Monday, June 30, 2014

Hill of Crosses

Hill of Crosses at Siauliai, Northern Lithuania
This is a site of pilgrimage about 8 miles north of the city of ┼áiauliai, in northern Lithuania.   The Hill of Crosses has about 100 000 crosses, with the first crosses being erected here by the next-of-kin of the rebels that fell in the 1831 rebellion. The Hill of Crosses is a historical architectural monument, it is a unique composition of folk art. It attracts many pilgrims with its peace, spirituality, authenticity and sacred nature. Even more crosses appeared after the rebellion in 1863. At that time the traditions of visiting and erecting crosses on the hill of crosses were being formed. This place was visited by Pope John Paul II on September 9, 1993. 

In 2000 a Franciscan hermitage was opened nearby. Over the centuries, not only crosses, but giant crucifixes, carvings of Lithuanian patriots, statues of the Virgin Mary and thousands of tiny effigies and rosaries have been brought here by Catholic pilgrims. The exact number of crosses is unknown, but estimates put it at about 55,000 in 1990 and 100,000 in 2006.
A woman placing a cross among the 100,000 other crosses

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Saint Peter and St Paul

St Peter at Floriana church, Malta
The two pillars of the church are honored today on their liturgical feast day. Even though they became known as the most popular apostles, their beginning was not as pleasant. Peter was the rough and tough type fisherman who had to be fine-tuned and polished by Jesus and eventually became the first Pope. However there were some conflicting moments in his life, especially during Jesus’ passion when Peter three times denied even knowing Jesus. Some friend eh! However Jesus forgave him, after the triple affirmation of faith, and changing his name from Simon to Peter, the Rock, on which the church was to be built. It must have worked, because from the 12 apostles, we are now up to 1.2 billion Catholics.
St Paul in Floriana church, Malta
St Paul on the other hand was even more aggressive as he used to persecute Christians, only to be converted on his way to Damascus when Jesus appeared to him, and his complete turnaround started. He eventually traveled all over Eastern Europe, through Greece, modern day Turkey and even venturing on the sea being shipwrecked on my homeland of Malta where he baptized all the inhabitants. He also wrote letters to the many communities he visited, beautiful theological reflections which we read every Sunday in our 2nd reading at Mass. Both Peter and Paul were martyred, Peter being crucified upside down, and Paul being beheaded in Rome.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

The Heart of Mary

Painting of Mary in the parish church of Tarxien
Following the feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, today we celebrate the feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Similar to yesterday's feast, it was St John Eudes who promoted this devotion first in 1648 in the town of Autun, France, and later on in all the French dioceses. In 1799, Pope Pius VI granted the Bishop of Palermo the permission to celebrate the feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in his diocese. When the revelation of the 'Miraculous Medal" to St Catherine Laboure took place in 1830, the impetus for this devotion was even more obvious. 
"Mary" in St Augustine church Valletta
In the back of this famous medal, two hearts are seen under a cross with the letter M superimposed. The heart of Jesus is surrounded by a crown of thorns, and that of Mary pierced by a sword. The image of Mary in sacred art is one of the most popular, and in this post I include some photos of Marian paintings I discovered recently during my trip in Malta.
Madonna and child with a pomegranate
Mary's love for us all is just as powerful and consistent as that of her Son, Jesus. When we feel sad or depressed, let us go to Mary and enjoy her loving embrace given with compassion, devotion and respect.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Heart full of Love

"Light of Christ" by Anton Inglott
The feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus gained much popularity after the visions that St Margaret Mary Alacoque had from Jesus around the year 1675. The church initially had doubts about the authenticity of the visions, but approved them almost 100 years later. The feast was first celebrated in France only but was extended to the universal church in 1856 by Pope Pius IX. The Sacred Heart is often depicted in Christian art as a flaming heart shining with divine light, pierced by a lance, surrounded by a crown of thorns, surmounted by a cross, and bleeding.
The image represented here above shows a different perspective as envisioned by Maltese artist Anton Inglott. It shows Jesus’ heart aglow with love for all his people, including all of us. If we can only comprehend the sacrifices He made for us, and in spite of our weaknesses and shortcomings, He loves us unconditionally, even when we tend to take Him for granted.
May our love for Him be just as powerful and intimate. May we appreciate His endless support and care towards our well-being, represented also in the way the church, priests, sisters and other people show their affection towards everything that is Roman Catholic.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

The Perched Pigeon

During one of my recent outings and photographic walks in Malta, I came across a pigeon perched on a wall, overlooking one of the inlets, possibly admiring the setting sun. In the background were two prominent churches, the domed Carmelite church and the steeple of the Anglican church, both in Valletta. 
I zoomed into both buildings while keeping the pigeon in the foreground. She cooperated with me as she did not fly away, and apparently was cooperating with me and enjoying her 15 minutes of fame, as she turned around, showing off all her features. Enjoy these photos as much as I enjoyed snapping them.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

St John's Cathedral

Since yesterday was the feast of St John the Baptist, it is fitting that today I share with you some photos I took recently inside the massive, beautiful and recently-restored Cathedral dedicated to St John the Baptist, in the capital city of Malta, Valletta. Thousands of tourists visit this Cathedral every day, and feeling like one of them, I made sure to capture its beauty in these photos. 

It was built by the Knights of Malta around the years 1570 and 1590 by the architect Girolamo Cassar (as far as I know no relation, but you never know.) The ceiling is covered with numerous frescoes by Mattia Preti, who lived in Malta for many years, and painted many other sacred paintings in other churches and now exposed in Museums and churches. Please do click on each photo to get a bigger image.
'The Baptism of Jesus' by Mattia Preti
A marble statue behind the main altar

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

St John the Baptist

St John the Baptist at Wignacourt Palace, Malta
Certainly one of the most underrated saints in heaven is St John the Baptist. He was the same age as Jesus, born of St Elizabeth, and most probably grew up with Jesus as his buddy and best friend. Many of the paintings in fact depict them together as little boys, little toddlers being admired by Mary and Elizabeth, with Joseph and Joachim in the background. Recently I came across two paintings at the Wignacourt Palace in Rabat, Malta, one of which shows the Baptist as a young teenager or young man, and the other one as he is baptizing Jesus. What we seem to underestimate in John is his respect he had towards Jesus. He spent plenty of time in prayer, preparing for the coming into action of Jesus. In fact his motto was precisely “Prepare the way of the Lord,” a phrase we hear predominantly during the Advent Season. 
We see him in the desert converting people and encouraging them to turn to his Master, baptizing him in the process, while he disappeared into oblivion. Unfortunately he never got any credit, but was arrested and beheaded by Herod. Today we celebrate his birth, a festivity and solemnity, while his martyrdom is celebrated on August 29th.

Monday, June 23, 2014

New Cremona paintings

'St Paul in Malta' by Emvin Cremona
Visitors of this blog by now have discovered my appreciation of sacred art in Malta, and have collected quite an array of photos of various paintings found in churches, sometimes hidden in obscurity. While in Malta recently, I discovered a few more paintings by my favorite Maltese artist Emvin Cremona. I now have probably photos of most of his sacred art, distributed in various churches and religious institutions. Another post will be added in a few weeks, but this particular entry for today focuses on just one church in Gozo, where Emvin Cremona started his sacred art career. These were some of his earliest paintings and were dated 1945. 
'St Andrew' by Emvin Cremona
The predominant painting is one of Saint Paul after he is shipwrecked on Malta in 60 AD, but other side paintings represent 2 apostles and 2 other saints. Two others show the Blessed Mother at her Annunciation. The church of Zebbug is dedicated to Saint Paul, and is the farthest and norther-nest parish on the Maltese Islands.
'St George' by Emvin Cremona
'The Annunciation' by Emvin Cremona

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Corpus Christi

Procession of Corpus Christi through the streets of Rabat, Malta
As we celebrate today the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ, known as Corpus Christi, I flash back a few years when I was present during a solemn procession of this feast in the town of Rabat, in Malta. These photos show in detail the impressive line-up of participants in this holy and reverent procession. All the First Communion children take part in this procession, as well as many lay people, marching bands and all the clergy of the town and neighboring convents and monasteries. 
The Blessed Sacrament is carried in procession under the baldacchino, the canopy held by four lay men, members of the Confraternity of the Blessed Sacrament, dressed in a red cape. This feast concludes the Easter Season, as we now move into Ordinary Time for the summer months.
All First Communion children take part in the procession

Saturday, June 21, 2014

A Maltese peacock

Indian male peacock housed in San Anton Gardens, Malta
Among the surprises I encountered in my recent visit to Malta was a friendly peacock showing off at San Anton Gardens. These public gardens are the residence of the President of Malta in the town of Attard, and besides trees, flowers, fountains, swans and a few other exhibits, parading  in front of everyone and showing off his feathers was this peacock who was putting quite a show for tourists and visitors. He knew that people were looking at him, and photographers were snapping away one photo after another, and so he just stood there majestically showing off his priceless possession, his feathers and his deep blue-green face. 

The male Indian peafowl (peacock) has iridescent blue-green or green-colored plumage. The peacock tail ("train") is not the tail quill feathers but the highly elongated upper tail covert feathers. The "eyes" are best seen when the peacock fans its tail. Both species have a crest atop the head. The female Indian peafowl (peahen) has a mixture of dull green, brown, and grey in her plumage. Although she lacks the long upper tail coverts of the male, she has a crest. The female also displays her plumage to ward off female competition or signal danger to her young. Their offspring or babies are called peachicks.

Friday, June 20, 2014


 There are treasures in life, but owners are few
Of money and power to buy things brand new.

Yet you can be wealthy and feel regal too,
If you will just look for the treasures in you.

These treasures in life are not hard to find
When you look in your heart, your soul, and your mind.

For when you are willing to share what's within,
Your fervent search for riches will end.

The joy and the laughter, the smile that you bring;
The heart unafraid to love and to sing;

The hand always willing to help those in need;
Ones quick to reach out, to labor and feed.

So thank you for sharing these great gifts inside;
The caring, the cheering, the hug when one cried.

Thanks for the energy, encouragement too,
And thank you for sharing the treasures in you.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

37th Anniversary

Newly-ordained, as Associate Pastor in St. Julian's
Since tomorrow I have a meeting with the Bishop in a different parish, I may not have access to the Internet over the next 2 days - and so I commemorate today, in anticipation of tomorrow, my 37th anniversary to the priesthood. It was June 19, 1977, when 14 of us were ordained by the newly-installed Archbishop of Malta, Msgr Joseph Mercieca. 

The day of our Ordination, June 19, 1977
Most of us were assigned to different parishes as Associates in our first few years, eventually a few becoming pastors while others worked in various Diocesan offices, and a few pursued further studies. Presently, except for myself and another one who is starting his ministry in Gibraltar today, the others are all in Malta. So, to all of them I say AD MULTOS ANNOS! (To many years ahead.) May the Lord continue to bless us with good health, active ministry and dedicated service to the people entrusted to our care. And to the people whom I've served in various parishes, (St Julian's, Malta, New Hyde Park, NY, Rocky Point, NY, Hicksville, NY, Pleasant Valley, NY, John Day, Oregon, Baker City, Oregon and here in Bend, Oregon) I say Thank You for allowing me to be a part of your lives over the past 37 years.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Another side of Malta

A phone call from Zebbug Gozo, from the stationery telephone box
As frequently as I described Malta as always on the go, busy and bustling with activity, congestion and over-crowdedness, there is another side of Malta which I got to experience for a few minutes, especially when I visited Gozo, our sister island. These are some scenes from the quieter, more conservative and quaint island 5 miles northwest of Malta , which is reached by a ferry boat.
A horse driven carriage at the quiet village of Zebbug, Gozo
A keen watch dog at Zebbug, Gozo, waiting for his master

Monday, June 16, 2014

St Rita's procession

Statue of St Rita inside the church of St Augustine, Valletta
May 22 was the liturgical feast of St Rita, a beloved saint whose husband was a volatile man, who was murdered. Their two sons wanted revenge but died before they could do any more damage to the family. St Rita was left a widow and without any children, and decided to enter a convent, becoming a nun, eventually receiving a thorn from Jesus' side on her forehead. One particular church in Malta, precisely that of St Augustine in Valletta has a special devotion to her, with a procession held on the evening of her feast day. 

I was there to witness the procession and pray to her for my parents and brother, but especially for my father, who was very devoted to her. Here are some photos from the procession held through the streets of Valletta.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

The Holy Trinity

The Holy Trinity by Peter Paul Rubens
We celebrate today the feast of the Holy Trinity. Many images and analogies were brought forward to explain the mystery of the three persons in one and three Gods. The most popular one is the one presented by St Patrick with the image of the clover leaf, the shamrock. Well this story which I shared in my homily today is very interesting too. It deals with an atheist confronting a priest about this mystery.
Pointing to the sun streaming in the window, the priest asked the atheist: “Do you believe in the sun?” “Why, of course,” the atheist admitted. “Alright,” the priest continued, “the rays you see coming through the window are from the sun, 90,000,000 miles from here, give or take a few thousand miles. The heat we feel comes from both the sun and from its rays. The Holy Trinity is something like that. The sun is God the Father; the sun sends out its rays, God the Son. Then from both the sun and its rays, from the Father and the Son, proceeds or comes the Holy Spirit, the heat. Can you explain how that happens?” The atheist quickly changed the subject.

The sun is the source of physical good; the Trinity is the source of God’s life in us.
The sun gives energy and strength; the Trinity gives inner power and strength.
The sun gives light; the Trinity lights the mind and heart of man. 
The sun produces heat; the Trinity pours forth spiritual heat - love of God and mankind.
The sun heals sickness and disease; the Trinity heals the sickness of the souls - sin.
The sun helps resist germs and infection; the Trinity drives off spiritual germs.
The sun cheers and brightens the world around us; the Trinity cheers the heart of mankind.
The Sign of the Cross is the sign of any Christian. 

Let us never be embarrassed in making the sign of the cross, as we honor God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Sport's biggest spectacle

Logos of the 32 nations represented in this edition of the World Cup
Undoubtedly the world's biggest spectacle is the World Cup in soccer, or as it is known all around the world, football, the real football, before the American football was invented. With all due respect to baseball, basketball, ice hockey and American football itself, there is nothing that surpasses the excitement and rivalry and anticipation of this spectacle that is held every 4 years. Maybe the Olympic Games come a little close, but over the next month, the eyes of the world will be glued to TV sets to watch the matches being held in Brazil. 
The official poster of 2014 Brazil World Cup
 A month from now, a new world champion will be crowned, who could be any team from the 32 taking part this year. 4 years ago it was Spain who lifted the cup, but, as world champions they were demolished yesterday by Holland who destroyed them 5-1, which comes to show that any team can rise to the occasion, and any team can hit rock bottom. England and Italy will face each other today, and even though Brazil seem to be the favorites because they are playing at home, any nation can win the final match. On a personal note, I can predict the 4 semifinalists which could be Argentina, Brazil, Holland and Belgium.
Posters of previous editions

Friday, June 13, 2014

A few more photos

Magnet souvenirs of Malta
I'm still in the early stages of downloading and cropping my 2500 photos, but here are a few of my early ones, simply curious scenes an unusual shots I came across. I tried during this visit to not only photograph churches and works of art, but also the human condition, and I got some interesting surprises, which you will see over the next few weeks.  
A colorful Maltese boat with the parish church in the background
The horse admiring one of the Maltese sunrises

I even had a horse accompanying me during my visit and he featured in some of the photos too.
A busy street with a violinist entertaining the crowd of shoppers
Malta's invisible man sitting in a shady spot