Friday, October 31, 2014

Clowning around

2014 - a jester for a day
On this celebration of Halloween, I share with you 4 photos of yours truly with a different costume, each with a story, starting with the most recent one. Earlier this week, our school children were taking reservations for their annual Yearbook, and one of the students was wearing a jester’s hat. So quickly I asked her if I could put it on - and lo and behold, a photo followed. Jester for a day.
2006 - a clown for a day
This reminded of the day I was asked to dress up as a clown during the St Francis de Sales parish picnic of Baker City in 2006. Very few children recognized me that day, and even the adults were wondering when is Father Julian going to show up for the picnic.
2004 - a minstrel for a day
The third one goes back to 2004, to my days in John Day when I took part in a concert or Madrigal Dinner, during which I played the flute as a member of a quartet, dressed as a minstrel, photographed here with the Jester in the play that was part of the successful evening.
2003 - a cowboy for a day
The last photo is the day I became a cowboy in 2003, at least for a day. I actually bought this black hat when arrived in Oregon, and thinking that it will match my clerical outfit, I was happy showing it off, until people were telling me “only the bad guys wear black hats.” Eventually a dear friend of mine gave me a grey one. And that’s when I became a good guy! A safe Halloween to our young children and trick-or-treaters.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

The Whale

A female humpback whale had become entangled in a spider web of crab traps and lines. She was weighed down by hundreds of pounds of traps that caused her to struggle to stay afloat. She also had hundreds of yards of line rope wrapped around her body, her tail, her torso, and a line tugging in her mouth.
A fisherman spotted her just east of the Faralon Islands (outside the Golden Gate in San Francisco) and radioed for help. Within a few hours, the rescue team arrived and determined that she was so bad off, the only way to save her was to dive in and untangle her; a very dangerous proposition. One slap of the tail could kill a rescuer. They worked for hours with curved knives and eventually freed her. When she was free, the divers say she swam in what seemed like joyous circles. She then came back to each and every diver, one at a time, nudged them, and pushed gently, thanking them. Some said it was the most incredibly beautiful experience of their lives. The guy who cut the rope out of her mouth says her eye was following him the whole time, and he will never be the same. 

May you, and all those you love, be so fortunate... to be surrounded by people who will help you get untangled from the things that are binding you. And, may you always know the joy of giving and receiving gratitude.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Baby memories

I thought of sharing with you today three of my baby memories, although I don’t remember them, but my parents told me these stories happened when I was a baby. So they must have happened between 1952 and 1955.
The first relates to this photo of me on a tricycle. So many people are surprised to see me wearing a dress. First of all it is called, I was told, a ‘romper,’ and secondly my mother had two girls before me - so back then it was OK to wear hand-me-downs even if they were from an older sister. Who was I to complain, right? Moreover I was more concerned about balancing on a tricycle than what I was wearing.

The second story relates to me as a one-year old when neighbors came knocking on our door, alerting my parents that their baby was peeing on the people passing by underneath our open balcony.  And this naughty baby just giggled at everyone! Boys will be boys, even in Malta!
The third story was probably when I was 2 or 3, but thankfully I don’t remember it. We had a pepper plant in our garden, and I got hold of one of those red hot chilly peppers, and of course, as every toddler would do with something that is red, I put it in my mouth. My parents told me I cried for a whole week. And probably that is one of the reasons I hate hot weather and love the colder temperatures.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

St Simon and St Jude

Other than St Peter and St John, very little is known about the other apostles. But Jesus saw something good in each of them, and even though Judas Iscariot betrayed Him, all the others followed Jesus faithfully and died a martyr’s death. Today we honor two of the lesser know apostles.
St. Simon was surnamed the Zealot for his rigid adherence to the Jewish law and Canaanite Law. Western tradition says that he preached in Egypt and then went to Persia with St. Jude, where both suffered martyrdom. Eastern tradition says that Simon died peacefully in Edessa.

"Mary with Sts Simon & Jude" by Giovanni Maria Butteri
St Jude, known as Thaddeus was a brother of St James the Less and a relative of Jesus. He preached the Gospel in Mesopotamia, Syria, Judea and Libya. He is also the author of a short epistle to the churches of the East, particularly the Jewish converts, directed against the heresies of his time. It is the shortest book of the entire Bible, with just one chapter and 25 verses. St Jude suffered martyrdom in Armenia. St Jude is invoked in desperate situations because his New Testament letter stresses that the faithful should persevere in the environment of harsh and difficult situations. Therefore he is considered as the patron saint in desperate cases.

Monday, October 27, 2014

The Universal Prayer

This is a beautiful prayer attributed to Pope Clement XI who reigned between1700 and1721.

Lord, I believe in you: increase my faith.
I trust in you: strengthen my trust.
I love you: let me love you more and more.
I am sorry for my sins: deepen my sorrow.
I worship you as my first beginning,
I long for you as my last end.

I praise you as my constant helper, and call on you as my loving protector.
Guide me by your wisdom, correct me with your justice, comfort me with your mercy, protect me with your power. I offer you, Lord, 

my thoughts: to be fixed on you; 
my words: to have you for their theme; 
my actions: to reflect my love for you;
my sufferings: to be endured for your greater glory.  I want to do what you ask of me: in the way you ask, for as long as you ask, because you ask it.

Lord, enlighten my understanding, strengthen my will, purify my heart, and make me holy.
Help me to repent of my past sins and to resist temptation in the future.
Help me to rise above my human weaknesses and to grow stronger as a Christian.
Let me love you, my Lord and my God, and see myself as I really am: a pilgrim in this world, a Christian called to respect and love all those lives I touch,
those in authority over me or those under my authority, my friends and my enemies.
Help me to conquer anger with gentleness, greed by generosity, apathy by fervor.
Help me to forget myself and reach out toward others.
Make me prudent in planning, courageous in taking risks.
Make me patient in suffering, unassuming in prosperity.

Keep me, Lord, attentive at prayer, temperate in food and drink, diligent in my work, firm in my good intentions.
Let my conscience be clear, my conduct without fault, my speech blameless, my life well-ordered.
Put me on guard against my human weaknesses.
Let me cherish your love for me, keep your law, and come at last to your salvation.
Teach me to realize that this world is passing, that my true future is the happiness of heaven,
that life on earth is short, and the life to come eternal.
Help me to prepare for death with a proper fear of judgment, but a greater trust in your goodness.
Lead me safely through death to the endless joy of heaven.
Grant this through Christ Our Lord.   Amen

Sunday, October 26, 2014

A True Story

Joshua Bell performing in a concert hall
A man sat at a metro station in Washington DC and started to play the violin; it was a cold January morning. He played six Bach pieces for about 45 minutes. During that time, since it was rush hour, it was calculated that thousands of people went through the station, most of them on their way to work. Three minutes went by and a middle-aged man noticed there was musician playing. He slowed his pace and stopped for a few seconds and then hurried up to meet his schedule. A minute later, the violinist received his first dollar tip: a woman threw the money in the till and without stopping continued to walk. A few minutes later, someone leaned against the wall to listen to him, but the man looked at his watch and started to walk again. Clearly, he was late for work.
The one who paid the most attention was a three-year-old boy. His mother tagged him along hurried, but the kid stopped to look at the violinist. Finally, the mother pushed hard and the child continued to walk, turning his head all the time. This action was repeated by several other children. All the parents, without exception, forced them to move on. In the 45 minutes the musician played, only six people stopped and stayed for a while. About 20 gave him money, but continued to walk their normal pace. He collected $32. When he finished playing and silence took over, no one noticed it. No one applauded, nor was there any recognition.

An artist's impression of the subway scene in Washington DC
No one knew this, but the violinist was Joshua Bell, one of the best musicians in the world. He played one of the most intricate pieces ever written with a violin worth 3.5 million dollars. Two days before his playing in the subway, Joshua Bell sold out at a theater in Boston where the seats averaged $100.
A video shot of this true story provided by the Washington Post
This is a real story. Joshua Bell, playing incognito in the metro station, was organized by the Washington Post as part of a social experiment about perception, taste and priorities of people. The outlines were: in a commonplace environment at an inappropriate hour: Do we perceive beauty? Do we stop to appreciate it? Do we recognize talent in an unexpected context? One of the possible conclusions from this experiment could be: If we do not have a moment to stop and listen to one of the best musicians in the world playing some of the best music ever written, how many other things are we missing?

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Funeral arrangements

The family of Fr Joe Reinig decided, in consultation with the Bishop that the Funeral Mass will be held on Thursday November 6th at 11 AM at St Francis of Assisi church on 27th Street. The Rosary will be recited on Wednesday November 5th at 7 PM. Bishop Liam Cary will be the main celebrant and homilist. All the priests are invited to concelebrate.

Fr Joe Reinig (1932-2014)

Former Pastor of St Francis of Assisi Parish Fr Joseph Reinig died at St Charles Hospital in Bend on Friday, October 24, 2014. He was administered the last rites the night before and passed away in the afternoon after being recently hospitalized. Fr Joe was married to Helen and together they had 9 children. When Helen died he studied for the priesthood and was ordained to the Diocese of Baker where he served as pastor in various parishes as well as Vicar General for a few years. Under Fr Joe’s pastorship, the new church on 27th Street was built and opened in August 2009. He served as Pastor from 2006 until 2010. Funeral arrangements will be announced later. Our condolence to his children, grandchildren, parishioners, friends, and fellow priests of the Baker Diocese. Eternal rest grant unto him o Lord. May he rest in peace.

Friday, October 24, 2014

A family of painters

A section of a dome at Cathedral Church in Rabat, Gozo, Malta
One particular family of artists from the island of Malta are the Camilleri Cauchi family. Among them is Paul, who is a prolific sacred art painter as if visible from the many ceilings and domes in churches all around the islands of Malta and Gozo. These sections from smaller domes in side chapels are from the Cathedral Church dedicated to the Assumption of Mary in the capital city of Rabat or Victoria in Gozo. 
Most of these figures are popular saints in Malta
His inimitable style makes the figures very realistic, and I was told that frequently he uses family members and close friends as models, especially when painting faces.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Pumpkin Prayer

Dear Jesus, as I carve my pumpkin, help me pray this prayer:

Open my mind so I can learn about You (cut the top of the pumpkin)

Take all my sins away and forgive the wrong that I do (clean out the inside, yucky stuff means serious sins, every seed means every “No” we said)

Open my eyes so that I can see Your love for me (carve two hearts for the two eyes)

I’m sorry for the times I’ve turned up my nose at what you’ve given to me.
(cut a nose in the shape of a cross)

Open my ears so Your word I will hear. (cut ears shaped like a Bible – square)

The finished Prayer Pumpkin on the right
Open my mouth to tell others You’re near. (cut the mouth in the shape of a fish)

Let your light shine in all I say and do. AMEN (Place a candle inside and light it)

Ask God to fill you up so He can shine brightly through you. Share your faith with your friends and neighbors as you tell them about your special pumpkin.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Pope Saint John Paul II

Pope St John Paul II (1920-2005)
We celebrate today for the first time the liturgical feast of a new saint. Certainly the Man of the 20th century, Pope Saint John Paul II was born Karol Wojtyla on May 18th, 1920 in Poland and became the first non-Italian Pope in almost 400 years. Also known as John Paul the Great, he reigned from October 16th, 1978 until his death on April 2nd, 2005. He was the second longest-serving Pope in modern history after Pope Pius IX who served for nearly 32 years from 1846 to 1878.
As a young boy, he lost his mother at the age of 8 and his father when he was 21. He even had to work at a limestone quarry, but then started his studies at the underground seminary run by Cardinal Sapieha in Krakow. He was ordained a priest on November 1, 1946, and after further studies, he ended up teaching at the Jagiellonian University. He was made a bishop on July 4, 1958 and later became Archbishop of Krakow on June 26, 1967. He remained very staunch to his faith in Poland, even when he became a Cardinal 3 years later. His election as Pope was a big surprise as Pope John Paul I died suddenly after 33 days, and the trend was to elect Italian Popes, but the white smoke showed that a new Pope was chosen on October 16, 1978, aged 58, relatively young for a Pope. 

The day he was elected Pope, October 16, 1978
At the balcony he waved to the thousands gathered in the Piazza and  said “the cardinals have called for a new bishop of Rome. They called him from a faraway land — far and yet always close because of our communion in faith and Christian traditions. I was afraid to accept that responsibility, yet I do so in a spirit of obedience to the Lord and total faithfulness to Mary, our most Holy Mother.”
John Paul II is recognized as helping to end Communist rule in his native Poland and eventually all of Europe. John Paul II significantly improved the Catholic Church's relations with Judaism, Islam, the Eastern Orthodox Church, and the Anglican Communion. He upheld the Church's teachings against artificial contraception and the ordination of women, supported the Church's Second Vatican Council and its reform, and in general held firm to orthodox Catholic stances.

He was one of the most traveled world leaders in history, visiting 129 countries during his pontificate. As part of his special emphasis on the universal call to holiness, he beatified 1,340 people and canonized 483 saints, more than the combined tally of his predecessors during the preceding five centuries. He was very much devoted to the Blessed Mother, well respected in his native Poland, especially with the famous Black Madonna, and he even chose his motto as Totus Tuus, “Totally Yours,” even with the letter M on his coat-of-arms.
John Paul II's cause for canonization commenced in 2005 one month after his death with the traditional five-year waiting period waived. His successor Pope Benedict XVI beatified him on May 1st 2011 after the Congregation for the Causes of Saints attributed one miracle to him, the healing of a French nun from Parkinson's disease. A second miracle, attributed to the late pope, was approved and confirmed by Pope Francis two days later. John Paul II was canonized on 27 April 2014, alongside Pope John XXIII.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Pope Francis' Tweets

Pope Francis last Sunday after beatifying Pope Paul VI
Here are some of Pope Francis' recent tweets:
To change the world we must be good to those who cannot repay us.
A Christian is merciful by nature; this is heart of the Gospel.

O Lord, comfort all those who suffer, especially the sick, the poor and the unemployed.
The spiritual power of the Sacraments is boundless. With grace, we can overcome every obstacle.

Dear young people, Christ is counting on you to be his friends and witnesses to his infinite love.
Let us ask the Lord for the grace not to speak badly of others, not to criticize, not to gossip, but rather to love everyone.

Happy families are essential for the Church and for society.
Pope Francis at the end of the Synod
Division within a Christian community is a very grave sin; it is the work of the devil.
There is the tendency to place ourselves and our ambitions at the center of our lives. This is very human, but it is not Christian.
Jesus understands our weaknesses and sins; and he forgives us if we allow ourselves to be forgiven.
When a society lacks God, even prosperity is joined by a terrible spiritual poverty.

Despite our sins, we can say with Peter: Lord, you know everything, you know that I love you.
God’s faithfulness is stronger than our unfaithfulness and our infidelities.

Monday, October 20, 2014

The Mango Tree

There was a king who wanted to discourage his four sons from making rash judgments.  At his command, the eldest son made a winter journey to see a mango tree across the valley.  When spring came, the next oldest was sent on the same journey. Summer followed, and the king sent his third son.  After the youngest made his visit to the mango tree in the autumn, the king called them together and asked each son to describe the tree.
The first son said it looked like an ugly, old stump.  The second disagreed, describing it as lovely - large and green.  The third son declared its blossoms were as beautiful as roses. The fourth son said that they were all wrong.  To him it was a tree filled with fruit - luscious, juicy fruit, like pears.  
"Well, each of you is right," the old king said. Seeing the puzzled look in their eyes, the king went on to explain. "You see, each of you saw the mango tree in a different season; thus you all correctly described what you saw.  The lesson," said the king, "is to withhold your judgment until you have seen the tree in all its seasons." Like the mango tree, our lives go through seasons.  Some life-seasons seem barren and unfruitful.  During these times of unproductiveness and obscurity we may be tempted to judge our lives as failures.  Family and job responsibilities may frustrate us from reaching career and education goals.  But we must withhold judgment until we have passed through all of life's seasons.  All four seasons of a tree are necessary.  The lonely months of winter prepare it for the fruitfulness of  summer.  So do not lose  heart.
The season of fruitfulness will come to us just as it comes to the tree. The Scripture says, "To every thing there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to reap; ... a time to gain and a time to lose (Ecclesiastes 3:1,6)

Sunday, October 19, 2014

My meeting with Blessed Pope Paul VI

As Pope Paul VI is being beatified today, I have a special memory of meeting him in August of 1966. A group of altar boys is chosen every year from Malta to replace the Italian altar-servers at the Vatican during August and mid-September. This started in 1965 and is still going on, every year. I was chosen in 1966 and during one of the audiences we had with Pope Paul VI, we were asked to kiss his ring. Somehow the official photographer took my photo kissing the Ring of the Fisherman, a memorable moment for me which I have treasured all these years, and it will have even more special meaning for me now that he is a Blessed, hopefully soon to be canonized. The bishop in the photo is the Archbishop of Malta, Michael Gonzo who happened to be at the audience too. The priest on the left is Canon Joseph Delia, the Director of the altar-boys. The other man was the Pope’s body-guard. We also had a group photo with the Pope, the audience being held at Castelgandolfo, the summer residence of the Pope.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Pope Paul VI declared 'Blessed'

Blessed Pope Paul VI (1897- 1978)
Pope Paul VI, born Giovanni Battista Montini on September 26, 1897, reigned from 21 June 1963 to his death in 1978. Succeeding Pope John XXIII, he continued the Second Vatican Council which he closed in 1965, implementing its numerous reforms, and fostered improved ecumenical relations with Eastern Orthodox and Protestants, which resulted in many historic meetings and agreements.
Montini served in the Vatican's Secretariat of State from 1922 to 1954. While in the Secretariat of State, Montini and Domenico Tardini were considered as the closest and most influential co-workers of Pope Pius XII, who in 1954, named him Archbishop of Milan, the largest Italian diocese. John XXIII elevated him to the College of Cardinals in 1958, and after the death of John XXIII, Montini was considered one of his most likely successors.
Montini, upon his election to the papacy, took the pontifical name Paul VI to indicate a renewed worldwide mission to spread the message of Christ. He re-convoked the Second Vatican Council, which was automatically closed with the death of John XXIII, and gave it priority and direction.
Paul VI was a Marian devotee, speaking repeatedly to Marian congresses and mariological meetings, visiting Marian shrines and issuing three Marian encyclicals.
He sought dialogue with the world, with other Christians, other religions, and atheists, excluding nobody. He saw himself as a humble servant for a suffering humanity and demanded significant changes of the rich in North America and Europe in favor of the poor in the Third World. His positions on birth control were faced with controversy, especially in Western Europe and North America.

With Cardinal Ratzinger, the future Pope Benedict XVI
His pontificate happened during many significant world events, e.g. the John F. Kennedy assassination only five months after becoming pope, the United States's involvement in the Vietnam War, and the continued Civil Rights Movement in the US (1955–1968.)
Paul VI died on 6 August 1978, the Feast of the Transfiguration, in Castel Gandolfo, after a period of ill health. According to his will, he was buried in the grottos of the Vatican not in an ornate tomb, but in a grave in the ground as he wished. The diocesan process for the beatification of Paul VI began on 11 May 1993, and so he was given the title "Servant of God". On December 20, 2012, Pope Benedict XVI, declared that the late pontiff had lived a life of heroic virtue, and was then called "Venerable".
A miracle attributed to the intercession of Paul VI was approved on May 9, 2014 by Pope Francis in an audience with the Cardinal Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. The beatification ceremony for Paul VI is tomorrow Sunday October 19, 2014, which means that he will now be called "Blessed".
I have a very special memory and photo with Pope Paul VI, and for that you have to check in tomorrow’s blog.

Friday, October 17, 2014

One year at St Francis

"Thank you for all the support, encouragement and prayers."
It was October 17, 2013 when I started my ministry here at St Francis of Assisi parish in Bend. I look back today with gratitude and a sense of peace knowing that I did my best to bring harmony and joy among the parishioners. We still have a lot of work ahead of us, but together we will continue to heal from past wounds and instil in everyone a sense of commitment and collaboration as we realize we are the Body of Christ. I need everybody's support to strengthen what we already have built over the past year. With Father Joseph, a capable staff, and all the people helping us in running the school, the Faith Formation program and countless programs and projects, we are determined to stay focused on our mission and vocation to serve you and bring you closer to God.
Enjoy some of the memories of the past year.
First Holy Communion Mass
Donkeys procession on Palm Sunday

Baptisms at the Easter Vigil
New Acolytes installed on September 28
Cooking split-pea-and-ham soup for "Dinner by Father"
Foot washing on Holy Thursday

Thursday, October 16, 2014

St Margaret Mary Alacoque

St Margaret Mary Alacoque (1647-1690) with vision of the Sacred Heart
Margaret Mary Alacoque was born on July 22, 1647 at L'Hautecour, Burgundy, France, and was sent to the Poor Clares school at Charolles on the death of her father, a notary, when she was eight years old. She was bedridden for five years with rheumatic fever until she was fifteen and very early developed a devotion to the Blessed Sacrament. She refused marriage, and in 1671 she entered the Visitation convent at Paray-le-Monial and was professed the next year. From the time she was twenty, she experienced visions of Christ, and on December 27, 1673, she began a series of revelations that were to continue over the next year and a half. In them Christ informed her that she was His chosen instrument to spread devotion to His Sacred Heart, instructed her in a devotion that was to become known as the Nine Fridays and the Holy Hour, and asked that the feast of the Sacred Heart be established. Rebuffed by her superior, Mother de Saumaise, in her efforts to follow the instruction she had received in the visions, she eventually won her over but was unable to convince a group of theologians of the validity of her apparitions, nor was she any more successful with many of the members of her community. 
She received the support of Blessed Claude La Colombiere, the community's confessor for a time, who declared that the visions were genuine. In 1683, opposition in the community ended when Mother Melin was elected Superior and named Margaret Mary her assistant. She later became Novice Mistress, and saw the convent observe the feast of the Sacred Heart privately beginning in 1686, and two years later, a chapel was built at the Paray-le-Monial to honor the Sacred Heart. Soon observation of the feast of the Sacred Heart spread to other Visitation convents. Margaret Mary died at the Paray-le-Monial on October 17, 1690 and was canonized in 1920. She, St. John Eudes, and Blessed Claude La Colombiere are called the "Saints of the Sacred Heart"; the devotion was officially recognized and approved by Pope Clement XIII in 1765, seventy-five years after her death and the feast of the Sacred Heart is celebrated every year on the Friday following Corpus Christi.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

St Teresa of Avila

St Teresa of Avila (1515-1582)
A great Carmelite mystic and nun, today we celebrate the feast of St Teresa of Avila, Doctor of the Church, author of Way of Perfection, Interior Castle and Meditations on the Canticle. A great reformer of the Carmelite Order, she was born in 1515 and died in 1582. This is a famous quote of this great saint:
"Ecstasy of St Teresa" by Bernini
May today there be peace within.
May you trust God that you are exactly where you are meant to be.
May you not forget the infinite possibilities that are born of faith.
May you use those gifts that you have received,
and pass on the love that has been given to you.
May you be content knowing you are a child of God.
Let this presence settle into your bones,
and allow your soul the freedom to sing, dance, praise and love.
It is there for each and every one of us.

Christ has no body now but yours
No hands, no feet on earth but yours
Yours are the eyes through which He looks Compassion on this world
Yours are the feet with which He walks to do good
Yours are the hands with which He blesses all the world
Yours are the hands; Yours are the feet
Yours are the eyes; You are His body
Christ has no body now on earth but yours

Let nothing disturb you, Let nothing frighten you,
All things are passing away: God never changes.
Patience obtains all things
Whoever has God lacks nothing; God alone suffices.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014


A grandmother and a little girl whose face was sprinkled with bright red freckles spent the day at the zoo.  The children were waiting in line to get their cheeks painted by a local artist who was decorating them with tiger paws. "You've got so many freckles, there's no place to paint!" a boy in the line cried.
Embarrassed, the little girl dropped her head. Her grandmother knelt down next to her. "I love your freckles," she said. "Not me," the girl replied.
"Well, when I was a little girl I always wanted freckles" she said, tracing her finger across the child's cheek. "Freckles are beautiful!"
The girl looked up. "Really?"
"Of course," said the grandmother. "Why, just name me one thing that's prettier than freckles."
The little girl peered into the old woman's smiling face. "Wrinkles," she answered softly.

Monday, October 13, 2014

The Fatima children

L to R: Lucia, Francisco and Jacinta
Today is the anniversary of the big miracle of Fatima. Three children had a vision of a lady on May 13, 1917, and she appeared to them on a few other occasions. The last apparition took place on October 13 where thousands of people were present, seeing the sun dance and other miraculous happenings. At first the children were apprehended by police, questioned and threatened. But everyone could see for themselves that what they saw was true, an apparition that was later approved by the Vatican. The children were Jacinta and Francisco Marto, brother and sister, who died soon afterwards. The third girl Lucia dos Santos survived and died recently while living as a Carmelite nun in a convent in Portugal.
The apparition as depicted in a stained-glass window
As early as July 1917 it was claimed that the Virgin Mary had promised a miracle for the last of her apparitions on October 13, so that all would believe. What happened then became known as the "Miracle of the Sun". A huge crowd, variously estimated between 30,000 and 100,000, including newspaper reporters and photographers, gathered at the Cova da Iria. The incessant rain had ceased and there was a thin layer of cloud. Lúcia, seeing light rising from the lady's hands and the sun appearing as a silver disk, called out "look at the sun". She later had no memory of saying this. Witnesses later spoke of the sun appearing to change colors and rotate like a wheel. After a canonical inquiry, the visions of Fátima were officially declared "worthy of belief" in October 1930.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Conjoined twin - 14 years later

Gracie Attard, now aged 14
This is a longer post than what you are used to, But it's worth reading.
Back in the year 2000, a sensational story came out of Malta, specifically the small island of Gozo, where conjoined twins were born to Maltese parents. The story touched everybody in Malta, as well as England where the girls were born, named Gracie and Rosie. The story was reported very extensively in the British papers, especially when the decision was taken to separate the twins.
‘Mom and Dad used to take me to the cemetery where Rosie is buried and tell me: “She’s your sister, and you were twins.” Actually, they said we were joined together,’ she says. ‘Later I heard them use the word “conjoined”. I didn’t know what it meant, and when I was about seven I got my first dictionary and looked it up. A year or so later, I looked on the internet and found out that our story was a big one that went round the world. It all happened so long ago, when I was a tiny baby.’
Gracie is 14 now, and a livewire. Shrewd and funny, she loves to cycle and swim. She is determined to become a doctor. But for a few intensely stressful weeks after her birth in a Manchester hospital on August 8, 2000, her very existence was the subject of an ethical debate that gripped the world.

The funeral of Rosie, casket carried by her father.
Gracie was born a Siamese twin, joined to her sister Rosie, end to end, at the abdomen and spine. They shared an aorta, a bladder and circulatory systems. Their tiny legs were splayed at right angles from their shared trunk. Yet while Gracie was robust, Rosie was weak and ailing. In fact, Rosie was only alive because of Gracie. It was Gracie’s healthy heart that was pumping blood into her sibling. In effect, Gracie was her twin’s life support system.
What should be done? Doctors believed unless the girls were separated, within months both would die. Yet separating them would kill Rosie. So should her life be sacrificed to save Gracie?
For Michael and Rina Attard, the twins’ parents, the dilemma was heartbreaking. Both devout Catholics, they had never considered aborting the twins when scans revealed they were conjoined. They could not, therefore, bring themselves to allow one to die to save the other. So they resolved to leave their girls conjoined. ‘We decided it was better to put their future in God’s hands,’ says Rina. But they were over-ruled by the judiciary. Three Appeal Court judges decreed the twins should be separated. At this point the Attards decided to fight no further. Rosie duly died, three months, six hours after the complex 20-hour surgery to separate them, at St Mary’s Hospital on November 7, 2000. 

Little Gracie, aged 3, growing and smiling
Gracie, of course, lived. And although doctors were cautiously optimistic, her progress has surpassed all expectations. Her legs were broken and re-set in the correct position; her misaligned pelvis straightened. ‘She should walk and lead a relatively normal life,’ said one of her surgeons at the time. Gracie, however, has amazed everyone with how she’s coped.
Gracie has never spoken before. But now she’s talking exclusively to the British Mail at the home on the Maltese island of Gozo she shares with her parents and 12-year-old sister, also called Rosie in memory of her dead sister. ‘I don’t feel guilty that I lived and she died because what happened wasn’t my decision.” I haven’t cried, but there is sadness. Sometimes I want her to be with me. We were the same age. We’d probably think like each other.
‘Sometimes when I need someone to help me, say when I’m taking an exam, I’ll say in my head: “Help me, my little sister.” Because that’s what sisters do. They help each other, don’t they? And I’ve thought: “Would she look like me? Would we share the same interests?” ’ Her favorite subjects are chemistry and biology. She corresponds regularly by email with one of the surgeons, Adrian Bianchi — also Maltese and a Catholic — involved in the operation to separate her from her twin.

The best Christmas gift ever, Gracie with her parents
At 14, she believes she’s far too young to have a boyfriend — ‘I want to enjoy my life first!’ — but eventually she’d like to marry and have a brood of children. When I was five, I thought I’d like to have ten children,’ she says, ‘but I’ve revised that figure now. I don’t want that many because I’d be working day and night to provide for them.’
Michael, a plasterer, now 58, and Rina, 48, a full-time mom, traveled to England for the birth because their tiny Mediterranean island did not have the sophisticated medical facilities or expertise to cope. Rina recalls the awful fear that consumed her in the weeks before the birth. ‘I didn’t want the twins to be born because I knew something was terribly wrong. I just wanted them to stay inside me,’ she says. ‘They gave me a Caesarean and I asked to have a general anaesthetic because I wanted to be asleep. When I came round they were in the neonatal unit and to start with, I couldn’t look at them. It was two days before I saw them, and when I did I fainted. ‘Michael helped me up. He said: “Just start by touching their fingers.”
‘I went to look at them two hours after they were born,’ he says. ‘They were covered in a blanket. I didn’t see the extent of their problems. Then I went again, and again. After a while, you just start seeing them as two normal babies. You get used to how they are. I washed them every morning. I talked to them and Gracie seemed to respond.
‘I was so scared. It was all shocking, so overwhelming, and we were under so much pressure. So we thought it was better to leave it to God to decide what would happen.’ In the event, the High Court ruled that medical science should intervene. ‘And we accepted that decision,’ says Rina. ‘And, of course, now I look back and we’re grateful.’ They brought Rosie home for her funeral: the whole island, it seemed, turned out to mourn the baby who had died so her twin could live.

The Attard family, Michael, Gracie, Rosie and Rina
Meanwhile, little Gracie, in the care of doctors and nurses in Manchester, was prospering. Within days she started breathing without a ventilator; she drank voraciously from her bottle.
When she was ten months old, in June 2001, Rina and Michael took Gracie home. And so, after almost a year’s absence from their quiet island, during which they’d lived in a hospital in the cosmopolitan bustle of Manchester, the Attards returned to the three-storey house Michael had built in the remote hillside village of Xaghra.
The couple watched with quiet pride as their little girl grew; as she learned to talk, then, at 17 months, to walk; as her sense of mischief developed and a competitive streak emerged.
Her endless chattering earns a gentle teasing from younger sister Rosie, who was born in August 2002. ‘Oh Gracie stop it,’ says Rosie. ‘You talk too much.’ Firecracker Gracie, dark-haired and pale-skinned, is the image of Rina. Rosie takes after her Dad, both in looks — her hair is lighter than Gracie’s, her olive skin darker — and personality. ‘And when Rosie was born, I couldn’t open my eyes to look at her. But then Michael said: “Look! We’ve got a beautiful girl,” and the nurses put her on me. Then I opened my eyes and I saw her, and smiled.’

Gracie Attard, today
Michael, ever the indulgent father, looks at his girls with amusement. Rina is clearly proud. They sit in their house, which is tidy and plain, an image of Christ, a photo of the old Pope John Paul and another of Our Lady presiding over them. Their faith remains strong.

Saturday, October 11, 2014


This is the first time that the liturgical feast is being celebrated to honor Pope Saint John XXIII. Although few people had as great an impact on the 20th century as Pope John XXIII, he avoided the limelight as much as possible. The firstborn son of a farming family in Sotto il Monte, near Bergamo in northern Italy, Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli was always proud of his down-to-earth roots. After his ordination in 1904, Angelo returned to Rome for canon law studies. He soon worked as his bishop’s secretary, Church history teacher in the seminary, and as publisher of the diocesan paper.
His service as a stretcher-bearer for the Italian army during World War I gave him a firsthand knowledge of war. In 1921 he was made national director of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith. He also found time to teach patristics at a seminary in the Eternal City.
In 1925 he became a papal diplomat, serving first in Bulgaria, then in Turkey, and finally in France (1944-53). During World War II, with the help of Germany’s ambassador to Turkey, Archbishop Roncalli helped save an estimated 24,000 Jewish people.
Named a cardinal and appointed patriarch of Venice in 1953, he was finally a residential bishop. A month short of entering his 78th year, he was elected pope, taking the name John after his father and the two patrons of Rome’s cathedral, St. John Lateran. He took his work very seriously but not himself. His wit soon became proverbial, and he began meeting with political and religious leaders from around the world. In 1962 he was deeply involved in efforts to resolve the Cuban missile crisis.

Pope John XXII being carried on the 'sedia gestatoria' inside the Vatican
His most famous encyclicals were Mother and Teacher (1961) and Peace on Earth (1963). Pope John XXIII enlarged the membership in the College of Cardinals and made it more international. In 1962 he convened the Second Vatican Council where all the bishops gathered in Rome to discuss many issues facing the church, and this led to great reform, especially in the way we celebrate the liturgy. "Good Pope John" died on June 3, 1963. St. John Paul II beatified him in 2000, and Pope Francis canonized him in 2014.