DECEMBER 05, 2010, Vol 60, No 24

Image of Our Lady, Empress of China, in Beijing’s North Church

Dorothy Esposo Claro visits the sites associated with the famous Jesuit during his 400th death anniversary.

I was blessed to have been part of a pilgrimage group that journeyed from Manila to China from Oct 15-22.

The trip was to track the mission trail of Fr Matteo Ricci to China, whose 400th death anniversary is celebrated worldwide this year.

The journey helped me to know the famous 16th-century Italian Jesuit who brought the Gospel to China at a time the country had cut itself off from the Western world. A group of priests led our group of 47 lay Catholics, most of whom were from parishes and schools of the Jesuit Chinese- Filipino apostolate.

From Macau airport, we went to St Joseph’s Seminary Church, which houses the famous bone relic of St Francis Xavier (1506- 1552), co-founder of the Jesuits. Fr Ricci arrived in the then Portuguese trading post of Macau in 1582. Here, he began to learn Chinese and was one of the early Western scholars to master the language and script.
I AM one of those people who find it difficult to throw things away. Sometimes with my hand suspended in the air ready to dunk a piece of junk-mail, I will hear a voice saying, “This might come in useful sometime”. And nine out of 10 times, whatever I was about to throw would end up on a pile on my desk.

But “sometime” never comes! So day by day, week by week, the brochures would pile up on my desk until they literally start to spill over the edge. Every year during Advent (which happily coincides with the year end), I harden my resolve and will throw out anything that I have not touched in the last 12 months. This major exercise sometimes takes a week. With some things, the decision is easy.

With others, it is more difficult; these are things I’ve developed an attachment to. Throw … don’t throw … throw … don’t throw … the refrain goes on in my head. At the end of the exercise, I would have gotten rid of 30 percent of the things on my desk. With a leaner workstation, I will notice a couple of things in the coming days. First, there is less physical clutter and I am able to find the things I need more easily. Second, there are less distractions and I will find it easier to get down to writing an article or checking my email or surfing the net.
I BELIEVE that we are called to live a spiritual life. That God has planted in each of us a seed of His divine nature. This seed is meant to be nurtured, to grow and blossom into a tree of life that is truly in God’s image. And I believe that we humans and all of creation are bound together in a great bond of blessing.

Dominican mystic Meister Eckhart (1260-1329) called creation “the first grace”. Hence, Creation can be understood as God’s original gift to us. We experience the gift of creation in our sense of wonder at the birth of a child, for instance, and awe at the sight of a stunningly beautiful sunrise or sunset. There is, in each of us, a yearning to experience all that is good, beautiful and true – echoing the divine nature within.

“We and all creatures are here to connect to the grace in one another and to the Source of all things,” says Matthew Fox, on interpreting Eckhart’s creation spirituality. Eckhart’s spirituality is one that is steeped in a passion for creation and rooted in compassion. It carries with it, as in biblical tradition, the responsibilities of justice-making.
I recall the CatholicNews in my childhood days having a section where kids can do crossword puzzles or colour pictures. Now that I am a mother of two and my six-year-old boy enjoys flipping through CN, I am wondering if the team can consider having such a section again so that the young ones can have a section devoted to them. You might like to consider Bible trivia, short stories (maybe in comic form), puzzles and colouring.

Thank you.

Cheryl Clair Teo,
I would like to highlight a trend we are witnessing today in our Church in Singapore on the deteriorating reverence for the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

Step into any church and it is not uncommon to see kids drawing, playing with their toys, eating and drinking in the pews, or running around during Mass. Among adults, many spot bermudas or shorts and slippers, engage in the latest gossip or text friends on their mobile phones, oblivious to others who are trying to worship God.

The Mass is where we encounter Christ our King and Brother in His flesh, divinity and soul, and in all His glory in the Eucharist as the Saviour of all. We become part of Heaven on earth, joining the saints who have gone before us and all the choirs of angels in our worship of the Father.
VATICAN CITY – Respect for a person’s relationship with God is essential to peace, Pope Benedict XVI said in a letter to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Respect for the “transcendent dimension of the human person is an indispensable condition for the construction of a just social order and a stable peace”, the pope wrote to the Iranian leader.

Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran gave the letter to Ahmadinejad on Nov 9 during a meeting in Tehran. The Vatican released a copy of the letter two days later. Pope Benedict told the Iranian leader that during the special Synod of Bishops for the Middle East in October, Church leaders reflected “on the great challenges placed before the Christian communities” in the region.
VATICAN CITY – Pope Benedict XVI called for the release of a 37-year-old Christian woman who faces the death penalty in Pakistan after being convicted on charges of blasphemy.

“I express my spiritual closeness to Asia Bibi and her family and ask that she soon regain her full liberty,” the pope said at the regular weekly general audience in St Peter’s Square on Nov 17. Bibi was convicted on Nov 14 by a Pakistani court for an alleged offence to the Prophet Muhammad, news reports said. The pope said “the international community is following the difficult situation of Christians in Pakistan with great concern”.

He also said he prayed “for all those who find themselves in similar situations” and asked “that their human dignity and fundamental rights are fully respected”.

In an interview with Vatican Radio, Peter Jacob, executive secretary of the National Commission for Justice and Peace of the Pakistan bishops’ conference, said, “The death sentence has shocked the civil society here”, which he added, “is very active”.

Journalists visit the Vatican’s new HD mobile TV studio during a demonstration at the Vatican on Nov 16. Thanks to a discount from Sony and a contribution from the Knights of Columbus, the Vatican television centre now has this multimillion-dollar studio which will be operational in time for Pope Benedict XVI’s Christmas midnight Mass. The Vatican unveiled the mobile studio – an 18-wheel truck with 16 workstations – after a news conference. CNS photo
Social media is ‘causing as fundamental a shift in communication patterns and behaviour as the printing press did 500 years ago’, said US Bishop Ronald P. Herzog. CNS photo

BALTIMORE – Social media is not only here to stay but should be recognised and used as a “new form of pastoral ministry”, US bishops were told during their Nov 15 annual meeting. “Social media is proving itself to be a force with which to be reckoned. If not, the Church may be facing as great a challenge as that of the Protestant Reformation,” said Bishop Ronald P Herzog of Alexandria, Louisiana, a member of the bishops’ Committee on Communications.

He told the US Conference of Catholic Bishops in Baltimore that although social media has been around for less than 10 years, it lacks the “makings of a fad” and is “causing as fundamental a shift in communication patterns and behaviour as the printing press did 500 years ago”.

“I don’t think I have to remind you of what happened when the Catholic Church was slow to adapt to that new technology,” he said. “By the time we decided to seriously promote that common folk should read the Bible, the Protestant Reformation was well under way.”

“We digital immigrants need lessons on the digital culture ... we have to be enculturated. It’s more than just learning how to create a Facebook account. It’s learning how to think, live and embrace life” in forms of blogs, Twitter feeds and online social networking.
MANILA – Philippine bishops said that Pope Benedict XVI has not changed his stand on contraception by saying male prostitutes may use condoms to fight HIV infection. Health activists, however, welcomed the statement. “[The pope] speaks of condoms as a permissible tool, not the primary tool, to arrest further spread of the HIV virus,” the Catholic bishops’ conference said in a statement signed by Monsignor Juanito Figura, its secretary general.

“The pope made the issue clear. It wasn’t about birth control but was about AIDS prevention. But it is misleading to think that the pope said that condom is OK in the fight against AIDS. What he said was that it is not a moral and a real solution, but in some cases, it can be a first step toward the right moral direction,” said Novaliches Bishop Emeritus Teodoro Bacani.

Retired Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Oscar Cruz said the pope’s statement was based on an “old doctrine” about “one act with double effect”.
‘The pope’s aim was to reaffirm with force that the problem of AIDS cannot be solved simply by distributing condoms, because much more needs to be done.’ – Vatican spokesman Fr Federico Lombardi

VATICAN CITY, 21 NOV 2010 (VIS) - Given below is the text of a note issued by Holy See Press Office Director Fr Federico Lombardi, SJ, concerning certain remarks by the Pope on the use of condoms, which appear in the new book, Light of the World.

‘At the end of chapter eleven of the book ‘Light of the World’ the Pope responds to two questions about the battle against AIDS and the use of condoms, questions that reconnect with the discussions that arose in the wake of certain statements the Pope made on this subject during the course of his 2009 trip to Africa. The Pope again makes it clear that his intention was not to take up a position on the problem of condoms in general; his aim, rather was to reaffirm with force that the problem of AIDS cannot be solved simply by distributing condoms, because much more needs to be done: prevention, education, help, advice, accompaniment, both to prevent people from falling ill and to help them if they do. The Pope observes that even in the non-ecclesial context an analogous awareness has developed, as is apparent in the so-called ABC theory (Abstinence – Be Faithful – Condom), in which the first two elements (abstinence and fidelity) are more decisive and fundamental in the battle against AIDS, while condoms take last place, as a way out when the other two are absent. It should thus be clear that condoms are not the solution to the problem.
Archbishop Malcolm Ranjith of Colombo was the only Asian Church leader elevated to cardinal by the pope during the Nov 20 consistory at the Vatican.

ROME – Pope Benedict XVI created 24 new cardinals, including one from Asia, and called them to be strong in spreading and defending the faith and giving humble service within the Church.

A Sri Lankan delegation witnessed the elevation of Archbishop Malcolm Ranjith of Colombo in Pope Benedict’s third consistory, held on Nov 20-21 at St Peter’s Basilica in Rome.

The pope placed the biretta, a square red hat symbolising martyrs’ blood, on the new cardinals during the Saturday Eucharistic celebration and the new cardinals were given rings during Sunday’s ceremony.

Quoting from the Gospel, Pope Benedict XVI urged humility among the new cardinals, saying, “Whoever wants to be first must be servant of all.”

The College of Cardinals now has 203 members, of whom 121 are under the age of 80 and eligible to elect a new pope.
PHNOM PENH – The Catholic Church in Cambodia is to offer a special Mass for victims of a bridge stampede during the Water Festival on Diamond Island in Phnom Penh.

The chaos on Nov 22 killed 375 and injured 755 people, and is regarded as the biggest tragedy for Cambodians since the Pol Pot regime, said Prime Minister Hun Sen.

The government announced it will give 5 million riel (S$1,600) to each family of the dead for transporting the bodies. It also marked Nov 25 as a national day of mourning.

The Catholic Church said it will offer a special Mass on the same day for the dead at Psataught Church in the capital.
Myanmar’s pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi leaves her National League for Democracy’s headquarters after meeting with ethnic leaders of her party in Yangon on Nov 16.

YANGON – Christians in Myanmar and across the world have welcomed the release of Myanmar’s pro-democracy leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, as a sign of hope for the country.

Suu Kyi, 65, was freed at 5.15 pm on Nov 13 after being detained for 15 of the past 21 years.

A Church person from Mandalay told that he was happy about the release as she is the only leader able to bring “change” to the country.

A priest from Mandalay said the Nobel Peace Prize winner is an icon of democracy and the international community took a greater interest in the country because of her.

“I prayed for her in the morning Mass on Nov 13 for her release,” the Mandalay priest added.

Father Babu Joseph, spokesperson of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India, said Suu Kyi’s release was the right signal for Myanmar to open up for democracy.

“The kind of support she has from the public, the softening of the stand of the junta and the international pressure for her release will certainly open a door to democracy,” he added.
NEW DELHI – Church leaders in India have slammed the Delhi civic agency for the collapse of a building which killed 61 people.

“It is a man-made calamity. The structure came up without any safety and security measures,” said Br Mani Mekkunnel, national secretary of the Conference of Religious India.

A four-storey building in Laxmi Nagar in the east of Delhi collapsed on Nov 15 injuring 80 people on top of the deaths.

The Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) allows only three floors in a building in that area. However, construction of an illegal fifth floor was going on when the incident took place.

Br Mekkunnel said the incident shows total insensitivity towards human beings and demanded action on all such illegal structures in Delhi.
MANILA – While fans celebrate the latest victory of Filipino boxing icon Emmanuel “Manny” Pacquiao, a Catholic priest said the boxer’s success has become a “major blow” to Filipino values.

Carmelite priest Marlon Lacal, co-executive secretary of the Association of Major Religious Superiors of the Philippines, said the Filipinos’ “idolisation” of Pacquiao and boxing promoted violence and gambling.

Father Lacal said the dangerous sport has also lured Filipinos into high-stakes betting.

“Boxing is not just a sport. It is also gambling because millions [are] involved. The Church is against activities that promote violence and gambling,” Father Lacal told

Nevertheless, Catholic bishops were among those who congratulated Pacquiao in his victory over Mexican-American boxer Antonio Margarito on Nov 14. Most of the bishops, however, now want Pacquiao to retire and focus on his job as a member of Congress.
A Korean Catholic hospital has shown that adult stem cells can be used to treat cancer. CNS file photo

SEOUL – Recent research by a South Korean Catholic hospital has shown that adult stem cells can provide a highly effective treatment for malignant brain tumours and other types of cancer.

The result vindicates the Church’s stance that opposes the use of embryonic stem cells but approves research with adult cells or artificially derived ones.

Research by a team led by Professor Jeon Sin-soo-led of Seoul St Mary’s Hospital of the Catholic University of Korea has just been published in the journal, Stem Cells.

The team’s research showed that a treatment using mesenchymal stem cells derived from umbilical cord blood increased the effectiveness of radiation treatment in a mouse suffering from a malignant brain tumour. The size of the tumour was found to be much reduced.

The treatment has not yet been tried on humans.
SEOUL – South Korean Church officials have condemned the recent military provocation from North Korea.

“The relationship between the North and the South worsened under the current South Korean government…the South Korean government should introduce dialogue and embrace the North,” said Father Johannes Kim Yong-hwan, chancellor of Incheon diocese, which covers Yeonpyeong, the attacked island.

On Nov 23, North Korea fired several hundreds of artillery shells at the South Korean island in the Yellow Sea. The attack killed two soldiers while injuring 13 soldiers and three civilians, says the South Korean military.
Some of the ordaining bishops allegedly detained by government officials to force them to participate

"We though there was a sincere negotiation going on. No, that was not so. He (Anthony Liu Bianian, vice president of Chines Catholic Patriotic Association) wants everything his way." -
Hong Kong Cardinal Zen Ze-kiun on the illicit ordination on Nov 20

CHENGDE – Under close surveillance from local government officials, Father Joseph Guo Jincai was ordained Bishop of Chengde, the first bishop ordained without papal approval in four years.

Eight bishops in communion with Pope Benedict XVI laid their hands on Father Guo on Nov 20, whose ordination was illicit in the eyes of the Church. Some of the ordaining bishops had been detained by government officials in the days before the ordination to force them to participate, reported the Asian Church news agency UCA News.

Retired Bishop John Liu Jinghe of Tangshan refused to attend the ordination, sources told UCA News.

More than 100 Catholics and dozens of government officials attended the ordination Mass at the church in the rural town of Pingquan. The village was surrounded by about 100 uniformed and plainclothes police. Cameras were banned in the church, and mobile phone signals were blocked in the area.
VATICAN CITY – The Vatican has clarified that Pope Benedict XVI was not changing Church teaching on sexual responsibility in remarks published in a new book, but rather considering an “exceptional circumstance” in which sexual activity places a person’s life at risk.

While the pope was not morally justifying disordered sexual activity, he was saying that use of a condom to reduce the risk of transmitting AIDS may be an act of moral responsibility, Vatican spokesman Jesuit Fr Federico Lombardi said on Nov 21.

He said it would be an exaggeration to call the pope’s comments “revolutionary”, but added that they offered a courageous and important contribution to a long-debated question.

In a new book released on Nov 23, the pope said the use of condoms may be a sign of moral responsibility in some specific situations when the intention is to reduce the risk of AIDS.

He addressed the issue in the book-length interview, Light of the World: The Pope, the Church and the Signs of the Times.

In the book, the pope repeated what he said during a trip to Africa last year, that “we cannot solve the problem [of AIDS] by distributing condoms”. Focusing exclusively on condoms damages human sexuality, making it “banal” and turning it into a kind of “drug”, he said.
I BELIEVE that we are called to live a spiritual life. That God has planted in each of us a seed of His divine nature. This seed is meant to be nurtured, to grow and blossom into a tree of life that is truly in God’s image. And I believe that we humans and all of creation are bound together in a great bond of blessing.

Dominican mystic Meister Eckhart (1260-1329) called creation “the first grace”. Hence, Creation can be understood as God’s original gift to us. We experience the gift of creation in our sense of wonder at the birth of a child, for instance, and awe at the sight of a stunningly beautiful sunrise or sunset. There is, in each of us, a yearning to experience all that is good, beautiful and true – echoing the divine nature within.

“We and all creatures are here to connect to the grace in one another and to the Source of all things,” says Matthew Fox, on interpreting Eckhart’s creation spirituality. Eckhart’s spirituality is one that is steeped in a passion for creation and rooted in compassion. It carries with it, as in biblical tradition, the responsibilities of justice-making.

How is it that many in today’s world do not seem able to live the spiritual life – one that acts on the values of love, justice and peace, one that is clearly Christlike? How is it that our hearts have so hardened, that we appear to absolve ourselves of any sense of responsibility for what is happening around us – the injustices and imbalances in our world?
Friar John-Paul Tan explains to the German visitors how Small Christian Communities work in St Mary of the Angels parish

Two-week-long visit aimed at helping them meet challenges facing their archdiocese

A team of German Catholics, comprising three priests and eight lay people, were in Singapore recently to learn about the workings of the Small Christian Communities (SCCs) here.

Their aim: to learn how to build up a sense of community in their Archdiocese of Freiburg in the wake of a dramatic decrease in the number of priests there.

During their Oct 26-Nov 8 visit, hosted by the Singapore Pastoral Institute (SPI), they visited SCCs, stayed with host families, and met up with Archbishop Nicholas Chia and Vicar General Msgr Eugene Vaz, among other Church people.

“The Gospel sharing, the openness ... and the fellowship among the members of the SCCs are very impressive,” the group, which included three women, told CatholicNews in emailed responses to questions. “We have been very excited about the engagement and the activities of the groups.”
Students starting their meditation session during the school’s Catholic Day Camp.

Primary Three and Four students of CHIJ St Nicholas learnt Christian meditation as part of the school’s recently conducted Catholic Day Camp.

Infant Jesus provincial Sr Maria Lau explained to the students during the camp, held on Nov 4, 11 and 12, that meditation was one form of prayer.

She then went on to explain the subsequent need for silence for the students to feel the presence of Christ. To illustrate her points, the students were shown a video of other students from around the world meditating.

Participants were then divided into groups, led by either a parent volunteer or an IJ Sister, for a nine-minute session of prayer and silence.

Archbishop Nicholas Chia speaking at the meeting of Alpha facilitators on Nov 11.

Catholic practices are allowed in parish-run Alpha courses despite its roots as an Anglican programme, says the archdiocese’s Alpha Advisory and Coordinating Team (AACT).

Making the sign of the cross and the use of Catholic prayers are allowed when Alpha is being run in a Catholic parish, said AACT member Derrick Chee.

Mr Chee, an AACT member, was speaking to 60 Alpha facilitators from 15 parishes and two church groups at Blessed Sacrament Church on Nov 11.

The meeting was to review the results of a survey of Alpha groups held earlier this year and study the positioning of Alpha within the Catholic Church. It was also to see how to run the programme, aimed at presenting Christian principles to non-Christians as well as act as a refresher course for Christians, more effectively.
Students take part in a ceremonial walk to their new school site on Nov 16.

Students and staff of St Anthony’s Canossian Primary School at Bedok North Avenue 4 found it hard to keep emotions in check when the school closed its doors for the last time on Nov 16.

The event marked the closing of a chapter in the school’s history here as lessons will now be conducted in a temporary holding site at Bedok North Road for the next two years. The building will be refurbished as part of the Education Ministry’s plans to improve and upgrade its facilities.

The Nov 16 ceremony began with a commemoration of the history of the school, which used to function at Middle Road.

A bell and a key brought from the Middle Road campus were presented to Mrs Eugenie Tan, the principal, as a symbolic representation of the school’s heritage.
Darius Lim conducting a Divine Mercy church choir

Five secular choirs will sing with choirs from the Church of Divine Mercy to raise funds for Timor Leste in a special upcoming concert.

Proceeds from donations during the event, to be held on Dec 5 evening at the church, will be channelled to Casa de Produção Audiovisual (CPA) to help fund TV programmes aimed at increasing children’s literacy in the country.

The event, themed From the Secular to the Sacred – A Christmas Festival of Choirs, will feature over 200 participants performing both sacred and secular choral works to celebrate the joy of Christmas.
A Catholic Faith Exploration (CaFE) programme discussion group. Many participants say the programme has helped them make a better connection between their faith and lives.

Participants of the Catholic Faith Exploration (CaFE) programme say that the course has helped them to rediscover and renew their Catholic faith.

Ms Gwen Pinto, a participant turned facilitator, said that as a cradle Catholic, she had taken the “aspects of our faith for granted”. “All my life, I thought I was a ‘good Catholic’ … I did all the things – attend Mass on Sunday, go communion … But it was just a ritual in many ways which had no real meaning in life.”

The CaFE programme, Ms Pinto said, helped her to make a better connection between her faith and life. Now, she is able to reflect on what is God is trying to tell her in a trying situation and is less prone to losing patience, she said.

Sr Christine Chia (left) and Sr Maria Ng pose for a photo with Archbishop Nicholas Chia during the FMM nuns’  golden jubilee celebration on Nov 17.

Franciscan Missionaries of Mary (FMM) Sister Maria Ng had been a globetrotter.

She had spent 12 years of her religious life crisscrossing 46 countries, visiting her congregation’s communities for a first hand view of their mission, encouraging them, finding out their needs and helping them.

Sr Maria, who celebrates her golden jubilee this year, was the first ethnic Chinese Sister to be elected as one of the General Councillors of her congregation to assist the Superior General. She held the post from 19902002.

Her travels took her to both developed and third-world countries. The Sisters in Japan were “serious and conscientious”, and despite not being in good health due to the effects of the atomic bomb, contributed their efforts to medical, social and education causes, said Sr Maria.
I never want to give up my vocation because I love the life of an FMM Sister, declares the quiet and soft-spoken Sr Christine Chia who celebrates her golden jubilee this year.

A convert, Sr Christine, said she was attracted to both the prayerful and missionary aspect of the FMM congregation.

She said the FMM Sisters are adorers of the Eucharist. During the day hours, each Sister takes turns to adore the Blessed Sacrament. There is a need to fill oneself with Christ first in order to have the strength to give Jesus to others, Sr Christine said.

She says she likes to help people. For example, she had brought a friend to stay in the convent after finding out that she had nowhere to sleep after her home was damaged in an incident.
The possible negative effects arising from the setting up of two casinos in Singapore were a discussion point during a Social Justice Day organised by the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary (FMM).

Thirty-five people, including FMM Sisters and Catholics from 11 parishes, took part in an afternoon of reflection, sharing and inputs on Oct 30 at the FMM House of Prayer and Formation.

Sr Mary Soh spoke about the principles behind Catholic social teaching and helped participants discuss the issue of casinos in Singapore. Many were convinced of the dangers of gambling and its destructive effects on relationships, family life and society. Two participants shared the experiences of the pain their families suffered due to members who gambled.

There was an overall disapproval of the building of the casinos in Singapore and participants said that Christians need to take action before more families are destroyed.

Among the suggestions raised were:
• Organising social awareness seminars regularly in parishes to conscientise people and to reach out to those in need of assistance.
• Catholics should be more assertive and not be afraid to express their views on social issues.
• To avoid going to casinos as a collective action.
• There should be dialogue with government authorities, such as Members of Parliament, on issues people are concerned about.

By Sr Liza Tan, FMM
Photo: Charles Wong

As witnesses of God’s mercy, Catholics have to proclaim how God has blessed them not only by word of mouth, but also through the Internet and other media, said a Filipino bishop at a Divine Mercy retreat recently.

Jesus came to liberate people from their poor self-image and a false understanding of God, Bishop Teodoro C. Bacani Jr (right) told some 150 people from various parishes at the Oct 29-30 retreat held at the Immaculate Heart of Mary Retreat House.

There is no greater dignity than being children of God, said the bishop, a well-known speaker at conferences for the clergy and laity and the author of several books on spirituality and pastoral concerns.

Participants said the retreat, organised by the Archdiocesan Divine Mercy Apostolate, inspired them. Shirley Yeo, 68, said it motivated her to work on her spiritual growth.

The Divine Mercy devotion is currently present in 29 parishes in Singapore.

By PTan