Filipinos: spreading faith, at home and abroad

A woman prays while waiting to take Communion during a Jan. 27 fellowship night between 51st International Eucharistic Congress delegates and parishioners of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart in Cebu, Philippines. (CNS photo/Simone Orendain)

A woman prays while waiting to take Communion during a Jan. 27 fellowship night between 51st International Eucharistic Congress delegates and parishioners of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart in Cebu, Philippines. (CNS photo/Simone Orendain)

CEBU, Philippines — Throughout the week at the 51st International Eucharistic Congress, speakers have expressed how much Filipinos’ deep faith has struck them.

Cabbies play radio stations broadcasting religious messages: Bible verses, catechism and prayers. If they’re not listening to it, they’re talking about it.

Today a cabdriver kissed the cross on a rosary hanging from his rearview mirror and prayed the 3 p.m. prayer being broadcast. The other day, a different cab driver asked me what the congress what about and whether he could attend some sessions.

Los Angeles Auxiliary Bishop Robert E. Barron chats with Archbishop Jose S. Palma of Cebu, Philippines, right, as Bishop Mylo Hubert Vergary of Pasig, Philippines, looks on before a Jan. 26 news conference at the 51st International Eucharistic Congress in Cebu. (CNS photo/Simone Orendain)

Los Angeles Auxiliary Bishop Robert E. Barron chats with Archbishop Jose S. Palma of Cebu, Philippines, right, as Bishop Mylo Hubert Vergary of Pasig, Philippines, looks on before a Jan. 26 news conference at the 51st International Eucharistic Congress in Cebu. (CNS photo/Simone Orendain)

Los Angeles Auxiliary Bishop Robert Barron said Filipinos — whose country is 82 percent Catholic — are now doing what the Irish did when they spread Christianity across Europe a few centuries after it started. And, he added, having them in the U.S. is helping keep the church alive.

But Filipinos don’t go overseas with the intention of being missionaries. They usually end up simply practicing their faith when they arrive in countries where they find better-paying jobs than what they could find at home.

Cardinal Charles Bo of Yangon, Myanmar, said it was “a concern” that, like in his country, people have to go abroad to find decent employment.

“Although it’s a difficulty, it’s a grace of God,” he said. “I wish to tell Filipinos that … I want to encourage them as migrants to go to other parts of the world … especially with the view of giving good news to other people.”

That “good news” was very much present to Marianne Servaas, a Belgian who lived in the Philippines for seven years, working with an evangelical student organization.

As she spoke to the packed pavilion of delegates from 71 countries about her conversion to Catholicism while living here, she said, “The way Christ is present in you (Filipinos) is almost touchable. You opened my heart to receive joy in life itself, and more so your joy is related to thankfulness and humility. Please do not lose it … in your joy you are more human. And it is a gift to the world.”

Dark skies: A heritage we may not notice we are losing

TUCSON, Ariz. — Go outside on a clear night and count the stars.

Chances are you’re not seeing as many glittering points of light as you did as a child unless you live in a pretty secluded area.

John Barentine of the InternationalDark-Sky Association addresses the Faithi and Astronomy Workshop. (CNS photo/Dennis Sadowski)

John Barentine of the International Dark-Sky Association addresses the Vatican Observatory’s Faith and Astronomy Workshop. (CNS photo/Dennis Sadowski)

Humans, through all their progress, have lit up the planet so much that we’ve forgotten how magnificent a truly dark night sky can be. It’s only changed since 1879, when Thomas Alva Edison invented the light bulb.

The International Dark-Sky Association is working to alert and educate people, primarily in the United States and Europe, about the loss of the legacy of dark skies.

John Barentine, program manager at the Tucson, Arizona-based association, spent an hour at this month’s Faith and Astronomy Workshop sponsored by the Vatican Observatory, discussing how the natural night sky is under threat from the drive to light up the night in our communities.

By 2025 half of all U.S. residents will be living in perpetual twilight at night if current trends of electrification continue, Barentine said.

A slide produced by the International Dark-Sky Association depicts the advance of lighting across the U.S. since 1950 (CNS photo/Dennis Sadowski)

A slide produced by the International Dark-Sky Association depicts the advance of lighting across the U.S. since 1950 (CNS photo/Dennis Sadowski)

To illustrate his point, he showed before and after images of cities as seen from Earth orbit that are converting existing
street and security lights to energy-saving LED lighting. The photos showed how the blue-rich white LEDs obscure the landscape below. The International Dark-Sky Association fears that because LEDs use far less energy, cities will resist shielding the new lights to prevent photons from being scattered upward into the atmosphere.

Association staff members have worked with cities to show how LED lighting also can be a detriment to safety. The glare produced by unshielded lights actually limits a person’s ability to see what lurks in shadows, Barentine said as he produced a photo illustrating his argument.

The International Dark-Sky Association has developed model lighting legislation for cities, but has met with limited success. In places such as Tucson, where astronomy is a significant industry, standards limiting light pollution have been enacted.

However, Barentine noted, astronomers at Kitt Peak National Observatory 50 miles southwest of the city are more concerned that the glow of lights from ever-sprawling Phoenix 150 miles away now pose a greater threat to observing.

A professional astronomer, Barentine also pointed to studies that showed people exposed to a constant level of light — from cellphones, night lights or other round-the-clock lighting — have developed uneven sleep habits that can lead to other health issues.

Excessive night time lighting also disrupts the natural world. Migrating birds, which often use the moon and stars to guide their flights northward or southward, are among the animals most widely affected by bright lights. Scientists have discovered that birds often become confused by brightly lit buildings and fly around and around them until they drop from exhaustion. Sea turtle hatchlings are affected because they head onshore instead of to the ocean after birth.

The steps needed are difficult to undertake, Barentine admitted.

“It’s more than turning off the lights,” he said. “It’s getting people to think differently.”

Change will come through education and demonstrating how darkness benefits the planet, he told the workshop.

Pope Francis’ encyclical “Laudato Si’, On Care for our Common Home,” even mentioned the need to turn off unnecessary lights, he added.

He also invited the workshop to join citizen science efforts focusing on the need to change lighting practices.

Barentine left workshop participants with five steps to consider:

— Identify dark skies as valuable.

— Improve lighting within your control.

— Talk with your neighbors about their lighting practices.

— Write or call elected officials to change public policy.

— Speak out.

“If we don’t know there’s a problem to be solved,” he said, “we won’t fix it.”

When God calls you to do something, answer ‘yes’

By Simone Orendain

CEBU, Philippines — Concepcion Martinez Narvios said when God calls you to do something, answer “yes.”

Concepcion Martinez Narvios talks at her parish about helping to rehabilitate prostitutes. (CNS photo/Simone Orendain)

Concepcion Martinez Narvios talks at her parish about helping to rehabilitate prostitutes. (CNS photo/Simone Orendain)

When, more than 30 years ago, two Philippine-based Oblate Sisters asked Narvios to help find new vocations do the “hard work” of helping girls who were sex workers, she said yes. It wasn’t easy finding recruits then and it still isn’t easy now, said Narvios,  72.

The Oblate sister who mentored Narvios said the only thing that they could do for the girls was “just give them love. Love and care, because they never felt that from their parents. They never knew their parents. They were in the streets.”

“And it is true. Because the Lord is love,” she told a few dozen people visiting Our Lady of the Sacred Heart Parish during the 51st International Eucharistic Congress.

Narvios didn’t know until recently that she would be giving a quick talk on her work for the church.

“I was supposed to read something I prepared, but I didn’t. I said I wouldn’t cry, but I did,” she told me after her talk, as we walked to a wooden pew in the mostly empty church for a quick chat.

It was understandable that Narvios cried. Before the crowd that was made up of about one-third Spanish and Latin American delegates, she described in her native Spanish how difficult it was for her to eat and to sleep in a place where young girls, not yet in their teens, were being rehabilitated after prostitution. She said many of the girls had run away because they felt they had to earn a living, and selling their bodies made it “so easy for them.”

Narvios said that, over time, love would sustain the girls who stayed. They would leave their sordid lives behind, get an education and gain employment in professions such as social work.

Doing the tough work of trying to find new recruits for vocations, Narvios said she has had to follow three rules: never question the Lord, who “has a plan for us”; always see Christ in everyone whom you call brother and sister; and always use your talents out in the streets to help the needy.

When we were about to part ways, Narvios said she would probably contact me when she travels to Manila to meet with Oblates there about finding new nuns.

Then she said to me, “You never know, when God calls you have to say yes.”

I wasn’t quite sure why she said that, so I just nodded and said, “Yes.”

Loaves, fishes, nourishment and the power of Eucharist

Filipinos receive Communion during a Mass at the 51st International Eucharistic Congress opening ceremony in Cebu, Philippines, Jan. 24. (CNS photo/Francis R. Malasig, EPA)

Filipinos receive Communion during a Mass at the 51st International Eucharistic Congress opening ceremony in Cebu, Philippines, Jan. 24. (CNS photo/Francis R. Malasig, EPA)

By Simone Orendain

CEBU, Philippines — At a gathering of thousands of Catholics from different corners of the world, inevitably you will hear comparisons to the Gospel passage describing Jesus taking five loaves of bread and a couple of fish and multiplying them to feed the group.

It happened when Los Angeles Auxiliary Bishop Robert Barron spoke today before a packed pavilion of more than 12,000 delegates at the 51st International Eucharistic Congress. He said Jesus wanted to give food to the mass of people and took what his disciples were able to scrounge around for.

“Jesus, offering them to the Father, multiplies them under the feeding of the mighty crowd,” he said. “There’s the liturgy of the Eucharist. Jesus, up and down the centuries to the present day, feeds his hungry people.”

The bishop said it was an act of giving to the Lord what little one has, and it returns back to the giver manifold. It’s the giver who benefits because, as Bishop Barron said, “God doesn’t need anything.”

When 12 baskets of food were leftover, he said, it was symbolic of gathering in the 12 tribes under Israel.

“Look around this room,” Bishop Barron remarked. “You’ve got a bishop from Los Angeles, California, speaking to people in Cebu, Philippines, from all over the world. What are we all here for? To worship the God of Israel. How strange and how wonderful that the prophetic identity of ancient Israel has come true and we can see it in front of us now. There’s the 12 baskets, the 12 tribes. It’s true isn’t it? It’s true. … That’s the power of the Eucharist.”

Cardinal Charles Bo of Yangon, Myanmar, gives Communion during the 51st International Eucharistic Congress opening Mass in Cebu, Philippines, Jan. 24. (CNS photo/Francis R. Malasig, EPA)

Cardinal Charles Bo of Yangon, Myanmar, gives Communion during the 51st International Eucharistic Congress opening Mass in Cebu, Philippines, Jan. 24. (CNS photo/Francis R. Malasig, EPA)

Days before, a Japanese delegate who speaks English said her companion was deeply moved by the opening Mass of the congress.

Sister Yasuko Taguchi of Sapporo said her companion “was in tears, and she said this Mass was just like the Mass in the Bible, John (chapter) 6, when 5,000 people were fed.”

The opening Mass had a crowd of about 250,000, and Communion stations were set up all along the section dividers. I noticed a snapping sound, then I saw some eucharistic ministers were breaking the Eucharist into bits, until other ministers came around with more hosts. Even I thought of the loaves and fishes as I observed this.

There would be other Masses after that, with more to come until this Sunday. One “sacrifice of the Holy Eucharist” each day and, with this large gathering, the expectation is that all will find nourishment for their faith.

Experiencing the Filipino way of being church

By Simone Orendain

CEBU, Philippines — Msgr. Joseph Tan, spokesman for the International Eucharistic Congress, might be getting his wish: Delegates are starting to experience “classic Filipino hospitality.”

Msgr. Alfred Cedric Culmer and youth minister Lemareson Rolle, both of the Nassau Archdiocese in the Bahamas attend the International Eucharistic Congress in Cebu, Philippines. (CNS/Simone Orendain)

Msgr. Alfred Cedric Culmer and youth minister Lemareson Rolle, both of the Nassau Archdiocese in the Bahamas attend the International Eucharistic Congress in Cebu, Philippines. (CNS/Simone Orendain)

Msgr. Alfred Cedric Culmer of the Bahamas’ Nassau Archdiocese had been in town for the congress less than three days, but he said he was so comfortable, “It feels like it’s been a month.”

Msgr. Culmer was struck by the Filipinos’ brand of Catholicism.

“They are deeply religious. You see it in their faith, their simplicity, their generosity,” he said. “It’s like the church of 2,000 years ago, like reading the Acts of the Apostles,” about how the church started. Filipinos say, “‘We’re very happy you’re here,'” he said.

Msgr. Culmer said that after Typhoon Haiyan destroyed much of the region and left more than 7,300 dead or missing, there was talk of moving the eucharistic congress somewhere else. But he says Pope Francis insisted it remain here.

“He said, ‘Absolutely not,'” he said. “This is a time for being church, for being in solidarity, which is what the Eucharist is all about.”

Australian delegate Alan Bowyer was attending a eucharistic congress for the first time. He’s the director of a small Catholic education system and was looking to deepen his awareness of “the Eucharist in mission and evangelization.” It was a phrase that has been coming up regularly during this congress.

Australian delegate Alan Bowyer talks with a group of catechists from the Philippines. At the 51st International Eucharistic Congress in Cebu, Philippines. (CNS photo/Simone Orendain)

Australian delegate Alan Bowyer talks with a group of catechists from the Philippines. At the 51st International Eucharistic Congress in Cebu, Philippines. (CNS photo/Simone Orendain)

Bowyer told CNS his school is one of several widely scattered across the Wagga Wagga Diocese in New South Wales, which he said is geographically the same size as France. “In this day and age, we are really in need of a world view.”

Plus, he said being in a country where just one-third of the population is Catholic is further isolating. He remarked about the contrast to the Philippines, which is 82 percent Catholic.

“It’s quite extraordinary, their level of devotion,” said Bowyer, calling it an “overt devotion to Catholicism.”

He said he noticed this not so much in the clergy but in ordinary people.

“They’re welcoming with extraordinary hospitality. I think that could be an expression of the church here,” he added.

Word to Life — Sunday Scripture readings Jan. 24, 2016

"Now you are Christ's body, and individually parts of it." -- 1 Corinthians 12:27

“Now you are Christ’s body, and individually parts of it.” — 1 Corinthians 12:27

 

Jan. 24, Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

      Cycle C. Readings:

      1) Nehemiah 8:2-4a, 5-6, 8-10

      Psalm: 19:8-10, 15

      2) 1 Corinthians 12:12-30 or 1 Corinthians 12:12-14, 27

      Gospel: Luke 1:1-4; 4:14-21

 

By Jeff Hensley
Catholic News Service

In Luke’s Gospel for this weekend, Jesus rises in the temple to read from the Book of Isaiah, where he proclaims that the poor will have glad tidings brought to them, a year of liberty would be proclaimed to the captives, recovery of sight given to the blind, and the oppressed would be set free.

Jesus sits again, and with all eyes in the synagogue intently on him, says, “Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.”

We have the specifics outlined in the rest of the Gospels, as we see Jesus walking about performing wonders, healing the ill and proclaiming the coming of the kingdom of God, which he embodies, to rich and poor alike.

But building the kingdom doesn’t stop there. Paul, speaking to the Corinthians, addresses many of the dimensions of Jesus enfleshed in his people, his body. Paul emphasizes that all of us do not engage in the same manifestations of the Spirit: “The body is not a single part, but many,” he says.

That truth remains to this day. When I see Jesus in those I encounter, I see various manifestations of the body.

The young woman behind the deli counter at the grocery store has a smile and a presence that clearly identifies her as a believer. She confirms it when I ask her if she is a Christian and what church she attends.

My two colleagues from the Catholic press with whom I recently toured the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington are proclaimers of the Gospel. I know them both by their functions within the body and by their behavior across the years. They are servant leaders within the body of Christ.

My wife, whose compassion extends beyond her family and colleagues to generously embrace the immigrants and refugees she teaches, shows the healing power of love that endures. Would any of these alone show forth all the complexity of Christ’s body? It’s not necessary. It takes all of us as church to bring Christ’s presence into the world.

QUESTION:

All parts of the body of Christ are essential. How do you make his presence manifest to those around you?

Word to Life — Sunday Scripture readings Jan. 17, 2016

"As a bridegroom rejoices in his bride so shall your God rejoice in you." -- Isaiah 62:5b

“As a bridegroom rejoices in his bride so shall your God rejoice in you.” — Isaiah 62:5b

Jan. 17, Second Sunday of Ordinary Time

      Cycle C. Readings:

      1) Isaiah 62:1-5

     Psalm 96:1-3, 7-10

      2) 1 Corinthians 12:4-11

      Gospel: John 2:1-11

 

By Sharon K. Perkins
Catholic News Service

In January 2014 I was able to fulfill the dream of a lifetime by traveling to the Holy Land on pilgrimage. A highlight of the trip for many of my traveling companions was celebrating Mass in the Wedding Church at Kafr Cana, a century-old chapel built over the site associated with the miracle in today’s Gospel.

At the end of the homily, married couples were given the opportunity to renew their wedding vows, and I recorded some poignant videos of several friends doing so. But the reason I was able to capture the images is because my own spouse was not with me that day.

My husband had a previously scheduled business commitment that he was unable to set aside, so I traveled to Israel without him. I bought him a souvenir bottle of Cana wine and consoled myself with the knowledge that he would make the same pilgrimage a few months later, but I felt our separation acutely.

We’re at a point in our 37-year marriage when our children are grown, our respective careers make great demands on our time, various losses have taken their toll and some of our closest contemporaries have separated or divorced. Amid such profound challenges, a renewal of our own vows among friends in such a sacred place would have been reassuring.

In the first reading, Isaiah prophesies the end of Israel’s exile, using the celebratory image of a reunited bride and bridegroom to describe the joyful encounter of a people with their God. Against this backdrop, the beginning of Jesus’ ministry at a wedding in Cana has hopeful implications for believers who struggle with God’s call to Christian marriage.

Even the strongest marriages of faith-filled couples are relentlessly tested from without and within. The wine of young romance lasts for a limited time and as at Cana, those emptying jars, left to themselves, can eventually signal a crisis.

On our wedding day, my husband and I consecrated ourselves to each other — but we also consecrated our marriage to Jesus and to his mother. Sustaining our commitment requires daily (sometimes hourly!) reconsecration and hard work. But Jesus promises to replenish our empty vessels with an abundance of new wine, even better than the old, if we but entrust our marriage to his care.

QUESTIONS:

Have you ever felt acutely separated or exiled from God? What do today’s readings say to you about how highly God upholds marriage as a sign of his faithfulness to his people? To you personally?

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