Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Leap Year

Although most years of the modern calendar have 365 days, a complete revolution around the sun takes approximately 365 days and 6 hours. Every four years, during which an extra 24 hours have accumulated, one extra day is added to keep the count coordinated with the sun's apparent position. That is why we have February 29 every 4 years. The leap year was introduced as part of the Julian calendar reform. February 29 came to be regarded as the leap day when the Roman system of numbering days was replaced by sequential numbering in the late Middle Ages.
Some important events that took place on February 29 in leap years:
1504 – Christopher Columbus uses his knowledge of a lunar eclipse that night to convince Native Americans to provide him with supplies.
1892 – St. Petersburg, Florida is incorporated.
1940 – For her role as Mammy in 'Gone with the Wind,' Hattie McDaniel becomes the first African American to win an Academy Award.
1956 – U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower announces to the nation that he is running for a second term.
1960 – An earthquake in Morocco kills over 3,000 people and nearly destroys Agadir in the southern part of the country.
1960 – Family Circus cartoon series makes its debut.
1972 – Hank Aaron becomes the first player in the history of Major League Baseball to sign a $200,000 contract. Today a major league player makes that much at every 6 to 8 at-bats!
1980 – Gordie Howe of the then Hartford Whalers makes NHL history as he scores his 800th goal.
1996 – Faucett Flight 251 crashes in the Andes, killing 123 people.
2004 – Jean-Bertrand Aristide is removed as President of Haiti following a coup.
Gioacchino Rossini, Italian opera composer, born Feb 29, 1792
Some famous people born on February 29:
1468 – Pope Paul III (d. 1549)
1792 – Gioacchino Rossini, Italian composer (d. 1868)
1812 – Sir James Wilson, Premier of Tasmania (d. 1880, also on February 29!)
1892 – Ed Appleton, American baseball player (d. 1932)
1904 – Jimmy Dorsey, American bandleader (d. 1957)
1908 – Balthus, French-Polish painter (d. 2001)
1916 – Dinah Shore, American singer and actress (d. 1994)
1924 – Al Rosen, American baseball player
1924 – Carlos Humberto Romero, President of El Salvador
1952 – Bart Stupak, American congressman

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Teach us how to pray.....

Jesus preaching by Beato Angelico
Jesus encourages the people today to pray in a simple way. Many are concerned about what prayer books to use, how to pray, when to pray and what methods are most effective. He teaches the people a simple prayer, the ‘Our Father,’ repeated at least once at each Mass, 6 times during the Rosary and on many other occasions before meetings, etc. It’s amazing how much this prayer covers so many areas for which we are to pray. During the Our Father we honor Jesus’ name (Hallowed be thy name,) and pray as Mary prayed in front of the Angel Gabriel (Thy will be done.) We ask for our physical and spiritual nourishment (Give us this day our daily bread,) and of course we ask for forgiveness for our sins and pray that we be reminded to forgive all those who wrong us (Forgive us our trespasses....) And last but not least we pray that we’ll always be protected from the snares of the devil (Lead us not into temptation,) and pray finally that evil never approaches us (Deliver us from evil,) which is partly up to us to resist.

According to the website, the Our Father has been translated into 1697 languages, including Maltese. There is a place in Jerusalem where various Our Fathers are written on tiles in a cloister, including this one, in Maltese, although it is in old Maltese pronunciation, besides a few orthographic mistakes.

Monday, February 27, 2012

The Father supports me

Crucifixion by Domenico Beccafumi
Most paintings of the crucifixion show Jesus on the cross with Mary, his mother and Mary Magdalen, along with John the Baptist and Mary of Clopas beneath the cross. However there are a few interpretations where God the Father is included, as if supporting the cross. The above painting by Domenico Beccafumi is one such depiction. One can also see the Holy Spirit under God’s beard and above the INRI sign. Remember that while on the cross, Jesus uttered 7 phrases, and four of them were precisely directed towards his Father....”Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they’re doing,” ”My God, My God, why have you abandoned me?” “ It is finished,” and “Into your hands I commit my spirit.” The Father was there to support Jesus as He left this world, and the image of God can also be interpreted as if He is welcoming Jesus into Heaven.
The entire altar piece by Beccafumi
The painting is actually the middle section of an altar-piece, and on the sides one can see John the Baptist with St Cosmas and John the apostle with St Damian.  Sts. Cosmas and Damian were two brothers, born in Arabia, both skilled in the science of medicine, and they are seen holding a jar of medication or ointment. They were tortured during the Persecution Era in 283 AD. They are the patron saints of pharmacists.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Repent and Believe

On this first Sunday of Lent, we see Jesus being tempted by the devil in the desert, and then we see him in prayer, while encouraging the people to “repent and believe in the gospel.” This was the same message of John the Baptist in Advent as it was last Wednesday on Ash Wednesday. May I suggest this guideline to help you throughout your Lenten journey:
Repent - admit of your weaknesses and ask for forgiveness.
Return - come back to church where you can find comfort and consolation.
Reorient yourself - make the adjustments you need.
Resolve to change - ask God to help you make the changes you need for a better life.
Rejoice - be happy with the person that is your NEW YOU.
Remember - the blessings you received, so that you don’t start taking God for granted.
(From my Sunday homily 2-26-2012)

Saturday, February 25, 2012

The Passion in philately

I’ve always been fond of collecting stamps, although it’s not considered one of my favorite hobbies. However there is so much history and art related to philately. Many countries have used paintings from various artists to commemorate Lent, Holy Week and Easter. Above you can see 5 beautiful stamps from the African nation of Burundi issued in 1974. They are paintings by Roger van der Weyden, Titian, Veronese and El Greco, beautifully presented. Stay tuned, I will share a few more stamps over the Lenten season. You can always click on the image and enlarge it for better viewing.

Friday, February 24, 2012

The Stations of the Cross

A  more modern presentation of the 14  Stations, connected together
In every Catholic Church, you will notice usually hanging on the side walls 14 images, pictures or sculptures related to the Passion of Christ. These are the 14 steps Jesus went through before his death on Calvary. Also known as the Way of the Cross, or Via Crucis, this devotion is very popular during the season of Lent, as people meditate on the Passion and Death of Christ. This practice started during the 14th century by the Franciscan Monks, and St. Leonard of Port Maurice preached frequently about this devotion in the 18th century. Finally Pope Clement XII in 1735 gave the final guidelines, fixing the number of Stations at 14, commemorating the events related in the Gospel and from early tradition. Usually the Stations are erected on the walls of the Church, 7 on each side, but they may be placed outdoors too, as one can see in Church gardens and Retreat Houses. Most of the time, the Stations are prayed in the Church, with the people staying in their places, and genuflecting between each Station, as the leader and the altar servers move from one Station to another.

The customary 14 Stations are as follows:
1. Jesus is condemned to death           
2. Jesus accepts His Cross               
3. Jesus falls the first time.               
4. Jesus meets his mother Mary.           
5. Simon of Cyrene helps Jesus carry the Cross   
6. Veronica wipes the face of Jesus.           
7. Jesus falls the second time.               
8. Jesus consoles the women of Jerusalem
9. Jesus falls the third time.
10. Jesus is stripped of his garments.
11. Jesus is nailed to the Cross.
12. Jesus dies on the Cross.
13. Jesus is taken down from the Cross.
14. Jesus is laid to rest in a tomb.

In 1975, Pope Paul VI approved a new series of Stations that are based on the Gospel. They start with the Last Supper and end with the Resurrection. The Pope leads the Stations every Good Friday in the Colosseo in Rome, while many pilgrims to the Holy Land pray the Stations right along the Via Dolorosa (Way of Sorrows), the same street on which Jesus was led to be crucified.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Carrying our cross

Adolphe Bouguerreau  - Compassion
We are invited today to follow Jesus and carry our cross. Of course we cannot do this by ourselves. We need His help to do what He did as He headed towards Calvary for crucifixion. Our crosses may take many forms: a handicapped child, an abusive or alcoholic spouse, a troubled teenager, an annoying neighbor, an obnoxious or lazy co-worker, disruptive students in class, a parent fighting cancer or heart disease, a tyrannical boss - all of which can be truly heavy crosses to carry. 
Jesus not only accepted His cross, but also embraced it. Accepting our cross is tough enough, but to embrace it is asking for the impossible. Yet, it’s only when we let Jesus help us carry it that its weight starts to feel lighter. Maybe our burdens and crosses appear heavy because Jesus is not on them, they are crosses not crucifixes. When we see our cross as a crucifix, with Jesus is nailed to it, then the weight becomes less to bear, because He takes on His sturdy shoulders the extra weight that we deem unbearable.
We adore you o Christ, and we praise You, because by Your Holy Cross, You have redeemed the world.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Ash Wednesday

Repent and Believe in the Gospel
At the start of this Lenten season, we reflect on three important phrases which the priest will say while marking our foreheads with ashes:
“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return”
“Turn away from sin, and believe in the Gospel”
“Repent and believe in the Good News of Jesus Christ.”

Pope Benedict XVI receives the ashes from a Cardinal
Imposition of the ashes on the head, as is customary in Europe
It is interesting to note that in European countries, including Italy and Malta, the ashes are placed or dropped on top of the head, instead of marked on the forehead as is done in the USA. I also have a custom of asking the people to bring back the old palms from last year’s Palm Sunday and I will burn them a few days before, and use the ashes from the burned palms for the celebration of Ash Wednesday. This also shows the continuity between one year and another, from ashes to palms, and from palms to ashes. It is also a reminder of the stark fact that from dust we came, and to dust we will return, as the first phrase proclaims. Some parishes in New York replace the holy water fonts with ashes instead of holy water during Lent.
I invite you to journey with me as I share with you during the next 40 days, reflections and meditations that will help you get closer to the crucified Jesus. 
We adore you o Christ, and we praise You, because by Your Holy Cross, You have redeemed the world.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

From our past Presidents

We’re in between the birthdays of two great American presidents, George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. Here are 10 social and political guidelines drafted by Abraham Lincoln, which should come handy and helpful in many situations:

You cannot bring prosperity by discouraging thrift.
You cannot help small men by tearing down big men.
You cannot strengthen the weak by weakening the strong.
You cannot lift the wage earner by pulling down the wage payer.
You cannot help the poor man by destroying the rich.
You cannot keep out of trouble by spending more than your income.
You cannot further brotherhood of man by inciting class hatred.
You cannot establish security on borrowed money.
You cannot build character and courage by taking away man’s initiative and independence.
You cannot help men permanently by doing for them what they could and should do for themselves.

And here are 3 good quotes by George Washington:
“Associate with men of good quality if you esteem your own reputation; for it is better to be alone than in bad company.”
“It is impossible to rightly govern a nation without God and the Bible.”
“Be courteous to all, but intimate with few, and let those few be well tried before you give them your confidence.”

Monday, February 20, 2012

2 new American Saints - Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha

Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha, the Lily of the Mohawks
Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha, informally known as Lily of the Mohawks was born in 1656 of a Mohawk chief father, and a Roman Catholic Algonquin mother. Tekakwitha was born in the Mohawk community of Ossernenon near present-day Auriesville, New York. When Tekakwitha was four, she contracted smallpox and she was left with poor eyesight, and unsightly scars on her face. This disease outbreak took the lives of her brother and both her parents. She was then adopted by her uncle, and as the adopted daughter of the chief, many young men sought her hand in marriage, in spite of her disfigured face. She realized that this was only for political purposes and was disgusted by the idea of a loveless marriage. During this time she took an interest in the Roman Catholic faith. Her clan then settled on the north side of the Mohawk River, near what is now Fonda, New York. 

While living here, at the age of 20, Tekakwitha was baptized on Easter Sunday, April 18, 1676. In 1679 Kateri took her vows as a nun and lived a life dedicated to prayer, penance, and care for the sick and aged. A year later, on April 17, 1680, Tekakwitha died at the age of 24. Her last words are said to have been ‘Jesus, I love You!’  Tekakwitha was beatified by Blessed Pope John Paul II in 1980. Both Blessed Marianne and Blessed Kateri will be canonized on October 21, 2012 at St Peter’s Basilica, Rome.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

2 new American Saints - Blessed Marianne Cope

Blessed Marianne Cope, the 3rd American Saint
Just after the ceremony of the 22 Cardinals was finished, the Pope informed the congregation that he would canonize seven new saints, among them two Americans: Blessed Marianne Cope was born on January 23, 1838 and came to America from Germany as a one-year old baby with her family, who became American citizens while settling in Utica, New York. Marianne became a member of the Sisters of Saint Francis of Syracuse, N.Y. After 50 different religious organizations declined the offer, in 1883 Mother Marianne Cope accepted the invitation to go to Hawaii with 6 others nuns to care for the lepers on the island of Moloka’i. Mother Marianne met Fr. Damien de Veuster for the first time in 1884.  In 1887 a new government took charge of the islands and closed the Oahu hospital and receiving station, thereby reinforcing the policy of isolating patients at Molokai.  After an offer from the Bishop to provide funds for establishment for the now-homeless women and girls at the Molokai settlement, the government asked for Mother Marianne's help.  Her eager acceptance took her to Molokai just several months before the death of Father Damien. 

Blessed Marianne next to the deceased body of  Fr Damien
Her move there in November 1888 was intended both to care for the dying Father Damien, and to assume his burdens. After his death Blessed Marianne took charge of the Boys Home at Kalawao for 5 years until the arrival of the Sacred Heart Brothers.  She spent the rest of her life caring for the lepers and died of natural causes on August 9, 1918 at the age of 80. Unlike Fr Damien, she never contracted leprosy. Blessed Marianne Cope was beatified by Pope Benedict in 2005. Fr Damien himself was canonized on October 11, 2009.

She will be canonized on October 21, along with Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha and 5 others. In tomorrow’s post I will give a brief biography of Blessed Kateri.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

A Maltese Cardinal

Cardinal Prospero Grech OSA
Among the 22 new Cardinals being elected today is the second Maltese Cardinal ever to wear the red hat. Mgr Prospero Grech OSA who hails from Vittoriosa, was born on December 24, 1925. He joined the Augustinian Order in 1943 and three years later was sent to Rome to further his theological studies. He was ordained priest on March 25, 1950. The new Cardinal has been working with Pope Benedict XVI for 20 years. Their working relationship started when Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. It continued to develop when Mgr Grech was nominated member of the Pontifical Theological Academy. The first Maltese Cardinal was Fabrizio Sceberras Testaferrata (1757-1843), Apostolic Nuncio and, subsequently, a prominent figure in the Roman Curia. Mgr Grech’s election to the College of Cardinals is, first and foremost, a personal honor. It signifies the great esteem in which he is held by both the Pontiff and also the Holy See. The nomination is also of particular privilege for the Order of St Augustine. He will be the first Augustinian cardinal in 111 years. His nomination is recognition of the bountiful contribution that the Church in Malta has made and continues to make to the universal Church.
One of the Cardinals receiving the symbolic red biretta
The other Cardinals from the North American continent are: Card. Timothy Dolan of New York, Card. Edwin O’Brien who works in the Vatican and Card. Christopher Collins of Toronto, Canada. With the creation of 22 new Cardinals, the College of Cardinals now has 213 members of whom 125, being under the age of eighty, are eligible to vote in an eventual conclave for the election of a new Pope. The non electors, that is Cardinals over the age of eighty and ineligible to vote in a conclave, now number 88. Pope Benedict XVI has created eighty-four cardinals in the four consistories of his pontificate. The current members of the College of Cardinals come from seventy-one States, distributed as follows: Europe 119, North America (U.S.A. and Canada) 21, Latin America 32, Africa 17, Asia 20 and Oceania 4.

Friday, February 17, 2012

7 Servants of Mary

The 7 Servants of Mary
Can you imagine seven prominent men of Boston or New York or London banding together, leaving their homes and professions, and going into solitude for a life directly given to God? That is what happened in the cultured and prosperous city of Florence in the middle of the 13th century. The city was torn with political strife, morals were low and religion seemed meaningless. In 1240 seven noblemen of Florence mutually decided to withdraw from the city to a solitary place for prayer and direct service of God. Their initial difficulty was providing for their dependents, since two were still married and two were widowers. Their aim was to lead a life of penance and prayer, but they soon found themselves disturbed by constant visitors from Florence.
The statue of Our Lady of Sorrows, Rabat Malta
In 1244, under the direction of St. Peter of Verona, O.P., this small group adopted a religious habit similar to the Dominican habit, choosing to live under the Rule of St. Augustine and adopting the name of the Servants of Mary. The new Order took a form more like that of the mendicant friars than that of the older monastic orders. Community members combined monastic life and active ministry. In the monastery, they led a life of prayer, work and silence while in the active apostolate they engaged in parochial work, teaching, preaching and other ministerial activities. They were especially devoted to the Mother of God, with special reference to her sorrows. They are also known as the Seven Holy Founders and the Servants of Mary. The church celebrates their liturgical feastday today, February 17. The feast of Our Lady of Sorrows is on September 15, but in Malta, a special devotion in her honor is held on the Friday before Palm Sunday, with processions in all the parishes. 

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Paternal Grandparents

Joseph and Maria Cassar in 1920, with 2 of their children, Julian standing and Concetta sitting
I like you to meet today my father’s parents, whom I actually never met myself, because they both died before I was born. My grandfather Joseph Cassar was born in Carthage, Tunisia in 1885, while my grandmother Maria Magri was born in St Julian’s in 1884. They were married on June 28, 1913 and had 7 children, Julian, Concetta, Costanza, Carmelo, my father John, Joseph and Magdalen. Incidentally my godmother was Concetta and she is still alive in a nursing home, aged 96. All the other siblings have died, my father being the last to leave us on January 4, 2002. My father was only 10 years old when his father died on October 19, 1935, and it must have been very hard for Maria to raise 7 children by herself, even though the majority of them were teenagers, with the youngest, my aunt Magdalen aged 7. My grandmother died on December 3, 1950. For the records, it’s important to say that my grandfather was the founder of the Circolo San Giuliano in 1927, along with a great uncle Fr Paul Galea. Within this social club they also started the music section, with the help of bandmaster Angelo Pullicino, thus becoming the St Julian’s Band Club .

6 of the 7 Cassars in 1936, my father John is seen standing on the right.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Maternal Grandparents

                     Grandparents Paul and Rosina Scicluna, with their first 3 children
From time to time, I like to go back in time through some historical photos and introduce you to some members of my family. Today I chose to talk about my grandparents on my mother’s side, whom I remember very well. My grandfather Paul Scicluna was born in Valletta on February 16, 1908 and died on October 19, 1985. He was a well-known baker and worked with the famed Valletta bakers Bonaci and CafĂ© Cordina, until he opened his own baker shop next to our house in 1960. I remember him baking cheese-cakes, pastries and all kinds of delicacies, besides many a wedding cake, including my own parents’ cake in 1948. Even though in this picture he still had a full head of hair, I always remember him as bald as I am, and he was my godfather on my Confirmation day in 1959. My grandmother Rosina Galea was born in Nadur, Gozo on October 2, 1905 and died on June 19, 1995. She bore 6 children, and of course was always a housewife, especially during the war years which must have been tremendously uncomfortable, strenuous and unpredictable. In the above picture taken around 1933, they are seen with my mother Mary, probably aged 4, and two other uncles, Anthony and Joseph, who died in 1969. Three more children were to follow, Charles, Maggie and Marcel.
My confirmation in 1959 with my grandfather Paul as godfather

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

God is Love

The Bleeding Heart, my favorite flower, known as Dicentra spectabilis
God is Love. Love is the Lord of Life. Love gives Himself to you as the Living Bread of Heaven to sustain you through all life’s difficulties. Love is Jesus Christ who is the Truth, the Way and the Life.
Love demands openness, brings sincerity to all our actions, never makes excuses.
Love is Truth, as it enables us to be honest at all cost, never compromises the consciences of others, penetrates to our inner being, allows us to see ourselves as we really are.
Love is the Way, as it give at all cost, cares for all, shares oneself with others in humility, forgives to the umpteenth time, always says “I am sorry” for any wrong, evaluates but does not judge, guarantees tolerance, seeks a blending busyness and contemplation, binds the spiritual and sensual, discerns the important from the trivial, shares the joys and sadness of others, recognizes others as our fellow sisters and brothers.
Love is Life, as it offers vitality and hope to everyday, enjoys the eternal now for all its richness, cascades through all our emotions and endeavors, reaches out, ascending new horizons, brings fulfillment, eternal joy and serenity, is never exhausted.
Love is saying “I love you” at the end of each day, even when the day has been awful. Love seeks out the new day for a new beginning. 

Monday, February 13, 2012

The Gift of Trees

One of my original watercolors paintings, "Dead Trees Lake"
There are zillions of them around the world, from the huge sequoias and the California redwoods, to the tiny shrub or seedling that will eventually grow into a huge tree. Jesus mentioned in one of his parables that a tiny mustard seed can grow into a large bush that can serve as a nesting place for many birds. So many of them are destroyed by fire every year, but environmentalists tell us that that is not so bad, because trees have to regenerate themselves from time to time, and sure enough, no sooner the stumps have disappeared that a new seedling starts to grow, and within a decade the same forest is filled again with new trees....the life cycle goes on. This next picture shows what I mean, a photo I took in 2007 on Dooley Mountain, 20 miles from Baker City OREGON.
Tamarack trees growing anew on Dooley Mountain, Oregon
This is a poem written by Sgt Joyce Kilmer (1886-1918) a member of the 165th infantry division
                                                             I think that I shall never see
                                                                 A poem lovely as a tree

                                                     A tree whose hungry mouth is pressed
                                                    against the earth’s sweet flowing breast

                                                           A tree that looks at God all day
                                                          and lifts her leafy arms to pray

                                                        A tree that may in summer wear
                                                             a nest of robins in her hair,

                                                         Upon whose bosom snow has lain
                                                            who intimately lives with rain

                                                         Poems are made by fools like me
                                                           But only God can make a tree.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

The Beauty of Snow

The Elkhorn Mountains, near Baker City, OREGON
It has been a frigid winter in Europe, with snow falling in Rome, Sicily and even as far south as Tunisia and Tripoli, Libya. Unfortunately my friends in Malta were not so lucky to see snow for the first time ever. Obviously here in Eastern Oregon, at an elevation of 3,500 feet above sea level, snow is as common as the air we breath and the sun that warms us from time to time. Average temperatures during the day are about 25 degrees Fahrenheit during the day and about 15 degrees Fahrenheit at night. This winter we had more snow in the mountains than in town, and of course we always pray for moisture in some form or another, especially for our farmers, who depend on snow and rain for their hay and other crops, and to feed their cattle, especially in the spring and summer when the snow melts and descends to the rivers and creeks. The above photo and the one below shows a little bit of the beauty of snow, when it creates a winter wonderland, falling so softly on trees and creating a picture of sheer brilliance.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Our Lady of Lourdes

In the year 2002, I was privileged to visit Lourdes for the first and only time, so far. I was spending an extended few weeks in Malta and was asked to accompany a group of Maltese pilgrims as their chaplain for a week. What impressed me the most was the holiness of the entire place, and even though the sanctuary and its grounds extended to a few square miles, once you entered the gates, it was like entering a church - everyone was reverent, respectful of each other, and of course there was a mystical aura of prayer all around. I was also privileged to lead one decade of the Rosary in Maltese while pilgrims walked aux flambeaux around the promenade, leading to the sanctuary.
Stained glass window in St Francis Cathedral day-chapel
The Marian Apparitions at Lourdes were reported in 1858 by Saint Bernadette Soubirous, a 14-year-old miller's daughter from the town of Lourdes in southern France. From February 11 to July 16, 1858, she reported 18 apparitions of "a Lady," and despite initial skepticism from the Catholic Church, these claims were eventually declared to be worthy of belief after a canonical investigation, and the apparitions were approved by Pope Pius IX in 1862. So far 68 miracles have been scientifically approved, and between 6 to 8 million pilgrims visit Lourdes every year.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Saint Paul, Patron of Malta

St Paul in Malta, painting by Stefano Erardi at Rabat church, Malta
 This is the day when the entire country of Malta stops in thanksgiving to the Lord for an event that turned our lives around. St Paul brought Christianity to Malta, and it has survived the Romans, the Arabs, the Normans, the Spanish, the French and the British, all of whom had their own beliefs and influences. And yet the Maltese people remained strong in their adherence to their faith. Granted that materialism and consumerism as well as the invasion of social media have taken their toll on many countries in Europe, and Malta, though not unblemished, has withstood the waves that have driven Christianity off the agenda of so many Catholic European countries. I pray this year that Catholicism continues just as strong in the decades to come.

Many are the paintings depicting the shipwreck of Saint Paul on the shores of Malta. Quite a few churches and smaller chapels are dedicated to him and many paintings are visible in churches and Museums.
The cave where St Paul stayed during his 3 months in Malta
While stranded in Malta for three months, St Paul is said to have stayed in a rock-hewn cave, which is still visible and visited by many tourists, including Pope John Paul II in 1990 and Pope Benedict XVI in 2010.
Statue of St Paul, sculpted out of solid wood by Melchiore Gafa
An artistic statue carved of wood by Melchiore Gafa is carried in procession through the streets of the capital city Valletta on the evening of February 10, and weather permitting, thousands of Maltese faithful will witness this manifestation of faith.
San Pawl Missier taghna, itlob ghalina (St Paul, our Father, pray for us)

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Malta's National Holy Day

An original painting of St Paul's shipwreck, by Fortunino Matania
February 10 is the National Holy Day of Malta. It is different than a holiday, because even though Independence Day is on September 21, and Republic Day is December 13, while Victory Day is September 8, in the heart of the majority of the people, this is the feast when Christianity arrived to the shores of Malta. It’s the day we celebrate the feast of the shipwreck of Saint Paul on the island of Malta in the year 60 AD. It’s strange that people celebrate a tragic event which could have been even more catastrophic, but none of the sailors were killed on that eventful day, thanks to the protection of St Paul, who was accompanied by St Luke on their way to Rome. The people of Malta are described in the Bible as welcoming, courteous and generous, a tribute that had come down over two millennia and something that characterizes the heart of the Maltese people.

The 2 small islands of St Paul in Malta where St Paul was shipwrecked in 60 AD

This is how the Acts of the Apostle relates this historic day: “Once we had reached safety we learned that the island was called Malta. The natives showed us extraordinary hospitality; they lit a fire and welcomed all of us because it had begun to rain and was cold. Paul had gathered a bundle of brushwood and was putting it on the fire when a viper, escaping from the heat, fastened on his hand. When the natives saw the snake hanging from his hand, they said to one another, “This man must certainly be a murderer; though he escaped the sea, Justice has not let him remain alive.” But he shook the snake off into the fire and suffered no harm. They were expecting him to swell up or suddenly to fall down dead but, after waiting a long time and seeing nothing unusual happen to him, they changed their minds and began to say that he was a god. In the vicinity of that place were lands belonging to a man named Publius, the chief of the island. He welcomed us and received us cordially as his guests for three days. It so happened that the father of Publius was sick with a fever and dysentery. Paul visited him and, after praying, laid his hands on him and healed him. After this had taken place, the rest of the sick on the island came to Paul and were cured. They paid us great honor and when we eventually set sail they brought us the provisions we needed.” (Acts 28: 1-10)

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

St Josephine Bakhita

Most people may not have heard of this saint, but please, read on - her story is truly remarkable. Early details about Bakhita are not fully known. She was born about 1869 in the western Sudanese region of Darfur. Her prosperous father was brother of the village chief and she was surrounded by a loving family of three brothers and three sisters. But aged 9, she was kidnapped by Arab slave traders, and was cruelly forced to walk about 600 miles in her bare feet. Over the course of twelve years (1877–1889) she was resold again three more times and then given away. The trauma of her abduction caused her to forget her own name; she took one given to her by the slavers, bakhita, Arabic for lucky. She was also forcibly converted to Islam.
In 1883 Bakhita was bought by the Italian Vice Consul Callisto Legnani, who was a very kind man. For the first time since her captivity she was able to enjoy some peace and tranquility. Two years later, when Legnani himself had to retun to Italy, Bakhita begged to go with him. In April 1885 they arrived at the Italian port of Genoa, and she was greeted by Augusto Michieli, who took her to the family villa near Venice. She lived there for three years and became nanny to the Michieli's daughter Alice. The Michaelis bought some property in Sudan and wanted to move back there, but Josephine refused.

St Josephine with some students in Schio, Italy
On 9 January 1890 Bakhita was baptized with the names of Giuseppina Margherita. On the same day she was also confirmed and received communion from the Cardinal patriarch of Venice himself. On December 7, 1893 she entered the novitiate of the Canossian Sisters and on December 8, 1896 she took her vows, welcomed by the future Pope Pius X. In 1902 she was assigned to the Canossian convent at Schio, in the northern Italian province of Vicenza, where she spent the rest of her life. During her 42 years in Schio, Bakhita was employed as the cook, sacristan and door keeper and was in frequent contact with the local community. 

Her gentleness, calming voice, and ever-present smile became well known. People still refer to her as Sor Moretta ("little brown sister") or Madre Moretta ("black mother.") Her last years were marked by pain and sickness. She used a wheelchair, but she retained her cheerfulness. Bakhita died on February 8, 1947. For three days her body lay on display while thousands of people arrived to pay their respects. On May 17, 1992, she was declared Blessed and given February 8 as her feast day. On October 1, 2000, she was canonized and became Saint Josephine Bakhita, a modern African saint, and as a statement against the brutal history of slavery, becoming the patron saint of Sudan.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

The greatest things in life

Bald eagle flying over Richland, OREGON  Saturday February 4, 2012
The greatest Joy......................................Giving
The greatest loss.........................................Loss of self-respect
The most satisfying work..........................Helping others
The ugliest personality trait..................Selfishness
The most endangered species..................Dedicated leaders

The greatest "shot in the arm"..............Encouragement
The most useless thing to do ...................Worry
The greatest problem to overcome.........Fear                                                                                      
The most crippling failure disease............Excuses
The best sleeping-pill......................Peace of Mind 

The most powerful force in life...................Love
The most dangerous neighbor....................A gossiper
The world's most incredible computer......The brain !
The worst thing to be without....................Hope
The deadliest weapon................................. The tongue

The most power-filled words......................”I Can”
The second most power-filled words.........”Thank You”
The third most power-filled words............”I’m sorry”
The greatest asset..........................................Faith
The most worthless emotion........................Self-pity 

The most prized possession..........................Integrity
The most beautiful attire................................A SMILE!
The most powerful way to communicate......Prayer
The most contagious spirit.............................Enthusiasm
The most important thing in life...................GOD

Monday, February 6, 2012

St Paul Miki and companions

The Japanese martyrs in a painting by an unknown artist
The 26 Martyrs of Japan we honor today refers to a group of Christians who were executed by crucifixion on February 5, 1597 at Nagasaki. Their martyrdom is especially significant in the history of Roman Catholicism in Japan. As many as 300,000 Christians were in Japan towards the end of the 16th century, but most of them met complications from competition between the missionary groups. Christianity was suppressed, and it was during this time that the 26 martyrs were executed. By 1630, Christianity had been driven underground. Two hundred and fifty years later, when Christian missionaries returned to Japan, they found a community of "hidden Christians" that had survived underground. 
On February 5, 1597, 26 Christians – six European Franciscan missionaries, three Japanese Jesuits and seventeen Japanese laymen including three young boys, who were all members of the Third Order of St. Francis – were executed by crucifixion in Nagasaki on the orders of Hideyoshi Toyotomi. These individuals were raised on crosses and then pierced through with spears. While there were many more martyrs, the first martyrs came to be especially revered, the most celebrated of which was Paul Miki. The Martyrs of Japan were canonized on June 8, 1862 by Blessed Pius IX. Unfortunately Nagasaki would become known as the second city on which the atom bomb was dropped during World War II, the other city being Hiroshima, also in Japan.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

New York Giants Superbowl Champions

 Congratulations to the New York Giants for a 4th Superbowl victory. Congratulations to Eli Manning, MVP and Tom Coughlin, manager.

Superbowl families - part 2

Jim (49ers) and John (Ravens)  Harbaugh
Another family that could very have been in this year’s final is the Harbaugh family who has two sons, both coaches, John of the Baltimore Ravens and Jim of the San Francisco 49ers, both of whom were eliminated, possibly by sheer bad luck in the semi-finals. When they played each other on Thanksgiving Day 2011, interviewers were asking the losing Harbaugh about his reaction to losing to his brother. He answered simply by saying - “this is just a game, the biggest victory was won by my parents who tomorrow celebrate 50 years of happy marriage!”

The Harbaugh brothers with their parents, Thanksgiving Day 2011
We have a lot to learn from the Mannings and the Harbaughs, especially about family unity, perseverance, commitment, sacrifice and brotherly love.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Superbowl families - part 1

The Manning family in 1981
The Superbowl is all about football, commercials that cost $3.5 million per 30 seconds, and all about snacks, beer, and parties that many people organize to watch the game together. But there is more to Superbowl than this. It’s also about Super families that sacrifice their lives to see one of their sons appear on this world stage and hopefully one day be crowned as a Superbowl champion. That happened precisely to the Manning family, where both Eli and Payton won Superbowl victories for their teams, the NY Giants and Indianapolis Colts respectively. Eli has the opportunity to repeat this feat again tomorrow. Being sons of a former NFL player, Archie, the Mannings had another son Cooper, who also played football but had to retire early because of injury. The above photo shows the Manning family with baby Eli and two older siblings, Cooper in the middle and Payton in the foreground. Below are other family photos of the Mannings growing up.

Left to right: Cooper, Eli, Payton.  18 was Archie's number at Ole Miss

I guess you know who everyone is by now.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Saint Blase

Many people today head to churches to have their throats blessed on the occasion of the feast of Saint Blase, bishop and martyr. St Blase lived in the 4th century and was a physician, and bishop of Sebastea (modern Sivas, Turkey). He was martyred by being beaten, attacked with iron carding combs, and beheaded. In iconography, Blase is often shown with the instruments of his martyrdom, steel combs. The similarity of these instruments of torture to wool combs led to his adoption as the patron saint of wool combers in particular, and the wool trade in general. He may also be depicted with crossed candles. Such crossed candles are used for the blessing of throats on the feast day of Blase, the day after Candlemas on the Roman Catholic calendar of saints. Blase is traditionally believed to intercede in cases of throat illnesses. He was particularly remembered for dislodging a fish-bone in the throat of a young child, a miracle just before his death which led to many invoking prayers to him for protection of all throat ailments.
“Through the intercession of Saint Blase, Bishop and Martyr, may God protect you from all ailments of the throat and every other illness, in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. AMEN”