27 February 2015

'I have tried to follow when you called.' Sunday Reflections, 2nd Sunday of Lent, Year B

Transfiguration of Christ, Paolo Veronese, 1555-56
Cathedral of Santa Maria, Montagnana, Italy [Web Gallery of Art]

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

Readings (Jerusalem Bible: Australia, England & Wales, India [optional], Ireland, New Zealand, Pakistan, Scotland, South Africa) 

Gospel Mark 9:2-10 (New Revised Standard Version, Catholic Edition, Canada)   

Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” He did not know what to say, for they were terrified.  Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus.

As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead. So they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what this rising from the dead could mean.

Responsorial Psalm (Philippines, USA)


Bishop Edward Galvin (1882 - 1956)


After his ordination in 1909 for his native Diocese of Cork in the south of Ireland Fr Edward J. Galvin, born on 23 November, the feast of St Columban, 1882, was sent on loan by his bishop to the Diocese of Brooklyn, New York. In those days it was common for young Irish diocesan priests to be sent to English-speaking countries until there was a vacancy at home, a situation that certainly doesn't exist any more in Ireland.

God's providence led the young priest in 1912 to head for China with Canadian Fr John Mary Fraser who later founded the Scarboro Missions. Fr Galvin's decision was to lead him to co-found with Fr John Blowick what was in 1918 to become the Missionary Society of St Columban but that began in 1916 in Ireland as 'The Maynooth Mission to China'.

Fr Galvin and Fr Blowick

Fr Galvin's decision was for him something like that of Abraham in today's First Reading. He wrote many years later, I still remember the pain of parting on that grey, dreary morning,When the train got underway for Toronto, I crumpled up in the coach and cried as if my heart would break. 

Fr Blowick said of that moment in Fr Galvin's life, He supported his head in his hands, and for two hours his mind was a blank. He had of his own election become a wanderer for Christ’s sake. For all he knew he was going to China to die.

Another of the first Columbans, Bishop Patrick Cleary who, like Bishop Galvin, served in China, wrote, It is no easy matter to part from home and friends under any circumstances: it was particularly trying in Father Galvin’s case. He was facing an unknown world; trials and hardship were before him – but these he regarded as nothing. The thought that almost unnerved him was the fact that never again, perhaps, would he see one of those faces he held so dear, never again get a glimpse of the land he loved. Was it any wonder then that as the train sped across the continent to Vancouver he flung himself into the corner of a carriage and wept like a child?

That was the reality a century ago for most missionaries.


The Sacrifice of Abraham, Joseph Bergler the Elder, 1753
Liechtenstein Museum, Vienna [Web Gallery of Art]
First Reading


We can only imagine the turmoil within the heart of Abraham as he walked that morning with Isaac to sacrifice him. The letter the young Fr Galvin wrote to his mother about his decision echoes the turmoil of Abraham. The greatest pain, perhaps, that Edward Galvin suffered was his awareness that his mother would suffer too. The full text of his letter is on page 3 here. Below is an edited version.


Feb 21st, 1912

My dear Mother,

I am sorry, dear Mother, to have to write this letter, but God’s will be done. Everything is in His hands. Mother, don’t grieve, don’t cry. It is God’s will. God has called and I had to obey.

I am not going back to Ireland. I am going as a missionary to China. May God’s will be done. God knows my heart is broken, not for myself but for you whom I love above all the world.

Mother, you know how this has always been on my mind. But I thought it was a foolish thought – a boyish thought; that it would pass away as I grew older. But it never passed, never, never, never.

Why should God ask me to do this thing that is breaking my heart to do? I don’t know. God knows best. May His will be done. 'If any man will come after me let him take up his cross and follow me.' Oh yes, but oh my God I never thought that it was so hard to follow. I have tried to follow when you called. I ask you in return to console my poor mother, to comfort her, to help her to make the Sacrifice I am making and spare her until we meet again.’

Though he did not understand why God was asking him to sacrifice Isaac, his only son by his wife Sarah, Abraham submitted to God's will. Doing God's will was at the heart of the life of Edward Galvin, as his letter to his mother shows: God’s will be done . . . May God's will be done . . . May his will be done. 

When in 1927 he was ordained bishop of the prefecture that was to become the Diocese of Hanyang in 1946, though he had little or no interest in the trappings of the office of bishop, Edward Galvin was insistent that his episcopal motto was to be the words of Mary to the Angel Gabriel, Fiat Voluntas Tua, Thy Will be Done.



Bishop Edward J. Galvin in 1927

Though he had co-founded the Missionary Society of St Columban to preach the Gospel in China, Bishop Galvin said there to his fellow Columbans on one occasion when everything seemed to be going against them, We're not here to convert China but to do God's will.

The Columbans in China lived through wars, terrible floods, banditry and then the Communist takeover in 1949 and all were eventually expelled, some after spending time in prison. Bishop Galvin was forced to leave in 1952. He died in Ireland on 23 February 1956.

Bishop Galvin's experience of the Transfiguration of Christ wasn't quite like that of Peter, James and John on Mount Tabor. They caught a brief glance of the divinity of Jesus. That was to strengthen them in years to come. He expressed it in his letter to his mother: Mother, you know how this has always been on my mind. But I thought it was a foolish thought – a boyish thought; that it would pass away as I grew older. But it never passed, never, never, never.

Jesus revealed himself quietly but persistently to Edward Galvin from his adolescent years until he was already a priest until the young Irishman could see clearly that his call was to be a missionary.

Like the 'Yes' of Abraham, our father in faith, the 'Yes' of Fr Edward John Galvin was to be the channel of enormous blessings to countless people, not only in China, but in many other countries. 

The experience of the Transfiguration that Peter, James and John had was to lead countless persons to be followers of Jesus Christ, many of them to martyrdom. So also did the 'drip, drip, drip' persistence of God's call to Edward Galvin, a quieter 'Transfiguration', lead countless persons to be followers of Jesus, many of them to martyrdom, including some of his Columban companions.

May each of us be able to say wholeheartedly to Jesus in whatever circumstances we find ourselves what Fr Galvin expressed as an aside to him in his letter to his mother: I have tried to follow when you called.


Fr Galvin's letter to his mother


Antiphona ad introitum  Entrance Antiphon Cf Ps 26 [27]: 8-9
[The shorter version is used in the 'New Mass', the longer in the 'Old Mass']

Tibi dixit cor meum quaesivi vultum tuum,
Of you my heart has spoken: Seek his face.
vultum tuum, Domine, requiram.
It is your face, O Lord, that I seek,
Ne avertas faciem tuam a me.
hide not your face from me.

Dominus illuminatio mea, et salus mea: quem timebo?
The Lord is my light and my salvation: whom should I fear?
Gloria Patri, et Filio, et Spiritui Sancto.
Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.
Sicut erat in principio, et nunc, et semper, et in saecula saeculorum. Amen.
As it was in the beginning, is now, and will be for ever. Amen.

Tibi dixit cor meum quaesivi vultum tuum,
Of you my heart has spoken: Seek his face.
vultum tuum, Domine, requiram.
It is your face, O Lord, that I seek,
Ne avertas faciem tuam a me.
hide not your face from me.

18 February 2015

'Repent, and believe in the good news.' Sunday Reflections, 1st Sunday of Lent, Year B

The Temptation of Christ, Tintoretto, 1579-81
Scuola Grande di San Rocco, Venice [Web Gallery of Art]


Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

Readings (Jerusalem Bible: Australia, England & Wales, India [optional], Ireland, New Zealand, Pakistan, Scotland, South Africa) 

Gospel Mark 1:12-15 (New Revised Standard Version, Catholic Edition, Canada) 

And the Spirit immediately drove Jesus out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.

Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God,  and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”


Responsorial Psalm (Philippines, USA)


One of my teachers in the Columban seminary in the 1960s was a saintly priest, Fr Edward McCormack. Father Ted, as we knew him, spent most of his life as a priest teaching Scripture to Columban seminarians in Ireland and the USA. But he taught our class Latin.

I vividly remember one occasion when he celebrated our community Mass on the First Sunday of Lent. In the Old Mass Matthew 4:1-11 was always read. That's now the Gospel for Year A. As he was preaching  it was clear that he had a deep, personal sense of the horror of Satan tempting Jesus, God who became Man, of Evil trying to prevail over Love, God himself.


We have daily examples of the power of evil. The recent murder of 21 Coptic Christians, Egyptian men working in neighbouring Libya - like the countless OFWs (Overseas Filipino Workers) - working abroad. They were murdered simply because they were Christians.

In a meeting last Monday with a delegation from the Church of Scotland, which is Presbyterian, Pope Francis said the following.

I would now like to turn to my native tongue to express feelings of profound sorrow. Today, I read about the execution of those twenty-one or twenty-two Coptic Christians. Their only words were: 'Jesus, help me!' They were killed simply for the fact that they were Christians. You, my brother, in your words referred to what is happening in the land of Jesus. The blood of our Christian brothers and sisters is a testimony which cries out to be heard. It makes no difference whether they be Catholics, Orthodox, Copts or Protestants. They are Christians! Their blood is one and the same. Their blood confesses Christ. As we recall these brothers and sisters who died only because they confessed Christ, I ask that we encourage each another to go forward with this ecumenism which is giving us strength, the ecumenism of blood. The martyrs belong to all Christians.

The vast majority of Christians in Egypt are Coptic Christians and according to tradition they trace their origins to St Mark preaching the Gospel in Alexandria in the very early days of the Church. A minority of Coptic Christians are in full communion with Rome as the Coptic Catholic Church. They number fewer than 200,000.


We can easily shake our heads in disgust at actions that are clearly evil, such as the murders of these 21 men, particularly when they are done 'in the name of God'. But we can overlook our own sinfulness which adds to the culture where evil often prevails. Fr Ted McCormack in preaching to us in the seminary 50 or so years ago conveyed a sense of that. Jesus speaks to each of us individually, not 'to my neighbour' but to me. Repent, and believe in the good news.

The priest may say those words when he puts the ashes on our foreheads on Ash Wednesday. Lent is a personal invitation from Jesus to each one of us, and to all of us as his brothers and sisters, to let ourselves be driven by the Spirit out into the wilderness as he was, to let our hearts be transformed by the Spirit.

I remember Father Ted telling us one day that when he was young his brother was constantly playing Beethoven's Fifth Symphony on the gramophone - on old 78s. 'I couldn't stand it,' he told us. 'Then one day it all came together and I could experience the beauty of it. But now I can only hear the faults in it.' 

Jesus calls us in Lent to discover the beauty of our faith in him, to discover where that beauty may lead us as we carry on his mission. And just as Father Ted had let go of the majestic power and beauty of Beethoven's music, the Lord may ask us to let go of everything, even of life itself, with his name on our lips, like the 21 Coptic Christians murdered simply because they were Christians.

Their deaths were horrific. Their murders were utterly evil. But those men whose blood confesses Christ, as Pope Francis said, are a testimony to the greater power of God's love.

Jesus, help me!


A Coptic hymn, Lord Jesus, help me, sung in Arabic.

Beethoven's Fifth Symphony, First Movement
Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra conducted by Gustavo Dudamel of Venezuela






Columban Fr Frederick Hanson RIP

Fr Frederick Hanson
8 September 1916 - 15 February 2015

Fr Frederick ('Fred') Hanson was born on 8 September 1916 in Belfast. Educated at St Brigid’s National School, Holy Family National School and St Mary’s Christian Brothers' School, Belfast, he came to the Old Dalgan, the original St Columban's seminary, in Shrule, County Galway, in 1933. He was a member of the last class to be ordained in Shrule in December 1939, before the seminary relocated to St Columban’s, Navan.




Donegall Square, Belfast, in the early 1900s [Wikipedia]

The Second World War prevented his being assigned overseas, so he was assigned to parish work in the Diocese of Down and Connor for three years. He joined the Royal Air Force as a chaplain in 1943 and served until 1950. This appointment clearly suited Fred’s talents. The RAF Chaplain-in-Chief pleaded that he be allowed serve a further three years, 'Fr Hanson is a most zealous priest and has done heroic work in looking after young Irishmen in several RAF stations . . . I cannot conceive of anybody doing greater work for the glory of God than he is doing in his present position.' 

The Spitfire, above, is a symbol of the RAF's victory in the Battle of Britain in 1940. The song and the singer, Dame Vera Lynn, born seven months after Father Fred and still happily with us, are symbols of  the World War II period for older people in Britain.

He was assigned briefly to Korea, but the outbreak of war in that country resulted in a change of assignment to Japan. From 1953 until 1958 he served as Editor of Tosei News (an English news service for missionaries) and NCWC correspondent for Korea and Japan.


Chuncheon Cathedral and Cemetery
Columban Bishop Thomas Quinlan was the first Bishop of Chuncheon and is buried there with some other Columbans.

From 1958-1964 he was assigned once again to Korea where he served as secretary to Bishop Quinlan of Chuncheon, Korea. There followed two years doing pastoral work on a temporary basis in parishes in England. Then he was assigned to the Parish of St Teresa, Glen Road, Belfast and later to Holy Family Parish where he served until the year 2000. 


St Teresa's, Glen Road, Belfast

Father Fred was a big man, big in stature and with a  voice to match. He was generous and kind, devoted to his sister Mary, and managed his long illness with patience and occasional outbursts of exasperation.

May he rest in peace. 

Last December Father Fred and his classmate Fr Daniel Fitzgerald celebrated the 75th Anniversary of their ordination, the first Columbans to do so. Father Dan attended the funeral Mass of his friend of more than 80 years.


Homily for the Funeral of Fred Hanson  
Columban Fr Neil Collins gave this homily at the funeral Mass on 17 February.  

‘Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God still, and trust in me’ (John 14:1).
First Assignment

Fred Hanson read these words many times during his wonderfully long life. I’m sure there were moments when he heard them addressed to him personally. He was ordained on 21 December 1939 and appointed to Hanyang, China, but the outbreak of WWII prevented him from going to the missions.

Cave Hill, overlooking Belfast [Wikipedia]

In 1942, after helping in several parishes in Down & Connor, he got permission to apply to be a chaplain in the RAF. There were postings in the Midlands and the north of England, and in 1945 he even had three months in France.  After the War he asked to be demobbed, but the Principal Chaplain, Mgr H. Beauchamp, wrote to the Superior General on 11 Feb 1948:

‘Father Hanson is a most zealous priest and has done heroic work for me in looking after young Irish boys in several RAF stations in the vicinity of where he lives. Were it not for him they would be assigned to the care of English Priests who really would not understand them, neither would they understand them. I would, therefore, ask you if you would be so kind to allow Father Hanson to remain with me for another three years. I cannot conceive anybody doing greater work for the glory of God than he is doing in his present position.’

Dr Jeremiah Dennehy (Superior General), who had been a chaplain himself, sympathized with the Monsignor but refused, citing the needs of the missions, and arguing that Fred needed to go East as soon as possible while still young enough to learn a language and make the necessary adjustments. On 1 February 1949 he appointed him to the Prefecture of Kwoshu, Korea. Unfortunately the North Koreans invaded on 25 June 1950, and we have a photo of Fred on a boat for Pusan, with a caption, ‘the climax to a hectic twenty four hours evacuating from Mokpo’.

Appointment to Japan

Fred, with some other Columbans, was transferred to Japan where the superior used them to open new parishes. After language school he became ‘the first priest Hashimoto has ever seen’, conspicuous by his height and his dreadful Japanese. He wrote several informed articles for the Far East resulting in an invitation to become editor of Tosei News and NCWC correspondent. His accreditation as a war correspondent enabled him to travel freely between Japan and Korea and in 1955 the society assigned him to Seoul. A term as Bishop Quinlan’s secretary followed.

Assignment to Ireland

St Peter's Catholic Cathedral, in the Falls Road area of Belfast. [Wikipedia]

In the mid-1960s, with minimal Japanese and no Korean, Fred was shocked when he was re-assigned to Ireland. From October 1966 to March 1988 he worked in St Teresa’s on the Glen Rd, Belfast, and then in Holy Family. In 1968 the RUC attacked a civil rights march in Derry and in 1969 loyalists burned the nationalist Bombay St in Belfast. Fred was on the Glen Rd. For those who don’t know Belfast the Glen Rd is the upper part of the Falls Rd. There were many funerals, many times when the priest had to read today’s gospel, searching for words that would comfort grief-stricken families. How could you say, ‘Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God still, and trust in me?’

Retirement to Dalgan

By the year 2000 an 84-year-old Fred decided that his active ministry was over. He moved to Dalgan (St Columban's Retirement Home). I remember him saying, ‘Neil, don’t grow old. There’s no pleasure in it.’ Among the crosses he had to bear was the death of his sister Eileen in December 2000. When Mary showed increasing signs of Alzheimer’s Fred brought her to Dalgan to let her see our retirement home, and then the Kilbrew Nursing Home, where he visited her until she died in 2008.

I go to prepare a place for you

In today’s gospel, (John 14:1-6) on that first Holy Thursday, Christ said simply, ‘I go to prepare a place for you’. It was a remarkably undramatic way to describe what was about to happen – the Agony, the Scourging, the Crucifixion. Fred shared in that suffering. Now he has heard the rest of Christ’s words, ‘After I have gone and prepared you a place, I shall return to take you with me, so that where I am you may be too’.


12 February 2015

'If you choose, you can make me clean.' Sunday Reflections, 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

Christ as Saviour, El Greco, c.1600
National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh [Web Gallery of Art]


Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

Readings (Jerusalem Bible: Australia, England & Wales, India [optional], Ireland, New Zealand, Pakistan, Scotland, South Africa) 

Gospel Mark 1:40-45 (New Revised Standard Version, Catholic Edition, Canada) 


A leper came to Jesus begging him, and kneeling he said to him, “If you choose, you can make me clean.” Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, “I do choose. Be made clean!” Immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean.  After sternly warning him he sent him away at once, saying to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone; but go, show yourself to the priest, and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.” But he went out and began to proclaim it freely, and to spread the word, so that Jesus could no longer go into a town openly, but stayed out in the country; and people came to him from every quarter.


Dr Carlo Urbani with his wife Giuliana Chiorrini and their children

Towards the end of February 2003 Dr Carlo Urbani, an Italian, went to Vietnam, representing the World Health Organisation, to investigate an American businessman who was showing unusual symptoms. It turned out to be severe respiratory syndrome (SARS), a highly contagious virus. The man who discovered this new disease died from it himself about a month later on 29 March. In a conscious moment, while in the ICU in a hospital in Bangkok, he asked for a priest to give him the Last Rites.

Vladimir Redzioch of Inside the Vatican interviewed Giuliana Chiorrini, the widow of Dr Urbani. MISYON, the Columban magazine in the Philippines, published the interview, with permission, in its March-April 2004 issue. Here are extracts from the interview.

ITV: Your husband chose to work with the sick and poor around the world. Why?
Giuliana Chiorrini: Carlo was always involved in volunteer work and since his youth was attracted by the poor. He cultivated the desire to discover new horizons. To do this he left for Africa with the missionaries. Since his days as a young student with a backpack full of medicines, he had traveled in Africa (Mali, Niger, and Benin). Afterwards he work in solidarity camps run by the Xaverian Fathers, Catholic Action and Open Hands. He was always in contact with missionaries. As a doctor he wrote for the missionary magazine Missioni Consolata. Carlo also fulfilled his desire to help he poor during his 10 years working at the hospital in Macerata. This confirmed him in his work with Médecins Sans Frontières, of which he was the president, and in this capacity he received the Nobel Peace Prize when it was conferred on the organization in 1999.

ITV: What role did his faith play in his choice of life?
Chiorrini: Faith had an extremely important role in my husband’s life. Everything he did enriched the spiritual lives of the people who were in contact with him. He was also very sensitive to the beauty of creation - he even used to go hang-gliding to admire nature.


That year St John Paul II invited the family of Dr Urbani to carry the Cross during the Via Crucis on Good Friday, 18 April, in the Colosseum.
ITV: This year, during the Via Crucis at the Colosseum, you and your son carried the cross. How did you react when you heard you had been chosen by the Holy Father, and what significance did it have for your family to participate in this Good Friday liturgy?
Chiorrini: I am a believer, as was my husband, and knowing I was to carry the cross during the Via Crucis touched me a great deal, as well as giving me an enormous joy. It was a very intense moment of the interior spirituality and in all honesty it was also very moving, with the evocative atmosphere which was created that evening.
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If you choose, you can make me clean. Like Jesus, Dr Carlo Urbani chose and made many clean, sacrificing his own life in doing so.


Healing the sick was central to the mission of Jesus. And he often did things that others wouldn't do or might even condemn: Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, “I do choose. Be made clean!” The First Reading shows us how strict were what we would now call 'quarantine laws' with regard to lepers. We can understand why they were so strict. We have seen something similar with the ongoing outbreak of Ebola. We saw it in 2003 when SARS was seen as a threat to the world.
Yet there have always been individuals, motivated by their faith in Jesus Christ, who have been prepared to take great risks in taking care of the sick, persons who say, like Jesus, I do choose, and who 'stretch out their hands and touch the sick'. Pope Francis uses striking images, one especially for priests: that they should be shepherds living with 'the smell of the sheep', shepherds in the midst of their flock . . . Another is that he sees the Church as a field hospital where wounds are healed.
The Church has always had those characteristics. One of the most popular saints in the Philippines, especially in the Visayas and Mindanao, is San Roque, a layman, who took care of persons with the plague. Like Jesus, he chose to put his life in danger and caught the disease, though he recovered, partly with the help of a neighbour's dog. 


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If you choose, you can make me clean. Like Jesus, San Roque chose and made many clean, suffering from the plague himself in doing so.


I learned about Father Damien of Molokai (1840 - 1889) from Sister Stanislaus in Stanhope Street, Dublin, nearly 70 years ago when I was in kindergarten, how he chose to live among the lepers of Molokai, Hawaii, despite the risks. Pope Beneidct XVI canonised him in 2009. Mahatma Gandhi found in Father Damien a source of inspiration and said: The political and journalistic world can boast of very few heroes who compare with Father Damien of Molokai. The Catholic Church, on the contrary, counts by the thousands those who after the example of Fr Damien have devoted themselves to the victims of leprosy. It is worthwhile to look for the sources of such heroism.


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If you choose, you can make me clean. Like Jesus, Father Damien chose and made many clean, becoming 'one of us', as one woman said in the video above, bringing hope to many, not only during his lifetime but more than 130 years later, and giving his life in doing so.


Vinicio Riva: I feel I can move ahead because the Lord is protecting me.

Let us thank God for the many people throughout the world, not all of them Christians, who knowingly put their lives in danger in serving others and for those who welcome persons not accepted by others.


Responsorial Psalm (Philippines, USA)