By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Although they have thousands of objects on display and even more in storage, the Vatican Museums trace their origin to one marble sculpture, purchased 500 years ago.

The sculpture of Laocoon, the priest who, according to Greek mythology, tried to convince the people of ancient Troy not to accept the "gift" of the Greeks' hollow horse, was discovered Jan. 14, 1506, in a vineyard near Rome's Basilica of St. Mary Major.

Pope Julius II sent Guiliano da Sangallo and Michelangelo Bonarroti, who were working at the Vatican, to check out the discovery. On their recommendation, the pope immediately purchased the sculpture from the vineyard owner.

(continued on page 2)

The pope put the sculpture of Laocoon and his sons in the grips of a sea serpent on public display at the Vatican exactly one month after its discovery.

U.S. Cardinal Edmund C. Szoka, president of the office governing Vatican City State, which includes the museums, marked the 500th anniversary of the museums by presiding over a Feb 14 press conference.

Over the course of the centuries, he said, the popes have collected important art and artifacts, "preserving them from oblivion and destruction and presenting them to successive generations."

"Artists of every epoch were called to express themselves and to reveal their vocations at the service of beauty and of faith," Cardinal Szoka said.

Each year the Vatican Museums allow 4 million people from every nation and faith to admire the work of human genius, much of it produced in praise of God, he said.

Cardinal Szoka was to celebrate a special Mass for the museums' employees Feb 17 in the Sistine Chapel, the centerpiece of most people's visit to the museums.

(continued on page 3)

The calendar of special events for the 500th anniversary celebrations also includes:

— The October opening of a new segment of the Roman Necropolis, an ancient burial ground that includes the site of the tomb of St. Peter under St. Peter's Basilica. The new segment, covering an area of almost 600 square yards, was discovered three years ago when the Vatican began excavations for an underground parking garage.

Francesco Buranelli, director of the Vatican Museums, said the new section includes about 30 burial chambers and about 70 individual tombs "where the visitor can immerse himself in an intact burial ground of imperial Rome." Many of the tombs, dating from the first century B.C. to the third century after Christ, are decorated with frescoes, mosaics and carvings, he said.

— The April unveiling of newly restored murals by Bernardino di Betto, better known as Pintoricchio, in the Borgia Apartments. While the project is ongoing, the murals depicting events from the lives of Christ and Mary will be revealed.

— The November opening of a special exhibit dedicated to the Laocoon sculpture, which Buranelli said had a major impact on artists from the moment of its discovery.

"The contortion of the limbs and the suffering on the faces of the poor Trojan priest and his two sons, entangled in the coils of the monstrous serpent sent by Athena and Poseidon, were the best interpretation of that ‘pathos' and that anatomical movement so central to artistic research" beginning in the 1500s, Buranelli said.

Although the statue has been the subject of repeated research, museum officials said its exact age still is not known.

"According to the most recent theories," a press release said, "the Vatican Laocoon could be an original from 40-30 B.C. or a Roman copy from the Tiberian era (A.D. 14-37) of a bronze original from the Hellenistic period." 


Celebrating the Mass reverently is a must, not an antidote or an option. Neither is good preaching optional. A good homily nourishes the spirit and provides food for thought. Persistently poor homilies drive Catholics to look for parishes with better preachers. Some have even been drawn away by charismatic preachers outside the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church will do well to ponder how some other Christian churches have been able to attract huge and, often enthusisatic, attendance through good preaching. Incredulous as it may seem, this is the real world and, unfortunately, Catholics are not endowed with any special gifts to bear with boring homilies or plain nagging or even scolding day-after-day or week-after-week. 

Emil Chau


The recent conflagration, ignited by the caricatures of the Prophet Mohammad, bears testimony to the ebullience uncontrolled freedom of speech can cause. Those who championed free speech did not heed the words of Thomas Hobbes, the early English political philosopher, who said freedom, paradoxically, needed law and order to survive.

The curbs inherent in law and order were imperative for freedom's existence and the pretermission made freedom erroneously an end in itself. If freedom was an end in itself, what was its absolute? In this fallacious context, insults and abuse became parts of free speech - a simplistic solution to a complex polemic.

The First Amendment of the Bill of Rights guarantees five basic freedoms - of religion, of speech, of the press, of assembly and the right to petition the government for a redress of grievances. It does not extend to obscenity and pornography. It is indeed strange that in the dialectic polemic of proponents, it is extended to insult and abuse.

Mr. Justice Black in the Supreme Court, in Tinker v. Des Moines Independent School Dist., held that it was a myth to say that any person has a constitutional right to say what he pleases, where he pleases, and when he pleases. It is this nurturing of the myth which created the clash between religion and freedom. It caused the destruction of property, killings and civil strife. While the excessive exacerbation, of the followers of the religious sector concerned, produced a negative image, as admitted by the religious leaders, this paroxysmal severity, however, does not ameliorate the culpability of the freedom protagonists, who initiated the attrition.

The basic freedom of speech, or _expression, is not diminished by the extirpation of abuse and insults. If we are to go by sumptuary law, freedom per se does not mean the abuse or insult of another's belief, his prophet, or his God. The right to the freedom of speech cannot trample on the other basic right to the freedom of religion. Freedom is never free and it operates on a quid pro quo principle. It is acknowledged that freedom is the insurance of free speech but concomitant to this is obedience to law and order, which is the premium paid for the insurance.


Dudley Au


By Sister Wendy Ooi, fsp

SINGAPORE - The Jubilate choir set a joyous tone as 280 Christians of different denominations came together in the church of Toa Payoh Methodist last Jan 23 for anecumenical celebration of the Word.

This was the second ecumenical Prayer Service during the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity in Singapore. The first was held at Church of St. Ignatius on Jan 19, 2006.

Leaders of different denominations took turns to lead the prayer service. In his homily, Father Frans De Ridder expressed the joy of Christians praying together as "we are the Body of Christ with a common mission."

He said, "We often argue about words, but words are only doors or windows to open and enter into that space, that immensity, which is the life of Christ." He urged his audience to learn from each other, dialogue, and cooperate "for the common good of the world." "People will recognise that you are my disciples if you love one another," he echoed Christ.

After the celebration of the Word, Father Albert Renckens, who is coordinator of the prayer service, invited all present to fellowship in the church hall. There, Pastor David  Cheah from the Yishun Lutheran Church expressed a general sentiment when he said, "It was a good experience to get to know many other Christians and that we can come together and worship together."

(continued on page 2)

Major P. Kunam, ordained pastor from the Salvation Army, was grateful to be part of the celebration. "I'm very happy and joyful to participate and see the unity of the churches." Methodist Pastor Derrick Lau said it was "a great privilege to host this event" and "a joy to see so many people of different traditions and denominations affirm our unity as Christians."

To the delight of the many Catholics present, eight Catholic priests were there. Father Damian De Wind explained that "as more and more marriages have partners from another denomination, it is important to bring about an awareness that we are working together in the spirit of ecumenism."

"We must be encouraged to look at our strong common points rather than just criticising each other," he added.

Curiosity brought Anthony Vaz, from Our Lady of Lourdes, to the prayer service. "I've never been to a Protestant church before and I wanted to see the different types of Christian leaders come to worship together and what the worship was going to be like."

Joseph Kirk, a prayer intercessor at Toa Payoh Methodist, found the evening "very meaningful."

Daphne Wang, a parishioner of Holy Family who studies the Bible in an ecumenical group, was inspired to bring her experience home. "We can do this on a parish level and even in our own homes, among friends, to promote our unity, focusing on what unites us than what divides us."

Msgr Eugene Vaz said, "It's important to come together and pray. Prayer will lead to working together. I hope it leads to something deeper, some common outreach." One common outreach resulting from that evening was a collection for the flood and earthquake victims of Pakistan. 

Words of love have a magical power to turn the most ordinary spousal relationship into the most wonderful, writes Father Henry Siew.

"I LOVE YOU." "I miss you." "You are great." "You are really beautiful." "I trust in you." These are words you say when you are deeply in love with someone. During courtship, lovers adore each other; they can't wait to meet and talk.They pour their hearts out using the sweetest words they can find. They are like the brightest stars shining in each other's night sky; like the oasis in the desert satisfying each other's thirst. Their whole being is fulfilled because of each other.

Now, fast forward to the time after their marriage. Couples seem to have used up all the loving words they used to say. They only communicate when they need to and conversation is confined to practical matters. "Is dinner ready?", "How come the room is so messy?", "Have the children done their homework yet?"

Although we need to deal with practical issues, there should be more to married life than just them. Where have all the sweet and affectionate words gone to? Why is there such a drastic difference before and after marriage?

(continued on page 2)

There is a misconception by some that once married, their love is sealed and presumed and so there is no need for romance or to express it, and so saying "Thank you," "You are fantastic," and "I love you" aloud are superfluous. These phrases are meant only for young love birds and are too awkward for married couples, they reckon.

If they are shy to express their adoration and longing for each other, and (some) even appear cold and affectionless, it is no wonder that the intimacy they enjoy during courtship will disappear and their married life gradually become dull.

Some find spending time together boring. Others find chatting or sharing with their spouse a waste of time; they feel it is unnecessary or even stupid to try to please their spouse verbally and may even hide some matters from each other. There are those who seldom call home while overseas and even if they did the conversation will be confined to "Are the children well-behaved?" "Have you eaten yet?" Loving words like "I miss you" seem totally foreign.

When there is no constant expression of love, the emotional connection between the couple will plateau as well. Under these circumstances, they will find it very difficult to share negative feelings and experiences. When faced with problems or conflicts, they often just do not know what their spouse is unhappy about nor do they communicate their feelings. When one is offended, the other will just ignore it, refusing to apologise. They exchange few loving words but many hurting ones.

(continued on page 3)

In the course of time, they can't stand each other anymore, and what remains are grudges and resentment. Marriage becomes unexciting, tiring or even miserable. "Marriage is a dream come true" will become "Marriage is the graveyard for love." A loving relationship and its expression can't stop at the courting stage.

A couple's relationship is affected by changes in their standard of living, their status in the society, and their circle of friends, only with unceasing communication that involve words of praise, care and love can they maintain a high level of mutual understanding and a loving relationship that grows and last.

Words have an amazing effect on human psychology. Married couples should learn how to use  them to their advantage. A humourous word can lighten up a stifling atmosphere, a gentle word can arouse affection and an encouraging word can warm up a heart. An apology and a word of comfort will dissolve anger and frustration.

Appropriate and sincere  words of love have a profound and magical power to turn the most ordinary spousal relationship into the most wonderful and special relationship, one that a couple will treasure for life.

HenrySiew01.jpgRemember, in spousal relationship, never be stingy with the use of affectionate words.   

Right, Father Henry Siew, parish priest of St. Anne's Church, is the spiritual director to the Mandarin Encounter Weekend.