FEBRUARY 17, 2008 Vol 58, No 4

NO ONE DECIDES to become a martyr. It just happens. And, as often as not, almost no one notices.

Once a year, though, as it did at the end of December, the Vatican’s Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples makes a list of Catholics who lost their lives working for the faith.

Fides, the congregation’s news agency, reported that at least 20 church workers around the world – priests and other clergy, religious women and men, and a seminarian – were murdered or sacrificed their lives in 2007.

No, they officially aren’t martyrs, since that’s something the church will determine perhaps years or even centuries later.

Still, most people who suffer for the sake of the Gospel won’t even get that much attention.

People like Cathy, whose last name isn’t important, though her martyrdom ought to be noted.

She didn’t die. She wasn’t even wounded. Not physically, at least. But there are many ways to suffer.

It happened this way.

A particularly gruesome murder shattered a small town. A child was slain, horribly, senselessly. Suspects were put on trial. There were those – including the child’s parents – who cried out for justice, justice that included the death penalty.

This event occurred several years ago, before the church’s opposition to capital punishment was as clear as it is today. But even then, some people saw in capital punishment a life issue and decried it.

Cathy, who knew the murdered child’s parents, was among them.

Over the cry of many in their parish who called for revenge, Cathy’s was a calm, consistent and faithful voice. During the lengthy trial and afterward, she reminded people of the Gospel call of forgiveness, of the faith-centered notion that state-sanctioned capital punishment removes from God the ability to seek and accept reconciliation.

Her Gospel call was not always welcomed. Those who sought the revenge of the death penalty returned Cathy’s Gospel call with ostracism. The parents refused to speak with her. Other relationships were strained and some remain in tatters years later.

This, too, is martyrdom. Not to the death, perhaps, but martyrdom nonetheless. Still, not everyone was unmoved. Some heard the Gospel call and changed their perspective. Sometimes, after all, martyrs simply plant seeds.

There’s even more to this thing called martyrdom.

I know a deacon who made the "mistake" – though he still won’t call it that – of preaching about peace to a wealthy suburban parish just before the invasion of Iraq.

No matter that he pulled his words from the Gospel and from no less a source than Pope John Paul II. Reaction to the strong and faithful homily was swift: complaints, criticism and calls for apologies. He said there were many cold shoulders after Masses that Sunday and subsequent Sundays, when he sought to greet parishioners.

But isn’t that the way of the Gospel? When we stand up for what it means – really means – we open ourselves to criticism from those who don’t or can’t understand. It’s why the Gospel is a radical thing; it challenges people to think differently about themselves, about their understanding of faith, about the world.

No, today’s martyrs won’t always end up being listed by Fides. Some will hardly receive note beyond a small group of detractors and supporters.

For instance, every January youths and others march down a Washington street, chilled to the bone, bearing a banner which proclaims life for all to see. Are they not nameless martyrs? So too is everyone who proclaims the Gospel message where it’s not welcomed.

Martyrs can be all around us. We should look for those who subject themselves to suffering and criticism for the sake of the Gospel, not only around the world where Fides looked, but in our own backyards. -By Tom Sheridan


Tom Sheridan is a former editor of The Catholic New World, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Chicago.

HAVE YOU EVER wondered why it is that some parishes have communion hosts with a cross in the centre, and why some parishes don’t? I have, and have long speculated the reasons behind this, but it was not until a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to visit the interior of the Carmelite monastery that these questions were finally answered.

After the official blessing of the newly renovated Carmelite monastery on Dec 5, I followed the unusually excited diocesan priests and seminarians into the "production" rooms of the Carmelite monastery. Here, 20,000-30,000 communion hosts are baked and cut everyday from Monday to Friday.

The Carmelite sisters proudly displayed their tools of the trade – sophisticated machines used to sift the wheat flour, form batter and bake it into the bread that would later, under the anointed hands of our priests, become the body of Christ at Mass.

Plain wheat flour is first put through the sifter to remove impurities. The clean flour is then mixed with ice water in a batter machine, before it is placed on the baking machines. The lids are closed and sealed while the bread is baked. A look at the underside of the lid reveals that up to 14 large hosts can be cut from one large disc of bread.

However, it is unusual that all 14 can be used, as the sisters have to ensure that these pass their strict quality control – each piece to be used for the large host must not have any breakage, especially on the lines of the designs. When asked what happened to the large hosts that do not pass quality control, Sister explained that they would either be cut into small hosts or used for breakfast.

After the bread is baked, it is very crispy and cannot immediately be cut. Sister then stores them in tins until they are ready to go through the cutting process.

In order to cut the bread, it must first be softened in the humidifier, a kind of metal cabinet with grilles. Sister usually leaves the bread out in the open air overnight, allowing the moisture in the air to soften the bread.

The next day, the bread is cut with a specialized machine that can cut up to 30 small hosts at one go. The large hosts have to be cut individually. About 20,000-30,000 small hosts, and 250-300 large hosts can be produced a day.

After the bread is cut, it must be dried thoroughly in the oven. Sister cannot wait too long before the drying process; otherwise the bread will start to spoil. Once the bread is thoroughly dried however, it can remain on the shelf for up to a year without spoiling.

A production of 20,000-30,000 hosts a day surely cannot be enough for the needs of the diocese which has about 300,000 Catholics? Indeed it is not enough, Sister tells us, which is why the supply of communion hosts for the diocese is supplanted with hosts made in Poland – the ones with a cross in the middle.

Once the hosts made by the sisters are ready and packed, it is sent to their distributor. In the past, it was the Catholic Commodity Services (formerly located at 55 Waterloo Street, 2nd level) that sold communion hosts to the parishes and Catholic organizations. However, Catholic Commodity Services ceased operations a few years ago and the distribution of communion hosts is now handled by former employees of the company.

Now I have the answers to my questions about communion hosts. If only I had remembered to ask Sister for the recipe!  -By Daniel Tay


WHILE SHOPPING AT Topshop at Wisma Atria on Jan 20, Nick Chui was shocked to see images of Jesus Christ, the Virgin Mary and Mother Teresa being used to sell products.

What Mr Chui found particularly offensive were packets of cosmetics using pictures of Jesus and phrases like "Looking Good for Jesus" in big letters. One of the packets comes with a tube of cream decorated with a picture of a lady with an arm around Jesus and looking dreamingly at him, and the phrase "Get Tight with Christ".

The flap of the packet also contains a message. "REDEEM Yourself in HIS EYES." It’s Easy," it adds. "Place statue of Jesus in plain sight. Apply Virtuous Lip Balm." "Think pure thoughts until your next hot date" is another phrase.

"The figures of Jesus, the Virgin Mary, etc are venerated by Catholics and are displayed at homes and used in churches with the utmost reverence," Mr Chui said. "Using them to sell commercial products or, worse still, attaching sexual inneundos to them is offensive and hurting."

Mr Chui wrote to CatholicNews and attached some photos of the offending products. He also wrote to the Wing Tai Group to urge it to withdraw these products from all its outlets. The Wing Tai Holdings Ltd/Wing Tai Asia website classifies Topshop in its Retail/Fashion category.

Enquiries by CatholicNews indicate that the products are from Blue Q, which sells cosmetics, shopping carriers, T-shirts and a long list of other products, many of them with names and blurbs that may be cheeky and funny to some or offensive to others.

Wing Tai Holdings Limited claims to be one of Singapore’s leading property developer and lifestyle company. It is listed on the Singapore Exchange and has a market capitalization of $1,700 million. At Dec 31, 2007 it had Net Assets of $1,682 million and Total Assets of $3,162 million. It made Total Profit of $123 million for the six months ending Dec 31, 2007.

Why does such a big company get involved in the sale of these products?

The products are not Topshop’s, explains a spokesperson for Wing Tai Clothing.

"Although these products are found in Topshop, they are the merchandise by our concessionaire, Blue Q, which leases a space within the shop," she said.

Having been alerted to the presence of these products, she responds, "We highly understand the sensitivity of the merchandise and have taken immediate action to remove all these products. Please accept, also on behalf of Blue Q, our sincere apologies." -By Joyce Gan

AGNES WAS A Roman girl who was only 13 years old when she became a martyr. Agnes had made a promise to God never to stain her purity. Her love for the Lord was very great and she hated sin even more than death! Since she was very beautiful, many young men wished to marry Agnes, but she would always say, "Jesus Christ is my only spouse."

Procop, the Governor’s son, became very angry when she refused him. He had tried to win her for his wife with rich gifts and promises, but the beautiful young girl kept saying, "I am already promised to the Lord of the universe. He is more splendid than the sun and the stars, and he has said he will never leave me!"

In great anger, Procop accused her of being a Christian and brought her to his father, the Governor. The Governor promised Agnes wonderful gifts if she would only deny God, but Agnes refused. He tried to change her mind by putting her in chains, but her lovely face shone with joy. Next he sent her to a place of sin, but an angel protected her.

At last, she was condemned to death.

Even the pagans cried to see such a young and beautiful girl going to death. Yet, Agnes was as happy as a bride on her wedding day. She did not pay attention to those who begged her to save herself. "I would offend my spouse," she said, "if I were to try to please you. He chose me first and he shall have me!" Then she prayed and bowed her head for the death-stroke of the sword. n

After God created the heavens and the earth, everything was in darkness, so he commanded, "Let there be light." And light appeared.

He created the land and the seas, the fish and the birds, the animals and the plants. Then, out of the clay of the earth, he molded a man to live in the world he had created.

Then God planted a garden in a place called Eden. He put the man into the garden so he would take care of it, and eat the fruits and vegetables in it.

But God gave the man one command to follow. "You are free to eat from any of the trees in the garden except the tree of knowledge of good and bad. From that tree you shall not eat; the moment you eat from it you are surely doomed to die."

God said, "It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a suitable partner for him." God put the man into a deep sleep, and then he removed one of the man’s ribs and created a new person from it. When the man woke up, God told him what he had done and gave the woman to him as his partner.

The man said to the Lord, "This one, at last, is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; this one shall be called ‘woman’, for out of ‘her man’ this one has been taken."

However, in the garden that God had made there lived a serpent, a cunning and devious creature. When God was not around, the serpent said to the woman, "Did God really tell you not to eat from any of the trees in the garden?"

"We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; it is only about the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden that God said, ‘You shall not eat it or even touch it, lest you die.’"

Then the serpent said, "You certainly will not die! No, God knows well that the moment you eat of it your eyes will be opened."

So the woman ate of the fruit of the tree. It was delicious. She talked the man into eating it as well.

After they had both eaten from the tree, they heard the Lord walking in the garden and they hid themselves from him.


1. What did God use to make the man?

2. What did the serpent say about the fruit of the tree?

Children’s Story – By Joe Sarnicola