Friday, August 12, 2022

HOLDING THE EUCHARIST IN IRAQ

As one of the oldest continuous Christian communities in the world, the Christians of Iraq with a culturally rich ecclesiastical heritage, have given the Church innumerable saints, many of whom are martyrs for the faith. 

One of the most recent martyrs for the faith was SERVANT of GOD RAGHEED AZIZ GANNI, an Iraqi Chaldean Catholic priest, who was killed along with three subdeacons,  his cousin Basman Yousef Daud, Wahid Hanna Isho, and Gassan Isam Bidawed in front of Mosu's Holy Spirit Chaldean Church, where he was a parish priest, Trinity Sunday, 2007.

 Father Ragheed was born in 1972 in the predominantly Sunni city of Mosul , Iraq.

After completing a degree in Civil Engineering at Mosul University in 1996 and fulfilling obligatory military service under the Saddam Hussein regime, he entered the seminary in Iraq. In 1996 his bishop sent him to Rome  for further study at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas Angelicum where he completed a licentiate in ecumenical theology in 2003. He was ordained a priest in Rome on 13 October 2001 at the Pontifical Urbaniana UniversityWhile studying in Rome, he made a point to be actively engaged with the poor, and frequently volunteered with the Sant'Egidio community, delivering meals to the homeless.

During his study in Rome he resided at the Pontifical Irish College where he played soccer for the College. The annual showcase 5-a-side tournament played in May among the Scots, English, Beda and Irish Colleges has been named the "Ragheed Cup" in his memory.

 Father Ragheed celebrated his first Mass in the Chapel at the Irish College. Today he is one of the nine figures represented in the apse of that chapel where the relics of Saint Oliver Plunkett rest in the altar wrapped in the priestly stole of Father Ragheed. He regularly offered Mass for the Lay Centre at Foyer Unitas which was at the time housed on the grounds of the Irish College.

 Fluent in Aramaic, Arabic, Italian, French, and English, he served as a correspondent for the international agency Asia News of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions.

He was finishing his degree in Rome when the Iraq war broke out. Father Ganni had received permission from his bishop to return to the Angelicum in Rome to work on a doctorate in ecumenism. In a prewar interview he expressed his opposition to the invasion of Iraqi fearing that Iraqi Christians would be targeted and persecuted. He looked forward to returning to his native land to serve the Church and people there. He did so after Saddam Hussein was ousted from power in 2003.

On June 3, 2007, Father Ganni had just finished celebrating the Sunday evening Mass and three deacons had recently decided to accompany him because of threats against his life. After the liturgy, he was walking away from the church with Daud as Isho, Bidawed, and Isho's wife followed by car. The group was stopped by unknown armed men.

 One of the gunmen shouted at Father Ganni that he had warned him to close the church and demanded to know why he didn't do it. Father replied asking "How can I close the house of God?" The gunmen ordered the woman to flee. Then after the gunmen demanded that the four men convert to Islam and they refused, the four were shot. The car was then set with explosives to deter interference and so that the bodies would remain abandoned. Several hours passed until a police bomb-squad defused the devices, allowing corpses to be recovered.

Thousands of people attended the funeral of the four men in Karemlash, Iraq on 4 June 2007. Father Ganni was secretary to Paulos Faraj Rahho, the Archbishop of Mosul of the Chaldean Church, Iraq's largest Christian community.  Archbishop Rahho was murdered only nine months after Father Ganni's death, in the same city of Mosul.

Father Ragheed was known to have a sense of humor and from the many photos of him, it is obvious he was a man of great joy, with a love for the Eucharist..

"There are days when I feel frail and full of fear. But when, holding the Eucharist, I say 'Behold the Lamb of God. Behold him who takes away the sin of the world', I feel His strength in me. When I hold the Host in my hands, it is really He who is holding me and all of us...keeping us united in His boundless love...In normal times, everything is taken for granted and we forget the greatest gift that is made to us. Ironically, through terrorist violence that we have truly learned that it is the Eucharist, the Christ who died and rose, that gives us life. And this allows us to resist and hope."


Monday, August 8, 2022

BIRDS AND STRESS

 

We all know that spending time in nature is known to improve symptoms of anxiety and depression, and relieve a sense of isolation and loneliness.  The exact reasons this phenomenon happens are unclear at this point, but it’s been proven in many studies that associations with nature have these effects on us. 

Academics at the University of Exeter, the British Trust for Ornithology, and the University of Queensland did a study on the effect that just seeing BIRDS  out your window can have on one’s overall well-being.  The results showed a significant lowering of depression, anxiety, and stress in those people who interacted with birds.  It's undeniable that birds bring joy to people of all ages

When stress and anxiety are reduced, the heart rate returns to normal, blood pressure can be lowered and there will also be a reduction in the high levels of cortisone associated with stress.

 It can also improve cognitive functions like memory and attention and reduce stress.    (Painting:  Lisa Finch- USA)

The therapeutic qualities of nature have also been recognized in the United States, where there are now 87 programs nationally that prescribe time in nature to medical patients.

One example is Park Rx America, a non-profit organization of healthcare professionals that prescribe connections with nature as a part of treating chronic disease.Robert Zarr, a Washington, D.C., physician and founder of Park RX   is working to get other doctors and healthcare professionals on board. More than 600 have signed up to the group’s platform to make it easy for doctors to locate green spaces near patients and track how patients “fill” prescriptions, which specify an activity and a frequency.

 He envisions a similar tool embedded in electronic health-record systems one day, and in 2019 the National Institutes of Health funded a five-year research trial to test physical and mental health outcomes at the community health center where he works.

 Over time, such programs may be a boon both for people and nature, especially with recent surveys indicating that 25 percent of U.S. residents spend two or fewer hours a week outdoors. 

Researchers have found that people who listen to bird songs became more relaxed than those who listened to a meditation app.  So next time you take a walk or go hiking, be sure and listen for the birds!





Saturday, August 6, 2022

SAINT OF THE EUCHARIST

 

A modern saint who had a great devotion to the Eucharist is KARL LEISNER.

Blessed  Karl was born in 1915 in Bavaria, the first-born of a family of five. In his parents he saw the example of a real Christian faith lived out in the everyday life. When he began grammar school in Kleve, North Germany, he joined the Catholic Youth Movement where he enjoyed the companionship of friends with whom he could share the adventure of long mountain hikes as well as learning more about the Scriptures and gaining a deep love of Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament.

From an early age Bl. Karl kept a dairy, which shows, that in spite of difficulties, he tried to make his daily life pleasing to God. After leaving school in 1934, Karl decided to study for the priesthood at the seminary in Munster.

Throughout Germany the Nazi ideology was taking hold and the Hitler Youth Movement was having a great influence on young Germans. The Bishop of Munster decided that the role of leader of the Catholic Boys Movement was becoming too dangerous for a layman and from the seminarians he chose Karl to run the youth movement.

Karl took this work very seriously and in addition to his studies he undertook long journeys by motorbike through the countryside to encourage and lead the Catholic Boys groups entrusted to him, helping them to remain faithful to God in an increasingly Godless and threatening society. The state authorities resented the work of the Catholic Youth movement and the Gestapo began to watch Karl's movements.

Sent to study in Freiburg for two terms, Karl met Elisabeth, eldest daughter of his landlady. Sharing his ideals he found in Elisabeth a friend with whom he would have liked to spend the rest of his life. For months he struggled to make up his mind where his vocation lay. Was God calling him to be a priest or to marry Elisabeth?

Finally in March 1939 he wrote in his diary, "It was a fight to the death, but I am called to be a priest - and for this call I am going to sacrifice everything." Elisabeth understood and supported him in his decision.

Karl was ordained a deacon on 25th March 1939 and was to be ordained a priest in a few months time. During the spring Karl was found to be suffering from tuberculosis and was sent by his doctor to recover at a nursing home in the Black Forest. It was there that he was arrested by the Gestapo because of a comment he made when he was told by a fellow-patient that there had been an attempt to assassinate Hitler. Karl was immediately imprisoned in Freiburg then taken to Sachsenhausen concentration camp from which he was transferred to Dachau in December 1940.

Allotted a new name, "Prisoner 223562", the young deacon was sent to barrack number 28. Over 2,600 Catholic priests, many of whom were deported from Poland, as well as a large number of seminarians and Protestant ministers were kept in terrible conditions. Overcrowding, starvation, forced labor and disease took their toll. Karl's tuberculosis deteriorated and he was sent to the camp "infirmary" where up to 150 of the sick were left to die. For many of these fellow-sufferers Karl was a sign of hope in a world of despair. 

His kindness and patience were striking. In letters to his family he remembered birthdays, recalled happy events of the past and tried to spare his parents the pain of knowing his true state of health. This was not difficult as letters were censored and prisoners were forbidden to give bad news. Faithful to the Rosary and the Divine Office, Karl's love for God grew stronger in spite of his circumstances. Mass was celebrated each day in the camp by the priest prisoners and Karl was able secretly to reserve the Blessed Sacrament in the infirmary so that the dying might receive Holy Communion.

Still a deacon, Karl longed to be a priest. In September 1944 an unexpected event occurred when Bishop Piguet of Clermont-Ferrand in France was brought to Dachau, arrested in May for assisting people to escape from the Germans. Suddenly Karl's hope became a possibility. Thanks to the help of a young postulant from a nearby convent who acted as messenger, the necessary permission was obtained from Karl's own Bishop and preparations were made for Karl's Ordination to the priesthood by Bishop Piguet. 

Although the Ordination was to be kept secret it was fitting that the ceremony should be honored with the greatest possible dignity. Fellow prisoners made an Episcopal ring and crosier and Karl was ordained a priest on Gaudete Sunday 17th December 1944 in the chapel in Dachau concentration camp.

 A number of Protestant ministers who had heard of the plan for Karl's Ordination had saved biscuits and coffee sent by relations to give him a secret reception after the Ordination Mass. The new priest, however, was now so gravely ill, he was only able to stand  with difficulty, and it was not until the Feast of Saint Stephen, 26th December that he could offer his first and only Mass.

Bl. Karl's state of health worsened in subsequent weeks. He was dying. The Liberation of Dachau by the Americans took place on 29th April 1945 and Karl was taken, with the help of the brave local parish priest to a nursing home at Planegg in a forest ten kilometres south-west of Munich. Here, at last was peace for Karl. The dreadful images of the concentration camp began to fade. Filled with gratitude for the kindness of the nursing nuns who cared for him, Karl wrote in his diary, "I am a free man! Alleluia! ... My human dignity has been given back. Flowers on the table. The Crucifix on the wall." He entrusted everything to Our Lady. Looking out at the forest Karl's heart rejoiced, "Here the body and soul can be restored. I can pray well again. In the silence God speaks even though I am exhausted."

These days of peace continued and the medical care was excellent but Karl's tuberculosis was now far advanced and his condition worsened. At last, having made the difficult journey, his families were able to visit him after his long imprisonment. They found him so weak that his mother had to help him eat. And yet he was happy. The last words written in his diary were, "Bless also, oh, Most Holy One, my enemies!"

His strength was leaving him but in his periods of consciousness Karl showed great interest in the people around him. To his mother he confided the truth, "I must tell you something, but don't be sad. I know that I am going to die soon, but I am happy". Conscious and in pain Karl received the Last Rites on  August 12 and died that same day. 

Karl Leisner was beatified on Sunday 23rd June 1996 in Berlin by Pope St. John Paul II. His feast day is  August 12.

 


Wednesday, August 3, 2022

LONG LIVE THE KING!

 

We have done recent Blogs on modern saints devoted to the Eucharist, namely Pope St. John Paul, Bl. Carlos Acutis  and St. Charles de Foucauld.  Another young man who died saving the Blessed Sacrament is BL. JOAN BROIG DIGGLE who was killed “in odium fidei” during the Spanish Civil War.  He was beatified November 7, 2020. Cardinal Juan José Omella y Omella, archbishop of Barcelona called the 19-year-old martyr “a witness of tenderness.”

Bl. Joan was born in 1917, in Barcelona. In 1934, due to economic problems, his family made the move to the town of El Masnou, where he joined the Federation of Christian Youth of Cataluña, becoming director of the group.

 In spite of his work and studies and poor health, he daily attended Mass. Those who knew him, recalled his intense spiritual life.  

 In July 1936, the young man’s spiritual director entrusted him with the Eucharist so that he could distribute Communion to the various Christian families. On the day of his assassination, in a visit to a Christian family, he told them, “I’m not afraid of anything. I have the Beloved with me.”

On the night between September 11 and 12, militiamen arrived to Joan’s home. When his mother heard their arrival and the forceful knocking on the door, she distracted them long enough for Joan to consume the Hosts he still had, so they would not be profaned. His last words to his mother, in English, were “God is with me.”

A few hours later, Bl. Joan was taken to the cemetery of Santa Coloma de Gramanet, where he was shot. (Spain). His last words were: “May God forgive you, and I forgive you. Long live Christ the King!”

We can ask why learn of saints who lived in another time, even though closer to ours than martyrs of ancient times. Our Church is today suffering persecution in the burning of churches and the murdering of priests and religious and lay people, throughout the world, even in our own country.  We need to pray to the new saints for courage and strength to bear witness as they did.

Monday, August 1, 2022

EUCHARISTIC MYSTERY

 

                                                    Art: Andy Schmalen

From Our Holy Father, Pope John Paul II's World Youth Day homily on Sunday, August 24, 1997 in Paris, France:

"Rabbi, where are you staying?" Each day the Church responds: Christ is present in the Eucharist, in the sacrament of His death and resurrection. In and through the Eucharist, you acknowledge the dwelling-place of the Living God in human history.

For the Eucharist is the Sacrament of the Love which conquers death. It is the Sacrament of the Covenant, pure Gift of Love for the reconciliation of all humanity. It is the gift of the Real Presence of Jesus, the Redeemer, in the bread which is His Body given up for us, in the wine which is His Blood poured out for all.

Thanks to the Eucharist, constantly renewed among all peoples of the world, Christ continues to build His church: He brings us together in praise and thanksgiving for salvation, in the communion which only infinite love can forge.

The Eucharistic mystery is in fact the "summit of evangelization" (Lumen gentium, n. 28), for it is the most eminent testimony to Christ's Resurrection. All interior life needs silence and intimacy with Christ in order to develop."

Friday, July 29, 2022

WORDS OF HOPE AND REDEMPTION - IN CANADA

 

Yesterday in the Basilica of Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré in Québec, Pope Francis preached on hope and redemption.

 “On the path of life and faith, as we seek to achieve the dreams, plans, hopes and expectations deep in our hearts, we also come up against our own frailties and weaknesses; we experience setbacks and disappointments, and often we can remain imprisoned by a paralyzing sense of failure. Yet the Gospel tells us that at those very moments we are not alone, for the Lord comes to meet us and stands at our side.

Journey with Jesus- Dr. He Qi

He accompanies us on our way with the discretion of a gentle fellow traveler who wants to open our eyes and make our hearts once more burn within us. Whenever our failures lead to an encounter with the Lord, life and hope are reborn and we are able to be reconciled: with ourselves, with our brothers and sisters, and with God.”

The Gospel shows us…that it is in precisely such situations of disappointment and grief – when we are appalled by the violence of evil and shame for our sins, when the living waters of our lives are dried up by sin and failure, when we are stripped of everything and seem to have nothing left – that the Lord comes to meet us and walks at our side.

On the way to Emmaus, Jesus gently drew near and accompanied the disconsolate footsteps of those sad disciples. And what does he do? He does not offer generic words of encouragement, simplistic and facile words of consolation but instead, by revealing the mystery of his death and resurrection foretold in the Scriptures, he sheds new light on their lives and the events they experienced. In this way, he opens their eyes to see everything anew.

                                                Walk to Emmaus- Greg Joens -USA

                                    Let us make his word central to everything we do, for it sheds light on all that happens and restores our vision. It enables us to see the operative presence of God’s love and the potential for good even in apparently hopeless situations. Let us put at the center the Bread of the Eucharist, which Jesus today once again breaks for us, so that he can share his life with us, embrace our weakness, sustain our weary steps and heal our hearts. Reconciled with God, with others and with ourselves, may we ourselves become instruments of reconciliation and peace within our societies.”

Thursday, July 28, 2022

ANOTHER NUN POET- A BENEDICTINE

 

I recently came across another nun writer and this one was a Benedictine.  MARIELLA GABLE, OSB was an American academic, writer, poet, and literary critic.

She was born Mary Margaret Gable in St. Croix Falls, Wisconsin in 1898, the second of three children. After attending public schoo, she came to St. Benedict's Academy and entered the convent in her senior year. She made first vows on in 1917, and celebrated her Golden Jubilee in 1967.

In 1934 she received her PhD from Cornell University, and took a position as chair of the Department of English at the College of Saint Benedict, where she remained until 1958. The years from 1958 to 1962 were spent teaching at colleges in Oregon and Missouri.

She was the editor of several anthologies of short stories, including Great Modern Catholic Short Stories (1942), Our Father's House (1945), and Many-Colored Fleece (1950), and wrote numerous essays.

At one point in her career she was banished from the campus for four years by the local bishop for allowing the inclusion of  "A Catcher in the Rye" on a suggested reading list for S. Kristin Malloy's course in contemporary American literature. 

She played a large role in shaping mid-century opinions of Catholic fiction in the United States and in Europe. She felt that fiction about religious and moral subjects should possess literary value, not merely serve as sentiment.

She loved teaching Teilhard de Chardin and Dante's "Divine Comedy" and was still being asked to give courses on them in St. Cloud at age 80. She was elected to Phi Beta Kappa and other national honor societies and listed in many directories of eminent educators and writers including "Outstanding Educators of America in 1972" and the first edition of "The World's Who's Who of Women in Education."

Among authors whose work she respected were J. F. Powers and Flannery O'Connor.  She also introduced such writers as Frank O'Connor, Sean O'Faolain, Mary Lavin, and Bryan MacMahon to American audiences.

She remained on the faculty of the College of Saint Benedict until 1973 and is honored on campus with a residence hall and a literary prize, both named in her honor.

Sister Mariella was faithful to these words of Jesus that she quoted to an alumnae group in 1975, "The gift you have received, give as a gift."