Saturday, September 23, 2017

Fr. Dennis Hartigan Makes Perpetual Profession

Fr. Dennis Hartigan Makes Perpetual Profession

You could say that Fr. Dennis Hartigan made his perpetual profession 40 years late.

Before Mass: Fr. Dennis Hartigan (l) and Fr. Tim Ploch
After coming to the Salesians as a Son of Mary in 1969, Dennis was part of Fr. Ted Ciampi’s “first batch” of novices in 1970-1971 and professed in 1971. But after practical training as a missionary in the Dominican Republic and first year of theology in Columbus, he discerned a calling to the diocesan priesthood and left the Congregation. He was ordained for the diocese of Toledo in 1981 and went on to a distinguished “career” as a pastor and high school administrator, earning a doctorate in education from the University of Dayton along the way.

But Fr. Dennis felt that something was missing in his life, and around 2011 he began investigating a return to the Salesians. Fr. Tom Dunne, who was provincial at that time, and his classmate Fr. Jim McKenna encouraged him, and he re-entered as a candidate with the community at Don Bosco Prep in Ramsey, N.J., where he was a very popular teacher. The Congregation didn’t require that he make a new novitiate, and so he was admitted to temporary profession on October 3, 2014, in the presence of the Prep’s entire student body and faculty.

Fr. Dennis reading the formula of profession before 2 official witness (Fr. Jim McKenna, back to camera, and Fr. Tom Dunne (at right) and a congregation of about 100 members of the Salesian Family and personal friends.
Last year Fr. Dennis took his talents and his ministry to the Salesian formation community at Orange, N.J., and the faculty of Immaculate Conception Seminary at Seton Hall University. From both Ramsey and Orange he also provided priestly ministry to the Salesian Sisters’ provincialate community in Haledon. The sisters treasured his service.

This year Fr. Dennis moved again, joining the “Washington community” that serves Don Bosco Cristo Rey High School in Takoma Park, Md., and has been residing in Silver Spring, Md., since the Salesian withdrawal from Nativity Parish in Washington in 2014. (This makes him a community-mate of your humble blogger. It’s a VERY lively community!)

The Salesian making his perpetual vows holds a candle that has been lit from the Easter candle (usually; in this instance, it appears no one remembered to light the Easter candle beforehand), linking his religious profession with his baptismal commitment to follow Jesus Christ.
Having made his profession, in a lovely symbolic gesture Fr. Dennis placed his lit candle
in front of the statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Fr. Tim Ploch, Interamerica regional councilor, received Fr. Dennis’s perpetual profession in a 90-minute evening Mass on September 22 in the youth center chapel of Don Bosco Retreat Center in Haverstraw. More than 100 people attended, including 38 concelebrants, 20 other confreres, 6 Salesian sisters, the Salesian candidates and prenovices from Orange, Cooperators, members of Fr. Dennis’s family, and friends from the Toledo Diocese and Don Bosco Prep.

Fr. Tim took his homiletic cue from the three Scripture readings and the responsorial psalm, which had spoken of God’s call and a disciple’s response. In fact, from the opening of the Mass Fr. Tim addressed that point, citing the Salesian Rule of Life, which calls our religious profession a sign of the loving encounter between the Lord, who calls, and the disciple, who responds.

He began the homily proper with a startling statement: “I do until I don’t.” Referring to the commitments that married people, consecrated people, and priests make, Fr. Tim observed that sometimes people change their minds. They say, “I do,” but at some later point their commitment weakens and they change it to “I don’t” and abandon it.

But, the preacher said, God doesn’t change his mind. He is faithful. Whether God is calling the prophet Jeremiah or Jesus calls himself the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for his flock, the divine commitment is permanent, perpetual. It’s never, “I choose you until I choose someone else.”

And the disciple is challenged to answer with as complete a commitment. In evidence of that, Fr. Tim stated, when Fr. Dennis will sign the document of his profession, he’ll do so at the altar, not at a side table (above). The altar is the rock-like sign of God’s permanent, sacrificial love. After his profession, Fr. Dennis will be given a medal imprinted with the Good Shepherd, a sign of his commitment to the young that is like Don Bosco’s commitment, like the Lord’s own commitment to carry us like lambs on his shoulders.
Holding the Good Shepherd cross, Fr. Tim reads the formula that accompanies its bestowal.
Fr. Dennis has been called from his mother’s womb, like Jeremiah; dedicated from eternity to be a disciple of the Lord and a missionary of the Lord. He’s invited to draw hope, strength, and joy from what the Lord said to him when he was baptized, when he made his first Communion, when he made his first profession, when he was ordained: that he is loved by God and is called to spread that love. Fr. Dennis is responding, “I do, forever.” All of us, whatever our Christian vocation, can respond with to the Lord with the same “I do, forever.”
After Mass, a spaghetti supper was served in the retreat house cafeteria.

Fr. Dennis (center) posed with his novitiate classmates (l-r) Fr. Jim McKenna, Bro. Bernie Dube, and Fr. Mark Hyde and their professed assistant then-Bro. Pat Angelucci (2d from right).

At the end of dinner, Fr. Dennis gave an entertaining version of his vocation story that also included ample words of gratitude for many people. Directly in front of him here are friends who traveled from Toledo, Ohio, for the occasion, including Msgr. Bill Kubacki (at right, in black), rector of the cathedral and a member of your humble blogger's Josephinum ordination class of 1978. Also at the table is SDB Fr. Steve Ryan (in blue shirt).

Homily for 25th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Homily for the
25th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Sept. 23, 1990
Matt 20: 1-16
Holy Cross, Fairfield, Conn.

Still without a Sunday ministry in the D.C. area.  Here's an oldie for this Sunday's readings.

“This last group did only an hour’s work, but you have put them on the same basis as us who have worked a full day in the scorching heat” (Matt 20: 12).

Last week’s parable of the unforgiving servant was fantastic—a story not true to life.  But its point was quite clear.  Today’s parable is quite true to life, its point a bit difficult to fathom.

The Laborers in the Vineyard by Jacob Willemsz de Wet
The scene which Jesus describes was all too familiar. The unemployed stand around the village square hoping some landowner or overseer will hire them for the day at the going laborer’s rate of a denarius for dawn-to-dusk fieldwork.  A denarius, a small silver coin, just about supports a laborer’s family for the day.

A landowner comes out at dawn and hires some of them.  At various times later in the day, he returns and hires additional laborers of his vineyard.  Perhaps he’s not too good at estimating the work to be done.  Perhaps he simply feels compassion for these men who want work in order to feed their families tomorrow.

If, indeed, it’s compassion that moves this wealthy man, then we understand also his generosity in overpaying the late-hired workman.  He’s giving alms; for if he pays them only for an hour or a half-day, they will go hungry, they or their children.  There is no public welfare of any kind.  The unemployed are completely at the mercy of those with money or the power to hire.  Jesus would be telling his followers to have a minimum of compassion for society’s least fortunate, to see that they have at least their daily bread and clothing and shelter.  This doesn’t entitle others, more fortunate, to squawk for handouts as well, in the name of fairness.

But probably this issue of fairness is what we need to concentrate on.  The vineyard owner is certainly just.  You contracted for a denarius.  Here’s your denarius.  Yet he’s not fair.  He’s treated as equals those who worked 1 hour, 3 hours, 6 hours, 9 hours, and 12 hours in the Palestinian sun.  Who wouldn’t be angry in the place of those who worked all day?  You would be; I would be.

Every parent, every teacher, every employer has heard that same wail:  “It’s not fair.”  How come he got a bigger piece than I did?  How come she gets to go and I don’t?  How come he got a better mark than I did?  How come she got promoted and I didn’t?  There isn’t always a clear answer.  We can’t always say even, “I want to be generous.”

When Jesus told the parable of the laborers in the vineyard, who would have been protesting the preaching and behavior of Jesus as unfair?  Who would have thought God’s generosity, God’s forgiveness, were unfair?  It would have been the Pharisees and all those who strictly and faithfully followed Jewish moral and ritual laws.  They found Jesus’ behavior impossible.  Jesus had dealings with all sorts of disreputable people:  people whose daily lives evidently left them little leisure or inclination to study Torah; people whose livelihoods were unclean or scandalous, such as shepherds, tanners, tax collectors, and prostitutes; people whose very selves were unclean and cursed, such as lepers, Samaritans, Roman soldiers, and women.  (You’ve heard about the Arabic culture into which our GIs have moved.  That’s very like the world of Jesus.)  The Pharisees and other sincere people couldn’t believe that God would give his mercy and the fullness of eternal life to such outsiders, as Jesus indicated.  They felt it was unfair of God.  After all, weren’t they carrying the full burden of legal observance and moral rectitude?  Of course, they couldn’t see the burden of confessing one’s guilt and trying to turn around a lifetime of sin; or the burden of having to keep faith while living as an outcast or a 2d-class person even with God’s spiritual favor.  We know there are no easy ways to heaven.  God is generous to all, but all still have to get to the resurrection by way of Calvary.

God has been remarkably generous with us.  If most of us have a place in the parable, the danger is that we take the part of the laborers hired 1st and begrudge God’s generosity toward others.  In that sense, this parable is like last week’s.  It hardly fits us who have been called by the Lord into his vineyard, i.e., to be part of his chosen people—it hardly fits us to fault his generosity toward others.  We ought, rather, to rejoice in it.  It is that divine generosity, that divine favor, which we call grace, that has saved us too.  We ought to imitate it, as far as we can, taking to heart Jesus’ admonition, “Be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt 5:48).  Whether our generosity takes the form of almsgiving or of a patient and forgiving heart, we will not outdo God’s goodness.  In the kingdom of heaven, there will be no 1st and no last, only full and eternal joy.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Homily for 24th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Homily for the
24th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Sept. 16, 1990
Matt 18: 21-35
Holy Cross, Fairfield, Conn.

“My heavenly Father will treat you in exactly the same way unless each of you forgives his brother from his heart” (Matt 18: 35).

Parable of the Unmerciful Servant
Pieter Coecke van Aelst
The part of Matthew’s gospel that we’re been reading from for the last few weeks is concerned with the life of the Church.  Last week spoke of Church authority, e.g.  This week we look at the down-to-earth question of wrongs suffered and forgiveness.

The passage proclaimed to us today follows immediately on last week’s; last week’s gospel began with Jesus saying to the disciples:  “If your brother should commit some wrong against you,” this is what you are to do (Matt 18:15).  Always the realist, Peter has to jump in:  How does this work in practice?  “Lord, if my brother”—i.e., a fellow Christian—“sins against me, how often must I forgive him?  As many as 7 times?”

By the standard of Jewish law and human instinct, Peter is generous to think of forgiving the same person 7 times.  Jesus gives him 2 answers.  1st, he says, “Not 7 times but 77 times,” which is to say, indefinitely, infinitely.  Don’t even bother counting.  Then Jesus tells a parable.

Most of Jesus’ stories were about pretty realistic situations.  His listeners could imagine people and situations like those in the parables:  farmers, lost belongings, laborers, landowners.  Then Jesus would throw in a surprise ending to make an explicit comparison to make us think, to help us discover a new insight into God.  This parable is different.

It’s different because it’s fantastic.  It starts with a king who is settling accounts with his ministers.  That’s normal enuf.  One minister, evidently the governor of a province, comes up short.  Apparently he’s been pocketing the royal taxes.  In fact, it’s found that he owes the king billions; 10,000 talents is a ridiculously unrealistic sum, sort of like our national debt.  It’s just beyond imagination.  Well, OK, we suspend our disbelief and wait to see what the king will do.  Jesus’ hearers know what kings do.  Recall another parable in which a king orders his servant to bring in his enemies and slay them in his presence (Luke 19:27).  Imagine what King Fahd will do if he ever gets hold of Saddam Hussein.  The unfortunate minister begs for mercy.  “Be patient with me, and I’ll pay you back in full” (Matt 18:26).  Yeah, right.  Next he’s going to offer the king the Brooklyn Bridge.  This man is hopeless.  No way can he pay back what he owes.

We are stunned, then, to hear that the king, in a most unregal manner, is moved by compassion and writes off the whole debt, the equivalent of a billion dollars or two.

Jesus could have ended the parable there and have made an effective point about God’s mercy toward us.  But he wouldn’t have illustrated his answer to Peter.  The forgiven minister leaves the royal audience chamber and meets one of his peers.  This fellow owes him 100 denarii, the equivalent of about $3,600.  He grabs him by the throat and demands payment.  This poor man asks for time, using the exact same words that his assailant had used moments earlier.

We expect that the minister would act as he was acted upon.  What’s 100 denarii to write off, next to 10,000 talents?  On the other hand, his sense of gratitude and obligation was aroused only toward his royal master.  It’s not necessarily transferable.  The way of the world doesn’t exactly transfer obligations or compassion to 3d parties.

Yet the king’s reaction to what the minister has done, and the conclusion that Jesus draws for Peter and for us, tells us that what God has done for us is transferable.  There is no such thing as a private, just-God-and me Christianity.  Christianity is an “us” religion.  If I have received God’s mercy and hope to receive it in the future, I must dispense mercy—not to God, who obviously doesn’t need it, but to my fellow pilgrims.  If, instead, I demand justice, justice is also what I’ll get from God.  “My heavenly Father will treat you in exactly the same way unless each of you forgives his brother from his heart.”

Forgiveness doesn’t depend upon wealth, as almsgiving does.  Forgiveness is something we’ve all received, not only from God but also from some wonderful people over the years.  Forgiveness is a gift it’s always within our means to give, something that Jesus tells us we must give, over and over again if need be.  God certainly forgives us over and over when we beg him, “Be patient with me.”  The gratitude that he wants is our compassion toward our fellow sinners, especially our own brothers and sisters in faith.

Thank God Almighty, He's Free!

Thank God Almighty, He’s Free — Free at Last!

I trust that MLK wouldn’t mind my stealing that line from him (and altering it a tiny bit).  It expresses well the sentiments of the entire Salesian Family at the release of our confrere, Fr. Tom Uzhunnalil, who was held captive by still-unidentified terrorists from March 4, 2016, till this Tuesday, Sept. 12.  Most of the post comes from material published by ANS. 

Originally from the Indian state of Kerala, Fr. Uzhunnalil, now 59, had been in Yemen four years at the time of his abduction, serving in the Salesian mission that once included 4 Indian priests but by 2016 had been reduced to only him; he was the last priest left in Yemen, which had become exceedingly dangerous during the civil war going on there.

Fr. Tom was ministering as the chaplain for the Missionaries of Charity (Mother Teresa’s sisters) at the nursing home they operated in Aden.  He was kidnapped when unidentified terrorists attacked the home.  The killers slew 4 of the sisters and 12 staff. No one seems to know why they took Fr. Tom away instead of killing him, too, on the spot.

Two videos of Fr. Tom were publicized during his captivity, one on Dec. 26 and one a few months later, in which he pleaded for Pope Francis and others to arrange his release, in part because his health was breaking down.  “My health condition is deteriorating quickly, and I require hospitalization as early as possible,” he lamented in a video dated April 15.  No one ever claimed responsibility for the massacre or the kidnapping, and no ransom demand was ever made public.
YouTube, Dec. 26, 2016

Indian media announced the news of his release on Sept. 12, reporting that he was in Muscat, Oman. Sushma Swaraj, India’s foreign minister, confirmed that with a tweet.

Assistance of the Sultan of Oman

Fr. Tom was brought to the Yeman-Oman border, whence an Omani military plane flew him to Muscat, Oman’s capital, on Tuesday morning.  Assisting the Indian government, the Holy See, and the Abu Dhabi-based vicar apostolic, the Omani government seems to have played the key role in negotiations with the terrorists.

Oman News Agency issued a statement, published in the Oman Observer newspaper, to the effect that Sultan Qaboos bin Said, had directed his government to coordinate with the Yemeni parties to “find a Vatican priest” and arrange his release.  The statement continued:  “He has been transferred to Muscat, from where he will return to his home in Kerala.  Tom Uzhunnalil, a Vatican priest, expressed thanks to God Almighty and appreciation to His Majesty Sultan Qaboos. He also thanked his brothers and sisters and all relatives and friends who called on God for [his] safety and release.”

Fr. Tom in Muscat, shortly after his release. Photo: Manorama Online
“I’m overwhelmed [with joy] for this good news,” Sr. Mery Prema, Superior General of the Missionaries of Charity, told AsiaNews.  She added: “And praise God for his mercy. We never abandoned the hope that one day Fr. Tom would be released.  His photograph is attached to Mother Teresa’s tomb.  The sisters, the poor, and the people prayed every day for his liberation.  We give glory to God and thank all those who prayed and worked untiringly for the release of Fr. Tom.”

V.A. Thomas, a cousin of Fr. Tom, told World Watch Monitor, “We are thrilled. There are no words to describe our joy.”

Bishop Theodore Mascarenhas, secretary general of the Episcopal Conference of India, said to the Fides news agency:  “First of all, we express our deepest gratitude to God for the happy conclusion of this affair.”  On behalf of the Indian bishops, he thanked the Indian government, “for making every effort for the liberation of Fr. Tom,” and especially Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj; Pope Francis, “who has used all his influence”; the vicar apostolic of Southern Arabia, Bishop Paul Hinder, with whom the Indian bishops were “in constant contact” throughout the ordeal; and the Rector Major and the Salesian provincial of Bangalore, “for their patience and their deepest faith.”

Among His Confreres, in St. Peter’s Shadow

From Oman, Fr. Uzhunnalil was transported to Rome to get medical attention and to spend some unspecified time recuperating among his confreres in the Salesian community of Vatican City. The Salesian Congregation considers that the most suitable place to ensure his care and allow him full recovery.

Unidentified Salesian, Fr. Tom, and Fr. Francesco Cereda
At the Salesian residence in the Vatican, around 6:00 p.m. on Sept. 12 the Indian missionary priest met with the Rector Major’s vicar, Fr. Francesco Cereda; the Rector Major himself was still away on a pastoral visit to Malta.  The Salesians of the Vatican community and of the Generalate were present, too, and most notably, Fr. Thomas Anchukandam, a former professor of Fr. Tom, who as provincial of the Bangalore Province had authorized Fr. Tom to go to Yemen in the first place.  (Fr. Anchukandam is now director of the Salesian Historical Institute at the Generalate.)

The greeting was immediately fraternal:  Fr. Uzhunnalil received an emotional embrace from each confrere present.  For his part, the former captive did nothing but repeat words of thanks, first of all to God and the Madonna.

One of his first requests was to pray in the Salesian community chapel. He also wanted to celebrate Mass, but due to necessary medical examinations he had to postpone the fulfillment of that wish. He had been without Mass or the sacraments since his capture.  Before the arrival of the medical staff, he asked for the sacrament of Reconciliation, since this had obviously not been possible throughout his time in prison.

During the festive evening meal offered him by the Salesian community, featuring traditional Indian foods, Fr. Uzhunnalil said that throughout his time as hostage he had continued to celebrate Mass spiritually every day, remembering by heart some of the readings and the parts of the Mass, since of course he did not have liturgical texts or bread and wine with which to celebrate.

Fr. Tom appeared calm and open to questions; without going into details, he answered the questions of his confreres. He confirmed he was in the Missionaries of Charity’s chapel at Aden when the assailants seized him.  After being kidnapped, he said, he was never mistreated and, following his rapid weight loss, his kidnappers had even begun to provide him with the medication he needed for his diabetes.

Throughout the period of imprisonment, however, he wore the same clothes.  With his kidnappers – who spoke Arabic – he communicated with a bit of English.  During his imprisonment he was transferred two or three times, but always blindfolded. “I never thought I would be killed,” he said.

The ex-chaplain recalled an episode on March 3, 2016, the night before the massacre:  the Missionaries of Charity superior in Aden, commenting on the difficult situation in which the religious found themselves in Yemen’s war zone, had said it would be nice to be martyred all together for Christ.  But the youngest of the sisters replied, “I want to live for Christ.”  She was the only one of the five who survived the attack, having hidden herself well when the assault began.

Rector Major’s Message on the Liberation of Fr. Tom Uzhunnalil

The Rector Major, Fr. Angel Fernandez Artime, expresses great joy and satisfaction in his Sept. 13 statement on the liberation of Fr. Tom Uzhunnalil.  Immediately upon his return to Rome from Malta, Fr. Fernandez wanted to write to all the Salesians and members of the Salesian Family around the globe to share the happiness of this long-hoped-for event and to thank all those who collaborated toward Fr. Tom’s release.

“This is the great news:  our brother Thomas has been liberated and is here with us now,” the Rector Major begins, recalling the rapid development of events the day before.

Fr. Fernandez explained that Fr. Uzhunnalil would remain at the Salesian Vatican community until the medical staff considered it appropriate, and later he would be able to return to India.

“There are many things we do not know,” added the Rector Major regarding the circumstances of his release. “A few months ago, as a Congregation, we were informed about the contacts being established with the kidnappers....  In fact, we had news of his release only yesterday when Fr. Thomas had almost arrived in Italy.”

Fr. Fernandez thanked “the Sultan of Oman and other authorities of the Sultanate, humanitarian workers, and all those who in various ways dealt with this case on various occasions with generous commitment.”  He stated further that “the Salesian Congregation has not been asked to pay any ransom, and we have no news of any payments having been made.”

The Rector Major spoke of the “great affection” and “constant concern” of the Bangalore Province and of the entire Congregation during the long months since Fr. Tom’s abduction.

Finally, the Rector Major gave thanks “to the thousands and thousands who have prayed with such faith during these 18 months of our brother Tom’s Gethsemane.”

Finally, Fr. Fernandez said, Fr. Uzhunnalil’s release is reason for continuing to respond in the future “with greater fidelity and authenticity to the Lord’s summons and to the charism that he has entrusted to us and to whom Fr. Tom has delivered his life:  the announcement of Jesus and of his Gospel, the predilection for children and young people from all over the world, and among them, the poorest and abandoned.”

Pope Francis Meets Fr. Tom

L’Osservatore Romano
Right before his weekly general audience on Wednesday, Sept. 13, Pope Francis met Fr. Uzhunnalil at St. Martha House, where His Holiness resides.  Fr. Tom immediately knelt to kiss the Holy Father’s feet before the Pope kissed Fr. Tom’s hand.  Besides some Salesians, Catholic News Service reported that Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Mumbai (Bombay) was present at the meeting, and Fr. Tom thanked the Pope, telling him that “he prayed every day for him, offering his suffering for his mission and the good of the Church.”

Rector Major: “I told [Fr. Tom] that all his Salesian brothers and the worldwide Salesian Family were represented with my presence”

After his return from Malta, the Rector Major was eager to meet his liberated confrere. He did so at the Salesians’ Vatican residence, where he found Fr. Tom an image of serenity and peace in the midst of a world full of tension.

After their meeting, Fr. Angel Fernandez Artime reported:

“In the afternoon of Sept. 13, I had the joy and the happiness of meeting my beloved brother Fr. Tom, now in the Salesian community at the Vatican. I greeted him in the Indian style, and we gave each other a strong hug as a sign of fraternal affection.

“He’s still thin, but I found him serene, lucid, and with a great inner peace. He expressed his deep thanks to the Lord and to the Congregation, for he felt strongly accompanied by the Salesian Family, who prayed for him, along with the religious of other congregations.

“I was deeply impressed when I learned that he celebrated the Eucharist [spiritually] every day, even without bread and wine, offering the Lord what he was going through.

“He lived many simple things as gifts from God, like sleeping serenely and living every moment in peace. At the beginning of each new day he continued to pray, speaking with the Lord, offering himself for everyone, for the Church, for the young.

“Truly, Fr. Tom gave me a witness of faith that has touched me. We prayed in the chapel of the Salesian community, and I gave him the blessing of Mary Help of Christians.  I offered the Good Night [to the community] and said to him that my presence represented all his Salesian confreres and the Salesian Family across the globe.

“I said him that if he would allow me, I wished to offer him the Salesian cross I always wear.  I handed it to him with affection, and he received it with deep gratitude, and we the sang the Salve Regina to our common Mother.

“We also shared a very simple dinner. I found that he weighs little, eats slowly, but is eating well. The doctors say he’s weak, but it will just be a matter of time and rest, and he’ll be well. It was a moment of great fraternity.

“It was a special day, indeed, marked by Fr. Tom’s meeting with the Holy Father, who received him with the affection of a father, with the simplicity that characterizes him and the affection he has for us all.”

Rector Major Gives His Salesian Cross to Fr. Tom

As a sign of the closeness and affection that the Rector Major feels toward “a confrere who was lost, was far from us, and was able to return among us,” Fr. Angel Fernandez gave his Salesian cross to Fr. Tom Uzhunnalil at the end of their meeting at the Salesian community in the Vatican on Sept. 13.

The cross is the one that is given to every Salesian of Don Bosco when he makes his perpetual profession.  On one side is an image of Jesus the Good Shepherd, and on the reverse is a quotation from Don Bosco, in Italian: “Strive to make yourself loved.”

Seated in front of the painting of Mary Help of Christians, and only a few steps from a painting of Don Bosco, and before paying homage to the Indian missionary with his cross, Fr. Fernandez spoke in Italian of Fr. Tom’s long ordeal.  For Fr. Tom’s benefit, an Indian confrere translated the main points into English.

The Rector Major said: “Many times we asked the Lord that his will be done and that you never lack inner strength. We can see this has been so.” When he added that he was certain of Mary’s continued support by Fr. Tom’s side, and “there’s no doubt that she accompanied you every day like a mother,” the missionary nodded with conviction.

After expressing his closeness to Fr. Tom’s family, the Rector Major handed him his Salesian cross, and spoke of the full value of this gesture. “I want to offer you my Salesian cross, which I always wear, so that you can carry it with you. And with this sign, it is a little as if all Salesians, as of today, are with you now and forever.”

ANS offers a video of the offering of the cross:

Catholic press coverage of Fr. Tom’s release, his meeting with Pope Francis, and a press conference that he gave on Saturday, Sept. 16:

An interview that Cardinal Gracias gave to Crux included some questions and replies re: Fr. Tom's release and meeting with the Pope: 

ANS's story on his Sept. 16 press conference includes a lot of photos: 
Fr. Tom meets with Missionaries of Charity who attended the press conference.
Finally (maybe--this is the 2d time I'm updating this list of links), Fr. Tom gave ANS their own interview:

Well, here's another, from EWTN on the press conference and some related reporting. 

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Update from Tampa

Update from Tampa

The post-Irma news coming from Mary Help of Christians Center in Tampa was good news. I spoke with Fr. Bruce Craig by phone on Tuesday afternoon, and he told me the hurricane “was like a bad thunderstorm.  The retention pond [behind St. Philip Residence] filled up more from a storm last week.  We lost a few trees, and a corner of the gym roof peeled.  We lost cable service for a few hours, but not electricity.  We had 60-100 people stay overnight in the dorm, there was so little [local] damage that they were out the next day.”

Gathering thunderclouds presage a typical "bad thunderstorm" over the Mary Help campus,
in November 2003. Photos by your humble blogger, who served at MHC in 2002-2004.
(Fr. Steve Ryan, MHCC's director, contacted me on Thursday evening to let me [and you] know that the damage to the gym roof was not minor at all; it was "extensive."  He also included a photo:

end parenthesis.)

Late on Tuesday, I got additional news and pictures from Lili DeGrasse, Fr. Steve's executive assistant:

Here are some photos [below] taken by various MHC staff members throughout the preparation for the storm and shelter (we had about 100 lay people join the 23 SDBs on campus to ride out the storm). 

In the next two emails, I will send more photos depicting:

  • continual prayer and very collaborative community living among all 100+ that stayed in the main building during Irma (approx. 15 SDB’s stayed at St. Philip; remainder of SDB’s stayed with lay folks in main building)
  • damages to Mary Help Center post-hurricane and some photos of the lay people (who had evacuated to MHC) plus SDB’s and staff, helping cleanup that very same day and throughout the week 
Also know that for us in Tampa, the window of time when Irma would be passing was from 7:00 pm Sunday evening, 9/10, through early morning hours on Monday, 9/11.  We had continual adoration and prayer in Good Shepherd Chapel from 7:00 pm – 8:00 am, at which point we celebrated mass together.  Our Lady truly did take care of us this night!  And the mixed community of people here collaborated well together, from mopping water that came in through windows and under doorframes to collecting the trash to maintaining orderliness and calm.  It was peaceful within even when the storm was at its worst.  We primarily used Pitsch Hall, the cafeteria (for meals, the gathering room and for games to occupy the children) and the chapel, though other rooms and offices throughout the building also accommodated those who needed shelter.

Lili also noted that the parish's Knights of Columbus provided breakfast for the storm's "huddled masses" on Sunday and Monday, and a spaghetti supper on Sunday.

Late this morning Fr. Steve Ryan communicated to his and MHCC's many friends with this header and report:

Blessed Mother Saves Tampa and Mary Help of Christians

Hurricane Irma Miraculously Changes Course

The Blessed Mother really was with us on Sunday night!  Here at Mary Help of Christians Center over 120 people took shelter during Hurricane Irma.  We had a very good experience together praying throughout the weekend and helping one another.  When the warning came out that residents of Tampa, especially those in flood zones and mobile homes, were required to evacuate, many churches put up a sign on the front lawn: “No Mass this weekend.  Good luck and God bless.”  At Mary Help of Christians, we sent out communications: “Come here for Mass, for safety.  Spend the night; we will feed you.”  This was made possible because of the dedicated staff and volunteers of Mary Help of Christians Center and the generosity of parishioners who provided food.   Fr. Steve Dumais began his assignment as pastor this weekend and although it was not quite the way he envisioned his first weekend would be, he was impressed with the Knights of Columbus who provided breakfast for the many evacuees who stayed at MHC.

We sustained damage.  The gym roof was seriously affected and all activities in the gymnasium are suspended for the time-being.  However, volunteers have already begun to clean up the tree, branch and fence damage and activities like the upcoming weekend retreat and Ministry Fair are still on.

That was followed by loads of photos, some of which are already presented above. Others: