Sunday, August 21, 2016


Several years ago, when doing some studies on Benedictine saints and birds, I came across a lovely painting of St. Meinrad though I could not find the artist's name.  I have found him and here present some of his work.

Life of St. Meinrad

BROTHER MARTIN ERSPAMER, O.S.B.,  (B. 1953) is a Benedictine monk of St. Menirad Archabbey in southern Indiana. He attended a Marianist High School and became influenced by the work of the Marianist artists, joining their community in 1971. He worked several years in their missions in India.  He received an MFA from Boston University in 1986 and began his career as a liturgical artist working in painting, illustration, ceramics, stained glass, furniture and worship space design. 

In 2004 Brother Martin became a monk himself, moving to St. Meinrad Archabbey. He has creatively renovated over fifty churches and his stained glass designs have transformed many worship spaces. Brother Martin's religious illustrations are well known and his art has been used on covers for many missals. His art celebrates the Benedictine motto - "that in all things may God be glorified."

He also loves cooking and music. “The longer I stay in religious life, the more there is to learn and internalize. The monastery is a good place to learn. It is a school for conversion of heart and for charity. This is where I belong.”

Thursday, August 18, 2016


Why do I present these martyrs from far off places?  To show the goodness and mercy of our fellow humans, who seek for peace for us all, and who die for the effort.  As long as fanatics roam amidst us, there will be martyrs for the cause of justice, freedom and peace. Bishop Barron recently said that we have had more martyrs for the faith in the last century than in all the centuries since Christ combined! Staggering!

FATHER PAOLO DALL’OGLIO  another Jesuit martyred in the Middle East was an Italian  born in 1954. He was exiled from Syria by the government of Bashar al-Assad in 2012 for meeting with members of the opposition and criticizing the actions of the al-Assad regime during the Syrian civil war. He was kidnapped by Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant on 29 July 2013.
In 1984, Father Dall'Oglio was ordained priest in the Syriac Catholic rite. In the same year, he obtained a degree in Arabic language and Islamic studies from Naples Eastern University "L'Orientale" and in Catholic theology from the Pontifical Gregorian University. In 1989, he obtained a PhD degree from the Pontifical Gregorian University. He wrote his doctoral dissertation on the topic "About Hope in Islam".
In 1992, he established the mixed monastic and ecumenical Community al-Khalil ("the Friend of God" - Biblical and Qu'ranic byname of the patriarch Abraham in Arabic language), dedicated to Muslim-Christian dialogue and located in the refurbished Deir Mar Musa.
In 2009, Father Dall'Oglio obtained the double honorary doctorate of the Université catholique de Louvain and the KU Leuven.  He contributed regularly to the magazine "Popoli", the international magazine of the Italian Jesuits, established in 1915.

In 2011, Father Paolo Dall'Oglio wrote an article pleading for a peaceful democratic transition in Syria, based on what he called "consensual democracy". He also met with opposition activists and participated in the funeral service for the 28-year-old Christian filmmaker Bassel Shehadeh, who had been murdered in Homs.
The Syrian government reacted sharply and issued an expulsion order. Paolo Dall'Oglio ignored the order for a couple of months and continued living in Syria. However, following the publication of an open letter to UN special envoy Kofi Annan in May 2012, he obeyed his bishop who urged him to leave the country. He left Syria on 12 June 2012 and joined in exile the newly established Deir Maryam al-Adhra of his community in Sulaymaniyah, Iraqi Kurdistan.
In December 2012, Paolo Dall'Oglio was awarded the Peace Prize of the Italian region of Lombardy that is dedicated to persons having done extraordinary work in the field of peace building.

In late July 2013 Paolo Dall'Oglio entered rebel held territory in eastern Syria but was soon kidnapped by the militants of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, while walking in Raqqa on 29 July.[ Opposition sources from Raqqa said that Paolo Dall'Oglio has been executed by the extremist group and his body thrown into a ground hole in the city of Ar-Raqqa, called “Al-Houta”. Dead Assad loyalist soldiers would have often been thrown into the same hole. The claims are not yet confirmed.

Before his kidnapping, he had served for three decades at the Deir Mar Musa, a 6th-century monastery 50 miles north of Damascus. He has been credited with the reconstruction of the Mar Musa complex and its reinvention as a center of interfaith dialogue. 

Monday, August 15, 2016


Continuing our theme of the Jesuits, I recently read that since the 1970s there have been over 30 Jesuit Martyrs from all over the world.  The most recent is FATHER FRANS van der LUGT S.J.,  who began his ministry in Syria in 1966.
Father Van der Lugt was born into a banker's family and grew up in Amsterdam. His father was Godefridus Wilhelmus Antonius van der Lugt, president of the Nederlandsche Landbouwbank. His brother Godfried van der Lugt became a top executive with the Postbankand. Father studied as a psychotherapist but left the Netherlands for the Middle East in the 1960s, where he joined the Jesuits and spent two years in Lebanon, studying Arabic. In 1966 he went to Syria, where he lived for nearly fifty years.
Father van der Lugt started a community center and farm in 1980, the Al-Ard Center, just outside the city of Homs. The farm had vineyards and gardens in which much of the work was done by people with disabilities, providing an unprecedented resource in a society in which such people are usually hidden from view. In reconciling people from different religious backgrounds, he emphasized the humanity of people as the common ground, rather than stressing commonality in the theologies of different faiths. He saw connection with the earth as part of a common bond. To this end, he conducted annual eight-day treks across the mountains for teenagers of all faiths.
After the siege of Homs, Father van der Lugt cared for the sick and the hungry. He gained international exposure at the beginning of 2014 when he made a number of YouTube videos, asking the international community for help for the citizens of the besieged city. He refused to leave, despite the dangerous situation. In February, The Economist reported that he was probably the last European in the city and stayed because he was "the shepherd of his flock": He declined being evacuated during a UN operation in 2014 that saved 1400 people from the besieged city.
Father van der Lugt was known for helping Christians and Muslims alike; the Al-Ard Center aimed to foster dialog between people of different faiths.  During his ministry he was a voice of faith and love in the face of injustice. He offered shelter in his monastery to Muslims and Christians left homeless by the war, which began in March 2011. He was trapped with many other Syrians by the government’s siege on Homs. Despite the obvious risk, Father Van der Lugt stayed in Syria to support the civilians in his ministry. On the morning of April 7, 2014, he was abducted from his home beaten and shot by unidentified men.

The February before his death he exemplified his love for his ministry in a comment to AFP, “The Syrian people have given me so much, so much kindness, inspiration and everything they have. If the Syrian people are suffering now, I want to share their pain and their difficulties,”

In an appeal to end violence in Homs and the rest of Syria, Pope Francis remembered Father van der Lugt:
He always did good to all, with gratitude and love, and therefore he was loved and respected by Christians and Muslims. His brutal murder has filled me with deep pain and it made me think of a lot of people still suffering and dying in that tormented country, my beloved Syria, already too long in the throes of a bloody conflict, which continues to reap death and destruction. I also think of the many people abducted, both Christians and Muslims, in Syria and in other countries as well, among which are bishops and priests. 

Friday, August 12, 2016


BLESSED PAVEL PETER GOJDIC was a Rusyn-Slovak Basilian monk and the bishop of the Greek Catholic Eparchy of Prešov. He was martyred by the communist regime in Czechoslovakia. He was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 2001 and recognized as Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem in 2007.
Pavel Gojdic (pronunciation Goydich) was born In 1888 at Ruske Peklany near Presov, the third child of the Byzantine Catholic priest Stefan Gojdic and his wife Anna Gerberyova. He received the name of Peter in baptism.
Peter began his study of theology at Presov and continued them a year later at the major seminary in Budapest. He and his brother Cornelius were ordained on August 27, 1911, after which Father Peter worked for a brief period as assistant parish priest with his father.
In the fall of 1912, after a short period of pastoral work, he was appointed prefect of the Eparchial Boarding School for boys in Presov, known as "The Alumneum." At the same time he became an instructor of religion in the city's higher secondary schools. He was also entrusted with the spiritual care of the faithful in Sabinov as assistant parish priest. Father Peter was appointed to the Bishop's Chancery Office, where eventually he achieved the rank of Chancellor. A career as a diocesan administrator did not attract him, so he decided to become a Basilian monk. On July 20, 1922 he entered St. Nicholas Monastery on Chernecha Hora, near Mukachevo, where taking the habit on January 27, 1923 he took the name Pavel (Paul).

Appointed Director of the Apostleship of Prayer, he became instrumental in spreading the practice of frequent confession and Holy Communion throughout the Eparchy of Mukachevo. He usually spent long hours, mostly at night, in the chapel before the tabernacle. In 1927 he was appointed titular Bishop of Harpasa and was consecrated on 25 March in the Roman Basilica of San Clemente.
After his episcopal ordination he visited the Basilica of St. Peter in Rome, where he prayed on the tomb of the Apostle. On March 29, 1927, together with Bishop Njaradi, he was received in a private audience by Pope Pius XI. The pope gave Bishop Pavol a gold pectoral cross, saying: "This cross is only a symbol of all those heavy crosses that you will have to carry during your episcopal ministry.“
Bishop Pavel had been named Apostolic Administrator of the Eparchy of Presov on September 14, 1926. His first official act of office was to address a pastoral letter on the occasion of the 1100th anniversary of the birth of St. Cyril, apostle of the Slavs. Bishop Pavel was proud of his Slavic heritage and was very fond of his oriental rite.
In 1940 the Pope appointed him Bishop of Presov, and for the year 1939 Apostolic Administrator of Mukacheve.
During the period before World War II, he decided to defend the Ruthenians (Belarusians, Russians, Ukrainians and Rusyns).
During the war the bishop helped refugees and prisoners, and rescued the inmates of concentration camps. On October 26, 1942, Slovak security services informed the Ministry of the Interior of a high number of fictitious conversions taking place. The report pointed out several cases where only one member of a Jewish family converted to Christianity in order to protect all the other members. Out of 249 Jewish families, 533 Jews had converted to the Greek Catholic or Russian Orthodox faith in order to rescue some 1500 other members of their families, who had not converted; moreover, most of those who had converted continued to actively practice Judaism either in the open or undercover. 

 After the end of hostilities, those who had been saved by Bishop Pavel foresaw that his wartime actions would not be well received by the new Communist government and offered to help him emigrate to the West. However, he refused to leave his post as bishop. Foreseeing the Communist takeover, with the help of a new auxiliary, Bishop Hopko (see previous Blog), he launched a campaign to reinforce the faith of his people by mobilizing every possible means: visits, missions, retreats, the press and the radio. Bishop Gojdič resisted any initiative to submit the Greek Catholics to Russian Orthodoxy, assisted by the Communist Party, while he knew he was risking persecution, arrest and maybe even death. Even though he was put under severe pressure to renounce the Catholic faith and break unity with the Pope, he refused every offer. Gradually he was isolated from the clergy and the faithful.

On 28 April 1950, the Communist state outlawed the Greek Catholic Church and Bishop Pavel was arrested and interned. Jewish witnesses wrote a letter in his defense to the then-Prime Minister of Czechoslovakia Antonín Zápotocký, but to no avail. In January 1951, in a trial set up against three 'high treason' bishops (Vojtaššák, Buzalka, and Gojdič) he was given a life sentence. Transferred from one prison to another, he remained faithful, praying and saying Mass in secret, despite facing torture. Following an amnesty in 1953, given by Zapotocký, his life sentence was changed to 25 years detention. He was then 66 and his health continued to deteriorate, yet all further requests for amnesty were refused.
At the prison of Ruzyň an official informed him that from there he could go straight to Prešov, on condition that he was willing to become patriarch of the Orthodox Church in Czechoslovakia. He rejected the offer as an infidelity to the Pope and the faithful, and remained in prison.

He died of terminal cancer in the prison hospital of Leopoldov Prison in 1960, on his 72nd birthday. He was buried in an anonymous grave, n. 681, in the cemetery.
Blessed Pavel once said:: "For me, it is not important if I die in the Bishop's Palace or in prison; what matters is entering into Paradise". 


Saturday, August 6, 2016


Today I had an email from one of our friends in the Czech Republic (with photo) that he was just married in Pilsen, so thought it appropriate to do a Blog on this new Blessed of the Church. I visited the Czech Republic and Slovakia in 1998 and still think fondly of the beauty of the countries and the people.

BL. BASIL HOPKO was born in the Rusyn village of Hrabské, in the Sáros County of the Kingdom of Hungary (present-day eastern Slovakia). His parents, Basil and Anna, were landless peasants. While Basil was still an infant, his father was struck by lightning and died. His mother left him in care of her father, while she emigrated to the United States in search of work. When Basil was 7 he was sent to live with his uncle Demeter Petrenko, a Greek Catholic priest.
He attended the Evangelical gymnasium in Prešov, then Czechoslovakia, graduating with honors in 1923. He then studied at the Eparchial Seminary in Prešov. He had dreams of joining his mother in America, and of pursuing his priestly vocation there, but the cost of recurring health problems left him unable to afford to travel. He later wrote that when he finally decided to stay and to serve in his homeland, he was suddenly cured, and realized he had been given a sign about his calling. He was ordained a Greek Catholic priest on 3 February 1929.
He served as a pastor till 1936 at the Greek Catholic parish in Prague, the Czechoslovak capital, where he was known for his focus on the poor, the unemployed, and students. His mother returned from America after 22 years and rejoined her son in Prague, becoming his housekeeper at the parish rectory.

In 1936 he returned to teach in Prešov's Eparchial Seminary, and was awarded the title of monsignor. He had already begun graduate studies at Charles University while in Prague, and completed his Doctor of Theology in 1940 at Comenius University in Bratislava. In Prešov he headed the eparchy's publishing division, where he edited a monthly periodical.
After World War II, a growing Soviet Bolshevik influence caused Bishop Pavol Peter Gojdič of Prešov  (our next Blog) to ask the Vatican for an Auxiliary Bishop to help defend the Greek Catholic Church. Bl. Basil was appointed to the post in 1947. The Communist take-over of Czechoslovakia wreaked havoc on the Greek Catholic Church. In 1950 it was officially abolished, and its assets were turned over to the Russian Orthodox Church. Bishop Gojdič was arrested and imprisoned for life. Bl. Basil was arrested on 28 April 1950 and kept on starvation rations and tortured for weeks. Eventually he was tried and sentenced to 15 years for the "subversive activity" of staying loyal to Rome. He was repeatedly transferred from prison to prison. His health, physical and emotional, failed, and in 1964 he was transferred to an old age home. He never recovered his health.
During the Prague Spring the Czechoslovak government legally cleared Bl. Basil on 13 June 1968 and the Prešov Eparchy was restored. However, activists insisted that a Slovak bishop be appointed to the See, and the Vatican named the Slovak priest Ján Hirka as Bl. Basil’s successor.

Bl. Basil died in Prešov at age 72 on 23 July 1976. On 14 September 2003 Pope John Paul II beatified him at a ceremony in Bratislava, Slovakia. His steadfast loyalty to the Holy See, his great love of the people, and his dedicated pastoral work as Bishop, has earned him a place in the hearts of his people.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016


When we are young in formation some writers have a profound effect on our religious development.  Recently I read  the Archdiocese of Munich, Germany, will soon open a cause for the beatification of the theologian ROMANO GUARDINI, one of my favorite spiritual masters.

He was born  in Verona, Italy in 1885 but soon after his birth, his family moved to the city of Mainz, Germany, where his father went to pursue his career as an import/export merchant.  Romano grew up in a faithful, if not excessively devout, Catholic home.  This merely conventional Catholic upbringing left him unable to respond to the intellectual challenges posed by the rampant agnosticism and atheism he encountered as a young man attending the University of Munich.  He soon began to question his own faith and underwent a period of spiritual crisis that he would later compare to that of St. Augustine.  Guardini’s conversion moment came while on vacation from university at his parent’s home in Mainz.  The scripture passage that drew him out of his confusion was Matthew 10:39:  “Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.” 

Father Guardini taught at the University of Berlin until he was forced out by the Nazis in 1939.  He later taught at the University of Tübingen and the University of Munich.

He had a powerful influence on the thought of both Pope Francis and Pope Benedict XVI. The former once considered making Father Guardini the subject of his doctoral dissertation. 

According to Bishop Robert Barron  of Los Angeles & founder of Word on Fire Catholic Ministries (see Blog 7/29/16). “In 1986, after serving in a variety of capacities in the Jesuit province of Argentina, Jorge Mario Bergoglio (now Pope Francis)  began his doctoral studies in Germany. The focus of his research was Romano Guardini, who had been a key influence on, among many others, Karl Rahner, Henri de Lubac, and Joseph Ratzinger. As things turned out, Jorge Bergoglio never finished his doctoral degree (he probably started too late in life), but his immersion in the writings of Father Guardini decisively shaped his thinking.

Father Guardini's master work, The Spirit of the Liturgy, was the inspiration for a book of the same title by then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. But the book he is perhaps most famous for, and one of our favorites is The Lord.

Romano Guardini was one of the first to offer to the modern world a vision of the Church nurturing the flourishing of free personality within community.

 “The Church is not an institution devised and built at table, but a living reality. She lives along the course of time by transforming Herself, like any living being, yet Her nature remains the same. At Her heart is Christ.”

He died in Munich in 1968.

Friday, July 29, 2016


One of my new favorite people is a new auxiliary bishop of the archdiocese of Los Angeles ordained in 2015. BISHOP ROBERT BARRON is the founder of Word on Fire Ministries.
 and the host of Catholicism a groundbreaking, award-winning documentary about the Catholic Faith. Bishop Barron is a #1 Amazon bestselling author and has published numerous books, essays, and articles on theology and the spiritual life.
Bishop Robert Emmet Barron was born on November 19, 1959, in Chicago. He spent his childhood first in Detroit, then in the Chicago suburb of Western Springs. His mother was a homemaker, and his father, who died in 1987, was a national sales manager for  a national food distributor company.
Bishop Barron discovered Thomas Aquinas when he was a freshman in high school where he was educated by Benedictines. He was ordained a priest in 1986 by Cardinal Joseph Bernardin. He earned his M.A. at Catholic University of America, where he had won the Basselin Scholarship in philosophy and public speaking. He is a Doctor of Sacred Theology under the pontifical system from the Institut Catholique de Paris in 1992.  In addition to his native English, he is fluent in French, Spanish, German, and Latin.
He was the Professor of Faith and Culture at University of St. Mary of the Lake near Chicago until his installation as auxiliary bishop. The late Cardinal Francis George (whom Bishop Barron considers a mentor) called Bishop Barron "one of the Church's best messengers". He is a prominent theologian having lectured around the western world.
 Archbishop Gomez of Los Angeles gave each of the three forthcoming auxiliary bishops pectoral crosses modeled after the one Pope Francis wears, noting that Bishop Barron's media talent and rapport with young people, as well as his outreach to other faiths and to the world of culture (including with non-believers and non-practicing or fallen away Catholics) and education, would be good for the archdiocese. Bishop Barron's website,, reaches millions of people each year. His regular YouTube videos have been viewed over 14 million times. Next to Pope Francis, he is the most-followed Catholic leader on social media.
In 2000 Barron launched "Word on Fire Catholic Ministries", a non-profit organization, that supports his evangelistic endeavors. Word on Fire programs have been broadcast regularly on WGN America, EWTN, Telecare, Relevant Radio and the Word on Fire YouTube Channel. His Word on Fire website offers daily blogs, articles, commentaries and over ten years of weekly sermon podcasts. Bishop Barron's pioneering work in evangelizing through the new media led Francis Cardinal George to describe him as “one of the Church’s best messengers.”

I advise everyone to tune into Youtube  to watch this riveting messenger of Christ. He is bright, funny, warm, and most definitely a man who loves Christ and the Church. As I write this he is in Krakow, Poland for World Youth Day and daily sending news.