Tuesday, February 18, 2020

MARTYR FOR BURMA


BL ALFREDO CREMONESI was an Italian priest and member from the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions. He studied in Crema and Milan before setting off from Genoa to Naples and then to the Burmese missions via boat. He pledged that he would never return to the Italian mainland and spent the remainder of his life working with the Burmese people in mountain villages despite the great difficulties he faced.


His brother Ernesto was also a devoted Catholic whom the Nazis arrested and jailed in a concentration camp where he would die in 1945 before the European Theater conflict ended. Bl. Alfredo sent a letter to his parents upon learning this and said that "I am proud to be his brother…Ernesto will be able to do more in paradise than he could have done on earth".

Bl. Alfredo had a great devotion to St. Therese of Lisieux, whom he attributed a cure of a childhood ailment. Bl. Alfredo received a special dispensation for his ordination since he had not reached the canonical age required for ordination.

 Near the end of the war he was forced to live in the forest where he ate herbs in order to survive. He wrote of the trials he endured during the war in a letter dated on 20 February 1946; he refers to his lack of food and clothing (limited to what he had on) and noting that villages were devoid of people with marketplaces being abandoned.

 In 1941 he avoided Japanese imprisonment in a concentration camp in India after the Japanese occupied the nation. He lived eating herbs cooked in salt and water during this time but was discovered and caught. In the final month of the war a Japanese officer took him and tied him up for the night before allowing him to leave in the morning where he took refuge in the woods.

Bl. Alfredo did not understand the reason for his release but attributed it to the intercession of God.

The Burmese independence reached in 1948, prompted guerrilla conflict which caused great unrest and destruction to the point that Bl. Alfredo and other missionaries were forced into exile so as to remain safe. But he reached out to the guerillas and received their permission to return to the village he worked in. It was there in that village that government forces mistook him for a rebel - or a supporter of the rebels - and shot him dead alongside the village chief and two girls.

The blessed had a great devotion to  the Sacred Heart and  practiced Eucharistic Adoration each night for one hour before the tabernacle, awaking around 4:00 am in the morning to celebrate Mass.

 Pope Francis approved his beatification which took place in Crema on 19 October 2019.  His feast is celebrated February 7.

Saturday, February 15, 2020

SAINT FOR MYANMAR


I am always thrilled to find new saints in far away places, especially when they are the first saint of the area. A zealous Italian missionary priest who worked for nearly 3 decades in what is today Myanmar (Burma) and was martyred there among his people, was declared Blessed in October 2019.


PADRE ALFREDO CREMONESI was a member of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME).  He was born in 1902 in Ripalta Guerina in Cremona as the first of seven children. He felt a desire to become a missionary when he was 20, already in the seminary. Despite his zeal, a serious illness stood on the path of his missionary goal. 

Yet, precisely because of that adversity that weakened him physically, his "spirit became young and strong again,” he wrote. "It was in that slow decline of my being that my heart felt the attraction of the apostolate, above all, of sacrifice."

He was finally healed of his illness, which he attributed to St Thérèse of Lisieux, whom he loved. 
He was just 23 when he left for Burma in 1925. His mission proved difficult in an isolated mountain village and he often had to travel long distances to visit the people. 

Bl. Alfredo had a great devotion to the Sacred Heart, having Eucharistic Adoration each night for one hour before the tabernacle.  He then woke each morning at 4:00 am to celebrate Mass.   Proclaiming the love of the Sacred Heart of Jesus,  filled him with enthusiasm and strength.   


He associated his missionary work, "which is the most varied life, full of people and words, more on the outside and noisier than any high life", to "an insatiable longing to be in front of Jesus in prayer and in constant exercise of divine presence” and “a great desire to consume everything and soon, so that the kingdom of the Sacred Heart could come to these lands."

"Here they call me ‘perpetual motion’ because I never know how to stay still", he wrote in 1947. The new blessed proved to be tireless, oblivious to his health at times.  In 1934 he wrote, "I probably gave myself a hundred quinine shots”.

With the outbreak of World War II, British-run Burma entered the conflict, where Italians were regarded as enemies, as Italy’s Fascist leader Benito Mussolini declared his alliance with the Axis powers against the Allies.  

Near the end of the war, Bl. Alfredo was forced to live in the forest where he ate herbs to survive.  "So here we are in the middle of a battlefield,” he wrote in 1945. "Soldiers come and go, shooting . . . villages destroyed by various troops in retaliation ...".

In a letter in 1946, he recounted his suffering, the lack of food and clothing (limited to what he had on), with villages devoid of people and marketplaces abandoned. 

When the Second World War ended, a local civil conflict between the Karen rebels and government forces erupted. Despite the danger, Bl. Alfredo  did not abandon the Catholic villages knowing his presence was often a good deterrent to violence.

In 1950, unfortunately, two other PIME missionaries, Mario Vergara and Pietro Galastri, lost their lives.  
In August of the same year, Bl. Alfredo was asked to leave, and took refuge in Toungoo. Being far from his faithful was a true exile. He went back in March 1952, promising never to leave again. 

“Whatever my death, as long as it is not in exile,” he said after he went back to Donokù. The brief exile had however spared him a possible martyrdom.

On his return, he found that all his belongings at home, in the church, in the school and in the convent were looted. The work of 26 years was all lost. “I shall not run away anymore, whatever happens. At most they’ll kill me," he resolved.
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On February 7, 1953, after the Burmese military operation failed to flush out Karen rebels from the region, government troops entered Donokù. Bl. Alfredo and the villagers were accused of supporting the rebels. The missionary tried to convince the soldiers, who then fired their machine guns at him and the village chief. Two girls behind them were also killed in the attack. The village head died while the blessed was still alive. 

The villagers fled into the forest during the attack while the soldiers entered the local church and desecrated it before setting the village ablaze. When the commander found that the priest was still alive, he shot him in the face point-blank, killing him. 

The villagers returned to the following day to bury their dead. Before burying their priest, they sent his bloodied shirt together with a part of his beard to the PIME superiors in Taungngu with a note: "Relics of the martyr Father Cremonesi to be sent to his parents". 

He was "A victim of his charity” and “a good shepherd who gave his life for his flock,” his faithful said of him. 


Friday, February 14, 2020

VALENTINE'S DAY



We associate this day with love but did you know St. Valentine is believed to aid those who call on his intercession to help ensure the sweetness of the season’s honey and provide special protection to those who keep bees

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

THAILAND'S MARTYRS


THE SEVEN THAI MARTYRS of SONGKHON.  In 1940 before the Japanese invasion of Thailand there was a reaction against things Western and foreign. In this atmosphere there were pockets of persecution of Christians. This led to the martyrdom of seven Catholics in the village of Songkhon in north-east Thailand. They were beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1989. Their feast is December 16.

Thailand is the only nation in southeast Asia not to have been the colony of another power. From 1940 to 1944 the Thais were at war with their Indo-China neighbors. To achieve unity on the home front, this officially Buddhist country expelled foreign missionaries and sought to pressure its Catholics to renounce their faith.

The persecution was especially strong at Songkhon. When the Catholic priests were ousted, they left the mission in the charge of Philip Siphong, who was a married man with five children and a teacher and catechist. Because he was so obviously a leader, the government authorities decided to frighten the other parishioners into submission by executing him. On December 16, 1940, they took him outside the village and shot him.

Philip’s death strengthened rather than weakened the faith of the parishioners. The sisters who taught in the school now took over the leadership.

On Christmas, 1940, the local policeman ordered the Catholics to assemble in front of the church. He told them that he had been commanded to suppress Christianity; therefore he gave them a choice between apostasy or death. At that, Cecilia Butsi, a 16-year-old, spoke out, declaring that she was ready to accept death. The policeman did not seem to hear her.

That same night, Sister Agnes Phila wrote a letter in her own name and the name of all who resided in the convent, declaring that they would die rather than abandon their faith. In the note she prayed, “We ask to be your witnesses, O Lord, our God.” Sister Agnes gave the letter to Cecilia to deliver to the policeman.

On December 26, this officer called at the convent and addressed the sisters and laity present. All reiterated their resolution not to apostatize. He therefore had all six of them escorted to the cemetery and shot to death.

Two of the six were nuns: Sister Agnes Phila and Sister Lucy Khambang . Four were laypersons: Agatha Phutta an elderly woman, now the convent cook; Cecilia; Bibiana Khamphai  age 15 and Maria Phon, age 14.


After the execution, the chief of the village somehow got hold of Sister Agnes’ Christmas letter, an important testimonial to the true martyrdom of the six. When priests were readmitted to Thailand in 1943, the letter was handed over to Father Cassetta, the first of them to return. A church investigation was quickly started, and on the basis of this document and the other evidence, the Holy See issued a decree on September 1, 1988, declaring that Philip Sihong and the six women had indeed been murdered out of hatred of their faith.

On October 22, 1989, Pope John Paul II formally beatified the seven Thai Catholics. Deeply touched by their fidelity, the pope said that Blessed Philip (“the great tree” as he was called at Songkhon) exemplified the missionary zeal that is incumbent upon all of us by virtue of our baptism. He quoted Sister Agnes’ letter to the policeman: “We rejoice in giving back to God the life that He has given us…. We beseech you to open to us the doors of heaven… You are acting according to the orders of men, but we act according to the commandments of God.”


Friday, February 7, 2020

THAILAND'S FIRST MARTYR



This week we have celebrated the feast of St. Paul Miki and companions, martyrs of Japan.  Lesser known saints and martyrs are from Thailand, Burma (now Myanmar) and Laos.

BL. NICHOLAS BUNKERD KITAMRUNG  was born in Sam Phran, Nakhon Pathom, Thailand. Raised as a Christian, he entered  the seminary at the age of 13 and was ordained a priest for the archdiocese of Bangkok in 1926.

After serving a pastor of two parishes, he served as a missionary in northern Vietnam from 1930 to 1937, giving special attention to the needs of poor Catholics in that region.

Bl. Nicholas fought for the freedom of worship and the right to profess faith in a culture that was Buddhist.  The authorities regarded him with suspicion and accused him of collaborating with the French,  whom the Thai were hostile towards.  He was regarded as a dangerous individual who wanted to incite Thais to rebel against the government of Field Marshal Plaek. 

In 1941, as tensions were mounting between the French colonials and the anti-French Viet Minh, which would eventually lead to the Indochina Wars, Nicholas was  accused of being a spy for the French and arrested.

Sentenced to ten years in prison, Nicholas contracted tuberculosis which, combined with the harsh conditions in the prison, led to his death on January 12, 1944. It was later revealed that he spent those years in prison still serving as a missionary among his fellow prisoners, baptizing at least 68 inmates.

Nicholas was beatified in 2000 and is honored as the first martyr-priest of Thailand.

Pope St. John Paul II said: “Father Nicolas Bunkerd Kitbamrung’s priestly life was an authentic hymn of praise to the Lord. A man of prayer, Father Nicolas was outstanding in teaching the faith, in seeking out the lapsed, and in his charity towards the poor.”   His feast is celebrated on January 12.



On January 13, 2001 a shrine was dedicated by Cardinal Michael Meechai Kitboonchu to Bl. Nicholas.  The construction was completed in May, 2003. The shrine is located near the place of his birth in Tha Kham sub-district, about 30 kilometers from Bangkok. The shrine contains the Blessed´s relics, along with a museum commemorating his heroic life, in memory of his great contribution to Thailand’s Christian society. At the shrine, on October 11, 2012, Cardinal Kitbunchu blessed the statue of Blessed Nicholas Bunkerd Kitbamrung, erected for the “Year of Faith” to remember the life of the priest, “an example and witness of the faith” in Thailand.

Monday, February 3, 2020

KOREAN CHRISTIAN ARTIST




Since Asia (especially China) is so much in the news these weeks with the outbreak of the deadly  coronavirus, I thought I would focus in February on new saints in lesser known areas of this continent. And while most of them are martyrs, I want to start with an artist.

It never ceases to amaze me how there is a thread that runs through life, connecting people, places and ideas, when we least expect them.  Of late, perhaps since the Olympics in South Korea in 2018, we have learned more and more about the people of this country. One of our interns lived in Korea as a child and speaks the language. Their food has always been one of my favorites, since my early days living in Hawaii.


The man who donated our land here on Shaw, 40 years ago gave us a subscription to “Koreana” a magazine, which is published quarterly in 11 languages to promote Korean arts and culture around the world.  We always look forward to it, especially for its lovely art- ancient and new. So I was interested to find a new artist from that country  and to see that he has connections with the state of our Abbey.  I especially like his Good Shepherd and Mary washing the feet of Christ.

KIM YOUNG GIL was born in 1940 while his family was seeking refuge in Jilin province, China. His Christian family fled from Korea under Japanese colonization as they were forced to visit Shinto shrines to worship Japanese spirits.

After Korea became independent, his family returned to Korea. He attended Hongik University to study Visual Arts. While at school, he won the first prize at the Sydney International Art Contest with a painting titled "Upper Room". This had a great impact on his life as he later decided to devote his talent only to draw Christian paintings.

He served as an exchange professor at the University of Connecticut, and at the College of Art, Osaka University, Japan. He then became a professor of the College of Art at Pusan National University, Korea


 He executed a wall painting "Jesus Washing the Feet of His Disciples" at the Osaka Church and contributed to the construction of the memorial building for the martyrdom of Pastor Son Yang-Won ***,  executing 68 paintings there.

He led more than 2000 seminars and had over 30 inviting exhibitions in Harvard, Yale and Columbia University.

He was granted the honorary citizenship of the city of New Britain, Connecticut, as well as Los Angeles, California.


In his forties, along with his wife, Min Haeng Yang, he opened up his home to people with physical and/or psychological disabilities; his house was named "House of Salt".

Kim Young Gil suffered from high blood pressure in his later life, and died of Parkinson's disease in 2008 at the age of 68.



*** Pastor Yang Won Sohn, who cared for the lepers was imprisoned for refusing to worship at Japanese war shrines.  In October 1948, two of his sons were killed by leftist soldiers in a rebellion against the ruling authorities.   He not only gave thanks that his two sons were martyred and were in Heaven at the side of the Lord, but he forgave the rebel who killed his two sons, adopting him as his own son.
Pastor Yang Won Sohn did not evacuate even during the Korean War. He was eventually martyred by the North Korean communist soldiers at the age of 48.

Saturday, February 1, 2020

CONSECRATION- PRESENTATION

February 2, the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord, is also the 24th World Day for Consecrated Life, a commemoration instituted by Pope St. John Paul II in 1997.

In his message for the 1st World Day for Consecrated Life, the Pontiff explained that the day has three purposes:

In the first place, it answers the intimate need to praise the Lord more solemnly and to thank him for the great gift of consecrated life, which enriches and gladdens the Christian community by the multiplicity of its charisms and by the edifying fruits of so many lives totally given to the cause of the Kingdom …

In the second place, this day is intended to promote a knowledge of and esteem for the consecrated life by the entire People of God …

The third reason regards consecrated persons directly. They are invited to celebrate together solemnly the marvels which the Lord has accomplished in them, to discover by a more illumined faith the rays of divine beauty spread by the Spirit in their way of life, and to acquire a more vivid consciousness of their irreplaceable mission in the Church and in the world.

Immersed in a world which is often agitated and distracted, taken up sometimes by the press of responsibilities, consecrated persons also will be helped by the celebration of this annual World Day to return to the sources of their vocation, to take stock of their own lives, to confirm the commitment of their own consecration.

The World Day for Consecrated Life takes place on the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord, St. John Paul explained, because “the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple is an eloquent icon of the total offering of one’s life for all those who are called to show forth in the Church and in the world, by means of the evangelical counsels the characteristic features of Jesus—the chaste, poor and obedient one.”



The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has asked parishes to commemorate the day.