Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Prayer for the Church

Heavenly Father, I pray today for our church, the same church you instituted 2000 years ago. It has endured persecutions, unfair attacks and criticisms, it has survived heresies and schisms, it has weathered inquisitions and apostasies, but is still going strong. With the 12 apostles as the home base, we are now up to 1.2 billion members. Grant all these Catholics strong adherence to what they believe and profess and may they be an example to others who are still searching for the truth.
We pray for our Pope who has been an indefatigable witness to his mission to bring everyone together and proclaim a church that is open and accessible to one and all. We pray for the cardinals and bishops helping him in this mission and may they in turn direct and inspire the priests and lay people entrusted in their care to preach and to embrace a message of love, compassion and true commitment to what they believe.

We pray today as the Body of Christ, all of us working for one scope, that all may be one, and as splintered as many sects and cults have become, may they realize their mistakes and come together as part of the one true church, holy, Catholic and apostolic.
We pray for more vocations to the priesthood and religious life, as we show gratitude for all the missionary priests who have been serving in foreign countries where vocations are scarce. We pray also in appreciation of our churches, Cathedrals and Basilicas where our faithful gather to worship, and may God always bless our forefathers who have sacrificed everything they had to build these monuments of faith.
And may we continue to be grateful for all that the Catholic church owns - the Bible, the Catechism, beautiful liturgy, convents and monasteries, retreat houses, chapels and shrines, statues and religious art, and most importantly, what is in our heart, the belief and hope of an even stronger church, as long as we stay close to its founder, our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Prayer for the Earth

Heavenly Father, we thank you for all that you gave us, and for all that we take for granted. We especially thank you today for the beautiful earth you gave us, this land we inhabit, this place we call home, this incredible planet, possibly one of thousands, maybe millions that are spread around our universe.
We are grateful for giving us everything we need, for creating seas and skies, water and immense oceans, trees and plants and flowers of every color and texture. We are grateful for the variety of animals you placed on this earth, the wild ones and the tame ones, for fish and birds that populate seas and skies with their song, hues and agility to move around so skillfully, and for those we have domesticated to become our companions and pets.
We are grateful for the creatures we use for food, for the staples we get from nature itself, the nutrition we receive from herbs, fruit, vegetables, berries and everything that nourishes us. Remind us always to improve on what you gave us, and never damage, destroy or annihilate the many little things we have around us, because we think they are not useful to us and our plans for survival.
We thank you for the ingenuity of the human body, for creating us in such a perfect form, male and female, with the intricacies and details that makes procreation and the continuation of the human race possible through the act of love between a man and a woman. We thank you for human interaction, for eyesight and speech, for the gift and use of our hands and feet, for a heart beating for a lifetime, for blood that circulates through miles of veins and arteries, for muscles and bones that make us move, twist and turn, run for joy and leap to lofty heights.
For this earth and the planets that give light and create darkness, we are grateful. May we never ignore or underestimate your greatness, your power and your love for all of us. Amen.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Emvin Cremona's paintings

Angel in dome of Annunciation, Balzan church
My favorite artist has become over the past few years the Maltese artist Emvin Cremona. I have shared a few of his sacred art paintings from various churches. Here are a few from two of the churches in Malta where his artistry is spread out across the ceiling for everyone to admire. The first one is from the church in Balzan, with an image of an Angel, and another one shows a section of the smaller dome and side paintings. 
Section of the same church in Balzan
The second church is the one dedicated to St Cajetan in Hamrun and shows Christ the teacher in the apse, and a detail of the same image. I have six photos of paintings of his in my office, and everyone who sees them is attracted to his style. I guess I’m getting them hooked  on Cremona, just as I did over the last few years. While visiting my family later on in the spring, I will make it a point to photograph every remaining painting of his, some of which are in smaller churches and in private collections. (please click on each photo to see the artist's beauty in greater detail)
Apse in St Cajetan, Hamrun Church
Detail of Christ the Teacher

Sunday, April 27, 2014

From Karol to Pope to Saint

During the 27 years of his Pontificate, Pope John Paul II would beatify 1340 holy people, and canonize 483 Saints. He visited 129 countries and travelled 750,000 miles, to reach the millions of people who flocked to see him celebrate Mass, speak to them, or just to get a glimpse of the successor of Peter. He died on April 2, 2005 after 27 years of his Papacy. 
He will certainly always be remembered as the Great John Paul for helping to exterminate Communism in the Soviet Union and bringing peace to his native Poland, and also for supporting Solidarnosc, the Solidarity Movement that brought peace and harmony among his fellow Polish people. He was very devoted to the Blessed Mother, and in fact his motto was Totus Tuus (Totally Yours,) also becoming a beacon for Life—emphasizing the Gospel of Life while attacking the culture of death.  He was beatified on May 1, 2011 and canonized on April 27, 2014. His Liturgical Feast Day is  October 22nd. 
Forgiving his would-be assailant in prison in 1982

These are some of the major Encyclicals he wrote: Redemptor Hominis 1979 - Dives in Misericordia 1980 - Laborem Exercens 1981 - Redemptoris Mater 1987 - Centesimus Annus 1991 - Evangelium Vitae 1995 - Ecclesia de Eucharistia 2003
A scene from the double canonization held earlier today

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Pope St John Paul II

Pope St John Paul II (1920-2005)
Born May 18, 1920 in Wadowice, Poland, he lost his mother at age 9 and his father at 21. In spite of the war, he studied at the Jagellonian University and later at the Krakow Seminary where he was ordained as a priest on November 1, 1946. Karol Wojtyla was made auxiliary bishop of Krakow in 1958 and was installed as Archbishop of Krakow in 1964 , becoming Cardinal on June 28, 1967. 
Karol Wojtyla , a few months old
On October 16, 1978 at age 58, Karol Wojtyla was elected the 264th Pope and Bishop of Rome. Within a few days, he visited Assisi, the first of 146 trips within Italy. A later visit to a Rome parish marks the start of visits to 317 of Rome’s 333 parishes. His election was a surprise election because his predecessor, Pope John Paul I, died after 33 days into his Papacy, and he was the first non-Italian Pope in almost 400 years. His reign became the second longest in history.
Fr Wojtyla as a young priest
Cardinal Wojtyla with Pope Paul VI
The day he was elected Pope, October 16, 1978

Friday, April 25, 2014

From Angelo to John to Saint

Cardinal Roncalli was elected Pope on October 28, 1958. He was chosen by his fellow Cardinals, who hoped that he would be a transitional Pope after the long papacy of Pius XII. But little did they know that he would eventually revolutionize the Catholic Church by convening the Second Ecumenical Vatican Council, gathering all the Bishops in Rome, during which many changes were implemented—particularly the way we celebrate the Mass. People said that he attempted to open a window for a little fresh air into the Church, but he got a hurricane instead. He was a very pastoral Pope, beloved by everyone, and remembered for his practical one liners. Once he was asked how many people work in the Vatican and his quick witty response was “About half!” 
The Council was completed by his successor, Pope Paul VI. St John XXIII died on June 3, 1963 and was beatified on September 3, 2000.  He is canonized on April 27, 2014. His motto was: Obedientia et Pax (Obedience and Peace.) His liturgical Feast Day is on October 11th
Signing the Documents of Vatican II
During one of his St Peter's balcony speeches

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Pope St John XXIII

Pope St John XXIII (1881-1963)
Pope St John XXIII will be canonized this Sunday along with Pope St John Paul II. Born Angelo Roncalli in Sotto il Monte in Bergamo, Northern Italy, on November 25, 1881, he worked with his family on the farm until he started studies to become  priest. He was the 4th child of 14, and was ordained to the priesthood in 1904, and worked as the Bishop’s secretary, and as seminary teacher. He was drafted as a chaplain and stretcher-bearer during World War I. Angelo never aspired for any promotions, and even his family remained farmers in their home, even though they could have moved in nicer residences.
As a young priest with two of his brothers
He was consecrated Bishop on March 19, 1925 and served in various posts including appointments as a papal nuncio in France, and a delegate to Bulgaria and Greece.
He was created Cardinal on January 12, 1953 and was made Patriarch of Venice. 
Roncalli was elected Pope on 28 October 1958 at the age of 76 after eleven ballots. No one could have been more surprised with the election than Roncalli himself, who had come to Rome with a return train ticket to Venice. He was the first pope to take the pontifical name of "John" upon election in more than 500 years. (to be continued tomorrow)
As Bishop Roncalli
As Patriarch Cardinal of Venice

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Two Saintly Popes

This coming Sunday is a historic day for the Catholic Church as two recent Popes will be elevated to Sainthood. Over the next 4 days I will review their lives and their Papacies, which anyone 60 years and older remembers so well, especially the long pontificate of Blessed John Paul II. However Blessed John XXIII also left his imprint on the church by convening the Second Vatican Council. As the church canonizes these two saintly Popes, we honor a tradition that is rich in history, but devoid of papal Saints over the last 700 years.
In fact, since the 13th Century, only two Popes have been elevated to Sainthood. Since Pope St. Celestine, who was Pope in 1294, only Pope Pius V and Pope Pius X have been canonized—Pius V reigning as Pope between 1566 and 1572, and Pius X reigning around 100 years ago between 1903 and 1914, until he died on August 20th.
And now we will have two more Saintly Popes—Pope St. John XXIII, who reigned between 1958 and 1963, and Pope St. John Paul II, who reigned between 1978 and 2005. Because I remember both Popes—the first one during my childhood years and the second in my priestly years—I can share some insights into how they not only influenced the Church, but also the entire world.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

One more procession

The statue of the Risen Christ at Valletta, Malta
Yes, there is one more procession to write about in my home country of Malta. This is held on Easter Sunday in a number of parishes, mostly in the morning but a few in the late afternoon. The statue carried around the respective village this time represents the Risen Christ, accompanied by clergy, other post-passion characters and the a festive marching band. These photos were taken in 2010 in the capital city of Valletta.
St Helen and King Constantine at the procession

Monday, April 21, 2014


God, give us eyes to see
the beauty of the Spring,
And to behold Your majesty
in every living thing -

And may we see in lacy leaves
and every budding flower
The Hand that rules the universe
with gentleness and power -

And may this Easter grandeur
that Spring lavishly imparts
Awaken faded flowers of faith
lying dormant in our hearts,

And give us ears to hear, dear God,
the Springtime song of birds
With messages more meaningful
than man's often empty words

Telling harried human beings
who are lost in dark despair -
'Be like us and do not worry
for God has you in His care.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

He is Risen

My first Easter at St Francis parish in Bend, Oregon.
Wishing all the visitors of this blog a most Blessed and Holy Easter as I celebrate my first Holy Week and Easter season in Bend..With 4 adult Baptisms, 12 confirmations and receptions into the church, we had many visitors and huge congregations at each Mass. I hope people will continue to honor the Risen Lord with their presence.The beautifully-decorated altar by Lupita and Rick Wesseler included a very impressive empty tomb in front of the altar and beautiful display of Easter lilies and flowers.

The empty tomb and burial cloths - He is truly risen!

Cross at the entrance of the St Francis Center

Wishing you all a most Blessed Easter

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Easter Food blessing

The gathering for the Easter Food Blessing
At noon today a few parishioners showed up with their food baskets for a simple ceremony where the food they brought was blessed in the church. Most of them were of Polish, Ukranian and Eastern European descent who are very familiar with Easter food blessings in their homelands. I hope this is a tradition which will gain more popularity, like all the others I started this Holy Week.

Easter Food

Maltese figolli
It is quite a popular tradition that people bring Easter food baskets to church to be blessed, a custom which I am starting today in my new parish. Some photos may be posted later of this event, but many cultures have various food that are popular in their countries. The Polish are very fond of oplatki, wafers with religious embossed images. In Malta the most popular food is the Figolla - a pastry in the shape of a basket, heart, bear, rabbit, bird, butterfly, etc. This was one of my parents' specialty as they created these figolli for us over the years. My mother did the baking and my father did the decorations with icing. The method is very simple, creating two similar pieces of dough in the shape you prefer, then put almond filling inside, and press the edges together. After the baking is done, the pastry is decorated with icing, with an Easter egg on top.
A selection of figolli my parents made in the mid 1990s

Friday, April 18, 2014

Foot-washing on Holy Thursday

The first group of children being presented to the congregation
The celebration of Holy Thursday at St Francis in Bend was yet another historic moment with the Mass of the Last Supper, which included the traditional foot-washing ceremony of 24 children from our school and our Faith Formation classes. The children were dressed in Middle-Eastern outfits and represented the 12 apostles, besides other characters that were important in the passion of Christ, like St Martha, St Lazarus, St Simon of Cyrene, St Veronica, St Mary Magdalene, St Dismas (the good thief,) St Lazarus and others. 
It was a very solemn and humbling moment for me personally to do what Jesus did to the apostles on the day He instituted the Eucharist and the Priesthood.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Chrism Mass

The annual Chrism Mass was held last Thursday at the Baker City Cathedral. Since priests have to travel many hundreds of miles, the Mass is held on the previous Thursday, led by Bishop Liam Cary. In most other Dioceses it is held on the morning of Holy Thursday, the day when the Eucharist and the Priesthood were instituted during the Last Supper. The priests of the Diocese concelebrated with their Bishop who consecrated the Oil of the Sick, the Oil of Catechumens and the Oil of Chrism, to be used for the various sacraments, especially Baptism, Confirmation, Holy Orders and the Anointing of the Sick. The oils were later on distributed by a hard-working staff to all the priests, to be used in their respective parishes around the Baker Diocese. The priests also had a Holy Hour together, followed by a happy hour and a nice dinner prepared by the ladies of the Altar Society of St Francis De Sales Cathedral, in Baker City. It was good to visit my former parish after 6 months, which incidentally is exactly today. Half a year in Bend already!
Group photo of all the priests with their Bishop

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The Crucifix

Crucifixion by John Martin Borg
As we enter the Holy Triduum, today I share a few images of crucifixes from various places and churches in my homeland of Malta. Each one of them is a meditation in itself.
'The Crucified' at the Carmelites Church, Valletta, Malta
A modern interpretation at the University Chapel, Tal-Qroqq, Malta
Crucifixes exhibition at Mosta, Malta