Saturday, 24 June 2017

Birth of St.John the Baptist

Domenico Ghirlandaio - Birth of John the Baptist
Today the church commemorates the birth of John the Baptist. Along with the birth of Jesus on December 25th and the birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary on September 8th, his is the only birth that is remembered with a special feast day. We also remember the baptism of Jesus at the Jordan River, which is celebrated at the end of the Christmas season, as well as John’s martyrdom on August 29 every year. But today we honor his mysterious birth, since his mother Elizabeth was very advanced in age, and her pregnancy was a miracle in itself. John and Jesus met when their mothers were still pregnant with them, when Mary visited Elizabeth, and they probably grew up together, as most paintings show them playing, at least as toddlers.
Nowadays, when a baby is born, the announcement is made in the papers, Godparents are chosen, the baptism is held and a party usually follows. In John’s time, his birth was announced in a very unusual way. Similar to what the Native Indians did when sending a message, his father Zechariah made a bon-fire and lit it in the evening, so that his relatives and friends would know that Elizabeth gave birth to her baby boy. This is actually a tradition that is still held in many countries, among them Malta. Many towns and villages collect wood, sticks and logs for a few weeks, pile them up and then light a bon-fire on the evening of June 23, in commemoration of the birth of John the Baptist. Certainly a much different way to share a news that the social media offers us today, when a picture of a newborn baby is spread throughout the globe through a cell-phone, Facebook, etc. We honor today this great underrated Saint, who set the stage for Jesus, then disappeared, getting hardly any credit, and even losing his life through the envy of Herod.

Friday, 23 June 2017

Sacred Heart

'Heart of Jesus' by Anton Inglott
The feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus gained much popularity after the visions that St Margaret Mary Alacoque had from Jesus around the year 1675. The church initially had doubts about the authenticity of the visions, but approved them almost 100 years later. The feast was first celebrated in France only but was extended to the universal church in 1856 by Pope Pius IX. The Sacred Heart is often depicted in Christian art as a flaming heart shining with divine light, pierced by a lance, surrounded by a crown of thorns, surmounted by a cross, and bleeding. The image represented here above shows a different perspective as envisioned by Maltese artist Anton Inglott. It shows Jesus’ heart aglow with love for all his people, including all of us. If we can only comprehend the sacrifices He made for us, and in spite of our weaknesses and shortcomings, He loves us unconditionally, even when we tend to take Him for granted. May our love for Him be just as powerful and intimate. May we appreciate His endless support and care towards our well-being, represented also in the way the church, priests, sisters and other people show their affection towards everything that is Roman Catholic.

Thursday, 22 June 2017

10 reasons why I never wash

I know of a Pastor who apparently got very frustrated with all the excuses given over the years for people not attending church. So one Sunday he included "Ten Reasons Why I Never Wash" in the Sunday bulletin. Needless to say, he made the point quite clearly. These are the ten reasons he gave:
1. I was forced to as a child;
2. People who wash are hypocrites; they think they are cleaner than every body else;
3. There are so many different kinds of soap; I can't decide which one is best;
4. I used to wash, but I got bored and stopped;
5. I wash only on special occasions, like Christmas and Easter;
6. None of my friends wash;
7. I'll start washing when I get older and dirtier.
8. I can't spare the time;
9. The bathrooms is never warm enough in winter or cool enough in summer and
10. People who make soap are only after your money.

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Class of 1977 group photo

Yesterday we celebrated Mass as a group to commemorate our 40th anniversary since our Ordination to the priesthood. After a day and a half retreat, we met at St George's parish in Qormi, and con-celebrated Mass together. St George was a martyr and that's why we are all wearing the red vestments, especially since this is festa week at this particular parish.

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Mass on TV

Once again, after last year one of my Masses at St Julian's old parish was screened 'live' on Television Malta, last Sunday, the feast of Corpus Christi, yet another Mass was screened 'live' from my chapel at Hilltop Gardens. I still have to see a replay of the entire Mass, but here a few photos taken from a computer by a friend of mine all the way from Oregon, who stayed up in the middle of the night to watch the Mass and be a part of it. The Mass was screened at 9 AM Sunday morning, which was at midnight in Oregon, USA.
Making a point during the homily.
Embraced by the hands of God.
Blessed are You - Behold the Lamb of God
Leading the congregation in a Maltese Eucharistic hymn

Sunday, 18 June 2017

40 years Anniversary

Thank you Lord, for letting me serve you and your people for the past 40 years, in Malta, New York and Oregon. Truly I learned what it means that the world is your parish, and I’ve been touched and inspired by so many people. I hope I was able to bring many of these people closer to God. 

Corpus Christi

Naxxar parish main altar in preparation for Corpus Christi
In commemoration of the solemn feast of the Body and Blood of Christ, also known as Corpus Christi, I share with you today a photo I took back in 2008 during a procession in the town of Rabat in Malta. During the morning procession in this particular town, the First Communion children also accompany the procession, as do priests, sisters and lay people, followed by a marching band playing Eucharistic hymns.
Procession of Corpus Christi at Rabat, Malta
The Blessed Sacrament is carried by a local pastor, or was the case that year a visiting Bishop, accompanied by members of the Confraternity of the Blessed Sacrament, seen here in red capes, some of whom carry the baldacchino which is held above the monstrance with the Eucharist, carried by the bishop. The last two photos are not very clear as they were taken from slides I took in the 1990s from the same Rabat parish.
First Communion children
Churches are richly decorated with plenty of candles, tapestries, angels and all the church paraphernalia on display. Each parish in Malta would hold a procession with the Blessed Sacrament, some of them in the morning, others in the late afternoon.
Priests at the same procession of Corpus Christi
This morning my Mass was shown LIVE on local television. I will try to share some photos if I'm able to retrieve some shots which others have taken of the Mass. The chapel was packed and the celebration was very reverent and solemn, yet different from other Maltese Masses people are used to here, including the priest playing the flute with the congregation joining in a beautiful Eucharistic hymn in Maltese 'Tina l-hlewwa ta' l-ilsna tas-sema.' (Give us the sweetness of heavenly tongues)

Saturday, 17 June 2017

Reviewing 40 years - part 4

Chrism Mass at the Baker City Cathedral.
I spent 8 years at the Cathedral of Baker City, from 2005 till 2013, and each year the entire presbyterate with the bishop would travel to the Cathedral for the annual Chrism Mass before Holy Week, where the sacred oils would be consecrated for use in administering the sacraments. This necessitated a lot of work and coordination but the priests were happy to travel to my home and stay in a local motel overnight free of charge, thanks to the owner, a parishioner. I also enjoyed a lot of digital photography in my years here, as my camera was my constant companion as I traveled into Washington state, Canada and other neighboring states during a trip I took once a year in September.
By the Christmas Nativity at St Francis in Bend, Oregon.
In 2013 I was asked to take over a hurting parish in Bend, the largest parish in the Diocese which needed a spiritual and moral revival, and thanks to an Indian priest who was helping me, we brought peace and harmony, as people collaborated with us, emotionally, financially and spiritually to see quite a turnaround in the spirit of the parishioners.
A wedding at St Francis old church in downtown Bend, Oregon.
The popular Palm Sunday donkey procession in Bend, Oregon.
Over the past year I was back in Malta, serving as a chaplain at a Retirement Home, Hilltop Gardens and Simblija Care Home in Naxxar. Many of the residents are brought in for daily Mass as well as neighbors from the area, while I try to help in the spiritual and pastoral care of the people attending, besides helping in neighboring parishes who need my help. Because yes, even in Malta we always need more priests.
Holy Thursday at Resurrection chapel at Hilltop Gardens, Naxxar, Malta

Friday, 16 June 2017

Reviewing 40 years - part 3

At St Francis de Sales Cathedral after the restoration, in Baker City Oregon.
My time at St Stanislaus Kostka parish in Pleasant Valley was a peaceful transition from the hectic Long Island and New York lifestyle. After spending 4 years in Upstate New York, I moved to Oregon in March 2003, being assigned to a small parish with enormous boundaries, having an area of 4,800 square miles in my parish. I realized then that Malta being 122 square miles, I could fit 38 Maltas in my parish boundaries. I also had 2 Mission churches which I had to visit weekly, 150 miles every weekend for as many as 20 to 30 people in attendance. 
At Elizabeth of Hungary parish in John Day, Oregon. (2003-2005)
But this was rural Oregon obviously and within my parish there are more horses and cows and deer as there were human beings in the whole state. And being in the far west, one had to learn how to shoot a gun, milk a cow and ride horse, all of which I did in 2005.
After 3 years in this country parish, I was asked by the Bishop to take over the beautiful Cathedral in Baker City, where I spent 8 of my happiest years. The Cathedral turned 100 in 2008 and so I led a huge restoration inside the church, a worthwhile work of art which everyone appreciated. Again this Cathedral parish had 2 mission churches which I had to reach every week, around 110 miles round-trip. I had an associate pastor for the first two years but the other six I was alone, and pretty busy.
A group of 25 converts I brought into the church in 2002.
The priests of the Baker Diocese and their Bishop on the steps of the Cathedral

Thursday, 15 June 2017

Reviewing 40 years - part 2

At St Anthony of Padua, Rocky Point, NY
I stayed at Holy Spirit New Hyde Park until the summer of 1991, when I was transferred to St Anthony of Padua parish in Rocky Point, where I spent 5 glorious years, working with children, the youth and enjoying some country living, because the parish was further out on Long Island in a rural area, even close to a beach, where I even led some summer prayer services. I led there many children’s Masses which were very much appreciated and looked forward to by everyone, children as well as adults.
After one of the many baptisms of the Palasek family at Rocky Point.
In Home Retreat Group in Rocky Point, NY
In 1996 I moved to Holy Family parish in Hicksville, again with a large school in more urban surroundings. In 1998, I moved to Pleasant Valley in Dutchess County where I served for 4 years, even helping in a renovation in our church. I remember the pastor there greeting me with ‘Nothing much happens here......’ At which point I realized he needed a pastoral spark-plug and the parish revived itself within a few months, with various parish choirs, children involved in all kinds of sports and religion classes, and in a rural setting, with more snow than I’ve ever experienced.
Holy Family parish in Hicksville, Long Island.
At St Stanislaus Kostka parish, Pleasant Valley, NY

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Reviewing 40 years - part 1

With my family and Fr John Galea after my Diaconate ordination in June 1976
On Monday June 19, I will celebrate 40 years since my Ordination with 12 other classmates. Over the next 4 posts, I will share with you a few photos reviewing my pastoral ministry over the past 40 years, in Malta, New York and Oregon. I start today with my early years as a priest in my home parish of St Julian’s, where I served for 4 years, helping with our altar-servers, youth group, baptismal preparation, catechetical instruction, the organization of the village feast of St Julian, plus much pastoral work in the parish. 
My holy card on the occasion of my Ordination and first Solemn Mass.
My first years in the USA were at Holy Spirit parish in New Hyde Park, Long Island, NY, where I served for 10 years. That parish had a big parochial school with 600 children, a large Youth Group and a very active community, with nearby hospitals which kept us very busy. When I started there we were 6 priests and 13 nuns. When I left in 1991, we were just 2 priests and 3 nuns. Obviously I have thousands of photos to share, but I will restrict each post to 5 photos. 
During a First Communion with Ramona Formosa
With 6 priests and 13 nuns at Holy Spirit parish, New Hyde Park, NY
First Communion in 1987 at Holy Spirit, New Hyde Park, NY

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

St Anthony of Padova

Saint Anthony was born Fernando Martins in Lisbon, Portugal in 1195. He was born into a wealthy family and by the age of fifteen asked to be sent to the Abbey of Santa Cruz in Coimbra, the then capital of Portugal. During his time in the Abbey, he learned theology and Latin. Following his ordination to the priesthood, he was named guest master and was responsible for the abbey's hospitality. When Franciscan friars settled a small hermitage outside Coimbra dedicated to Saint Anthony of Egypt, Fernando felt a longing to join them. He eventually received permission to leave the Abbey so he could join the new Franciscan Order. When he was admitted, he changed his name to Anthony. He then traveled to Morocco to spread God's truth, but became extremely sick and was returned to Portugal to recover. The return voyage was blown off-course and the party arrived in Sicily, from which they traveled to Tuscany. Anthony was assigned to the hermitage of San Paolo after local friars considered his health. 
As he recovered, Anthony spent his time praying and studying. An undetermined amount of time later, Dominican friars came to visit the Franciscans and there was confusion over who would present the homily at one of the services. The Dominicans were known for their preaching, thus the Franciscans assumed it was they who would provide a homilist, but the Dominicans assumed the Franciscans would provide one. It was then the head of the Franciscan hermitage asked Anthony to speak on whatever the Holy Spirit told him to speak of. Though he tried to object, Anthony delivered an eloquent and moving homily that impressed both groups. Soon, news of his eloquence reached Francis of Assisi, who, in Anthony, he found a new friend. In 1224, Francis entrusted his students to the care of Anthony. 
Basilica of St Anthony in Padova
When a novice decided to leave the hermitage, he stole Anthony's valuable book. When Anthony discovered it was missing, he prayed it would be found or returned to him. The thief did return the book and in an extra step, he too returned to the Order as well. The book is said to be preserved in the Franciscan friary in Bologna today. Anthony occasionally taught at the universities of Montpellier and Toulouse in southern France, but he performed best in the role of a preacher. He worked in the town of Padova in Italy, where a beautiful basilica was built in his honor. He was declared a Doctor of the Church by Pope Pius XII in 1946. He was only 36-years-old when he died in 1231, and was canonized less than one year afterward by Pope Gregory IX. Upon exhumation some 336 years after his death, his body was found to be corrupted, yet his tongue was totally incorrupt, so perfect were the teachings that had been formed upon it. He is typically depicted with a book and the Infant Child Jesus and is commonly referred to today as the "finder of lost articles."

Monday, 12 June 2017

World's population - 100 people

If we could shrink the world's population to just a village of precisely 100 people, with all the existing human ratios remaining the same, it would look something like the following:
There would be:
× 57 Asians
× 21 Europeans
× 14 from the Western Hemisphere, both north and south
× 8 Africans

× 52 would be female
× 48 would be male

× 70 would be nonwhite
× 30 would be white

× 70 would be non-Christian
× 30 would be Christian

× 89 would be heterosexual
× 11 would be homosexual

× 6 people would possess 59% of the entire world's wealth and all 6 would be from the United States.

× 80 would live in substandard housing
× 70 would be unable to read
× 50 would suffer from malnutrition
× 1 would be near death; 1 would be near birth
× 1 (yes, only 1) would have a college education
× 1 would own a computer

When one considers our world from such a compressed perspective, the need for
both acceptance, understanding and education becomes glaringly apparent.

Sunday, 11 June 2017

Holy Trinity

On this feast of the Holy Trinity, may I suggest a practical prayer that we can all do every night so that the Holy Trinity may become an important part of our lives. So, as an examination of conscience, every night before you get to bed, take 3 minutes or even one minute divided into 20 seconds. In the first minute, think of a positive event that happened to you during the day, maybe a good news you received, a good deed you accomplished, and thank God the Father for it. In the second minute, think of a negative thing that you experienced, maybe a conflict, an argument or quarrel with someone else, and ask God the Son, Jesus, to forgive you for it. Then during the last minute, think of something you have to do tomorrow, maybe an important decision you have to make, talking to another person on an important issue, and talk to God the Holy Spirit while asking or guidance and inspiration. Simple, yet effective way to feel connected with the Trinity.

Saturday, 10 June 2017

Malta Limestone

Most of the houses in Malta are built from limestone, of which there seems to be quite an abundance in Maltese quarries. Centuries old Baroque churches, palaces and vintage old houses were all built from limestone. Much carving is also done to create beautiful and ornate coat-of-arms and crests as these two photos show. They are usually added above the main entrance of a house or any historic building. Limestone is soft and easy to carve, though strong and durable. Many quarries are still being used in various areas. 
Recently concrete and steel structures have become a common addition to homes and buildings, but the presence of limestone as well as hints of rubble wall is a must in every structure, as seen in the third photo.

Friday, 9 June 2017

The Gardjola

Around the island of Malta, various sentry boxes were built, mostly by the Knights of Malta over the two hundred and fifty years when they ruled Malta from 1530 to 1798. They were built mainly on top of fortifications and bastions, to serve as watch-towers against the incoming enemy, in our case the Ottoman Empire, the Turks, against whom Malta fought the Great Siege in 1565. These sentry-boxes are still well-preserved and often restored and they still create a nice addition, especially to photographs. They are called a gardjola in Maltese.
Here are two gardjolas, one in the foreground and another across the main harbor.

Thursday, 8 June 2017

Well-attended talk

Two-thirds of a page in the TIMES OF MALTA about my talk.
Yesterday and today I presented a talk at Hilltop Gardens about my 35 year experience working in various parishes, in New York and Oregon. The talk was presented twice for a standing room only crowd of residents and visitors from outside. The first half of my PowerPoint presentation consisted of an overview of my work with parishioners, youth and children in 7 parishes between 1981 and 2016. The second half was a collection of wildlife, scenic and nature photos I took, mostly in the state of Oregon. I had made various announcements at the chapel, and I knew people would respond, but never expected such an overwhelming crowd. I also had sent a note about the talk to the local newspaper ‘Times of Malta,’ with the hope they would print my note on a Sunday, but it was not printed, thinking it would have been overlooked with more important news about the local elections. But then yesterday, my note appeared covering two-thirds of a page, and included 4 photos which I had sent along with m e-mail. So I was more than surprised to see this page dedicated to my talk, and so more people showed up, and were delighted they did.
One of the photos reproduced in better quality, taken in Baker City 2009.

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Watercolor project 2

Here is another watercolor painting I just finished in my own personal style. It may look similar to the first one I posted over a week ago, but one can see various farmhouses, so typical of the Maltese landscape, a parish church, wayside chapel and a windmill. One can also notice a saint's niche, popular in the Maltese countryside, as well as a gateway, which were built by the Knights of Malta, At the top right hand one can see a gardjola, a sentry-box built over various promontories also by the Knights. A typical tower or castle is also seen on the top, which were built by the Knights to defend us from the invasion of the Turks during the Great Siege in the 16th century. Rubble walls are also very popular in Malta, as are a few cabins made from rubble-wall, called a girna, two of which are also in the painting. Last but not least, the typical colorful fishing boats are waiting for a trip out in the sea by local fishermen. The second painting shows the work in progress, just to see the process I use to paint each section, and before I highlight each building with a distinctive outline. Please do click to enlarge the painting.

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Most used Letters

These are the most used letters in books and writing. They are listed in order of how frequently they are used, from the most to the least used: 
 1. E     2. T    3. A    4. O    5. N    6. R    7. I    
8. S   9. H    10. D    11. L    12. C   13. M    14. U 15. F    16. G    17. Y    18. P    19. W    20. B   
21. V    22. K    23. X    24. J   25. Q    26. Z
In just the two sentences I wrote in the introduction they are 19 uses of the letter E, and in this sentence, there are 26 uses of the letter T, the first and second most used letters in the alphabet.