness – and that holy men and women come from ordinary places like Okarche, Oklahoma,’ she said.

‘Although the details are different, I believe the call is the same – and the challenge is also the same. Like Father Stanley, each of us is called to say “yes” to God with our whole heart. We are all asked to see the Other standing before us as a child of God, to treat them with respect and a generous heart,’ she added.

‘We are called to holiness – whether we live in Okarche, Oklahoma, or New York City or Guatemala City.’

In June 2015, the Theological Commission of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Causes of Saints voted to recognise Fr. Stanley Rother as a martyr.

 

Adapted and edited from ‘This priest from Oklahoma was a martyr – here’s his powerful story’ by Mary Rezac Feb 18, 2016 (CNA/EWTN News)
1 Maria Scaperlanda, ‘The Shepherd Who Didn’t Run’.


This article can be found in Mirror 0716.


We are liberated by your sacrifice

Your Mass offerings are also missionary works. This point is made by Father Marcelo of the diocese of Barra in Brazil in his letter thanking ACN. Your sacrifices, he says, liberate the priest from the poverty that makes life a battle for survival – “above all when they are given with such joy as they are by you”, so that ‘we can work all the more to spread the Good News and work to extend the Kingdom of God on earth’. 

Father Joel  for his part deeply appreciates ’the brotherly love that moves you to help and support us’. We have received many other letters from the priests and missionaries of this diocese. And in all of them one can sense their profound joy, despite all the difficulties of their mission, in belonging to a worldwide community of love. All of them express their heartfelt thanks, and all of them will remember you and your intentions at the altar.


This article can be found in Mirror 0716.


Patti Armstrong - Eucharistic Miracles

On no small number of occasions throughout Catholic history, consecrated Hosts have miraculously bled or turned into human heart tissue. Such miracles are physical manifestations of the theological core of our faith — that at the Consecration of the Mass, the bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. It is only after intensive investigation, however, that the Church will declare a miracle.

An investigation into a possible Eucharistic miracle in the Diocese of Salt Lake City was opened in November 2015 after a host appeared to bleed at St. Xavier Church in Kearns, Utah. Although initially it was displayed and attracted great excitement, the diocese appointed a committee to look into it.

In an interview, the head of the committee, Msgr. M. Francis Mannion, explained that the host was taken for testing to a biologist at an undisclosed university. ‘It’s a matter of prudence,’ the monsignor said. ‘The attitude is to approach the whole thing with a cautious reverence. We are not starting with a conclusion, but are walking through the steps.’ 

Msgr. Mannion’s perspective reflects the Church’s cautious approach to all miracles, because, often, there are organic explanations. That turned out to be the case in Salt Lake City. On Dec. 16, 2015 the diocese announced in a statement, signed by Msgr. Mannion: ‘After a thorough investigation, the ad hoc committee unanimously concludes that the observed change in the host was not miraculous, but resulted from the growth of red bread mold.’

Despite the fact that the investigation showed the Utah case was not miraculous, Msgr. Mannion encouraged Catholics to ‘take this opportunity to renew their faith and devotion in the great miracle of the Real Presence, which takes place at every Eucharist.’

In recent years other reports of bleeding hosts have turned out to be false. For instance, in May 2015, several blogs showed a photograph of a bleeding host at St. Patrick’s Church in Rochelle, Ill. At least one report even claimed the host had turned to flesh and blood. The pastor, Father Johnson Lopez, confirmed to the Press that it was only bacteria. ‘I truly believe in miracles, and an extraordinary miracle of the Eucharist would be a blessing for our community, but there was no miracle,’ he said.

Similar occurrences have happened also at churches in St. Paul, Minn., and Dallas, Texas, where what appeared to be blood on hosts turned out to be fungus.

 

In every case for the Church to announce a true Eucharistic miracle, there must be

no other reasonable explanation, and

scientific evidence verifies that the blood or flesh is human.

While Pope Francis was the auxiliary bishop in the Archdiocese of Buenos Aires, Argentina, just such a miracle took place in 1996, in the parish of Santa Maria y Caballito Almagro. Renowned scientist Ricardo Castanon Gomez, who headed up the investigation, explained the miracle in a video.  The story is also told in detail in Reason to Believe: A Personal Story  by Ron Tesoriero.

On Aug. 15, 1996, the feast of the Assumption of Mary, a woman approached Father Alejandro Pezet after Mass to report she had found a desecrated Host on a candleholder at the back of the church. The priest followed canon law for proper disposal, putting it in a glass of water to dissolve. Instead, the Host appeared to turn into a bloody piece of meat.

Cardinal Antonio Quarracino and our current Pope Francis, then-Auxiliary Bishop Jorge Mario Bergoglio, had it photographed on Sept. 6, 1996. The photographs show a fragment of bloodied flesh that had become larger than a host.

It was placed in a tabernacle; and after three years, with no signs of visible decay, Bishop Bergoglio opened an investigation. On Oct. 5, 1999, in the company of witnesses, Gomez sent a sample of the blood to The San Francisco Forensic Institute.

So as not to be influenced in any way, no scientists were told where the sample came from. The results came back that it was human blood, AB-positive, and contained human DNA.

issue samples were then sent to Dr. Frederic Zugiba, of Columbia University in New York, a renowned cardiologist and forensic pathologist. His results on March 26, 2005, identified the sample as human flesh and blood. Zugiba testified that it was ‘a fragment of the heart muscle found in the wall of the left ventricle close to the valves.’ Because white blood cells had penetrated the tissue, he stated that ‘the heart had been under severe stress, as if the owner had been beaten severely about the chest.’

Author Tesoriero actually witnessed these tests, along with Mike Wilesee, a well-known Australian journalist.  Wilesee asked the scientist how long white blood cells can remain alive from a piece of human tissue kept in water. Zugiba told them it would last a matter of minutes. When he learned it had been in water for more than three years, Zugiba was amazed and said that the cells from the sample were moving and beating as a heart would, so there was no way to scientifically explain his findings.

Then Gomez arranged to compare those lab reports with the ones from the Eucharistic miracle of Lanciano, Italy. That miracle took place during the eighth century. A priest-monk suffered from doubts about Transubstantiation, wondering if the bread and wine really did become the Body and Blood of Christ. He prayed for help believing it was true. At the Consecration of one of his Masses, the Host changed into a circle of flesh, and the wine became blood before the eyes of numerous witnesses.

This Host-turned-flesh and the wine-turned-blood, without the use of any form of preservative, are still present more than 1,300 years later in a reliquary at St. Francis Church in Lanciano. They have been scientifically tested a number of times, with the last one being in 1970.

Again, without revealing the origin of the test samples, the experts compared the Buenos Aires lab reports with those from Lanciano. They concluded that the reports must be from the same samples. Both samples revealed an ‘AB’-positive blood type, which occurs in 5% of the population. The DNA is identical, and there are features to indicate that the man came from the Middle East. (It is also noteworthy that these lab results match up with those from the Shroud of Turin and the Cloth of Oviedo.)


Science Increases Faith

Teaching about Eucharistic miracles like these can increase faith and bring people back to the Catholic Church, according to Dorie Gruss of Lombard, Ill., director of the Real Presence Eucharistic Education and Adoration Association. The late Father John Hardon, whose cause is up for canonisation, was the association’s founding spiritual director. Gruss said he often told her, ‘If you don’t believe in the Eucharist, you are not really Catholic.’

The association promotes perpetual adoration and has created an exhibit and published a book on 140 Vatican-approved Eucharistic miracles called ‘The Vatican International Exhibition: The Eucharistic Miracles of the World.’ It has been displayed in 18,000 churches.

‘Father Hardon believed that the essence of the Catholic faith is the Eucharist,’ Gruss explained. ‘He could see the disrespect for the Eucharist and he wanted Catholics to get back to believing in the True Presence, so our website is Father Hardon’s work.’

According to Gruss, educating people about Vatican-approved Eucharistic miracles is a way to convince them with scientific evidence that at the Last Supper Jesus literally meant it when he said, ‘This is my Body, and this is my Blood.’

‘These miracles bring about a resurgence of faith in the Eucharist,’ she said. ‘And that is something we really need right now.’

 

Edited and adapted from POPE FRANCIS, MORNING MEDITATION IN THE CHAPEL OF THE DOMUS SANCTAE MARTHAE, Tuesday, 12 January 2016 as reported by L’Osservatore Romano, Weekly ed. in English, n. 2, 15 January 2016.


This article can be found in Mirror 0716.


Breaking the law to save his Son

The Pickering family from Texas is celebrating a miracle. With doctors about to turn off a life support machine keeping George Pickering’s son alive, a desperate and armed George intervened, determined his son would live.

2015 was an eventful year for George Pickering II and his son George Pickering III. George Jr. has made a full recovery after being in a coma. With doctors set to turn off his life support machine, his father stepped in.

Upon hearing that doctors had given up hope, a drunk and armed George Sr. marched towards the Tomball Regional Medical Center in Houston, Texas, determined to make sure his son was given more time to make a recovery, even if it meant he would spend time in jail. So George Sr. barricaded himself inside with his 27-year-old son as he managed to hold off police, before something amazing happened.

‘Towards the end of the standoff, which was about three hours long, he felt his son squeeze his hand,’ the family’s lawyer Phoebe Smith told the Press.

‘At this time, the SWAT team had already opened the door to the critical care room and he had surrendered to the police, but he surrendered knowing his son had squeezed his hand,’ she added.

George Jr. had fallen into a coma after suffering a stroke in January. Doctors had declared him brain dead, while George II’s ex-wife and other son made the decision to turn off the life support machine.

However, there was one person who was not going to give up hope.

‘The SWAT team had their own doctors and when they entered into the critical care room, they saw that my client’s son was not brain dead because he was making eye contact, was following their commands and they were completely amazed at this,’ Smith added.

The Pickerings’ family lawyer also praised the courage and determination shown by George Sr.

‘The amazing thing was that my client was right and that his son did survive. When you see him now, he is a picture of health. I don’t think he would have survived but for the fact that his father slowed the process down.’

After feeling signs of life from his son, George Sr. peacefully surrendered to the police. He was subsequently sentenced to 10 months’ prison time.

‘There was a law broken, but it was broken for all the right reasons. I’m here now because of it. It was love, it was love,’ George III told a local Radio Station. ‘The important thing is I’m alive and well, my father is home and we’re together again.’

 

https://www.rt.com/usa/327077-family-coma-hospital-texas/ Published time: 25 Dec, 2015


This article can be found in Mirror 0616.


Amy Oliver - A loving family

For the first seven years of his life Jonathan Bryan was trapped. Unable to speak or move, the only way he could communicate with the outside world was by the flicker of his eyes, the odd smile and occasional jerky arm gesture.

After being starved of oxygen in the womb when his mother was in a horrific car crash, the little boy was ‘locked-in’ to his body.

Diagnosed with cerebral palsy, one doctor even urged his parents Chantal and Christopher to end his treatment – and therefore his life – warning them that Jonathan may never run, walk or even recognise them.

Later, teachers at his special school dismissed him as a lost cause, preferring to focus on sensory play rather than spending time trying to communicate with him on an intellectual level. But his parents felt differently. They refused to believe that there wasn’t a keen intelligence lying behind the bright eyes of their beautiful son.

Now, after years of dogged persistence, Chantal has developed a way of communicating with Jonathan finally releasing him from a life of silence. It was an astonishing breakthrough that led former social worker Chantal to realise what she had suspected all along: that Jonathan, who is permanently confined to a wheelchair, has a fully functioning mind capable of complex thought.

Chantal had started to teach Jonathan letters, phonics and numeracy for an hour every morning from the age of seven. Then, aged nine, his mother taught him how to spell using a Perspex spelling board featuring colour-coded letters of the alphabet.1

Jonathan’s first board was simple. He would move his eyes to look at a particular part of the board – indicating whether he wanted a noun, adjective or verb and would then laboriously choose from more than 100 words Chantal had painstakingly printed out and colour coded. At first, progress was slow, with Jonathan having to learn how to read, write and spell. Two weeks in, Chantal began to wonder if he fully grasped the task.

But rather than abandoning the project, she took advice from a specialist who suspected Jonathan was simply bored and encouraged her to make the process harder for him. On the spelling board he uses today, Jonathan can slowly spell out any word he wants. It worked. Within weeks he was spelling out full words. The real breakthrough came, however, when Jonathan and his mother had been arduously writing a story about pirates.

‘About half way through he spelled out the word “myriad”,’ Chantal recalls in wonderment. ‘It was certainly not one of my pre-printed words or a word I thought he knew,’ she says. ‘It was a beautiful moment. That was the point he found his own voice. I realised I could ask him anything. My husband Christopher and I had tons of questions but we had to be careful. I asked what he didn’t like. He said having his face washed. You can’t underestimate how wonderful it is to be able to have a conversation with someone you love so much and in some ways know so well.’

Today, Jonathan is now able to say whatever he wants. He has three boards with spelling, punctuation and numeracy – there’s even a hashtag for his social media posts. He has started a blog called ‘eyecantalk’; entered a short story to a BBC competition; writes poems; and has even produced an autobiography.

He attends mainstream school every afternoon where he is one of the top pupils in his class for maths and is determined to help other children like him – there are 30,000 in the UK with cerebral palsy – to learn how to communicate.

Not bad for a boy who has, for much of his life, been living with the label ‘profound and multiple learning difficulties (PMLD)’ and was essentially written off.

Chantal explains that Jonathan has had several life-threatening episodes. After being ‘unlocked’ and able to communicate, he described to her a near-death experience in which he’d ‘visited Jesus’s garden’.

‘He could run fast, talk and climb trees,’ Chantal says. ‘His little sister, Susannah, asked whether there was a loo. Jonathan said he didn’t know, he didn’t need to go. He said he didn’t meet Jesus but is very much looking forward to doing that when he goes back.’

It was January 2006 when the family’s lives were changed for ever. Chantal had been 36 weeks pregnant when another car crashed into theirs while they were en route to a pub lunch in Oxfordshire. Remarkably, bar some severe bruising, they were unharmed, but the impact caused a placental abruption. Chantal started bleeding and Jonathan was slowly robbed of oxygen.

In hospital his heartbeat suddenly dropped and he was delivered via emergency caesarean section. Later, at Bristol Children’s Hospital, a technician said Jonathan’s MRI brain scan was one of the worst he had seen.

‘It was pretty catastrophic,’ Christopher, 40, says. ‘They said he would have mild to severe cerebral palsy. That he may not run, walk, sleep, laugh, see, hear or recognise us.’

Chantal and Christopher, who is a vicar, faced a decision about whether to carry on with treatment, but after seeing Jonathan lying helpless in his cot they decided to give him a chance. ‘There is a photo of him in an incubator before he goes into the MRI scan,’ Chantal recalls. ‘There was something in his eyes imploring me.’

He was diagnosed with severe cerebral palsy, and, before a kidney transplant when he was three, was having regular dialysis. A post-transplant infection caused severe lung damage. He will need to wear an oxygen tube to breathe for the rest of his life.

‘There were moments in the first year when we wondered if we’d done the right thing,’ Christopher says. ‘But then you start to see a personality emerging.’

Jonathan’s life expectancy is difficult to gauge. ‘He could get an infection and go within the next six hours,’ Christopher says. ‘We’ve been living on a knife-edge for ten years.’

This becomes clear today when Chantal starts the process of packing Jonathan back into the family’s specially adapted van after he’s cheered on Jemima at her pre-school sports day.

Chantal notices Jonathan looks blue and that the oxygen in his tank has run out. She springs into action. He can go only a few minutes without. The carer struggles to free a second tank from its holder. Chantal calmly assists, returns and plugs Jonathan back in. Crisis averted.

Back at the family’s four-bedroom rectory, Jonathan is given a milk formula through a feeding tube in his stomach.

After a quick session on his bipap ventilator – a full face breathing machine rather than a tube in his nose – his next stop is his village school, five minutes up the road. Next September he will go to his local secondary school. He recently went to an open day and answered some maths questions quicker than those aged 14 in Year 10.

It is quite a remarkable difference from even a year ago when he was still attending special school. It had worked well at first. ‘There were lots of lovely sensory activities, which were great,’ Chantal says. But it soon became clear Jonathan would not be taught how to read or write. Marion Stanton, an expert in children’s complex communication issues who had been seeing Jonathan, then suggested Chantal try to teach him letters, phonics and numeracy at home.

Jonathan started attending Stanton St Quintin Primary School every day from last September and his parents were delighted to discover that the other children treated him just like any other pupil.

Back at the family home, I ask his mother about the future. ‘The future is one day at a time and no more,’ Chantal says. ‘Last week Jonathan had a very high temperature and was on his ventilator. This week it is lower. But you can’t spend your time worrying. Every day is a gift. Jonathan is a gift.’

 

Adapted and edited from an article in The Mail on Sunday, 3 July 2016
1 These boards, which cost up to €150, are commonly used by speech and language therapists.


This article can be found in Mirror 0616.


A field hospital of Joy, Of Hope and of Love

‘I see clearly, that the thing the Church needs most today is the ability to heal wounds and to warm the hearts of the faithful; it needs nearness, proximity. I see the Church as a field hospital after battle.’

Father Andrés Jaramillo has made these words of Pope Francis very much his own, and in Girardota, in Colombia, after the decades of civil war, he has established a fraternity that is intended as a ‘field hospital’ for wounded souls. The Brotherhood of the Sacred Heart aims to be a place of refuge and consolation for the despairing, the wounded, the lost and those overwhelmed by spiritual suffering.

There are centres and resources available for many other groups – the elderly, the children, the war victims, the poor, the homeless and refugees. But for ordinary people in spiritual need there are none. It might be a young student, a housewife, a manager, an office worker… any one of us in fact.

Lola Lopez, who had lost her only daughter, felt utterly broken, torn apart, annihilated. ‘I simply couldn’t stop weeping. I forgot to eat, to sleep, to live.’ Father Andrés and his community invited her to spend some time with them, to pray and talk. ‘They didn’t ask questions, they didn’t demand anything. They took me by the arm and smiled at me.’

Eventually Lola got back on her feet. ‘Love has overcome death’, she says. ‘This love without measure, selfless and undemanding, this is what healed my wounds.’

There are many other Lolas. Now the fraternity wants to build a house, a mother house for many such field hospitals in the future, both within and outside Colombia. We have promised funding for the ground floor. It will represent the first stage of the ‘field hospital of the Good News’, a field hospital of joy, of hope and of love.


This article can be found in Mirror 0416.


Mary Rezac - The Fastest Nun in the West

According to legend, and to Sr. Blandina Segale’s journal (1854-1941) and letters, one of Billy the Kid’s gang members had been shot and was on the brink of death when the doctors of Trinidad, Colorado, refused to treat him. Sister decided to take him in and cared for him for three months, nursing him back to health.

But Billy the Kid (William Leroy) was still unhappy. Word got out that the outlaw was coming to town to scalp the four doctors of Trinidad in revenge. When he arrived, Sr. Blandina intervened, and convinced him to call off his mission on behalf of the man she had saved.

After that incident, Sr. Blandina and Billy the Kid became friends. She once visited him in jail, and he once called off a stage-coach robbery as soon as he realized Sister was one of the passengers.

When she wasn’t calling off outlaws, Sr. Blandina was founding schools, building hospitals, teaching and caring for orphans and the poor, and advocating for the rights of Native Americans and other minorities.

Her heroic virtue and enduring works of mercy have led to her cause for sainthood being opened in New Mexico during the summer of 2015 earning her the title ‘Servant of God.’ Since the opening of her cause various documents have come to light corroborating stories of her saintly life and the process of her beatification and eventual canonisation seems to be well on its way.

Sainthood isn’t about an award, it isn’t about honoring, it is about helping the faithful know that there is a source of God’s grace being worked on Earth,’ said Allen Sanchez, president and CEO for CHI St. Joseph’s Children in Albuquerque, which Sr. Blandina founded. Sanchez also serves as the petitioner for the cause of Sister’s sainthood and has studied her life extensively.

Sr. Blandina, born Maria Rosa Segale, was just four years old when she emigrated with her parents from the small town of Cicagna, Italy to Cincinnati, Ohio in 1854.

At the age of 16, Maria Rosa joined the Sisters of Charity and took the name Sr. Blandina. In 1876, when she was just 22 years old, she was sent on her own to Trinidad in Colorado territory in order to teach in the public school there. A few years later, she was sent further south, first to Santa Fe and then to Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Obviously it was quite an adjustment to migrate from Europe and the more settled parts of America to the still very rough-and-tumble west.

While in New Mexico, Sr. Blandina helped found the public health care system and the public school system by building the first hospitals and schools in Albuquerque, often asking for the temporary release of prisoners to help her with the labour.

Much of what is known about Sr. Blandina’s life comes from a series of letters she wrote her sister, Sr. Justina Segale, who was back in Ohio. The compiled correspondences, which span the years of 1872-1894, were published in 1931 ten years before Sr. Blandina’s death
in 1941.

To open a cause for sainthood, examples of heroic virtue of the person must be shown. The specific example of heroic virtue that her petitioners are using involves another story that could only take place in the Wild West; the story that earned her the title ‘The Fastest Nun in the West’ from a 1966 CBS feature on the incident.

Sr. Blandina was teaching school in New Mexico when one of her pupils told her, ‘Pa’s shot a man, and they’re going to hang him.’ 

That’s when Sr. Blandina went to work. She met with the shooter, and was able to convince him to write a confession. She then met with the dying man, and convinced him to forgive his shooter – in person – before he passed away.

After the two men were reconciled, Sr. Blandina then had to face down the lynch mob that was coming to kill the shooter, who, because of Sister, was instead taken to the circuit court and was given life in prison. After nine months, he was released to go back home to care for his four children.

‘She disarms them from their guns, their hanging rope and their hate,’ Sanchez said of sister and the lynch mob.

‘She must have been charming to them!’ he added. ‘I think they would fall in love with her and do what she would ask them to do, because she cared for them and she honestly was able to see the dignity of every human being from the innocent orphans to the guilty outlaws.’

Sr. Blandina also made several trips to Washington, D.C. to meet with legislators and to advocate on behalf of the Native Americans, whose reservation boundaries were being drawn at the time.

And although her own life is being evaluated for sainthood, Sr. Blandina herself knew all about the canonization process,  she helped to petition to Rome for the cause of two different saints in her lifetime; St. Elizabeth Ann Seton and St. Kateri Tekakwitha. She also helped bring (now), St. Catherine Drexel and her sisters to the West to help serve the Native American populations.

The example of her life on earth is also important for the faithful today. Sanchez said, ‘She wasn’t afraid to roll up her sleeves and get the work done. And she was always giving credit to the Gospel, to Jesus’ work.’

And the work of Jesus is Mercy and Forgiveness, it is the conversion of sinners, the bringing of light into the darkness and the spreading of Hope and of Joy.

 

Adapted and edited from an article was originally published on CNA Aug. 1, 2015.


This article can be found in Mirror 0316.


Building in total trust in God’s providence

The seclusion in the hermitage lasts from Sunday evening to Saturday noon – five and a half days of intensive prayer.

The ‘Hermits of the most Sacred Heart of Jesus’ in the diocese of Merida, in Venezuela, entrust themselves totally to divine providence – that is to say they rely on charity and on whatever they can earn from their own handiwork. They restore icons and religious images.

Their apostolate is one of prayer for others. The Sacred Heart of Jesus is for them the expression and the very centre of the love of God for man. They meditate upon this Heart while they work, and place themselves totally in God’s hands.

They ask no specific price for their work; this is entirely up to the discretion of those of for whom they do it. Thus they live a life of poverty and devotion to God, which is the very foundation of their contemplative life. At present they are praying for donations, so that their convent can be built, together with its attached hermit cells, and so that they can take in the young women who are waiting to join them.

In fact the foundations of the convent are already laid – but time is short, and in Venezuela building materials are hard to come by.

It was through providence that their needs were brought to our attention. Venezuela needs the prayers of these hermits. For prayer, as Pope Francis says, is ‘the most powerful weapon of Christians’.


This article can be found in Mirror 0216.


Bolivia - Sharing the little they have

They are living on the ‘upper margins’ of society – at an altitude of 13,000 feet among the poor and underprivileged. Here in the cold air of the Andes the Sisters of Merciful Jesus bring the warmth of faith, and with it love and hope.

The financial support we are being asked for by their bishop, Bishop Krzysztof Bialasik of the diocese of Oruru, in Bolivia, is not much, yet they still will share it with the families, however little, and even if it is barely enough for themselves. For they share everything. Above all with the children.

For as Sister Victoria Edyta explains, ‘These are children who have never experienced any joy in their lives, nor any tenderness, least of all any selfless love. Their family life is deeply shattered; everywhere there is an absence of hope.’ 

The sisters take these children on little outings, give them blankets and bread and tell them about Jesus, Mary and Joseph and their simple home in Nazareth. Their merciful tenderness helps ease the children’s hunger for love and gives them fresh hope.

Along with 22 other religious sisters from eight different congregations the sisters fulfil the duties of their mission, which their bishop summarises like this:

‘They make up, as far as possible, for the lack of priests – leading the pastoral work in the parishes, training lay catechists and preparing the people for the reception of the Sacraments. 

They visit the families of the poor, and the lonely and elderly. They organise meals for the homeless, retreat days for young people, women and men. 

They care for homeless migrants, the lonely and abandoned. They go into the prisons, taking the message of salvation there too – and especially to the children living in the prisons with their mothers. In a word, they go out to the margins of society, just as Pope Francis says.’

Life on these margins is harsh and full of privations. It is not only running water and electricity they lack. The challenges, both spiritual and physical, are hard. Yet they still share everything. For the love that drives them is a wellspring that does not dry up. We have promised them our support for each of the 23 sisters.

Going out to the margins involves a high degree of selflessness. For these margins will always exist (‘You will have the poor with you always…’ Mk 14:7; Mt 26:10), but not necessarily these selfless sisters.

Fortunately, though, the Spirit is also blowing in Cochabamba (likewise in Bolivia) and here too such sisters are to be found, caring for the Church of the poor. In the last 10 years a new community of missionary Salesian Sisters has been formed, born of the desire to nurture young girls in the human virtues and a Christian spirit, though not specifically in view of a religious vocation.

By now there are five sisters with permanent vows, 34 with temporary vows and another 21 novices preparing for a life in the service of others. But for all their selfless love, the younger sisters and novices still need a roof over their heads and a place to pray and study.

The remarkable surge in vocations has made the building of a separate house essential. We have promised to help, for this is a form of support that looks to the future and at the same time an appeal to selfless generosity on our own part.


This article can be found in Mirror 0216.