Saturday, April 30, 2011

Naomh An Lae - Saint Of The Day

St Pius V (1504-72) reforming pope

Early career

Born Antonio Ghislieri, of humble origins, near Alessandria in northern Italy, he worked as a shepherd before joining the Dominicans at the age of 14 and took the name Michael. 

A keen student, he was ordained in 1528 and for sixteen years taught philosophy and theology at Pavia university.

He then joined the Inquisition, of which in 1558 he was made the head, meanwhile becoming a bishop and cardinal.

Reforming pope

In the papal election of 1566 Charles Borromeo successfully lobbied for Ghislieri as a reforming pope. 

Pius V soon drastically reduced the papal court, stopped nepotism in the appointment of cardinals and imposed strict sexual morality. 

He also standardised the form of the Mass promulgating the 1570 edition of the Roman Missal which remained standard for 400 years until the reform of Vatican II. 

Pope Benedict XVI has recently given permission for this form of the Mass to be used again as an extraordinary form of the Mass.

Excommunicates Queen Elizabeth of England 

By the papal bull, Regnans in Excelsis, dated April 27, 1570, he declared Elizabeth I a heretic and released her subjects from their allegiance to her. 

The second part of this was a less-than-wise excessive claim of papal authority in secular matters. 

Its effect was to turn Catholics in England and Ireland from religious dissidents to enemies of the state and many had to pay with their lives.

"Holy League" against the Turks

Pope Pius persuaded Spain and Venice to join him in a "holy league" against the Ottoman Turks who at that time controlled the Mediterranean. 

With Don John of Austria they defeated the Turks at the Battle of Lepanto in 1571. 

Pius attributed the victory to Our Lady and this led to the cult of Our Lady of Victories and the establishment of the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary on 7th October.

Death and memory

Pius was popular with the Romans who admired his inflexible integrity. 

He died in 1572 and in 1588 his remains were laid in a magnificent tomb in the Basilica of Saint Mary Major. 

He was beatified in 1672 and canonised in 1712.

Prayer to The Holy Spirit

Holy Spirit, be with me today.
Be my teacher, my guide, my counselor, my friend.

Fill me with your gifts, especially the gifts of
wisdom, discernment, knowledge, understanding, compassion,
love, and awe in God's presence.

In all that I think, say, and do, let it be in accordance
with your most holy and perfect will.

I ask this in Jesus' name.


Prayer To Saint Matthew

O Glorious Saint Matthew, in your Gospel you portray Jesus as the longed-for Messiah who fulfilled the Prophets of the Old Covenant and as the new Lawgiver who founded a Church of the New Covenant. 
Obtain for us the grace to see Jesus living in his Church and to follow his teachings in our lives on earth so that we may live forever with him in heaven.

Fake Priest Rips of Detroit Area Catholic Churches

He may call himself "Father Joe" or "Father John", but he's no Roman Catholic priest.

"It's awful. On Easter Sunday when people are so full of hope and gratitude and donating to the community," said Kara Tertzaglividini.

He was polite when he suddenly appeared at Our Lady of Mount Carmel church in Wyandotte at the conclusion of the Polish spoken mass for the resurrection on Easter Sunday morning. 

He looked like a priest wearing a white collar, but he's a con man.

"He tends to know things about the parish's schedule, the layout of the church, where the collections might be kept. He just asks if he can visit father, and he seems to know how to get where he needs to go," said Joe Kohn with the Archdiocese of Detroit.

The archdiocese is investigating with police and warning that Catholic churches in Detroit, Dearborn and now Wyandotte have been ripped off in these most unholy acts.

"I think it's just terrible. This is a nice church. It's a nice community. It's a shame to see 
people do that," said Dawn Chmiel.

The archdiocese says that legitimate priests have had their wallets, a watch and church collection cash ripped off by the guy, but his largest take may have been after Easter Sunday mass in Wyandotte.

"They have more people come to the church on Easter and Christmas than probably any 
other day of the year," Chmiel said.

"Christmas and on Easter, that's when you're going to have a lot more people in the pews than you usually do have, so that's going to make a big opportunity in terms of how much they can make off with. So, that certainly seemed to be a factor here," Kohn said.

The parishes all describe a Hispanic male in his thirties, 5'0" to 5'3" tall, weighing 130 to 150 pounds with a receding hairline. He was wearing or carrying a white collar.

He's also been seen with a larger, white man in his late fifties or sixties. His height is 6'0" or taller and he weighs between 225 to 235 pounds.

The parishes need to pay bills out of the Sunday collection, but the money is also used for needy families in the community.

"Mount Carmel has done so much to help this community, which really needs help right now. To hear that somebody would prey upon a church is so disheartening," Tertzaglividini said.

Bishop of Kontum held by police on charges of having "baptized people"

He was able to celebrate Easter Mass, but was detained and brought to the police station, on charges of of having baptized people.

It is yet another violation of religious freedom by the authorities of Lang Son, K'Bang County (central Vietnam), in the area of the Montagnards and it happened to Bishop Michael Hoang Duc Oanh, who was previously prevented from celebrating mass for Christmas in the same village.

In view of Easter, the bishop had sent numerous petitions to the authorities at all levels, asking for permission to celebrate Mass in a village where it has never been possible to celebrate the Eucharist. Permission was granted. 

But when Msgr. Duc Oanh arrived, along with a priest, he found a hostile atmosphere because police and women of the Communist League women outnumbered the faithful, controlling and mocking the Catholics and the bishop. 

 A long queue of Catholics requested permission to confess.  

The celebration of the sacrament of reconciliation took place to the sound of laughter and jokes at the gestures of the faithful.

And after the Mass, the bishop and the priest were brought to the police station and subjected to interrogation for hours.  

The officials accused the bishop of violating the permit that "only allowed the celebration of Easter Mass, as he had also" baptised persons "," deliberately exceeding what was allowed”.

The bishop protested, denying that he had "baptized people," he explained that he had only helped the faithful to reconcile themselves with God.

"Before eating - he said - you wash your hands. Likewise, before attending the Mass, we wash ourselves, reconciling ourselves with God."

The concern of the communist authorities and their charges are explained by the fact that the diocese is witnessing a large number of conversions, with 50 thousand baptisms over the past two years.

Church defends exclusion of pro-divorce lawyers from its tribunal

The Maltese Catholic Church has defended its Ecclesiastical Tribunal’s right to exclude pro-divorce lawyers from representing clients, as happened to the head of the pro-divorce lobby, Deborah Schembri.
At a press conference, Dr Schembri said that the tribunal informed her that she could no longer represent clients after being accused of spreading false information on the indissolubility of marriage.

She remarked that the decision would affect her income, and was waiting to determine whether the decision was permanent or temporary.

In a statement issued this evening, the Curia said that, “without referring to any particular case,” the exclusion of advocates was justifiable in a number of cases, quoting Canon Law to back its case.

“Furthermore from the Album should be removed... those who agree with or are active in associations or movements which promote ways of thinking or acting that are contrary to the faith and the Catholic teachings about morals, or defend proposals and advice about civil order which go against the precepts of natural and Christian law,” the statement read, quoting from the 1988 Apostolic Letter Justi Judicis. It also quoted the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura and Pope John Paul II to back its case.

“The Ecclesiastical Authorities need to take such decisions because the advocate’s role is not only to defend the interests of his/her client but also to defend the validity of marriage as a life-long commitment. Embracing divorce hinders this aspect of the advocate’s mission in the tribunal,” the statement read.

It said that advocates were informed about these norms during their years of formation, and while they remained free to make their own choices – even to favour divorce – this had its consequences.

“The procedure comes into action when a client proposes an advocate to assist him in the Tribunal. It is at that moment that the Tribunal informs the client of the decision about the advocate,” the Curia said.

Cult followers charge pope with ‘crimes against humanity’ for condom stance in media campaign

While billboards, posters and festive decorations have been erected all over Rome to celebrate the upcoming beatification of the late Pope John Paul II next week, another set of posters around town is calling for charges of “crimes against humanity” to be laid against his successor, Benedict XVI, at the International Criminal Court at the Hague. 

Last February, two German lawyers delivered a book-length complaint to the court, alleging that the pope, named in the complaint as Dr. Joseph Ratzinger, is “maintaining and driving a global totalitarian regime of coercion that subjects its members and with terrifying threats that pose a risk to health.” 

The posters appeared this week all over Rome and are published in tandem with a website in Italian, English, German, French and Spanish, calling on readers to join the effort to have the pope charged. 

Christian Sailer and Gert-Joachim Hetzel have based their charges on the pope’s maintenance of what they call a “lethal” ban on the use of condoms for the prevention of HIV/AIDS.

“If a coercive cult was now widespread in Africa and its members were forbidden to make use of condoms, with the threat of serious punishment, it could be attributed to the leaders of the sect responsible for every outbreak of HIV / AIDS and of deaths caused by this ban, and started the process against them,” said the complaint. 

“Can he be any different just because the sect is called a coercive ‘church’ and its leader claims to be infallible?”

The two say that Pope Benedict has established and maintained “a global system designed to silence and measures for dealing with crimes of a sexual nature committed by Catholic priests, which facilitates the continuous repetition of these.”

Although some mainstream media outlets, including the Irish Times, have run with attention-grabbing headlines, legal experts have called the matter a “crank case.” 

Media have largely ignored the affiliation of the two lawyers with “Universal Life,” a cult based in Würzburg, Germany, that follows the teachings of self-proclaimed “prophetess” Gabriele Wittek, who claims to receive messages directly from Jesus Christ. 

Sailer is also a noted “animal rights” activist and has written articles promoting the concept of constitutional rights for animals. 

The campaign is accompanied by a book, titled in Italian “Il caso del Papa,” and in English “Calling the Pope to Account,” that accuses Pope Benedict of leading an organization that uses “terrifying threats of the eternal torments of hell” to “lead countless people into an irrational psychological and mental dependency, robbing them of the ability to make their own decisions of conscience in all areas of their life.” 

The website offers readers an opportunity to share their ideas about the effort.

Cardinals petitioned for JP2 fast track

Italian Cardinal Camillio Ruini has told journalists that he was given a signed petition at the conclave that elected Pope Benedict to push for fast-track sainthood for the recently deceased Pope John Paul II.

“The beatification was asked for inside the conclave.” 

The scoop arrives from an Italian news agency just days before the solemn ceremony in which Benedict XVI will become the first Pope in 11 centuries to proclaim “blessed” his immediate predecessor.

Cardinal Ruini told AGI news wire how a large group of Cardinals had signed a petition calling on the next pope, still not yet elected, to waive the standing five-year minimum wait for the process of beatification to begin in the case of John Paul.

“Entering the conclave, a letter was given to me signed by many Cardinals who joined in the popular request (heard after John Paul’s death) to begin the process for sainthood right away,” said Ruini, who also served at the time as Vicar of Rome. 

“The letter was given to me because the Cardinals didn’t know who would be elected in the conclave.”




Theme: "Proposing Vocations in the Local Church"

Dear Brothers and Sisters!

The 48th World Day of Prayer for Vocations, to be celebrated on 15 May 2011, the Fourth Sunday of Easter, invites us to reflect on the theme: “Proposing Vocations in the Local Church”. Seventy years ago, Venerable Pius XII established the Pontifical Work of Priestly Vocations. Similar bodies, led by priests and members of the lay faithful, were subsequently established by Bishops in many dioceses as a response to the call of the Good Shepherd who, “when he saw the crowds, had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd”, and went on to say: “The harvest is plentiful but the labourers are few. Pray therefore the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest!” (Mt 9:36-38).

The work of carefully encouraging and supporting vocations finds a radiant source of inspiration in those places in the Gospel where Jesus calls his disciples to follow him and trains them with love and care. We should pay close attention to the way that Jesus called his closest associates to proclaim the Kingdom of God (cf. Lk 10:9). In the first place, it is clear that the first thing he did was to pray for them: before calling them, Jesus spent the night alone in prayer, listening to the will of the Father (cf. Lk 6:12) in a spirit of interior detachment from mundane concerns. It is Jesus’ intimate conversation with the Father which results in the calling of his disciples. Vocations to the ministerial priesthood and to the consecrated life are first and foremost the fruit of constant contact with the living God and insistent prayer lifted up to the “Lord of the harvest”, whether in parish communities, in Christian families or in groups specifically devoted to prayer for vocations.

At the beginning of his public life, the Lord called some fishermen on the shore of the Sea of Galilee: “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men” (Mt 4:19). He revealed his messianic mission to them by the many “signs” which showed his love for humanity and the gift of the Father’s mercy. Through his words and his way of life he prepared them to carry on his saving work. Finally, knowing “that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father” (Jn 13:1), he entrusted to them the memorial of his death and resurrection, and before ascending into heaven he sent them out to the whole world with the command: “Go, therefore, make disciples of all nations” (Mt 28:19).

It is a challenging and uplifting invitation that Jesus addresses to those to whom he says: “Follow me!”. He invites them to become his friends, to listen attentively to his word and to live with him. He teaches them complete commitment to God and to the extension of his kingdom in accordance with the law of the Gospel: “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit ” (Jn 12:24). He invites them to leave behind their own narrow agenda and their notions of self-fulfilment in order to immerse themselves in another will, the will of God, and to be guided by it. He gives them an experience of fraternity, one born of that total openness to God (cf. Mt 12:49-50) which becomes the hallmark of the community of Jesus: “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (Jn 13:35).

It is no less challenging to follow Christ today. It means learning to keep our gaze fixed on Jesus, growing close to him, listening to his word and encountering him in the sacraments; it means learning to conform our will to his. This requires a genuine school of formation for all those who would prepare themselves for the ministerial priesthood or the consecrated life under the guidance of the competent ecclesial authorities. The Lord does not fail to call people at every stage of life to share in his mission and to serve the Church in the ordained ministry and in the consecrated life. The Church is “called to safeguard this gift, to esteem it and love it. She is responsible for the birth and development of priestly vocations” (John Paul II, Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Pastores Dabo Vobis, 41).  

Particularly in these times, when the voice of the Lord seems to be drowned out by “other voices” and his invitation to follow him by the gift of one’s own life may seem too difficult, every Christian community, every member of the Church, needs consciously to feel responsibility for promoting vocations. It is important to encourage and support those who show clear signs of a call to priestly life and religious consecration, and to enable hem to feel the warmth of the whole community as they respond “yes” to God and the Church. I encourage them, in the same words which I addressed to those who have already chosen to enter the seminary: “You have done a good thing. Because people will always have need of God, even in an age marked by technical mastery of the world and globalization: they will always need the God who has revealed himself in Jesus Christ, the God who gathers us together in the universal Church in order to learn with him and through him life’s true meaning and in order to uphold and apply the standards of true humanity” (Letter to Seminarians, 18 October 2010).

It is essential that every local Church become more sensitive and attentive to the pastoral care of vocations, helping children and young people in particular at every level of family, parish and associations – as Jesus did with his disciples - to grow into a genuine and affectionate friendship with the Lord, cultivated through personal and liturgical prayer; to grow in familiarity with the sacred Scriptures and thus to listen attentively and fruitfully to the word of God; to understand that entering into God’s will does not crush or destroy a person, but instead leads to the discovery of the deepest truth about ourselves; and finally to be generous and fraternal in relationships with others, since it is only in being open to the love of God that we discover true joy and the fulfilment of our aspirations. 

“Proposing Vocations in the Local Church” means having the courage, through an attentive and suitable concern for vocations, to point out this challenging way of following Christ which, because it is so rich in meaning, is capable of engaging the whole of one’s life. 

I address a particular word to you, my dear brother Bishops. To ensure the continuity and growth of your saving mission in Christ, you should “foster priestly and religious vocations as much as possible, and should take a special interest in missionary vocations” (Christus Dominus, 15). The Lord needs you to cooperate with him in ensuring that his call reaches the hearts of those whom he has chosen. Choose carefully those who work in the Diocesan Vocations Office, that valuable means for the promotion and organization of the pastoral care of vocations and the prayer which sustains it and guarantees its effectiveness. 

I would also remind you, dear brother Bishops, of the concern of the universal Church for an equitable distribution of priests in the world. Your openness to the needs of dioceses experiencing a dearth of vocations will become a blessing from God for your communities and a sign to the faithful of a priestly service that generously considers the needs of the entire Church. 

The Second Vatican Council explicitly reminded us that “the duty of fostering vocations pertains to the whole Christian community, which should exercise it above all by a fully Christian life” (Optatam Totius, 2). I wish, then, to say a special word of acknowledgment and encouragement to those who work closely in various ways with the priests in their parishes. 
In particular, I turn to those who can offer a specific contribution to the pastoral care of vocations: to priests, families, catechists and leaders of parish groups. 

I ask priests to testify to their communion with their bishop and their fellow priests, and thus to provide a rich soil for the seeds of a priestly vocation. May families be “animated by the spirit of faith and love and by the sense of duty” (Optatam Totius, 2) which is capable of helping children to welcome generously the call to priesthood and to religious life. May catechists and leaders of Catholic groups and ecclesial movements, convinced of their educational mission, seek to “guide the young people entrusted to them so that these will recognize and freely accept a divine vocation” (ibid.).

Dear brothers and sisters, your commitment to the promotion and care of vocations becomes most significant and pastorally effective when carried out in the unity of the Church and in the service of communion. For this reason, every moment in the life of the Church community – catechesis, formation meetings, liturgical prayer, pilgrimages – can be a precious opportunity for awakening in the People of God, and in particular in children and young people, a sense of belonging to the Church and of responsibility for answering the call to priesthood and to religious life by a free and informed decision. 

The ability to foster vocations is a hallmark of the vitality of a local Church. With trust and perseverance let us invoke the aid of the Virgin Mary, that by the example of her own acceptance of God’s saving plan and her powerful intercession, every community will be more and more open to saying “yes” to the Lord who is constantly calling new labourers to his harvest. With this hope, I cordially impart to all my Apostolic Blessing.

From the Vatican, 15 November 2010

Bosnia's Muslims may honour late pope with monument for wartime support

They may not recognize him as a saint, but Muslims in Bosnia are considering honouring the late Pope John Paul II with a monument in the heart of Sarajevo. 
Because of his support for inter-religious and intercultural dialogue, "I think that Pope John Paul II is one of the most important figures of the 20th century," the head of the Bosnian Islamic Community, Mustafa Ceric, told The Associated Press.
Ceric prayed for world peace with the late pope in Assisi.

The almost 90 per cent Muslim population the endured the brutal Serb siege of Sarajevo during the 1992-95 war waited "every Sunday to hear his messages of hope," as the pope never failed to call for an end of their suffering, Ceric said.

"This is why I think he deserves to have a statue here in the city of Sarajevo," he said.

John Paul had wanted to visit Sarajevo at the height of the war in September 1994 but the trip was cancelled after the Serbs said they wouldn't guarantee his safety.

He visited Sarajevo a year after the war ended and tens of thousands jammed the streets to welcome him.

In front of the main Sarajevo Cathedral, he shook hands with the crowd and stroked the foreheads of weeping people, many of them Muslims.

City authorities are now considering erecting the statue in that location in front of the cathedral.

He visited Bosnia again in 2003, travelling to the predominantly Serb city of Banja Luka where he apologized for crimes committed by Roman Catholic Nazi supporters on Christian Orthodox Serbs during World War II.
"In the 21st century we are missing such a personality as John Paul II was," Ceric said.
John Paul II will be beatified by the Vatican on May 1.


Pope asks all to urge youth to consider becoming priests, religious

The Vatican has called for the 48th World Day of Prayer for Vocations to be observed May 15, the fourth Sunday of Easter, commonly known as Good Shepherd Sunday.
Pope Benedict XVI set the theme for the occasion, “Proposing Vocations in the Local Church,” in his message for the World Day of Prayer for Vocations. 

The theme underscores the responsibility of all in the local Church to foster vocations to the priesthood and consecrated life.  

The message notes that parish priests, families, catechists and youth ministers are invited to take advantage of “every moment in the life of the Church community” for prayer and pastoral activity that give children and young people a sense of “belonging to the Church and of responsibility for answering the call to priesthood and religious life by a free and informed decision.”
“We all have a responsibility to invite young people to consider if God is calling them to the priesthood or consecrated life,” said Archbishop Robert J. Carlson of St. Louis, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations.

“Such a call challenges our deepest convictions and leads to the discovery of the deepest truth about ourselves.Those who are being called by God deserve our prayers and encouragement to respond generously and without reservation.”
The U.S. Bishops’ website, or, and their Facebook page and other social media outlets, provide resources to help laity and clergy build a culture of vocations in home and parishes. Site elements include videos of priests and religious men and women giving witness to their vocations, videos of testimonies from parents whose children have answered a vocation to the priesthood and consecrated life, prayers and discernment resources for men and women, down-loadable lesson plans for educators, and retreat resources for parishes.
“We hope that every member of the Church will encourage and promote vocations to the priesthood and consecrated life at home, in the parish, at school and in their community,” said Mercy Sister Mary Joanna Ruhland, associate director of the Vocations Secretariat. 

“The web resources are valuable tools for their efforts.”      
Dioceses, parishes and organizations are invited to link to and use the colorful web banner ads at (English) and (Spanish) found there.

John Paul II 'miracles' posted on Vatican website

Stories of miraculous healings attributed to late pope John Paul II are being posted on a Vatican website that has already collected thousands of reports ahead of his beatification on May 1.

Tales of lives saved, sicknesses cured and families reunited from across Europe have been told in Spanish, French, English, Portuguese, Polish and Italian on the Holy See's beatification website (

John Paul II was set on the road to beatification after the Vatican confirmed he had worked a miracle -- the healing, apparently unexplainable by science, of a French nun affected by Parkinson's who had prayed to be cured.

The Vatican will have to prove a second miracle to make him a saint and since 2006 has been collecting the testimonies of those who say the ex-pontiff has miraculously intervened in their lives.

Many stories speak of "sudden" recoveries from cancer or other devastating illnesses "against the odds." Others describe how the ex-pontiff helped them through moments of despair at work or with tumultuous love stories.

Some confessed they had been living an irreligious life or worshipping pagan gods before rediscovering their Catholic faith thanks to his intervention.

Others wrote that John Paul II appeared to them in a vision or dream during high-risk surgery or life-threatening accidents, helping them to fight for their lives or bear the pain.

Upwards of 400,000 people are expected to descend on Rome for the beatification of the charismatic pope, who reigned for nearly 27 years before succumbing to Parkison's disease in 2005.

The beatification period was fast-tracked as mourners clamoured for John Paul II to be made a saint. 

Pope Benedict XVI waived the usual five-year waiting period, allowing the process to begin soon after he died.

Pioneers threatened as revenue dries up

The Pioneer Total Abstinence Association (PTAA) faces imminent closure unless it can raise new funds, according to its chief executive.

The organisation, founded in 1898 by Jesuit priest Fr James Cullen and characterised by its ‘pioneer pin’ is projecting a deficit of €100,000 for 2011.

At its height, the organisation promoting temperance had 360,000 members. Today it claims between 125,000 and 150,000.

In an open letter to members posted on its website, chief executive Padraig Brady said the deficit had arisen from the decline in the Pioneer  magazine circulation and other income sources.

He said the organisation had now reached “crisis point” and needed an “urgent injection" of funds.

“Sadly it is in these times of crisis and uncertainty that people turn to alcohol and drug abuse to escape the unbearable reality of living. Our appeal is as much for these people and their families as it is for our valued members and our association,” he writes.

“As Pioneers we are known the length and breath of Ireland for our tradition of giving to others. The time is well overdue for us now to give to ourselves. Our failure to do so may have potentially dire consequences for as an organisation and for the innumerable individuals and families to whom we offer help.”

Mr Brady appealed to members to donate at least €10 in order to keep the organisation afloat.

It is hoped that the appeal will raise the €300,000 needed to avert closure.

Mr Brady admitted to the Irish Catholic  newspaper this week that his organisation “had failed to move with the times and put our message in modern language”.

However, he said, the organisation was “first and foremost a movement based on prayer” and that there was “quite a bit of feeling that we should concentrate on this rather than trying to be things that we are not.

Blessed encounters with John Paul II (Contribution)

I first met Pope John Paul II in late June 1979. 

A friend and I had hitchhiked from Dublin to Rome, where we stayed at the Convent of San Clemente near the Colosseum for two weeks. 

We had both commenced studies for the priesthood the previous year. 

One morning we received an invitation from an Irish priest, Fr John Magee, to meet the Pope. Fr Magee had been private secretary to Pope Paul VI from 1974 until the pontiff’s death four years later and had also served during the 33-day pontificate of Pope John Paul I. 

Our introduction to Fr Magee had been arranged by an Irish Dominican, Fr Lambert Greenan, the English-language editor of the Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, and a friar at San Clemente.

The pontiff was staying for a brief period in the Tower of St John in the Vatican gardens while his apartments were being renovated. 

Fr Magee had arranged for us to be escorted through the Vatican gardens and up to the tower, which was built as a fortification for Pope Nicholas V in the mid-15th century.

The round tower opens into a hallway, in front of which is set a lift. The Irish priest came down in the lift first to greet us. He returned to fetch the pontiff, and about quarter of an hour later the lift door opened once more and out stepped Pope John Paul.

I recall how he walked into the hallway, exuding energy and cheerfulness. We were introduced to him along with other guests. After a short greeting, the Pope suggested we have our photograph taken by his photographer. 

Having blessed us, he then went out through the door, where a car was waiting to take him to the Apostolic Palace for the day’s audiences.

Fr Magee also got into the car, and I looked out the door to signal my appreciation for his kindness in arranging the meeting. He discreetly nodded to me. 

The Pope, however, leaned forward and, with a broad smile on his face, gave me the “thumbs-up” sign.

Over the next 25 years, I met Pope John Paul on some 30 occasions. Several times in the early years I met him in the gardens of Castelgandolfo, when I spent my summers as a seminarian working as a guide in St Peter’s Basilica.

I became a friend of Fr Magee, who often invited me out for the afternoon to Castelgandolfo, where we walked in the magnificent gardens. It was a most relaxed atmosphere and on one occasion I recall how we happened upon the pope who was sitting at a table reading a book. We retreated before we disturbed his concentration, but I remember being surprised to see him wearing white tennis shoes underneath his soutane.

Often in the evenings, while in his country residence, he invited guests to join him in the gardens after supper. These were informal gatherings, usually made up of young people. The pope would sit in a wicker armchair while we sat on the ground around him, asking questions and sometimes exchanging jokes. 

When the evening ended, around 10.30, we escorted the pope back to the villa where we said goodnight. I remember also on one occasion noticing that the pope wore aftershave, which struck me as rather odd. 

Of course, it was perfectly natural. I was usually fortunate to get a lift back into Rome with Arturo Mari, the pontiff’s photographer, or some Swiss Guards who had finished their duty and were returning to the Vatican.

After ordination, I often concelebrated Mass either in his country residence or in the Vatican. 

What struck me was the profound silence in the chapel. It was so different from the vast public Masses celebrated before millions around the globe. When Mass ended the Pope spent 15 minutes in silent thanksgiving, kneeling at his prie-dieu in front of the tabernacle. He then came into the corridor where he met his visitors.

I noticed that the Pope enjoyed when people spoke to him as so many were overcome with emotion and simply burst into tears. 

As a linguist, he enjoyed bantering in various languages. On one occasion I was with a fellow classmate, the nephew of Cardinal Desmond Connell of Dublin. I told him that this was the Archbishop of Dublin’s nephew.

“Ah!” he said with mock surprise, looking at the young man. “His nephew is the Archbishop of Dublin?” I explained that it was his uncle. “So, now you tell me he is the uncle of the Archbishop of Dublin?” he replied. I think he enjoyed my discomfort.

On another occasion, I was with John McCaffrey from Northern Ireland. We both had met the pope many times and John asked the pope to autograph a photograph. 

The pope sat down and good humouredly signed the image for his cheeky Irish guests. John is now a fundraiser and assisted Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to Britain last year.

Meeting the pope so often, I noticed tiny details. I was surprised that the upper buttons of his soutane always showed signs of wear, as did the piping around his collar. Surely there was somebody who would mend these for him, I thought. I also noticed that when he met individuals in a line, he appeared to look not at the person presented but to the next visitor. 

Mgr Vincent Tran Ngoc Thu, his Vietnamese secretary, told me that the Pope was deaf in one ear, and that this was his way of straining to hear in his good ear.

I also observed that when he met people, many of whom spoke different languages, he repeated the last words which they had said. “Holy Father, I am from Paris,” one might say. 

The reply was usually: “Ah, Paris. God bless Paris.” It was a way of conserving his mental energies.

Pope John Paul had very strong hands. His mother’s family came from farming stock and his handshake was firm. I noticed that he had developed a tremor in his left hand while celebrating Mass in Castelgandolfo in July 1991. It was the first sign of the Parkinson’s disease which was to destroy his frame.

I met Sister Tobiana on several occasions. She was one of the five Polish nuns who looked after the papal apartments. 

She was a nurse and I was deeply struck by her sincere love for the pope and especially the care she showed him in his old age and illness. It was to her that he whispered his last words on earth and it was she who held his hand as he “slipped away to the House of the Lord”.

As the years went by, the strong, athletic man shrank in size but he grew in my appreciation. 

His acceptance of physical illness and pain was extraordinary and his sheer determination was impressive.

The last time I saw him was in the papal apartments one Sunday evening six months before he died. His face was now a mask. 

Yet behind the pain-filled eyes was the soul of a man who burned with a deep love of Jesus Christ. He remains my inspiration and I realise that I am blessed to have met him.

Fr Michael Collins’s book, John Paul II: The Path to Sainthood, will be published by Columba Press on May 15. 

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Quinn’s argument against religious education is shaky

Irish Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn has asked that the Catholic Church be divested of half of the 3,000 national schools in Ireland over which it currently has patronage.

These “Catholic” schools make up about 90 percent of the state provided national schools in the country. 

The others are under the patronage of either other religious denominations or are non-denominational in character.

He has launched a Forum on Patronage and Pluralism in the Public Sector, chaired by UCD Professor Emeritus of Education John Coolahan, to hear views of concerned groups as well as the general public, as a prelude to issuing specific recommendations to the minister by the end of the year.

Archbishop Diarmuid Martin acknowledged that the increasing portion of students in the Dublin Archdiocese who are either not Catholic and/or not religiously affiliated would justify a substantial reduction in the percentage of schools under the Church’s patronage.

The Catholic Council of Bishops, reflecting views more typical of rural Ireland, would accept some reduction, but much smaller than what Martin would accept, never mind Quinn’s more ambitious suggestion.

One can better understand the practice of church patronage by examining the origins of the Irish national school system in the 1830s by the British government, decades before doing so in England. 

The original aim was for non-denominational schools, with the students attending separate classes along denominational lines for religious instruction.

At first the Irish Catholic hierarchy was generally supportive, with most of the opposition coming from the then established Church of Ireland. 

However, within a decade the goal had generally fallen by the wayside, as less than 5 percent of the more than four thousands schools were non-denominational.

That original aim was doomed from the start. Since many of the schools were run religious orders, they were de facto denominational. 

Also, public opinion, which intertwined religion with political sentiment, whether nationalist or unionist, opposed non-denominational schools.

It must be remembered, also, that the original scheme, did not call for secular education. It had the same character as a current program in Northern Ireland, where, admittedly in only a small minority of schools, there is separate religious instruction and sacramental preparation, while students attend all other classes, including ones in religious history and comparative religion, together.

One suspects that Quinn’s ultimate agenda is much greater than promoting interdenominational education. 

He, as becomes his own atheistic philosophical perspective, would prefer entirely secular schooling and to leave religious instruction to parents or denominational “Sunday Schools.”

Quinn is correct in calling for a root and branch re-examination of Irish education that will ask questions other than giving more money to schools and teachers.

His anxiety is appropriate in view of recent international studies that lowered Irish ranking from former “world class” to average or below average in literacy, science and math, and which found one quarter of Irish teenagers to be functionally illiterate.

This stands in stark contrast to the fact that the portion of the Irish population in 30-to-34 age bracket with college education is the highest in the European Union.

However, to imply that academic competence is weakened by the time spent in the school day studying religion is unwarranted, especially since the amount of time spent on religion has remained the same as it was when Irish educational standards were being internationally acclaimed.

Former Taoiseach John Bruton has argued that Quinn’s claim that too much school time is wasted on religion could as easily be made about the even greater amount of time spent teaching the national language that very few ultimately use in their lives, or about the fewer schools days per year in Ireland than elsewhere in Europe.

Quinn also doesn’t seem to have any objection to school time being spent on other matters, even less academic than religion, such as sports, health education, and civics.

As for the practicality of teaching religious instruction in the home or on weekends, Bruton effectively demonstrates that such would work very much against, in most cases, thorough religious formation. 

Parents inculcate religious values more by example than formal instruction, and generally are unprepared and unready to give formal religious classes to their children.

No doubt religious belief has declined significantly among the Irish, and immigration has brought thousands into the country who are not Christians, never mind Catholics. 

Obviously the state-supported education to which they are entitled should not require their taking Catholic religious classes or being immersed in a Catholic atmosphere.

On the other hand, the majority, who are still Catholic, should be as equally entitled to state support for the Catholic education they desire.

While Catholic schools in a diverse school system should receive comparable support as any other school, the Church should be wary of a number of things.

For instance, religious identity must not used as a means of social exclusivity without any real interest in religion itself.

Secondly, the Church must make sure that the schools remaining under its patronage not be staffed by faculty who are either lukewarm or are non-believers.

Thirdly, the existing light-weight and superficial religion curriculum must be strengthened. 

The necessity of such is demonstrated by the results of a survey of young Irish people, aged 15 to 24. 

Only one in 20 of whom could quote the First Commandment, about a third of whom knew where Jesus was born or what Easter celebrated, and about a sixth knew what transubstantiation was.

For the church to act as patron in national schools where faculty are lukewarm and religious curriculum is superficial will only intensify the growing pattern in Ireland of infrequent Mass attendance.

It would also make youth cynical and indifferent rather than religious.

Most people believe in God, international poll finds

A new survey shows that 51 per cent of people in the world believe in God. Only 18 per cent don’t and 17 per cent are undecided.

More than 18,000 people from 23 countries participated in the poll conducted by global research company, Ipsos Social Research Institute.

The poll also found that 51 per cent believe that there is an afterlife while 23 per cent believe they will just "cease to exist". Around a quarter (26 per cent) say they do not know what will happen after death.

Bobby Duffy, managing director of Ipsos, told Reuters, "It may seem to many that we live in a secular world but this survey shows just how important spiritual life is to so many global citizens with half saying they believe in a spiritual being and the same proportion in an afterlife of some sort or other.

"The other really interesting thing is that such a large proportion of the remaining people are just not sure there is a spiritual explanation either for how they got here or what happens after they die."

According to the survey, “definitive belief in a God or Supreme Being" is highest in Indonesia (93 per cent) and Turkey (91 per cent), followed by Brazil (84 per cent), South Africa (83 per cent) and Mexico (78 per cent).

Those most likely to believe in “many Gods or Supreme Beings” live in India (24 per cent), China (14 per cent) and Russia (10 per cent).

People who don’t believe in God or a Supreme Being(s) are most likely to live in France (39 per cent), Sweden (37 per cent), Belgium (36 per cent), Great Britain (34 per cent), Japan (33 per cent) and Germany (31 per cent).

When it comes to “the sweet hereafter-or not…” category, ultimately half of the global population believe there is a form of afterlife. More than half of the people in Indonesia, South Africa, and Turkey believe in heaven or hell as opposed to the United States and Brazil, where less than 40 per cent hold the same beliefs.

Forty percent of respondents from Mexico believe in the afterlife but not heaven or hell.
Overall, nearly a quarter do not believe in a heaven or hell.

Belief in reincarnation is highest in Hungary where 13 per cent say “you are ultimately reincarnated”. 

The belief is also popular in Brazil, Mexico, Japan, Argentina and Australia.

People who say they “don’t know what happens” after death are mostly located in Europe and Asia. 

Meanwhile, countries where people are most likely to believe they will cease to exist after death are South Korea with 40 per cent, Spain with 40 per cent, France with 39 per cent, Japan with 37 per cent and Belgium with 35 per cent saying so.

When it comes to the afterlife, Duffy stated, “There is a belief on one side (in a Supreme Being) but there is a lot of uncertainty on the other.

"The nature of these questions and issues is that in many cases they are unknowable. But it reminds us that it is the case with many people around the world."

In other findings, the survey revealed that 41 per cent believe in human evolution, 28 per cent believe in creationism and 31 per cent are uncertain of what to believe in.

Creationism, or the belief that human beings were in fact created by a spiritual force such as God, is strongest in Saudi Arabia (75 per cent), Turkey (60 per cent), Indonesia (57 per cent), and South Africa (56 per cent).

Belief in evolution, or that the origin of man came from evolving from other species such as apes, is popular in Sweden, Germany, China, Belgium and Japan with over 60 percent of the population in each of the mentioned countries holding such belief.

The participating countries for the online survey were Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, Great Britain, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Poland, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Turkey and the United States of America.