From November 29 until December 7 the Oblates of Mary Immaculate are preparing for the Great Celebration of the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of Mary. I would like to invite you as well to be part of this preparation in honor of Our Lady. In the Mary Immaculate page you will find prayers for the Novena. Have a holy Novena Time!
To conclude my time in Mexico I returned to the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe. There have been many miracles over the five centuries of the shrine. A miracle is also the conservation of the Tilma (cloak), the cloak of St. Juan Diego on which Our Lady of Guadalupe appeared 482 years ago. All the cloths similar to the Tilma that have been placed in the salty and humid environment around the Basilica have lasted no more than ten years. In contrast, the original Tilma was exposed for approximately 116 years without any kind of protection, receiving all the infrared and ultraviolet radiation from the tens of thousands of candles near it and exposed to the humid and salty air around the temple.
It is also worth mentioning of two surprising events associated with the Tilma.
The first occurred in 1785 when a worker accidentally spilled a 50 percent nitric acid solvent on the right side of the cloth. However it t destroyed neither the fabric of the cloth nor the colors of the image.
The second event was the explosion of a bomb near the Tilma in 1921. The explosion broke the marble floor and widows 150 meters from the explosion, but unexpectedly, neither the Tilma nor the normal glass that protected the Tilma was damaged or broken. The only damage near it was a brass crucifix that was twisted by the blast. There are no explanations why the shockwave that broke windows 150 meters afar did not destroy the normal glass that protected the image. Some people said that the Son of Mary, Jesus Christ, by means of the brass crucifix protected the image of His Mother. The real fact is that we don’t have a natural explanation for this event.
Our Lady visited Mexico 482 years ago, but she remains there to give Her Love, Her Mercy and Her Care to anyone who needs it, and to bring Her Son, Jesus Christ to everyone who receives Him.
As I was praying in front of the image it came to my mind that what I am looking at is Mary’s autobiography. An autobiography it is the story of a person written by her or him. We know that people write autobiographies to get money but some of them simply want to share with others what has been happening in their souls. In this way they invite others into their interior. What can be seen in the shrine in the Mexico City can be described as an autobiography of Mary. It is not a piece of writing but a painting of her she made for us so that we can get an insight into what is in her soul. She didn’t do it for money but to draw us closer to her Son Jesus Christ as it is love for Jesus that fills her soul. All of us are invited to contemplate this image – her autobiography. There is a website that can help us all to step deeper into the message Our Lady passes onto us:
This time I was taken to a small town of Puebla two hours away from Mexico City. It’s got only 3 million people. It is an industrial area with no tourists. I enjoy visiting some local places which aren’t tourist destination. I feel that another bonus of being an Oblate. I get some insight into countries which I wouldn’t get if I were on a tour. Maybe the place I have been visiting aren’t the most popular destination but it is an enormous blessing to me to step into places and events of ordinary people who live their daily life there.
Puebla was such an experience. When Fr Francesco (an Oblate from Zambia in Africa who ministers in Mexico) and I got out at the bus terminal it was so funny, people were staring at us. In their eyes I could read this question: “What on earth are they doing here?”
However what has stayed with me are Sunday Masses in a couple of Mission Centers run by the Oblates in Puebla. They are right on the outskirts of the city. If it is an event to see a foreigner at the main bus terminal which is in the CBD you can imagine the poor suburbs surrounding the city. However as Fr Francesco and I turned up to celebrate Mass there was no surprise or curious looks. The parishioners were greeting or waiving to us as we were their next door neighbors. The reason for that is very simple. Their communities have been served by the Oblates for some years now and these people have seen Oblates coming to them from all over the world. As it was the Solemnity of Christ the King I couldn’t help thinking that what the Oblates have achieved here is the people’s understanding that the Church is Universal. She cannot be framed by cultures, mentality, geography, nationality or color of skin. The Catholic Church is as big as big are Jesus’ desires to save people.
At one of the Masses I was asked to say what I can observe as I celebrate Mass with them. I said that even if I don’t understand Spanish but looking at them and hearing them sing in the chapel I understand very easily their love for Jesus, and how passionate they are for their parish. I was explained that they aren’t an official parish yet but they are hoping to become one soon as they are well organized and have people involved in all the necessary projects like liturgy, teaching of the faith, maintenance, finances, etc. They cannot wait to be an official parish because it also means that they will have a priest permanently residing within their community. They are praying that it would be an Oblate. I have read lots of things about our Oblate heritage, I have heard many comments of people in various places about the Oblates but somehow that little whisper I heard from the parishioners in the poor suburb of Puebla: “We are praying so that the Oblates could not only continue their ministry among us but so that they could become our official parish priests” was a moving moment for me. Right there on the outskirts of Puebla I felt so proud of my brother Oblates and at the same time I was so humbled that I am one of them.
I had some plans to celebrate the conclusion of the Year of Faith. I was thinking about going to the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, or to celebrate Mass in the venerable Mexico Cathedral. However God had different plans for me. I had a celebration for the conclusion of the Year of Faith but is wasn’t in any of the above places. The Mass I was blessed to concelebrate was at the house of the ex-prostitutes. The Oblates from the Seminary in Mexico City together with a group of volunteers provide some pastoral care to the women who used to be prostitutes. Because of their age or illness they were abandoned by their bosses. There is a house in the City where they can find a place to live with some dignity now. As I stood beside Fr Francesco who was presiding over the Mass which was celebrated in the central yard of the house with some residents gathered around I was looking at the simple altar where the Lord was ascending under the species of Bread and Wine and then my eyes were moving to the little crowd of the ex-prostitutes. What I saw at that Mass it was resembling the Gospel we read for the Solemnity of Christ the King. Jesus dying on the cross with the two criminals on his left and right. One was cursing Jesus, the other was saying the words we know so well: “Jesus remember me when you come into your kingdom.” How much the ladies from the house were the icon of that scene from the Gospel. The thief didn’t end up next to the cross of Jesus because he repented or wanted to change his life. He was there because he was caught on committing a crime. When he asked for forgiveness from Jesus he didn’t have many options. It wasn’t a spectacular conversion or a change of life. However this Solemnity isn’t about spectacular conversion of a big sinner but it is about spectacular mercy of the Saviour towards a big sinner. Jesus’ mercy preserved the man from despair. However it wasn’t about some sweet words and saying: ”Don’t worry. You aren’t bad.” Jesus hanging on the cross crushed the hardened heart of a big sinner, who acknowledged his sin and took responsibility for his evil actions. Jesus’ reaction was: “Indeed, I promise you, today you will be with me I paradise.”
The women from the house we visited weren’t there because they wanted to improve their life. There were like the thief from the Gospel, they didn’t have a choice, but the Oblates with the volunteers gave them a choice to have Christ the Lord right in their midst so that even if the ladies have damaged their life they weren’t condemned into despair we could see in the criminal who was cursing Jesus. Some of the women attended the Mass, some didn’t, but the Lord Jesus was there sacrificing himself, like he did on Good Friday.
I missed some big and splendid celebrations for the conclusion of the Year of Faith but I knew that at that Mass with the ex-prostitutes I was given the view that was given to Mary and John who stood next to the cross. They saw Jesus saving a big sinner from despair. I witnessed the same. The Lord was brining hope and peace to the women who have got exploited so badly. No one can change what they have done to themselves but the Lord Jesus wants to extend his reign to them too. We can talk and discuss a lot about what Jesus’ kingdom means. However on this Solemnity I witnessed that Jesus’ kingdom is as real as real are sufferings and tragedies of our brothers and sisters. Even more, Jesus’ kingdom is not only real, it is necessary because only Jesus’ reign takes people from the path leading to despair. I thank God for Fr Francesco and the volunteers who take Jesus’ reign to the house of the ex-prostitutes, they extend Jesus’ kingdom beyond their own comfortable home and churches. Let us ask ourselves what we do for the growth of Jesus’ kingdom?
Upon arrival in Mexico City I got a taxi to get to the Oblate Seminary. The poor driver was struggling in the maze of the streets, then he couldn’t find the property. We were driving around for some time when I realized that he was confused so I started looking for number 106. I did find it but it wasn’t because I saw the number but because I saw a big statue of Our Lady in the porch of the building. I stopped the taxi driver and I could tell how much relieved he was. Thank God that we Oblates have same ideas. When I saw the statue I knew that it was to be an Oblate house and it was.
All the students came downstairs to welcome me though none of them could speak English. Well, we handled the situation well and they walked me to my room.
The Oblate Province here covers Mexico, Guatemala and Cuba. At the moment in the seminary there are 16 scholastics preparing for priesthood. They come from Mexico and Guatemala, some of them still study Philosophy while others do Theology. Again I can see how fraternal, family spirit dwells in this formation community.
The seminary was moved to the this place a few years ago as the previous location became too dangerous. Killings were happening on regular basis in the neighborhood so it was decided to move it to a safer place for the students. The building that hosts the seminary now used to be a factory that was turned by the Oblates into their home. This industrial character is still evident in the area but at least the Rector doesn't need to worry abut the safety of the scholastics.
The young men are very generous with their time, even if they’ve got very limited spare time. They need to travel long time to get to the University, that’s why they do Morning Prayer at 5.45am so that they could be on the way to school as soon as possible. When they come back they have late lunch together and then they go to do private studies. At 7pm they gather for Mass followed by dinner and again at 9pm they are together in the chapel for adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. However as I mentioned they are very generous with their time. They take me to the Basilica of Guadalupe or to other places in the city. We have most interesting conversations as I cannot speak Spanish and they don’t speak English. Today their Rector asked me how we handle it. I don’t know how but we do. Their generosity is also evident in their daily activities. No one waits for some else to do dishes, set up tables, or to do other domestic duties but they just do them. They seem to make up a good team. I am pretty sure that St Eugene would be pleased seeing them like that.
But still they are also cheeky like all seminarians. Another day I had to get some toiletries so a seminarian took me shopping. I got things I needed but they had only big containers of shampoo. It is not very convenient to carry such a big bottle on travels so I kept looking for something small. The only small shampoo was for babies. Anyway I go it. After getting back to the seminary the student spread the word what kind of shampoo I got. They found it hilarious and now they call me Baby Father. I need to forgive them this “crime” because they are very hospitable to me.
Their generosity is also seen on weekends which they spend helping in parishes, prisons, nursing homes, orphanages etc. I am very impressed with their life style which incorporates pastoral activates and plenty of prayers.
Mexico City, well it is huge and it is old. The origin of the Mexico City goes back to 1235 when Aztecs built here their capital. Over the centuries it has grown to over 2o million agglomeration. Such a big concentration of people means that the pollution is high. I heard that it has improved drastically in recent years but still my nose and lungs had a shock treatment. I have been only once to the center of the city and I nearly suffocated. My breathing went so shallow that I got scared. The Oblate seminary where I am staying is some distance from the CBD so it isn’t so bad but still I can smell smog. I guess that the location of the city doesn’t help to solve the pollution problem. The Mexico City is located 2200 meters above sea level. The peak of Mt Kosciuszko in the Snowy Mountains reaches this level and it is the highest mountain in Australia. Here it is the level where more than 20 million people live. Approximately the city is 60 kilometers long and 40 kilometers wide. In this area there is a population similar to the whole Australian population. There is no doubt that in Australia we’ve got a living space. To make things more interesting the city is surrounded on three sides by mountains and volcanoes. That’s why the polluted air cannot get out of the valley. As I was flying into the city I could observe a drastic change in the cloud layer, it turned into darkish color. First I thought there was some storm activity but it was pollution. For a few days I have been here it feels very weird as it is hazy most of the time.
I was surprised when I saw so much military personnel in the city. Apparently that’s every day scene observed here. They are needed to keep order in this overpopulated place. On the lighter note I found it funny that at intercessions with traffic lights there are police officers managing the flow of the vehicles. I was explained that they are needed because nobody pays attention to the lights. Drivers go through cross roads at the red light.
Another thing that has struck me is food everywhere. If there is some space of the side road or between buildings there is somebody cooking and selling food. I have smelled so much food that I feel full for a few weeks. Eating is the national hobby of the Mexicans. They seem to eat everywhere and all the time.
It is such a big difference to our Aussie cities which seem to be extremely slow and tidy in comparison to the Mexico City.
This giant city presents also a big challenge for the Church. It used to be a catholic place through and through. These days people are still religious in terms of having holy pictures and statues at home but it doesn’t go much deeper. They will cross themselves walking in front of a church but they will not cross the gate of the church. Probably that’s why Our Lady of Guadalupe chose this city for her shrine so that the light of faith and divine love could enlighten the city which struggles not only with pollution and congestion.
My Christmas gift has come very early this year. I have just arrived to Mexico City and I would never forgive myself if I didn’t pay a visit to my Heavenly Mother. In fact it has been my dream for many years to pray in the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe. The dream has come true. Guided by a Mexican Oblate seminarian I went through the maze of the metro system to arrive at the street which is walked by 20 million people who visit the Basilica every year. Although it was a weekday the street was packed with the people carrying enormous and beautiful flower arrangements as they made their final walk to honor the Virgin who appeared here in 1531. The man who saw Our Lady was a Native American Juan Diego. As the sign to prove that the apparition was true Mary told Juan Diego to cut flowers from the barren, wintery spot. No one would expect flowers to grow there in December but when Juan Diego claimed the hill where he found a garden of sweet smelling flowers. He cut them and placed them in his tilma (cloak) Before the bishop, Juan Diego recounted the Virgin’s words and the miracle of the flowers. When he opened his tilma and flowers fell out, an even greater miracle was revealed: on the tilma’s surface was the Virgin’s image. The bishop and those in the room fell to their knees, admiring and praying, and the bishop asked to be shown the place for the Virgin’s church. With his mission fulfilled, Juan Diego returned home to find his uncle completely healed, just as the Virgin had promised. Even more, the Virgin had appeared to a priest, Juan Bernardino, too, and had told him her name: “the Perfect Virgin Holy Mary of Guadalupe.” Two weeks later, the day after Christmas, her chapel was completed, and the tilma with its image was placed above the altar. This poor quality cactus-cloth should have deteriorated in 20 years but has shown no sign of decay after nearly 500 years. Over centuries the shrine has grown and the Image of the Perfect Virgin Holy Mary of Guadalupe is treasured in the enormous basilica.
As I was approaching the shrine I would have to be blind and deaf not to recognize that the Basilica was near. The stream of joyful and praying people was flowing up the hill. Their songs, music instruments and fireworks were adding to the festival atmosphere. Even if it was a weekday but how can one describe better a visit to Our Lady than a festival. What touched me most was that at the shrine it is impossible to be a single pilgrim. Once you cross the gate you feel at home with thousands of people who form a family around Jesus and Mary. For a single moment I did not feel alone in my prayer. Even if I couldn’t understand Spanish but I could easily understand faith and love for Jesus and Mary radiating from those in the shrine. I love this place, it is a big compound but I would describe it as a prayer space. That’s what Catholicity means to me you are carried on the faith, love and prayer of others and you do the same for them.
Then the moment came to enter the Basilica. As soon as I saw the miraculous Image of Our Lady of Guadalupe I was on my knees. One can find so much prove that it is a divine image but when I felt my heart pounding like crazy as if it wanted to jump out of my chest and to go to the Lady looking from the Image I didn’t need and convincing arguments. I knew that I was in the presence of the Mother of Jesus. I am not very keen on kneeling as I have had problems with my knees but I couldn’t pick myself up. I was saying the Rosary kneeling on the concrete. I don’t know if it hurt or not because being with The Virgin Mary was all that mattered. Once again I could see how much we Oblates are formed in our love for the Immaculate Mary. The long years of formation are not simply studying but it is the time of being exposed to the example of other Oblates and to deep prayer to Mary. The outcome is that the title we bear –Oblates of the Mary immaculate which means Offered to Mary Immaculate, becomes the expression of how we feel in the presence of our Heavenly Mother. We always feel at home with her. In some official prayers we call her our Patroness but it sounds too cold to us. She is our Mother, part of our life, sharing our joys and sorrows. As I was praying once again I experienced that I couldn’t pray for myself. Something similar I had in Bethlehem, Lourdes, Czestochowa or Marseille. Instead, in my mind I saw my family and so many dear people I have met in my life. I just wanted to tell Mary so much about you. I am sure she listened not with curiosity but with love. I placed you before her and believe me that a good place.
I didn’t want to push the patience of my companion so I had to leave earlier that I wanted but I promised myself that in the coming days I will return to spend the whole day with Our Lady of Guadalupe.
I would like to give you for reflection the word which Mary said to St Juan Diego in this place in 1531. Let us treasure these words deep in our hearts:
"Know for certain, least of my sons, that I am the perfect and perpetual Virgin Mary, Mother of the True God through whom everything lives, the Lord of all things near and far, the Master of heaven and earth. It is my earnest wish that a temple be built here to my honor. Here I will demonstrate, I will exhibit, I will give all my love, my compassion, my help and my protection to the people. I am your merciful mother, the merciful mother of all of you who live united in this land, and of all mankind, of all those who love me, of those who cry to me, of those who seek me, of those who have confidence in me. Here I will hear their weeping, their sorrow, and will remedy and alleviate all their multiple sufferings, necessities and misfortunes."
The final memoir of San Antonio I would like to share was inspired by two events I was blessed to participate. The first one was the funeral vigil for Fr Robert Vreteau OMI who died at the age of 94 and in the 69 year of priesthood. I didn’t know him but because he was an Oblate it was like in a family. St Eugene de Mazenod always spoke about the deceased Oblates as our Oblate community before gathered before the Most Holy Trinity. I always find it a faith moment when we farewell one of ours on his way to the Eternal Kingdom.
The second event that I was blessed to attend was the ordination to diaconate 7 men (3 Oblates, 3 diocesan seminarians and 1 Franciscan). These new deacons began the immediate journey to be ordained priests that will happen in a few months. I prayed very hard so that they may find deep joy and peace in their relationship with Jesus Christ who called them to sharing in his priesthood. I was also inspired by Archbishop of San Antonio. He is not only such a welcome and warm person but he is a man of deep faith and courage. I think that from now on I will start imitating his boldness in promoting vocations. At the beginning of the Mass he welcomed the congregation and then he said: “I would like to say this: Jesus Christ who has called our brothers who are going to be ordained deacons today is present in this church and I believe that he is touching new hearts to follow his voice. Young people present in this church, please listen and don’t be afraid to say I will follow you Lord as a priest. At the end of the Mass the Bishop asked all seminarians to come forward to the altar but he added: “Those who think that the Lord is calling them now, please come here too.” I like the Bishop. He is straight to the point because there is no doubt that he is happy as priest and bishop himself and he invites other to find the same happiness.
What do these two celebrations have in common? Well, one of the new deacons, Br David, just a day before he was ordained led the vigil service for Fr Robert because the priest who died was not only the one who married his parents but he also encouraged Br David to join the Oblates. What a powerful sign of God working through people. I am sure that Fr Robert was dying with peace and joy that his ministry as an Oblate was to be continued by the man whom he directed years ago. May he rest in peace and may Deacon Robert become a blessing to the people he will be sent to.
At the time of Jesus there was a saying: “If you haven’t seen the Temple in Jerusalem you don’t know what beautiful means.”
In the Gospel today we meet Jesus in conversation with some Jews who were admiring the Temple. How weird Jesus must have sound to them when instead of joining them in praising the Temple he was taking about its destruction. Jesus didn’t want the Temple destroyed but he foresaw that it was coming. He draw his knowledge not from the walls falling apart, because the Temple was still solid and magnificent, but foresaw the destruction as he looked into the hearts of his contemporaries. When Luke was writing the Gospel the Temple had been already destroyed. It wasn’t punishment from God but it was the consequence of the sins of the people who thought that the beautiful Temple would cover the ugliness of their lives. The ruins of the temple were to be a call for repentance and faith. When a few months ago I stood on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem where the magnificent Temple once stood I couldn’t stop thinking that those huge stone blocks pushed off the hill are crying, not so much for rebuilding but for my, our repentance and faith in God.
Sisters and Brothers in the Catholic Faith!
The readings we usually hear in November take us to the Last Things as we call them. There is lots of talking in those readings about destruction, death, terror etc. How are we going to approach it? We should do that like the first believers approached the destruction, terror and death of those first years of Christianity when they saw the old world falling apart and their only hope for the new world was and the Word of Christ. Did they panic? They didn’t. Because they were reading the events in the light of their faith and trust in the Lord.
Last year a magnitude 6.0 quake struck in the middle of the night, about 35 kilometers north of the city of Bologna in Italy. People were killed and massive damage was done to the area. In response to the event Archbishop of Bologna, Card. Caffarra wrote a letter. Very calmly but firmly he said that the tragedy was a call for repentance addressed to all people. He explained it in three points. Firstly it shows the fragility of human existence that is forgotten by many people who think that they are lords of their life. Secondly the Cardinal invites people distinguish between temporary, material goods and the goods that last, like love, solidary, compassion, forgiveness. Thirdly he reminds us that we are called to return to God and no to call god the work of our hands.
The Cardinal not simply saw the destruction but he was able to read the message hidden in it. It was what the first Christians did when Luke was writing his Gospel.
A few days ago we were faced with another tragedy that happened to the Philippines, thousands of dead and massive destruction. Again people were asking: “Were where God when it happened? Why did he allowed that to happen?” I am not going to answer these question but I would like to leave you with another question which is in my head and heart at the moment: “Will we learn from the tragedy some important lesson about the need to return to God, to repent, to trust God, to remember how fragile we are, to stress the lasting value of love, forgiveness, solidary and compassion?” We owe this to those whose lives were cut short, their passing is a call for repentance and faith.
San Antonio city was named after the River that flows through the area. In 1691 some Spaniards who travelled across Texas stopped at the banks of the River. Among them was a Catholic Priest. As it was the feast day of Saint Anthony they decided to name the River after the Saint. San Antonio means simply Saint Anthony. As the city was developing it went through some devastating flooding periods. Eventually it was decided to restructure San Antonio River to protect the city. I am sure that the outcome wasn’t foreseen even by the architects. The project that was aimed at managing floods turned out to be the most recognizable icon of the city – the San Antonio River Walk. It is a network of pathways on the both sides of the River one level down from the street. The little shops, restaurants and cafes plus magical lighting at night make the banks of the River the must-see-attraction of the city. What I like most is that it makes people walk. Although I was surprised that there are no barriers keeping people away from water. I guess the water in the Rive must be shallow.
Another interesting piece of information I found is that before the River Walk was completed the area was dangerous. Residents of San Antonio would stay away from the River surroundings. However after the completion of the project the area became so popular that all the troublemakers moved away.
A few times I did the River Walk and apart from admiring the scenery I did some theological reflection I would like to offer here before you start looking at the photos.
Firstly, just think how often we feel that we aren’t as blessed as the others, we tend to think that our personal qualities and abilities aren’t good. Then we are like the people of San Antonio 100 years ago when they looked at the River and saw only potential threat to their daily life. However one architect changed it completely. He had vision and he implied it. We may be discouraged looking at ourselves but let’s remember that there is an architect with vision close by. It is Jesus Christ. He sees potential where we see only disadvantage. The Word of God we listen to at Church and in our individual reflection, the teaching of our Catholic Church, that’s the vision of Christ revealed to us. The vision that can do more marvelous things that was accomplished with San Antonio River.
Secondly, think how often we try to fight our sins and weaknesses. We are like San Antonio residents fighting crimes around the River. They kept failing until they invested in reshaping the surroundings. Once they made them beautiful and attractive, the bad guys moved out. It is a reminder for us. The best way to fight sins is focusing on good things and working on what is holy and godly in us instead of talking all the time about sins. Jesus asks us to develop goodness and holiness in us and then the evil will have less and less space in us. Getting rid of evil without growing good things can only lead to the situation Jesus described in the Gospel. He spoke about an evil spirit who had to leave but after a while he decides to come back. Upon arrival he finds that the soul of the person is clean but empty, there is no goodness in it, so he goes and brings a few more evil spirits and they make their home in the soul which condition gets worse than before.
I hope that you virtual tour through the maze of San Antonio Rive Park can reinforce the reflection I wrote.
Fr Daniel OMI
An Oblate Priest