Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Diego's Boys Remember Their Mentor

Diego’s Boys Remember Their Mentor

(New Rochelle, N.Y. – December 8) – During his many years laboring over the English translation of The Biographical Memoirs of St. John Bosco, Fr. Diego Borgatello maintained his contact with the young—counseling them, challenging them in chess, taking them on outings, and praying with them. Since Fr. Diego’s death in April 1994, every December the men—no longer young men—who counted themselves as his young friends gather in New Rochelle to celebrate a memorial Mass for him and share their memories of the good that he did to them when they were his altar boys at St. Joseph’s Parish and/or students at Salesian High School. So on the evening of December 7, almost 40 of them, including some friends and family members, came together for the 24th time in the chapel of Salesian High School. The gathering is so large now that they can no longer use the chapel in the provincial residence.

Fr. John Serio, president of Salesian High School and a longtime friend of “Diego’s Boys,” celebrated the Mass on the vigil of Mary Immaculate, recalling Don Bosco’s meeting with Bartholomew Garelli on another feast of the Immaculate Conception and comparing Fr. Diego’s ministry to the young to Don Bosco’s.

After Mass Nick Trotta (Salesian ’77) fondly and reverently recalled some of the life lessons that Fr. Diego instilled in him and his friends, linking Fr. Diego to the just man praised by the Psalms.

Your humble blogger had the privilege of collaborating with Fr. Diego on vols. 15-16 of The Biographical Memoirs, completing the latter after Fr. Diego died.

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Homily for 1st Sunday of Advent

Homily for the
1st Sunday of Advent

Nov. 27, 1988
Jer 33: 14-16
Luke 21: 25-28, 34-36
St. Theresa, Bronx, N.Y.

We begin a new liturgical season and a new liturgical year this weekend. Despite all that newness, I’m afraid I have to offer an old homily because I had no occasion to preside and preach at Mass; I concelebrated at home. How old? See reference in it to Giants’ QB Phil Simms—and to the Giants winning.

“In those days … I will cause a righteous Branch to spring forth for David; and he shall do what is right and just in the land” (Jer 33: 15).

How often have you wished for justice?  How many times has someone done something to you and you felt helpless to defend yourself?  Some big public utility raises its rates, some authority lays down the law, some careless driver cuts you off.  Maybe the situation has been impersonal—it rains on your picnic, or Phil Simms gets hurt while the Giants are winning.

Obviously you’re not alone in those feelings and those longings.  We have an old proverb:  “There’s no justice in this life.”  We have a more recent one:  “Life is unfair.”  An entire book of the Bible explores the question of justice and fairness.  That’s the book of Job—well worth reading and pondering.

The Jews of Jeremiah’s time felt that life had dumped on them.  Our passage today is addressed to a people in exile, conquered, leaderless, on the edge of hopelessness.  The prophet tells his people:  The Lord will straighten things out.  He will restore your kingdom and your royal line.  He will put everything right and give you lasting security.

The symbol of the wonderful divine promise is the Branch of David, a new, green, vibrant shoot from the royal family tree that seemed so dead and rotten.  David was the great national hero, the father of his country.  David was the ideal king, loyal to God, valiant in battle, just.  God promises a new national savior who will be all that David was, and more.

We’ve begun Advent, the season of waiting, of expectation, of hope.  Someone is coming.  Who?  The Son of David, the messiah, the Lord our King.  Jeremiah’s prophetic words will be fulfilled in a stable at Bethlehem, the city of David.  We prepare in joy and eagerness for Christmas.

But we know that coming of Jesus at Bethlehem did not solve all our problems or firmly establish justice and peace on earth.  His first coming as man we could call Phase I.  Phase II lies ahead.  St. Paul calls it “the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his holy ones” (1 Thess 3:13).  Jesus himself says, “Then they will see the Son of Man coming on a cloud with power and great glory” (Luke 21:27).  This is the Second Coming that this Advent season prepares us for, “the day we watch for, hoping that the salvation promised us will be our” (Preface).

Jesus tells us, “Watch at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things…and to stand before the Son of Man” (Luke 21:36).  We long for justice, and if we have lived justly—at least as justly as is possible for human beings—then we need not fear the justice of the Great Judge “because our redemption is drawing near” (Luke 21:28).  Only the unjust—the cheats and liars, the adulterers and abortionists and racists, the slumlords and warlords and drug lords, those who suck the blood of the poor, those who climb to the top on the bodies of their neighbors and coworkers—only those need fear final, inescapable justice.

Jesus tells us to take heed lest we be caught when the last day snaps on us like a trap (Luke 21:34).  But he also encourages us to look for the great day, to anticipate it eagerly and joyfully (like Christmas), to look up and raise our heads (Luke 21:28) because we are his people and he is our Savior, David’s Son, and “in those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will dwell securely” (Jer 33:16).

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Homily for Wednesday, Week 33 of Ordinary Time

Homily for Wednesday
33d Week of Ordinary Time

Votive Mass of Reconciliation & Purification
Nov. 28, 2018
Rev 15: 1-4
Don Bosco Cristo Rey, Takoma Park, Md.

In our 1st reading today, Revelation speaks of 7 plagues which God inflicts in his fury upon sinful humanity (15:1).

Today, however, we’re praying in repentance and for conversion and healing on account of a plague of another kind, inflicted by clergy and other church workers upon innocent humanity, especially children and youths.

Revelation today also speaks of those who have won the victory over the beast (15:2).  Victory over the beast of the Church’s sins—which in truth means our sins too and not only those of “bad priests and bishops”—has been won by the Lord, king of the nations (15:3).  He alone is holy (15:4).  But in his graciousness, he shares his victory with all who come humbly to him.

May the Lord Christ purify his Church, we pray, lead us all to conversion and to a deeper life with him, and finally to a place with the saints around his throne.

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Homily for Solemnity of Christ the King

Homily for the Solemnity of
Christ the King

Nov. 25, 2018
Dan 7: 13-14
Rev 1: 5-8
Nativity, Washington, D.C.                   

“Almighty ever-living God, whose will is to restore all things in your beloved Son, the King of the universe…” (Collect).

When you studied English literature in high school, or perhaps Brit lit in college, you came upon a period called the Restoration, featuring poets like Pope and Dryden, plus Swift and Defoe and other writers.  The period’s name comes not from the authors, however, but from the restoration of the British monarchy in 1660 after the English civil war, the execution of King Charles I, and 12 years of Puritan government.  The restoration brought back to the British Isles kings and queens, a period of great literature, music, and architecture, but it didn’t auger peace with the other great powers of Europe or social justice at home.

Our beloved St. John Bosco was born in 1815 as another restoration was beginning, this one involving all of western and central Europe:  the restoration of numerous monarchs, of national borders, and of the whole social order to the way things had been in 1789, before the French Revolution and the wars of Napoleon had turned everything upside down and thrown Europe into turmoil, from Spain to the Russian Empire.  But that restoration’s foundations rested on sand, and it crumbled in just 33 years, leading to more upheavals, disorders, and wars.

Today on the feast of Christ the King we pray for a restoration of an entirely different order, an entirely different nature.  We pray for the restoration of “the whole creation” under the authority of the Divine Majesty of the “ever-living God” thru the kingship of his beloved Son, our Lord Jesus.  That very title “Lord” bespeaks royal authority.  It translates Dominus, from which we get such English words as dominion and domination.

Our Lord Jesus’ dominion, his manner of domination, however, doesn’t mean turmoil, disorder, injustice, and other problems for his subjects.  His domination is over our sins, over all the injustices that we human beings commit in our own lusts for power, glory, and selfish pleasure—those things that Puritans and kings, French revolutionaries and Napoleon sought, whether for good motives or bad—but could not deliver because they were, in the end, baseless, i.e., without a solid base, a foundation.

The only sure foundation is Jesus Christ.  The only “everlasting dominion that shall not be taken away,” the only “kingship [that] shall not be destroyed” (Dan 7:14), is that of Jesus Christ—because he has conquered the evil ruler of this world.  His cross, his blood poured out as a sign of his service to us, has bound him to our humanity forever—a binding that is “the one ring to rule them all”; all the rings with which Satan tries to bind us to his service have been shattered by Christ’s royal ring, a ring that tokens his marriage-binding to his bride, the Church—to us.

To this great king we, in our turn, bind ourselves.  When the rich young man came to Jesus—you know the story in the gospels—asking what he had to “do to inherit eternal life” (Mark 10:17), Jesus told him to keep the commandments.  When the young man said he was doing so, and asked what more he needed to do, Jesus told him to give up his wealth, give to the poor, and follow him (10:20-21).  Jesus tells all of us to practice the Beatitudes—to be poor in spirit, meek, pure of heart, seekers of justice, peacemakers—if we wish to be part of his kingdom, to inherit eternal life.  Our goal in life is not to make America great again but to honor the Great King, to serve the Great King, to follow Jesus.

We honor, serve, and follow the Lord Jesus so that he may set us free, personally, individually, from our slavery to sin, our servitude to the powers of darkness; free us from Voldemort, our death-wish, and deliver us instead to Almighty God, to proclaim his praise ceaselessly in the kingdom of light, the kingdom of all things set right in justice, the kingdom of everlasting joy.  “To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, who has made us into a kingdom, priests for his God and Father, to him be glory and power forever and ever.  Amen” (Rev 1:5-6).

Friday, November 23, 2018

Meeting of the Istituto Storico Salesiano

Meeting of the Istituto Storico Salesiano

by Fr. Stanislaw Zimniak

(ANS – Rome – November 23, 2018) – The members of the Salesian Historical Institute (ISS) met at the Salesian Pontifical University (UPS) on Tuesday, November 20, and were joined by the Rector Major. The participants talked about the ISS’s current situation and its future prospects.

Taking part, besides Fr. Angel Fernandez, were Fr. Thomas Anchukandam, Fr. Francesco Casella, Fr. Miguel Canino, Fr. Aldo Giraudo, Fr. Francesco Motto, Fr. José Manuel Prellezo, Fr. Giorgio Rossi, and Fr. Stanislaw Zimniak.

After the prayer, Fr. Anchukandam, director of ISS, welcomed everyone and gave a special word of welcome on account of the happy presence of the Rector Major.

The meeting was of great importance as it allowed for an exchange of opinions after ISS was transferred to the UPS campus in autumn 2017 from the former Generalate on via della Pisana, and after the decision, made by the Rector Major with his general council, to place ISS at the UPS in a permanent way, but still dependent upon the general administration of the Congregation. For ISS all this represents the closure of an era and the opening of a new phase of activity in an environment that bring ISS not only new challenges, but also many new opportunities.

Fr. Anchukandam then spoke on the current situation of the ISS library, its definitive arrangement still in progress, and the appointment of the Argentinian Salesian brother Ivan Ariel Fresia as an associate member.

ISS secretary Fr. Zimniak reported on the meetings of both the board of directors and the editorial staff of Ricerche Storiche Salesiane.

The situation of ISS personnel was also analyzed, highlighting the need to reinforce the stable number of its members. Although the current roster counts nine members, in reality only four of them are doing active research, and three of them are involved in the detailed activities of the Association for Promoting the Study of Salesian History (ACSSA). The Rector Major assured everyone of his interest and proposed as a solution to aggregate the history teachers already active in the various Salesian centers to ISS: not on a full-time basis, but agreeing upon a plan of research papers with the ISS board of directors.

Great attention was paid to the publication of the journal Ricerche Storiche Salesiane (“Salesian Historical Research”), which constitutes an irreplaceable window of ISS on and toward the Salesian world and beyond, but still insufficient as regards its international cultural impact. Rather, it ought to be broadened to include research projects of a broader worldwide scope.

Some organizational aspects of two important world congresses were also discussed: on Fr. Paul Albera, 2nd successor of Don Bosco, for 2021; and on St. Francis de Sales, for 2022; subsequently the 2019 draft of the budget and the report on publications in preparation were presented, which include the second volume of Fonti Salesiane (edited by Frs. Anchukandam, Giraudo, and Prellezo); the 8th volume of the Epistolario di Don Bosco, edited by Fr. Motto; the volume of the correspondence of Belgian people with Don Bosco, edited by Wim Provoost.

Last, the Rector Major was also updated on numerous other topics of historical-cultural interest for the Congregation: the planning of research papers for the years 2016-2020; the ISS-ACSSA site visibility on the official website of the Congregation, www.sdb.org; the editorial norms for the critical edition of Salesian sources; the upcoming issues of the journal Ricerche Storiche Salesiane; and more.

Everyone appreciated the truly active and participatory presence of the Rector Major in the work, a sign of the interest of the Congregation for the cultivation of our historical heritage, and in full harmony with the concern for the historical memory of our Founder Don Bosco.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Padre Chava Refectory Welcomes Caravan Migrants

Padre Chava Refectory Welcomes Caravan Migrants

(ANS – Tijuana - November 14)The Salesians’ Father Chava Refectory in Tijuana, on the border between Mexico and the United States, has been receiving hundreds of migrants who are part of the caravan of people intending to seek asylum in the U.S. The Salesian house offers food, medical assistance, and a place to stay to those who request it.

Salesian Fr. Agustin Novoa Leyva is responsible for the Tijuana Salesian Project. In this interview he offers a straightforward view on the arrival and reception of the caravan of migrants now arriving at the border. He remembers that migrants are, first of all, people.

Are you responsible for a reception center?

Yes, I’m the director of the Salesian shelter of Tijuana. We have an ordinary center, and we’ve been able to open other emergency shelters. As you know, this phenomenon of the caravan is very special: about 500 people have already arrived, and we want to offer them a dignified service.

In the next few days, these 500 migrants will perhaps become thousands. How are you preparing?

We’re doing everything we can. From the moment these people entered Mexico, we started to prepare. But in these situations it’s very difficult to foresee everything because, unlike the other cities through which they were in transit, here the path of the caravan to the United States cannot proceed beyond three months, according to the latest U.S. laws.

How many days do you have enough food supplies for?

I can’t say precisely, but institutions and the Church have launched an appeal for solidarity, and in our case every day we offer over 800 breakfasts to people in street situations and to migrants. In this case, however, we should be offering all three meals per day. Some time ago we had a similar situation with the massive arrival of Haitians, and thank God we didn’t run out of food. [Ed. note: Fr. Mike Pace of our New Rochelle Province spent several months at Padre Chava assisting with care for the Haitians, because of his ability to speak French.]

How many Haitians are still in Tijuana?

There are about 3,000 who have remained. They are regularizing their situation and have integrated well into the city.

How will you be able to serve the people you serve routinely and this new group that’s coming?

This morning we’ve already offered around 1,200 breakfasts, and we’re preparing to continue at that pace. We already have about 200 volunteers. We have supplies for about four weeks, and we’ve asked institutions for help to continue our services. We’re asking for any kind of help from the government, but they’ve never done it before, and I think it’ll be the same now.

What are the possible scenarios for this phenomenon?

Each phenomenon is very different.... The embassies of Guatemala and Honduras have offered the opportunity to obtain birth certificates and official documents that would allow migrants to work, and in this way the city and companies could help in some way, as has already been done with the Haitians.

Some say that migrants have had problems with the police.

There’s a bit of everything. I don’t like to generalize by saying that it’s a caravan of “evildoers.” Migrants are people in a special situation. Perhaps they’re experiencing their crises and we don’t understand their reactions. There are people who, when they arrived at the border, wanted to climb the wall, and there were tense situations.

What do you think of the fact that since this caravan arrived in Mexico you’ve gotten many messages of contempt?

Yes, this situation of contempt is painful because, first of all, they’re people, and we know that ours is a country of emigrants. Tijuana is a city that’s always welcomed people; I hope it doesn’t change in this case.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Mud's Better Than Snow

Mud's Better Than Snow

On Sunday (Nov. 18), I returned to the Appalachian Trail in South Mountain State Park where I dropped off last Sept. 30 due to a minor injury and a painful back, specifically at Wolfsville Rd.

The bother in September had been mud all over the trails after recent rains. To my chagrin, everything in the area was snow-covered. 
The AT crossing of Wolfsville Rd.
It wasn't my worst hike in the snow--did that on West Mt. in Harriman SP sometime back in the 1990s with Troop 40, where the snow was knee-deep.

Mud's definitely better than snow.

In November's snow I had to use great caution, especially on slopes.  Fortunately, the temperature was above freezing (not by much, especially on South Mountain's ridge top, where there was a 15- or 20-mph wind blowing), so ice wasn't a problem; in fact in some spots the snow was slushy.
AT heading southbound up South Mountain

Very quickly I was sorry I hadn't brought a 2d trekking pole.  I've never used 2 before, but it would have been an advantage this day.  I was also sorry I didn't have my skullcap to go under my watch cap; my head would've been warmer.  And for a while I wished I'd brought my glover liners too, but that was much less of a problem.

There were 5 cars in the parking lot already when I arrived around 9:30 a.m.  One or maybe 2 sets of footprints and 1 set of pawprints headed south up the mountain, making the trail very easy to follow wherever the blazes might not have been readily visible--which, generally, they are.  Those prints also helped me with my own footing in many places.

As for the pawprints, actually I met their cause before I saw them.  Just after crossing the road and starting up the slope, dog and owner appeared, returning to the parking lot.  We had a little chat, then went our ways.  I didn't see anyone else for the next 4 hours.
Amid all the snow, there were patches of greenery.
The upward climb to the ridge was pretty steady for .6 mile (according to the trail guide) but not particularly difficult.  I'm sure I'd have found it much more challenging with a full pack instead of only a day pack.  The woods initially included a few coniferous trees, but those quickly gave way entirely to hardwoods--and loads of fallen trees; a shame none of those can be hauled away for firewood (not that it would be easy to get to them).  With all the leaves fallen, one can see thru the trees the farmlands to either west or east far below the mountain (depending on which side of the ridge the trail passes over).
The easy AT along the ridge of South Mountain
Along the ridge the trail was easy with few ups or downs for the mile or mile and a half that I followed it, and quite straight.
Great rock piles lined most of the east side for as far as I walked.  Eventually the trail ascended along some of those rocks and gave an eastward panorama thru the trees.
There is some climbing even along the ridge.  Yes, this is the trail!
You can also see more green, certainly welcome amid all the stone gray and snow white.
All along the hike I was thinking of my Alabama friends, who'd trekked this section of trail on Sept. 30 after leaving me at the Cowell Shelter, covering twice as much territory that day as I could manage.  
8 students and staffer Molly Stone from Restoration Academy
after crossing Little Antietam Creek on Sept. 29
Tough ladies!  All those years I hiked and camped with Troop 40, I was sure I could outhike just about any Scout in the troop; but not those veteran high school girls from Birmingham.  (Of course, rapidly closing in on 70, I'm not as young as I used to be--that's my excuse!)  If you didn't check the link in the 1st paragraph above, you can go back to it now.
Westward view thru the trees
Just before noon I stopped to eat my lunch, perching on one of the few rocks that wasn't covered with snow (with my leather gloves and a foam pad to cushion me).  I devoured a PB & J sandwich, then a tin of sardines on Ritz crackers, washed down with Crystal Lite.
And an eastward view from near where I ate lunch
I'd brought along a magazine to read while I let lunch digest a bit, but it was too cold on the ridge with the wind blowing; my fingers were on the verge of numbing up, and I'd had to put on all my upper-body clothing layers (which were sufficient; in fact, as soon as I resumed hiking, I took one layer off).

So at 12:22 I started my return to the car, moving rapidly along the ridge and gingerly down the slope toward the road.  At the road at 2:00 p.m., a hiker came up, also with a dog.  He said he was a thru hiker (surprise at this time of year!) who'd left Mt. Katahdin on June 29 and expected to get to Georgia in February.  I said I hoped he had snowshoes!  He was still in his original boots, but they were wearing out, and he was planning to replace them in Harpers Ferry.  I wish I'd taken his picture; it would be a good wind-up for this post.

Oh, there were more hikers--a family of 3 and another dog pulled into the parking lot while I was putting my gear into the car.  They'd have made a nice photo too.