Sunday, 3 November 2013

St. Martin de Porres

Today is the feast day of St. Martin de Porres, one of the greatest saints in the pantheon of Catholic saints. He is the patron saint of barbers and social justice. Here is a short biography of his life.

Martin was born December 9, 1579, in Lima, Peru, as the illegitimate son of a Spanish nobleman and a young, black former slave born in Panama. He grew up in poverty and, at age 12, his mother apprenticed him to a barber-surgeon. He learned how to cut hair and also how to draw blood (a standard medical treatment then), care for wounds, and prepare and administer medicines.

At age 15, Martin applied to the Dominicans to be a “lay helper,” not feeling himself worthy to be a religious brother. After nine years, the example of his prayer, penance, charity and humility led the community to request him to make full religious profession. Many of his nights were spent in prayer and penitential practices; his days were filled with nursing the sick and caring for the poor. It was particularly impressive that he treated all people regardless of their color, race or status.

He was instrumental in founding an orphanage, taking care of slaves brought from Africa, and managing the daily alms of the priory with practicality as well as generosity. He became the procurator for both priory and city, whether it was a matter of “blankets, shirts, candles, candy, miracles or prayers!” When his priory was in debt, he said, “I am only a poor mulatto. Sell me. I am the property of the order. Sell me.”

Among the many miracles attributed to him were those of levitation, bilocation, miraculous knowledge, instantaneous cures and an ability to communicate with animals. St. Martin is often depicted as a young mulatto priest with a broom, since he considered all work to be sacred no matter matter how menial. He is also often shown with the dog, the cat and the mouse, eating in peace from the same dish.

He died in Lima, Peru, on November 3, 1639. On his canonization in 6 May in 1962, Pope John XXIII remarked of him:
"He forgave the bitterest injuries, convinced that he deserved much severer punishments on account of his own sins. He tried with all his might to redeem the guilty; lovingly he comforted the sick; he provided food, clothing and medicine for the poor; he helped, as best he could, farm labourers and Negroes, as well as mulattoes, who were looked upon at that time as akin to slaves: thus he deserved to be called by the name the people gave him: 'Martin of Charity.'"

Saturday, 14 September 2013

People who gossip are cowards and hypocrites, says Pope Francis

People who judge and criticise others are hypocrites and cowards who are unable to face their own defects, Pope Francis has said.

Gossip, too, is “criminal” as it destroys, rather than exalt the image of God present in others, he said in his early morning homily today (September 13) at his residence of Domus Sanctae Marthae.

“Those who live judging their neighbours, speaking badly of them, are hypocrites because they don’t have the strength, the courage to look at their own defects,” he said.

“Why do you notice the splinter in your brother’s eye, but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own,” he said, referring to the day’s Gospel reading according to St Luke.

Every time “we judge our brothers and sisters in our heart, and worse, when we talk about it with others, we are killer Christians”, imitating Cain who committed “the first homicide in history”.

Gossip, too, has “this dimension of criminality” because there is no such thing as “innocent gossip”, he said. “If one of us gossips, certainly he is a persecutor, someone violent.”

St James the Apostle said the tongue is for praising God, “but when we use our tongue to speak badly of our brother or sister, we use it to kill God,” he said, killing “the image of God in our brother”.

Instead, people need to pray and do penance for others and, he said, “if it’s necessary, speak to the person who can solve the problem. Don’t tell everybody about it.”

People need “a gesture of conversion,” he said, because just as St Paul was “a blasphemer and a persecutor and an arrogant man” he was “mercifully treated”.

The Pope asked people to pray for “the grace of conversion from the criminality of gossip to love, humility, meekness, gentleness and the magnanimity of love toward the other”.

Source: Catholic Herald

Saturday, 31 August 2013

The dream

Fifty years ago on 28 August 1963 Martin Luther King delivered his Dream speech. It was a momentous speech which stirred the moral conscientiousness of millions. This is what he said:
I say to you today, my friends, that in spite of the difficulties and frustrations of the moment, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.
I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed – we hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave-owners will be able to sit down together at a table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a desert state, sweltering with the heat of injustice and oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today!

I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification; one day right there in Alabama little black boys and little black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.

I have a dream toady!

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.
This is our hope. This is the faith that I will go back to the South with. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountains of despair a stone of hope.

With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.

This will be the day, this will be the day when all of God’s children will be able to sing with a new meaning: “My country, ‘tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrim’s pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring.” And if America is to be a great nation, this must become true.

And so let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York. Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania!
Let freedom ring from the snow-capped Rockies of Colorado.

Let freedom ring from the curvaceous peaks of California.
But not only that.
Let freedom ring from the Stone Mountain of Georgia.
Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee.
Let freedom ring from every hill and every molehill of Mississippi, from every mountainside, let freedom ring!
And when this happens, when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual: “Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”

Rev Dr Martin Luther King Junior, a 34 year old Baptist pastor and civil rights leader, was joined by 250,000 of his fellow Americans and delivered his speech in front of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC, USA, to commemorate the centenary of President Abraham Lincoln’s ‘Emancipation Proclamation’ to free African-Americans, which made the removal of slavery an explicit goal. His aim was to argue that the freedoms promised by President Abraham Lincoln to the newly-emancipated African-Americans never really materialised and encourage all Americans to re-commit themselves to the Emancipation Proclamation’s original promise. This was at a time when although African Americans had been given legal citizenship they remained second-class citizens. Many continued to face legal, political, social and economic discrimination and segregation, from businesses and government in places like buses, libraries, swimming pools, lunch counters and hotels. They faced extreme poverty and in some places they were prevented from voting through intimidation and violence.

The speech came amid increasingly intense battles to end segregation in the South – where civil rights activists’ commitment to the principles of nonviolence advocated by Martin Luther King were severely put to the test. The March on Washington was organized by hundreds of union and labour and religious organizations, who worked to fundraise for the march calling for ‘jobs and freedom’. The March was supported by the presence of Hollywood celebrities. It was strongly opposed, however, by the US government.

It is estimated that around 75% of the 250,000 participants were black while the rest were white. Most White Americans had never seen such a large demonstration organised by Black Americans with a message of tolerance, peace and determination.

The march was one of the largest political rallies for human rights, civil rights and economic rights in the history of the United States and was critical in assisting the passing of the Civil Rights Act 1964 and the Voting Rights Act 1965, which outlawed discrimination in every part of American life, including the ballot box.

The speech proved to be an important tipping point for American civil rights. It has gone on to resound throughout the world – in Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe and South America, as an appeal for racial justice and equality. Fifty years later, it has a relevant message for us today.

Sunday, 28 July 2013

Bananas thrown at Italy's first black minister

By Catherine Hornby

Some of Italy's top politicians on Saturday rallied behind the country's first black minister, a target of racist slurs since her appointment in April, after a spectator threw bananas at her while she was making a speech.

Integration Minister Cecile Kyenge, who is originally from Democratic Republic of Congo, was appearing at a political rally in Cervia in central Italy on Friday, when someone in the audience threw bananas towards the stage, narrowly missing it.

Kyenge has faced almost daily racial slurs and threats since joining the government. Earlier this month a senator from the anti-immigration Northern League party likened her to an orangutan and only apologized after a storm of criticism.

Last month, a local Northern League councilor said Kyenge should be raped so she understands how victims of crimes committed by immigrants feel. The councilor has received a suspended jail sentence and a temporary ban from public office.

Shortly before Friday's incident, members of the far-right Forza Nuova group left mannequins covered in fake blood near the site of the Democratic Party rally in protest against Kyenge's proposal to make anyone born on Italian soil a citizen.

"Immigration kills," was written on leaflets accompanying the dummies - a slogan Forza Nuova has previously used when referring to murders committed by immigrants in Italy.

However, on Saturday the group denied that one of its members had thrown the bananas. Italian police are trying to identify the culprit.

Kyenge responded to the gesture on Twitter, calling it "sad" and a waste of food.

"The courage and optimism to change things has to come above all from the bottom up to reach the institutions," she added.

Several politicians, including her peers in Prime Minister Enrico Letta's government, responded with messages of support and condemnation on Saturday.

Environment Minister Andrea Orlando said on Twitter he felt "utmost indignation for this lowly act", while Education Minister Maria Chiara Carrozza praised Kyenge for her courage and determination in such a hostile climate.

Veneto region governor Luca Zaia from the Northern League, who is due to participate in an immigration debate with Kyenge in August, also spoke out against the incident on Saturday.

"Throwing bananas, personal insults ... acts like these play no part in the civilized and democratic discussion needed between the minister and those who don't share her opinion," the ANSA news agency quoted him as saying.

Source: Reuters

Sunday, 30 June 2013

No trouble that you face is out of God's control

 "No trouble that you face is out of God's control. The waves that come against you can only go so high, and their force can only be so strong. They will not be able to overturn your ship of faith or blow you off course as you keep your trust in the Lord. In His time, the waves will subside, the winds will be subdued, and all will be quiet again."

Sunday, 9 June 2013

A trip to Paris and Disneyland

We had a pleasant four day trip to Paris including Disneyland. Everything went smoothly and we had a nice time. As it was the half-term holidays in the UK, there were lots of other families traveling to Paris with their young children. This was the first time we traveled by the Eurostar. Not only was it convenient, fast and comfortable, but we didn’t have to endure intrusive airport style security.

Paris is a beautiful city. It has elegant buildings and tree lined roads. There are lots of cafes, bakeries and restaurants. The Metro provides an easy and effective way of getting around the city. The city’s population is diverse with a significant number of immigrants from France’s former colonies. The only problem is everything is quite expensive.

We visited two famous churches: the Chapel of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal and the Sacré-Coeur Basilica. Even though France is a secular republic these days, I felt an atmosphere of holiness in both these places. The Chapel of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal is where Mother Mary appeared to a young French nun, St Catherine Labouré, just before the French Revolution; and Sacré-Coeur is the magnificent basilica built in reparation for France’s sins following the Franco-Prussian war in the 19th century. The basilica was dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Christ or Sacré Coeur. As the basilica is situated on top of a high hill - Montmartre - we got the most stunning views of Paris from there.

We spent three days at Disneyland on the outskirts of Paris. There were many children, mainly from France and other European countries, with their parents. Disneyland was a trip into a fantasy world. There were lots of rides and attractions. Sometimes we would encounter familiar Disney characters, and in the evenings there would be a parade of them all. A few of the rides were quite scary. We watched a most entertaining stunt show involving professional stunt men on motorbikes and cars. There was a bit of rain but, as the park is made to cope with that, that did not spoil our tour.

Anya enjoyed Disneyland. It is fun for children and even adults too, but scratch under the surface and you see an extremely lucrative business for the Walt Disney Company. Everything connected with the park including park tickets, food, drinks and merchandise is expensive. It was a celebration of Walt Disney and American culture. For me, one visit was enough. This was a trip mainly for Anya, and I was glad that she enjoyed it.

Here are some photos I took.

On the steps of Sacré-Coeur Basilica

A stunning view of Paris from the top of Sacré-Coeur
Disneyland Railroad Train
About to board the Orbitron
The Castle of The Beauty Sleeping in the Wood
Parade of Disney characters

The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror

Sunday, 7 April 2013

Easter in Walsingham

As a special way of celebrating Easter this year we decided to visit the Roman Catholic National Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham. We had been meaning to make a visit there for some time, and since my father-in-law was unwell after suffering a stroke we decided the time was right for the trip. So we headed to the small village on the north coast of East Anglia on Saturday 30 March, stopping at the capital city of Norfolk, Norwich, for the night.

Walsingham countryside
The Roman Catholic shrine is set in a peaceful country setting; as we walked down the narrow road that led to it, we passed many fields wherein sheep grazed and bleated. It was a cold day, and we had to walk a mile from the High Street. We offered our labour as kind of penance like pilgrims did in medieval times.

We went straight to the Chapel of Reconciliation where we celebrated mass with other worshippers, many of whom had obviously travelled far. There were many people of Sri Lankan Tamil and Filipino descent. The readings, the songs, the priest’s sermon and of course the location all combined to make the mass a fitting celebration of Easter. I had an overwhelming feeling of holiness, peace and community in that chapel.
Chapel of Reconcilation

After mass, we had lunch in the tea room. Then we visited the gift shop, the Slipper Chapel and the Chapel of the Holy Spirit before making our way back to our car and starting our long journey back home. We thoroughly enjoyed the trip to England’s national Catholic shrine, which was once known as ‘England’s Nazareth’. As a Catholic it is heartening to see that Walsingham is once again seeing something of a revival despite its tumultuous past.

History of the Shrine

Richeldis de Faverches
The Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham was established in 1061, when according to tradition Richeldis de Faverches prayed that she might undertake some special work in honour of Our Lady. In answer to her prayer the Virgin Mary led her in spirit to Nazareth, showed her the house where the Annunciation occurred and asked her to build a replica in Walsingham to serve as a perpetual memorial of the Annunciation.

The Holy House was built in Walsingham and around 1130 a community of Augustinian Canons took charge of the foundation and Walsingham became one of the notable Shrines in medieval Europe. All the kings of England from Henry III (1226) to Henry VIII (1511) came to Walsingham on pilgrimage. In 1538 the Reformation caused the Priory property to be handed over to the King’s Commissioners and the famous statue of Our Lady of Walsingham was taken to London and burnt. Nothing remains today of the original shrine, but its site is marked on the lawn in “The Abbey Grounds” in the village.

Our Lady of Walsingham
After the destruction of the Shrine, Walsingham ceased to be a place of pilgrimage. In 1896 Charlotte Pearson Boyd purchased the Slipper Chapel outside the village and it was restored for Catholic use. A Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham was built in the Church of the Annunciation in King’s Lynn and from there the first public pilgrimage to Walsingham, since the Reformation, came on 20th August 1897. In 1922 a new vicar, the Rev. Alfred Hope Pattern established a Shrine in the Parish Church of St. Mary. This was transferred to the newly built Anglican Shrine in 1931.

In 1934 Cardinal Bourne led a pilgrimage on 10,000 and declared that the National Shrine of Our Lady was to be at the Slipper Chapel. Since the 1950’s the Shrine of Our Lady has developed constantly and it has become firmly re-established as a place of pilgrimage and worship. Today over 250,000 people (pilgrims and tourists) visit the Roman Catholic Shrine each year. On most summer weekends there are Diocesan or other organisations’ pilgrimages taking place.

Slipper Chapel

Slipper Chapel
In the Middle Ages Walsingham was one of the four great shrines of Christendom with pilgrims coming from all parts of the known world. There were wayside chapels along the pilgrim route and the Slipper Chapel was the last and most important of these. Pilgrims stopped here to go to mass and to confess their sins before walking the last mile to the Holy House in Walsingham. The name of the chapel may come from the fact that pilgrims removed their shoes to walk the last mile or it may come from the word “slype” meaning a way through or “something in between”, the slype or slip chapel standing as it did between the holy land of Walsingham and the rest of England.

Sunday, 10 February 2013

Book review: "The White Tiger" by Aravind Adiga

One hears so much about the dazzling rise of India these days as a major economic power. What about Indian society itself and how is it being affected by globalisation? Aravind Adiga’s first novel - "The White Tiger" - which won the Booker Prize in 2008 is an interesting and entertaining tale about one Balram Halwai, born into a lowly family in Northern India, and how he manages to scale the heights of entrepreneurial success. Although fictional, every bit of the book is believable. Written as a letter to the Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, Balram tells his tale in his own distinctive way. In the process he shines a light on the darker side of contemporary India from the poverty ridden villages to the rapidly growing urban centres.

Born as the son of a rickshaw puller in a small North Indian village, Balram Halwai’s life seems destined from the outset to be trapped in poverty and insignificance, but he nurses a dream to escape. And escape he does. His big break comes when he is employed as a driver for a wealthy village landlord’s son, recently returned from America, and his wife. Moving to Delhi, the bustling capital of India, with his master and wife, the city is a revelation to him with its frequent traffic jams, call centres, shopping malls, strange civic planning, five star hotels and slums. It seems that the rich can buy anything they want. A turning point seems to be when his master’s wife decides to leave her husband after a road accident, and it is then that the corrupting influence of the city has an effect on both master and servant.

According to Balram, India’s greatest invention is not the number system or chess but the Rooster Coop – the system by which 99.9% of the Indian population, despite being strong, talented and intelligent, live in perpetual servitude to a handful of men. Likening himself to a rare animal - a white tiger - that escapes its cage, Balram desires to break out of this coop. Feelings of loyalty to his master gradually give way to resentment and ambition. He eventually kills his master and runs away with a bag full of money which his master is about to pay a politician. With this money Balram heads south to Bangalore, where so many foreign companies are coming to these days, and makes a new life for himself. Seeing the opportunities present themselves in Bangalore, Balram Halwai, now renamed Ashok Sharma, makes a name for himself as the owner of a taxi service ferrying workers to their offices.

Balram clearly sees himself as an "entrepreneur" – a self-made man, a success in this world, and a white tiger. This is despite the fact that he has killed someone, which he justifies by saying that most men of stature have done the same. Here Adiga seems to be critiquing the ruling classes of India, some of whom are guilty of criminal activity.

Written in a simple way, mixed with a good deal of wit and humour, the book is an enjoyable read. It seems Adiga is deliberately caricaturising his main characters for greater effect. For example, the greedy village landlord is called the "Stork" and his son the "Mongoose". Issues surrounding caste, religion, politics, corruption, violence and globalisation are all exposed, laying bare the brutal realities of modern India. There is much to shock the reader and make him ponder.

This is not the kind of book many proud Indians would like reading, and indeed some have criticised the book as a Western conspiracy to malign India’s economic progress. I disagree. Just like Charles Dickens shone a light on the inequalities of Victorian Britain during the Industrial Revolution, Adiga manages to do something similar here. This book offers a riposte to the glamorised view of India portrayed by Bollywood. Adiga deserves credit for casting a sharp eye on modern India, however uncomfortable that may be, and telling a most interesting story. Congratulations to him for winning the prestigious Booker Prize

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Iraq: Witness to Christ

Although Christians make up only 2% of the population in Iraq, the UN High Commission for Refugees reports that they make up 40% of the 1.6 million Iraqis in search of asylum abroad. This striking disproportion is caused by the persecution and almost total lack of protection suffered by Iraqi Christians: since 2003 about 2,000 Christians have been killed in multiple waves of violence throughout the country. Their number has plummeted from 900,000 before the invasion, down to approximately 200,000 today. Of those who remain in the country, many are internally displaced.

Sunday, 27 January 2013

A blanket of snow passes

It has been a cold fortnight here in Britain. After a very wet December the snow arrived with a vengeance a week ago. This caused lots of problems on the roads, trains, and in the airports. Many flights were canceled, cars abandoned, and schools closed. Why is that Britain seems to cope so much worse in wintry conditions than other Northern European countries?

The fun side of it for me was having a snowball fight with my young daughter in the back garden. Scooping up handfuls of snow and chucking it at each other, we quickly transformed our pristine snow covered garden into a mess. Driving around in the car was less fun. One had to be particularly careful on the smaller roads, which were not gritted.

Here are a few photos I took.

Now with milder more rainy conditions, the snow is fast turning to water. Hopefully this will not lead to floods.