(Photo by Kaitlyn Flannagan)


There are a lot of church closings nowadays, including in the Byzantine Catholic Church – my home parish was shut down a while ago. But in New York, the thriving parish of Holy Innocents, my great refuge in the Garment District where I spent many hours before the great crucifix where Joyce Kilmer received the grace of conversion, is at risk of being closed — one year after parishioners spent $700,000 of their own money restoring the famous Bugnini mural over the High Altar and the rest of the church. Why do some Catholic leaders get it into their heads to shut down magnificent churches with people willing to keep them open, and just ramrod their opinions down people’s throats? This parish was brought back from oblivion by Msgr. Sakano and now, well, read on, from the New York Observer. 

The interior of Holy Innocents (Photo by Kaitlyn Flannagan)

See the parish website at http://www.innocents.com 


Down the street from the lights and sounds of Times Square stands the oldest building in the Garment District, the Church of the Holy Innocents. Over the decades the neighborhood has evolved into the tangle of chain stores and litter that it is today while the almost 150 year-old church has remained mostly the same since the day it was built. Step inside and the din is somehow lost, replaced by the last quiet, peaceful haven for New York’s traditional Catholics.

Yet what makes Holy Innocents truly unique is that it is the last Catholic church in the city to offer the mass in Latin. The Latin, or Tridentine, Mass has been performed since the 6th century, and this rare service seems to have the effect of transporting one back through time. In the same way that the mass is a testament to the past, the building itself is a landmark in New York history: giving last rites to those in the plane that crashed into the Empire State Building during WWII, baptizing Nobel laureate Eugene O’Neill, officiating the marriage of performer Jimmy Durante, and overseeing the conversion of poet Joyce Kilmer.

Nowadays, however, the very thing that makes this place so extraordinary is also the thing putting it in danger. Despite the artistic, cultural, and financial strengths of Holy Innocents the church was recommended for closure in April as part of New York’s “Making All Things New” initiative (a title one parishioner called “Orwellian”) to consolidate superfluous church spaces.

The reasons cited for the potential closure were that the church is not considered by the advisory board to be “an active, vibrant community of faith,” according to a letter from Timothy Michael Cardinal Dolan, Archbishop of New York, sent in response to concerned parishioner and Frick Institute employee Valeria Kondratiev. “A parish church is meant to be a center of worship and not a museum,” he went on to say, addressing her concerns for the immense, exquisite, and priceless Constantino Brumidi mural affixed above the altar that would, in her opinion, most likely be unsalvageable if the church were closed.

This comes right on the tails of an immense $700,000 renovation project undergone just last year with most of the money going to restore the Brumidi mural. The project was paid for in major part by donations from parishioners and partly overseen by the very Archdiocese that may have known far in advance of the church’s potential for consolidation. “Some people… gave until it hurt,” parishioner Ron Mirro said. “It’s just very upsetting.”

The puzzling thing about the Cardinal’s claims of a lack of vibrancy in the community, however, is that Holy Innocents seems to have exploded in popularity since they started their daily Latin Masses in 2010. Total Sunday Mass attendance is now 250-275, nearly triple the average attendance of 100 people in 2009. The church is nearing 75% of its ordinary seating capacity of 350-400. In addition, it is currently completely debt free with donations on track to double in the current fiscal year from the last.

Explanations for an inexplicable closure range, some believing it an issue of misinformation and miscommunication like volunteer Co-Coordinator of the Holy Innocents Latin Mass Mark Froeba who said that the priests who were trained after the Second Vatican Council grew to harbor an animosity for the Latin Mass and the old, problematic ways of the church that it came to represent for them.

“[To] a certain generation of priests, this is… the culture of the church they rejected in their youth… They’d come to believe that it was the source of all the problems in the church: it was paternalistic, it was rubrical and not spiritual… all these sorts of condemnations that they came to believe in a heartfelt way, for them to now see it coming back is shocking to them.” Mr. Froeba said. “They’re hostile to something they fought 50 years ago that doesn’t really exist anymore and this is a whole new thing, very much a product of the things that they fought for.”

Others claim that the reason for closure lies in monetary gain from its prime real estate location—five minutes walk from all subway lines. Edward Hawkins was for years the leader of Holy Innocents’ chapter of the community service and fundraising philanthropic group, the Traditional Knights of Columbus. “I’m worried that it’s being devalued and blinded by the real estate. That’s what’s really happening,” Mr. Hawkins said. “If they take this away from us… we’re never gonna get this community back. The people should be valued and they are not. It’s real estate that’s valued.”

Unfortunately, Holy Innocents has little recourse to save their home. “As Catholics we are called to be obedient to our clergy and that’s what we accept about our faith,” said Con O’Shea-Creal, a regular commuter to the church from Queens. He and his wife Paige were recently married at Holy Innocents. The young couple agreed that they trusted in the Archdiocese’ final decision but that sometimes it can be difficult to do so.

This attitude is reflected in many of the parishioners of Holy Innocents. They are left with a feeling of helplessness and fear, making change.org petitions and writing pleading letters to the Cardinal, but incapable of doing much else besides their daily Mass, to which they have added a prayer for the health and heart of Cardinal Dolan to spare their church.

The Latin, or Tridentine Mass, was abandoned in favor of the preferred New Mass, or Novus Ordo, after the second Vatican Council in 1970. The Council sought to make worship services less alien to modern worshipers and bring in new Catholics by making the church more accessible. They hoped to bring about more enthusiasm and community involvement.

Holy Innocents was built for the Latin Mass in the mid-nineteenth century, but the Tridentine fell out of favor for about a generation after the Second Vatican Council ruled the New Mass as the preferred form. This New Mass became, with few exceptions, the only form of the Mass allowed until Pope Benedict XVI gave his permission in 2007 for wider use of the Latin Mass. In 2008, the Latin form came back to Holy Innocents, and it has contributed to the Church’s current flourish. Founded in 1866, the parish will celebrate its 150th anniversary in two years if, indeed, it survives that long.

Parishioners are made up of a diverse cross-section of races, ethnicities, and, surprisingly, ages. It is a common misconception that traditional Catholics are predominately elderly, but the Latin Mass is seemingly burgeoning in popularity among young Catholics.

One of these is Eric Genovese, recently turned 17. “Young people are looking for a bigger sense in tradition… and I guess they find that more… in the Latin Mass,” he said.

Mr. Froeba had some insight on why this might be. “Authenticity [is] the zeitgeist of our time. People don’t want the copy, they want the original,” he told the Observer. “For some people, especially young people, that’s what [the Latin Mass] represents. It’s something that has a history that stretches not just a few decades but centuries, even millennia.”

A service in progress at Holy Innocents (Photo by Kaitlyn Flannagan)

The two main issues that Holy Innocents rallies for are the protection of the Latin Mass and, with their Shrine of the Unborn, the pro-life movement. The latter concern is a testament to the widespread question of whether the Latin mass is inextricable from the more problematic elements of the traditional church, that many believe should become more socially liberal including acceptance of women priests, gay marriage, transsexuality, and many other issues, abortion included.

Froeba maintains that the Mass, Tridentine or Novus Ordo, “should reflect whatever the church teaches and whatever the church teaches should be embodied in the mass.” Social change has happened before in the church, he said, and it may well happen again. Mr. Froeba cites church stances on usury, the death penalty, and slavery while going on to mention the Archdiocese recent support for the Church of St. Francis Xavier in Chelsea, a parish that caters to the LGBTQ community. “There’s precedent for development of doctrine,” he said.

Read more at http://observer.com/2014/08/the-last-daily-latin-mass-in-new-york-is-facing-extinction/#ixzz3APVS2Mt1
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Judge Andrew P. Napolitano debates just such issues on television most of his days as the Senior Judicial Analyst for Fox News Channel, but many of his nights are spent at Holy Innocents. “The Cardinal… [is] a terrific human being… He has a very, very big heart. I am confident that in that very big heart of his, there’s a place for [Holy Innocents],” he said. “One of the church’s truisms is ‘sacred then means sacred now,’” he told the Observer. “The church teaches that if something was sacred, it was always sacred and it always will be sacred. Well, this Tridentine Mass was sacred for 1,400 years. It is sacred still.”

One of the reasons stated for the creation of the phasing out of the Latin Mass was a desire to unify the church. The belief was that doing the mass in the vernacular would make it more approachable and more appealing to Catholics as attendance numbers continued to dwindle on the whole. This sentiment is not reflected by many members of Holy Innocents, however.

“We pray the same prayers that have been prayed since time immemorial,” regular parishioner Adam Fera said. “When we sing hymns it not only unites us with Catholics throughout the world who are singing these hymns but generations of Catholics before us… it’s a unifying force.”The Cardinal’s final decision on the status of the closure will be revealed sometime in September.

The Crucifix of the Return, where I spent many hours discerning my vocation – see http://www.innocents.com/crucifix.asp. 

Read more at http://observer.com/2014/08/the-last-daily-latin-mass-in-new-york-is-facing-extinction/#ixzz3APVBXSrR

Posted by: Fr Chris | August 10, 2014

How You Can Help Endangered Christians

Inside a Catholic church in Erbil, Iraqi Kurdistan – Christian refugees from across the north

Remember your school lessons: the Fertile Crescent is where civilization began. Ur, Abraham’s home, still exists! Now some of the most barbaric forces ever seen are fighting there! And hopes for democracy to take root there seem to be futile, as the republic disintegrates and the prime minister puts tanks on Baghdad’s bridges and streets instead of sending them north to fight!

SS. Bartholomew, Jude, and Aramaic-speaking disciples carried the Gospel east to Mesopotamia and Persia (Iraq-Iran), while the Greek communities of Syria were being founded. Now, as we watch the total dislocation of one of the oldest Christian communities on earth, those of the Fertile Crescent,  people asked, you have asked how can I help them? 

a. First one, praying for their relief, and the conversion of governments so as to help them, and an end to jihad.

b. Donations to these agencies who are in the field doing good work now. These are the best places to send money: they have folks on the ground and know how to get help to the desperate fast, and do so in the Name of Christ, in the name of Pope Francis, and of all Catholics. 

- Catholic Near East Welfare Association/ CNEWA http://www.cnewa.org/     They help all Eastern Christians everywhere.

CNEWA, 1011 First Avenue, New York, NY NY 10022-4195.phone, (212) 826-1480, or fax, (212) 838-1344

- Aid to the Church in Need/ ACN http://www.churchinneed.org   Founded to aid persecuted Catholics behind the Iron Curtain, now serving anywhere in the world. They have had people on site in Syria since the beginning.


Aid to the Church in Need • 725 Leonard Street • P.O. Box 220384 • Brooklyn, NY • 11222   (800) 628-6333

Pope Francis today deplored reports of “thousands of people, including many Christians, driven from their homes in a brutal manner; children dying of thirst and hunger in their flight; women kidnapped; people massacred; [and] violence of every kind.”

He added: “All this gravely offends God and humanity. Hatred is not to be carried in the name of God. War is not to be waged in the name of God.”  Cardinal Filoni, who stayed in Baghdad as papal ambassador in 2003 when other diplomats fled the bombardment and who was considered papabile at the last conclave, will be on his way directly to the battle zones of the north, comforting the Islamic State’s victims with his presence in the name of Pope Francis, bringing cash directly to the refugee centers, and putting himself at risk in order to stand with God’s people, the true anawim of today.

I wonder if any EU or US politician will show up? And how is this being explained to the American, Canadian, and European families of soldiers who died or were maimed in Iraq just so this would never take place?

Our Lady of Arabia, pray for all those at risk, and obtain grace for those who are suffering, and wisdom for those who have the power to change things.


Shall This People Die? was the title of a 1920 work by the Bishop of Mosul detailing the destruction of one-third of the Assyrian-Chaldeans then living in modern Iraq. While the world watched – and did little to stop – the annihilation of 1.5 million Armenians and the complete transformation of eastern Turkey into a Muslim region after 1700 years of Christianity, the destruction in Iraq was little known. Today, the archbishop of Mosul says, My diocese does not exist.*

Set aside all the politicking. These new Muslim warriors who have swept out of the desert are, unbelievably, more fierce than those who swept into the Holy Land and Fertile Crescent in the 7th century. These use their interpretation of Mohammed’s words to go beyond anything his soldiers did. Christians cannot even pay a tax – a tax made so impossibly high no one could pay. Women are swept away – to what fate? But true to Islamic form, the “pagans” , the Yazidis, are doomed again. This is the 73rd Muslim-organized massacre of Yazidis. Thanks to high tech weaponry, it just might be the last. 

While initially telling the last Christians of Mosul they could stay if they could find pure gold to pay as tax, the Islamists changed their minds and told them to get out, while knocking crosses off domes and burning Syriac manuscripts from the Middle Ages. At the edge of town, the Christians were searched: jewelry, money, watches all taken away; suitcases seized; cars emptied; and the last heirs of a tradition dating to Saint Bartholomew and Saint Jude were sent out on foot. 

The Yazidis on Mount Srinagar are in the same position. They fled with donkeys, not cars or trucks, trying to reach the Kurds. In the Great War, Kurds killed Christians and others. In this War of the Islamic Caliphate, the Kurds are the last hope. The Kurds and American planes which are dropping water and food – for how long?

The mess of the Middle East dates back to the Sazonov-Sikes-Picot agreement. Instead of granting the Ottoman Empire’s people freedom in their own countries, and instead of rewarding long-suffering minorities who had put all their trust in the Allies, the Great Powers drew lines on maps to partition the empire. Russia’s collapse in 1917 resulted in the Bolsheviks revealing the secret deal to the world, but for naught. Requests for Assyrian and Kurdish enclaves were regularly rejected; Assyrians were subjected to more massacre, but the Powers did not act. The Kurds were divided up into new countries despite being promised a homeland. Arab fighters were betrayed. Syriac Christians were given no protection to stay in their homeland of Tur Abdin: there are more Syriacs living in cold Sweden than there. From northeastern Greece to Iran, the Christian homeland evangelized by Paul and his disciples was subjected to massacre, deportation, kidnapping of children, and gang rape of women from 1915-1933.  Greeks whose ancestors built Troy were sent packing. The descendants of Nineveh, of Babylon, of ancient Persia died because they believed that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. One of our oldest languages was banned in Turkey because it is the language of Christianity (Syriac). 

We observe the 100th anniversary of the Great War. A terrorist killed the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne and his pregnant wife. Serbia, sponsor of terrorism against the Austrians, agreed to almost all of the empire’s demands, but anger overrode justice, and alliances kicked in and an entire world order was destroyed in four years and laid the foundation for the worst war in history to take place 20 years later. That War’s  injustices also created the Middle East that is changing by the day. And once again, the Great Powers of the world have watched Christians in Iraq and Syria being butchered, except now on You Tube and CNN, live. Warnings came from Popes St John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and Francis to chart a different course but no leader listened. Experts warned that without US bases and advisers, Iraq was not stable enough to form a working democracy. Was American and Allied blood shed on Iraqi sands for nothing? We are “war-weary” pundits say. Really? Only 1% of Americans are in the service; there is no rationing; no warning sirens of incoming rockets; no limits on entertainment; no somber music playing when a soldier dies in Afghanistan, not even for a general; no risk of car bomb every time we go shopping or to church. And we are war-weary? 

Once again, the Pope weeps. Mothers weep. Old people die far from home, and babies are buried under stones in the hope that wild animals will not dig them up. Fathers are in despair.

Iraq’s political class still cannot come up with a leader who will unite all the peoples of their dying country. And don’t point fingers: our own Congress remains deadlocked and hostile, and went on a five week vacation instead of fixing our problems!

This Islamic Caliphate will not be satisfied with the final expulsion of the Christians and the last Yazidis. There are Shiites to be killed, Jews to be slain, heretics to die, the West which they blame for all of their problems must be punished. And central Africa burns, east Ukraine burns, Gaza is obliterated because Hamas keeps on shooting at Israel, Latin American wives come with their babies looking for their husbands who had to leave countries destabilized by Americans’ demand for illegal drugs and support for military dictatorships in the past.

Oh – The Pope sent a Cardinal right into the heart of the fighting. But the leader of the most powerful, richest nation ever seen on this planet left on holiday and to do some more fund-raising.

May the modern martyrs forgive us for leaving them abandoned – again.

Refugees from Qaraqosh in an Erbil church; the IS army is 18 miles away today. 

May Westerners who were baptized by believing parents realize that they are hated because of that baptism, and come to consider that being spiritual but not religious is not enough.

May the day come when mothers do not have to weep over dead babies, when fathers are not in despair at the thought of no future, when both the culture of death of this caliphate and of our own secularists who kill the old and sick rather than nurse and love them will be overthrown.

May the Pope not have to weep over an ever-growing body count around this planet.

May the fact that 75% of persecution is against Christians no longer be true.

May the Prince of Peace rule in people’s hearts, not death. Sweet Jesus, save us all. You are our only hope, the Savior of the world. Save us from ourselves!


Posted by: Fr Chris | August 5, 2014

Being transfigured with Jesus and what Grandma taught me

Jesus is transfigured on Mt. Tabor. Moses and Elijah appear, affirming that He is the Messiah. James and John fall backward from the light, while Peter, as leader of the apostles, shields his eyes and tries to absorb the meaning of the mystery. 

Below is my work on the feast of the Transfiguration. This is one of the two great August holy days, on the 6th. The Dormition/ Assumption of our Lady is the next one. Transfiguration is not a big feast on the Roman rite calendar, but for the Byzantines it is a huge day. We celebrate not only Jesus’ transformation, where He radiates brilliant white light and shows SS. Peter, James, and John just Who He really is – the eternal Son of God while also the Son of Mary. The Father tells us to “Listen to Him!”

God wants us, by imitating Jesus and listening to Him, to be transformed by acquiring the Holy Spirit. In so doing, our cooperation with grace results in our becoming more like God. To be God-like, we become loving, compassionate, peaceful, and above all we seek to share God’s truth with others for their salvation. In the Gospel accounts and in 2 Peter’s re-telling, we ascend towards Christ, imitating Him, most especially in His kenosis, His self-emptying through the Incarnation in which He humbles Himself to take on humanity in its fullest -except sin – and so empty ourselves of sin in order to be more like Him. In so doing, we become truly holy, truly changed by grace.

Since today is a day of a lot of physical pain from my neck to the soles of my feet – an opportunity to imitate Jesus in offering the suffering to the Father rather than sit and moan about it – I am going to copy what I wrote in 2012, as it still applies today, to the mystery of the Transfiguration, theosis, and the example of Antoinette Madeleine LePrell Zugger, and her impact on me, and a lot of people, in her life in Christ:

In 1973, this was the day on which we buried my father’s mother, +Antoinette (LePrell) Zugger.  She was a little lady, with dark eyes, a ready smile, a green thumb, and devoted to her faith. Every morning she would sit down with her novenas and her prayer book and spend time praying.  She lost her husband in a railroad incident in which someone threw the wrong switch in the big railroad yards that still surround East Lovejoy/ Iron Island on Buffalo’s East Side, and killed him, back in 1924.  My father Henry was all of four months old.  From that tragedy, she emerged as a pillar of faith. When we buried her, I was lost in grief. I had learned German from her, spent days living with her as a little one, and had nursed her in her last illness.  I was 17 and heading off to college in a few weeks. But my world was shattered when she died.

Grandma had remained faithful to the memory of her husband, despite several marriage proposals: “there was never anyone like your grandfather again.” She did not get bitter over her loss, but grew in faith, reading from her “Maxims of Eternity” so much that certain pages are permanently stained from her fingers, with a pile of novena booklets topped by Our Lady of Perpetual Help. Whenever she passed a Catholic church with a funeral Mass going on, she went inside to be sure someone prayed for that soul, and at her funeral St. Paul’s Church in Kenmore was full all the way to the last pew. She grew her African violets, worked hard as a cleaning lady in City Hall, devoted herself to the care of her only son – praying to Our Lady of Perpetual Help for his safety all through World War II and he returned uninjured and with no tropical diseases from the Pacific campaigns – and embarrassed store owners and shoppers into buying tickets to support the church raffles, so much so that Father Gallagher mentioned it in his homily, saying he had no idea who would raise that kind of money for the church ever again. 

I wanted to know if there was any kind of a sign regarding the day, and so I looked up the Transfiguration as a result.  And I saw that this day can, for us, become a day in which to set aside the earthly things, and reach out for the Lord. My grandmother’s soul was on its way to heaven – when she would get there I did not know. But I did know that she was going to have a share in this radiant, shining glory. Ultimately, she was going to be admitted into that transfiguring glory, and when she did, her soul was going to be illuminated with God’s shining Light. And at the resurrection, her body and soul united would shine as well.

It was a good preparation for becoming Byzantine Catholic a few years later, after three years of worship in the parishes in Williamsville and Olean, and a lot of years reading about and studying icons.

It is a great feast, a day on which we should really try to find some quiet spot, even if for only five full unbroken minutes, and ponder the mystery of God Become Man, and thank Jesus for His great mercy, but above all, for His awesome love. He shows us Who He is on August 6th, in blinding light, but a light which is healing and not fearful, which is illuminating, for our souls and minds, and invites us to be transfigured as well.  Have a great feast!

Below you can read about the custom of bringing grapes, apples, and other fruit to church tomorrow to be blessed, and enjoy some icons and photos. 

In the month of August in the northern hemisphere, fruits are ready for harvest and so these are brought to church on August 6 to blessed for the Transfiguration. In particular, grapes are brought to church, symbolizing the wine for the Precious Blood of Christ in the Holy Eucharist, and apples signify our redemption from the curse of original sin, introduced when Adam and Eve ate from the Tree of Life.  

Inessa Safronova’s colorful painting,  “Apples of the Savior’s Day”, shows blessed fruit waiting to be eaten in a Ukrainian home, with the family icons in the corner lit by a hanging lamp. 

Below: blessing of fruit, St Joseph’s Church, Chicago, in 2012 

Posted by: Fr Chris | August 1, 2014

Aug 1 – Holy Cross, Holy Water, Jewish Martyrs

August 1 is a day of multiple events in the Byzantine rite calendar. It marks the start of the Dormition Fast; the Procession of the Holy Cross; the Seven Macabee Martyrs (Old Testament saints) with their mother and teacher; and the Little Blessing of Water.

Dormition Fast – this second “summer Lent” lasts for only two weeks, ending at Vespers on August 14. The Dormition of Our Lady is a great feast, marked by pilgrimages across Eastern Europe to Marian shrines, and at our eparchy’s shrine in Olympia, WA. This was a strict fast in Europe, excluding meat, dairy, fish, oil and wine.  Basically people ate vegetables! This Fast is much mitigated today, and the Church in the US only suggests abstinence from meat on  Wednesday in addition to the obligatory abstinence of Friday. You can also add Monday. In Europe, this is another vegan fast: no meat or dairy products. And in Europe at this time, it is a) hot as blazes   b) time to bring in harvest by cutting or digging  and c) after harvesting, time to hit the road and go on pilgrimage to a big shrine. And all this while being vegans! Ask an American to do that!

Procession of the Holy Cross – In medieval cities, summer was the season of plague and other ailments. This is why the Dormition Blessing of Flowers includes medical herbs, used in medicine. It became the custom to carry the Cross, and especially a relic of the True Cross, through the streets of Constantinople and other cities on August 1, height of the plague season, to ask for protection from illness.

Maccabee Martyrs – The history of the Maccabean revolt against forced imposition of pagan practice is found in the Bible in 1 and 2 Maccabees. This story is found in 2 Maccabees 6:18–7:42. This chapter strongly influenced Christian writing about the sufferings of martyrs. In particular, the discourse of the mother to her last, and youngest, son is deeply moving.

The Maccabee books recount the struggle that took place when Antiochus IV began his rabid persecution of the Jews, trying to force them into the Hellenic world and paganism. The first uses of the words “Judaism” and “Hellenism” appear in the Bible in these books. The last high priests were incredibly corrupt and gave Antiochus the impression that the office was simply one that could be traded around for bribes. The last one actually stole sacred vessels from the Temple, resulting in riots. Antiochus brutally suppressed the riots, installed altars of Greek gods and a statue of  Zeus on the altar in the Temple itself, and ordered pagan worship. Jewish sacrifice was forbidden, sabbaths and feasts were banned. The circumcision of newborn boys was outlawed, and mothers who circumcised their babies were killed along with their families. There was extensive resistance, and there were Jews who gave in, but in 166 BC Antiochus came up against this family that gives new meaning to the word “stubborn.”

The mother, whose name is usually rendered Salome, was brought forward with her seven children, because they refused to eat pork. The boys’ names are generally given as Habim, Antonin, Guriah, Eleazar, Eusebon, Hadim (Halim) and Marcellus – which is a Greek name! Thus the family interacted with the larger society, but held firm to its Jewish beliefs.

The account says of her: “[she] was the most remarkable of all, and deserves to be remembered with special honor. She watched her seven sons die in the space of a single day, yet she bore it bravely because she put her trust in the Lord.”

In addition, the scribe Eleazar, over 90 years old, was killed for the crime of teaching the Jewish faith, in particular to this stubborn family, and refusing to sacrifice to the idols. The mother died last, either executed or throwing herself off of a high building to save  herself from the Greeks. The Church preserves this feast because of what it teaches about constancy in faith, no matter what the cost, and the Macabee Martyrs have been invoked over the centuries as inspiring figures.

So, US reader:

- how strong is our faith in the face of any opposition: employer, relatives, friends, roommates?

- how much fasting or abstinence do we do, not to prove how tough we are, but out of love for Jesus and His Holy Mother?

- the Cross comes in many ways and Jesus says we must take up our cross and follow Him. Do we take it up? Or do we look for another one that is not so heavy/ scary/ burdensome/ time-consuming/ dirty/ etc? And now think of the people we met today: our East Europeans digging up the harvest on a minimal diet out of love for Mary; the Jews who endured against terrible odds (and now what do Jews have to put up? More enemies!); our Lord Who willingly went up on the Cross out of love.

And now, dear reader, let us love.


Posted by: Fr Chris | July 23, 2014

Appeal from Iraq’s Christian Leadership


Destruction of  many ancient tombs, including the Tomb of the Prophet Jonah, who is said to have slept undisturbed outside Nineveh until now —- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IDP5PgKZiME
Iraqi Bishops appeal to the Prime Minister and the government: “stop the catastrophe”

Erbil (Agenzia Fides) – The Iraqi national government must ensure “necessary protection” for Christians and other minorities in the Country, provide “financial support to displaced people who have lost everything”, pay the wages of state employees “immediately”, compensate those who have suffered material losses and ensure continuity in the provision of housing and social services and education for families who may have to spend a long time away from their homes. This is the urgent appeal that Chaldean Patriarch Louis Raphael I Sako and all the Chaldean, Syrian Orthodox, Syrian Catholic and Armenian Bishops in northern Iraq launched at the end of their meeting on Tuesday 22 July held in Ankawa (suburb of Erbil) and dedicated to the serious events recorded in the region in recent weeks, starting with the expulsion of Christians and Shiites from the city of Mosul decreed by the militiamen of the self-proclaimed Islamic Caliphate.
The appeal, sent to Fides Agency, is addressed primarily to the Prime Minister and the national government, with an implicit admission of their inaction. At the same time, the Iraqi Bishops invite “people of conscience in Iraq and around the world” to put pressure on militants to put a stop to “the destruction of churches and monasteries, manuscripts, relics and all the Christian heritage, priceless Iraqi and international heritage. What was said with regards to an agreement between the militants and the clergy is false”, continues the appeal, reiterating that “a crime is a crime, and it cannot be denied or justified. We expect concrete actions to assure our people, not just press releases of denunciation and condemnation”.
In this respect, the Bishops express an eloquent appreciation for the role played by the autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan, appreciating its readiness to “accommodate the displaced families, to embrace them and to help them. We – add the Leaders of Churches in northern Iraq – propose the creation of a joint committee between the regional government and the representatives of our people in order to fulfill the suffering of refugee families and improve their conditions. ”  The appeal ends with a supplication to the Almighty God so that catastrophe is stopped and “security, peace and stability is re-established throughout Iraq. (GV) Agenzia Fides 23/07/2014)

Also, ISIS is shutting off the water to the mostly Christian city of Qaraqosh (50,000 people) and closing pipes from the Tigris river to Christian villages of the Nineveh Plain. People must now pay $10 every other day to obtain water, in a region where most people have lost their jobs. AINA reports:

Outside one of the town’s 12 churches, people queue from 6 a.m. until midnight to get their daily rations from a well. Flatbed trucks are joined by children with pushcarts and riders on bicycles bearing empty jugs. “Our lives revolve around water,” says Laith, 28, a school teacher who returned with his family a day earlier from a suburb of Erbil, the Kurdish regional capital, 45 miles away, to which thousands of threatened Christians have migrated. Though aid agencies have erected several water depots around town, supplies are limited, barely enough to sustain large families in the 100-degree-plus heat. Plans to dig new wells will take at least several months to fulfill. The jihadist army is a mile away, kept back by the Kurds’ Pershmaga forces.

While Maliki dithers in Baghdad and national unity fractures further, the caliphate destroys everything from Assyrian statues 3000 years old to the tomb of the prophet Jonah to crosses and statues of the Virgin Mary, and has ended 2,000 years of Christian worship in Mosul. Mosul’s first Christians were converted by the apostles. Now there is neither a Eucharist or a single Christian soul in a city that with a recorded history going back to 401 BC and which is the successor to ancient Nineveh, whose downfall Jonah had foretold. What does Jonah think now, looking down from Heaven?

And echoing my comments from yesterday on Facebook, as to where are the voices of “moderate Muslims”, Maronite Patriarch and Cardinal asks this same question: “We hear no one cry out”

“This is why we are making this urgent and fraternal appeal, full of gravity. We plead with our Iraqi brothers who support them, to revise their strategy, to respect the innocent and isolated civilians, whatever their nationality, religion and community particularities.”

The Qur’an recommends that the innocent be respected, and does not call for the confiscation of the property of others. It spares widows, orphans and the needy and says to be friendly to neighbours.”

“Meanwhile, we urge Christians in the region to exercise judgment, to measure properly their actions and understand what is planned for the region, to show solidarity with one another in love, review and retain what is likely to build trust among themselves and with their neighbours, to become one with their churches, to exercise patience and endurance and pray that the trial does not continue.”  I sure hope that these trials do NOT continue much longer!


Seal of Hamas, laying claim to the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem

Meanwhile, criticism of Israel increases as the Arab death toll rises. But Israel has to stop these rockets somehow – a country cannot live under daily barrages. But not only does Hamas continue to put rocket launchers into neighborhoods and store military supplies in mosques and schools, it even pressures residents to show their patriotism by NOT leaving their homes when Israel warns them to get out! TIME reports video of a Hamas leader actually saying: ““We, Hamas, call on our people to adopt this practice” of “sacrificing themselves to defend their homes.”  How does one even begin to deal with such people??

Lord of heaven and earth, may the hearts of all leaders listen to the whisper of Your voice and the power of Your commands, and work for peace and not more death and ruin. May the tears of Arab children move Hamas and Fatah alike to act.

Posted by: Fr Chris | July 22, 2014

After the powerful prayer service in Rome …. this

The prayer service in Rome held by Pope Francis in June showed promise of opening new doors to diplomacy: Jews, Muslims, Christians all meeting in the neutrality of the Vatican gardens, listening to prayers from their traditions, and then — all facing each other, eye to eye, shaking hands. The hope was that by praying together, talking together, they could all go home and try anew. 

But instead foolish people listened to Satan, the only one who prospers and rejoices when mankind suffers. And in the span of a month:

- 3 Jewish boys were kidnapped and cruelly murdered;

- hundreds of Palestinian men were searched, questioned, jailed, and some even died from the stress;

- a Palestinian boy was burned alive (how could anyone do that!) and his American cousin badly beaten;

- and Hamas crazily opened fire with rockets onto Israel. Again. Not having learned from previous air attacks that Israel’s Dome would stop 98%;

- and Israel responds, blasting narrow Gaza apart, telling people to evacuate before each strike, but they had nowhere to go because while Hamas was busy building tunnels to raid Israel, they never bothered to build air raid shelters for the civilians who voted them into power, and once again left their own families and friends to suffer in the streets and jam UN buildings with families and donkey carts trying to escape the horror;

- and crazy men, led on by Vladimir Putin’s desire to restore the Soviet-Tsarist Empire of Russia past, and armed by him, and given military veterans to lead them by him, shot down an airliner filled with vacationers, families heading home or to reunion, AIDS physicians, and an ordinary flight crew doing their job. The earlier phone calls intercepted by Ukrainian intelligence and confirmed by American sources show that they first rejoice at blasting yet another Ukrainian plane and killing yet more fellow Ukrainian citizens, only to quietly say “Zivil” – “Civilian.”

If he is a local Ukrainian “freedom fighter”, why does he wear a black wool balaclava over his face in 90 degree F heat? Only someone who is afraid to be recognized does.

I cannot say enough of  Vladimir Putin who so callously destabilized Ukraine rather than have a Russian-speaking democracy grow on his borders after the successful Maidan revolution overthrew Yanukovych and his years of graft and abuse of power, and so has merrily lied to his own people and the world while invading and seizing Crimea, and doing the same thing in eastern Ukraine – only to come up against this horrible episode. Now what?

That the “pro-Russian separatists” not only left bodies rotting in the sun while not holding church services for their souls, these supposedly Orthodox supporters, and looted the bodies and luggage right down to wedding rings, and shove around the damaged fuselage, shows how far down they and their Russian handlers have sunk. Their children left toys near the bodies of the children killed on the plane, and left rotting in the fields by their elders, and their mothers stood and wept. but the fighters muscled their way around inspectors with their machine guns in hand.  These separatists only got these missiles and everything else direct from Russia – where could they buy them and with what kind of money? 

I invite people to buy today’s Wall Street Journal, or go to your public library for it, and read Bret Stephens’ op-ed on page A9, “Seeing Putin Plain.” He says it all, better than I. 

Mass at Holy Family Latin rite parish, Gaza City 

And Gaza’s 2,000 Christians are waiting to suffer more: 1,500 Greek Orthodox; maybe 500 Catholics; 80 or so Baptists – when Muslim jihadists suffer at the hand of a stronger power, be it Israeli or Western then they inevitably blame the local Christians for their troubles. Why not? Christians cannot be armed, or serve in the armed forces or police and so learn self-defense, and they continue to follow Jesus Christ, the prophet of peace: something Mohammed definitely did NOT preach. So the Christians wait in dread, while missiles pour down upon them too, and their children, and the charities they run for disabled and poor Muslims. But when jihadists look for revenge, they never think about Christian schools, clinics, hospitals, kindergartens, and hospices that serve Muslim people – they just scream “crusader” and strike out with rape, arson and murder.

More than 650 Palestinians are dead, and over 4,000 wounded – but if Hamas did not put its own civilians at risk by locating artillery and bases in mosques, schools, neighborhoods, houses, they would not be dead. Yes, it is horrible and Israel has greater military power – but who really is at fault? Those who tunneled, but did not build one air raid shelter underground. 

Greek Orthodox altar servers, St. Porphyrius church, Gaza City. The parish dates to the 100s of the Christian era. 

Witness Iraq: Mosul has had a Christian bishop since before 410 AD, and Christian worshippers since the time of the apostles  - and today not one believer remains, all expelled. And the lone Muslim who defended them – executed by the “caliphate.” Remember Mahmoud Al ‘Asali, a law professor who lectured

on pedagogy at the University of Mosul and decried the IS caliphate’s outrageous demands on Christians as un-Islamic. And now he is dead, a witness to the brutality of jihad. Don’t tell me jihad means “struggle” for one’s soul – I know that. But right now, jihad means a war of no mercy, and anyone with a Christian or Jewish background – even if they don’t believe in God anymore – is doomed who is in their path. God, the God of Abraham, have mercy on us.

Meanwhile, Satan and his evil minions dance for joy in Hell while Palestinian children are traumatized and perhaps resolve to punish Israel when they grow up; while Jews go into shelters wondering if a rocket will pierce the Dome and kill them and maybe it would be better to flatten Gaza after all; and long-suffering Arabic-speaking Christians wonder should they abandon their homes where their families have lived for 3,000 years, or pack up and move to the secular West and perhaps lose their souls while saving their lives.

And the Pope weeps.

And Satan dances. 

Jesus won the war on the Cross, but Satan fights on to lead souls into ruin. 

Posted by: Fr Chris | July 7, 2014

His Holiness met with victims of clergy abuse from Germany and the British Isles today.  He met with each person individually, and there was no time limit on each meeting. Each one had about 30 minutes with the pontiff. The entire session lasted about three hours.

The pope has appointed a commission to work with him on new standards and rules, and one member is a woman who was abused as a child in once-Catholic Ireland. The revelations of abuse and cover-ups by bishops have rocked the island evangelized by St. Patrick and have weakened the Church’s mission in North America and Europe, and we are now hearing more of the same from Africa and Latin America.

A Vatican citizen, Josef Wesolowski, an archbishop from Poland, was reduced to the lay state recently and now faces criminal charges by a Vatican court – this is hopefully a sign of the future as for the first time the  pope said that bishops will be held accountable, something victims’ groups demand.

Now back, to today’s meeting: As successor of Peter, he referenced the scene where Jesus hears Peter deny him three times while Jesus is being interrogated and beaten by the guards and Jesus looks directly at Peter. Peter then breaks into tears and runs away weeping.

Peter weeps, by Agostini Melissi, 1675

Much later, after the Resurrection, Peter and Jesus meet on the shore of the Sea of Galilee.There, Jesus asks Peter three times, “Do you love Me?” Peter affirms his love for Christ, and Jesus then entrusts him with the mission of caring for His sheep on earth.  Pope Francis uses strong language regarding those who did the abuse, and those in the Church who did not help the victims and their families. He references those driven to suicide – I myself know of one young fellow who killed himself as a result of both the abuse and the failure of the local bishop to come to his aid. God bless our pope, and God grant that this scourge – which is always a danger but which peaked horribly in the 1960s-1980s – will be dealt with firmly from here on.  Here is the Pope: “The scene where Peter sees Jesus emerge after a terrible interrogation… Peter whose eyes meet the gaze of Jesus and weeps… This scene comes to my mind as I look at you, and think of so many men and women, boys and girls. I feel the gaze of Jesus and I ask for the grace to weep, the grace for the Church to weep and make reparation for her sons and daughters who betrayed their mission, who abused innocent persons. Today, I am very grateful to you for having travelled so far to come here. “For some time now I have felt in my heart deep pain and suffering. So much time hidden, camouflaged with a complicity that cannot be explained until someone realized that Jesus was looking and others the same … and they set about to sustain that gaze. “And those few who began to weep have touched our conscience for this crime and grave sin. This is what causes me distress and pain at the fact that some priests and bishops, by sexually abusing minors, violated their innocence and their own priestly vocation. It is something more than despicable actions. It is like a sacrilegious cult, because these boys and girls had been entrusted to the priestly charism in order to be brought to God. And those people sacrificed them to the idol of their own concupiscence. They profane the very image of God in whose likeness we were created. Childhood, as we all know, young hearts, so open and trusting, have their own way of understanding the mysteries of God’s love and are eager to grow in the faith. Today the heart of the Church looks into the eyes of Jesus in these boys and girls and wants to weep; she asks the grace to weep before the execrable acts of abuse which have left life long scars. “I know that these wounds are a source of deep and often unrelenting emotional and spiritual pain, and even despair. Many of those who have suffered in this way have also sought relief in the path of addiction. Others have experienced difficulties in significant relationships, with parents, spouses and children. Suffering in families has been especially grave, since the damage provoked by abuse affects these vital family relationships. “Some have even had to deal with the terrible tragedy of the death of a loved one by suicide. The deaths of these so beloved children of God weigh upon the heart and my conscience and that of the whole Church. To these families I express my heartfelt love and sorrow. Jesus, tortured and interrogated with passionate hatred, is taken to another place and he looks out. He looks out upon one of his own torturers, the one who denied him, and he makes him weep. Let us implore this grace together with that of making amends. “Sins of clerical sexual abuse against minors have a toxic effect on faith and hope in God. Some of you have held fast to faith, while for others the experience of betrayal and abandonment has led to a weakening of faith in God. Your presence here speaks of the miracle of hope, which prevails against the deepest darkness. Surely it is a sign of God’s mercy that today we have this opportunity to encounter one another, to adore God, to look in one another’s eyes and seek the grace of reconciliation. “Before God and his people I express my sorrow for the sins and grave crimes of clerical sexual abuse committed against you. And I humbly ask forgiveness. “I beg your forgiveness, too, for the sins of omission on the part of Church leaders who did not respond adequately to reports of abuse made by family members, as well as by abuse victims themselves. This led to even greater suffering on the part of those who were abused and it endangered other minors who were at risk. “On the other hand, the courage that you and others have shown by speaking up, by telling the truth, was a service of love, since for us it shed light on a terrible darkness in the life of the Church. There is no place in the Church’s ministry for those who commit these abuses, and I commit myself not to tolerate harm done to a minor by any individual, whether a cleric or not. All bishops must carry out their pastoral ministry with the utmost care in order to help foster the protection of minors, and they will be held accountable. “What Jesus says about those who cause scandal applies to all of us: the millstone and the sea. “By the same token we will continue to exercise vigilance in priestly formation. I am counting on the members of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, all minors, whatever religion they belong to, for they are little flowers which God looks lovingly upon. “I ask this support so as to help me ensure that we develop better policies and procedures in the universal Church for the protection of minors and for the training of church personnel in implementing those policies and procedures. We need to do everything in our power to ensure that these sins have no place in the Church. “Dear brothers and sisters, because we are all members of God’s family, we are called to live lives shaped by mercy. The Lord Jesus, our Saviour, is the supreme example of this; though innocent, he took our sins upon himself on the cross. To be reconciled is the very essence of our shared identity as followers of Jesus Christ. By turning back to him, accompanied by our most holy Mother, who stood sorrowing at the foot of the cross, let us seek the grace of reconciliation with the entire people of God. The loving intercession of Our Lady of Tender Mercy is an unfailing source of help in the process of our healing. “You and all those who were abused by clergy are loved by God. I pray that the remnants of the darkness which touched you may be healed by the embrace of the Child Jesus and that the harm which was done to you will give way to renewed faith and joy. “I am grateful for this meeting. And please pray for me, so that the eyes of my heart will always clearly see the path of merciful love, and that God will grant me the courage to persevere on this path for the good of all children and young people. Jesus comes forth from an unjust trial, from a cruel interrogation and he looks in the eyes of Peter, and Peter weeps. We ask that he look at us and that we allow ourselves to be looked upon and to weep and that he give us the grace to be ashamed, so that, like Peter, forty days later, we can reply: ‘You know that I love you'; and hear him say: ‘go back and feed my sheep’ –and I would add – ‘let no wolf enter the fold’”.

Posted by: Fr Chris | July 3, 2014

US Saints for the Fourth of July

Happy 238th  Anniversary of our Independence! The great experiment begun with the American Revolution continues onward, always hitting bumps in the road but eventually getting itself straightened out again. I’m not going to dwell on the bumps, but on those persons who responded to God’s grace in the United States in a particular way, so much so that they became truly holy people. Here are some saints, and some soon-to-be ones whom you might not know about.

St Kateri Tekakwitha praying in front of a cross she made in the forest. 

The Lily of the Mohawks should count as the first American saint since she was born in upstate New York, in 1656, to a Mohawk chief and an Algonquin mother who was a Catholic. At the age of four, she was orphaned in a smallpox epidemic which killed her parents and brother, and left her with a scarred face and weak vision. Adopted by an anti-Christian uncle, Kateri moved with him to a newly built Mohawk town, Caughnawaga, which is where she first encountered Blackrobes – the French Jesuit priests who came to North America as missionaries. Her uncle was hostile because one of his daughters had gone north to an Indian Catholic town, and perhaps because the missionaries had been imposed on the Mohawaks after their defeat by the French in 1666. Despite her uncle’s hostility, she was drawn over the years ever close to Christianity, and she was baptized in 1676. That she was baptized after only six months of instruction shows the depth of her faith: many converts were not baptized until they were on their deathbeds! She became a true mystic, speaking to God intimately, enduring persecution, and committed to celibacy so as to be wholly given over to God. She finally escaped to Canada, settling in the Catholic Indian town of  Kahnawake. Here she grew even more in Faith, and was revered by both Natives and French. She was mentored in faith by an old friend of her deceased mother, Anastasia Tegonhatsiongo. They were part of a group of women who longed to be nuns, and they practiced many penances to obtain the salvation of their people and atone for sins.  When Kateri died, the witnesses said that the smallpox scars left her body, and her face was beautiful and white. She appeared to several people at her death, including the mission priest, Father Claude  Chauchetière who saw her for two hours “in baroque ecstasy.” Known for healings across New France, she was canonized in 2012.


Early painting shows how Kateri covered herself with a blanket, to hide her scars and shield her eyes. She is meditating on a cross that she made. 

The first pastor of my home parish was Saint John Neumann. This little unassuming priest was my first Catholic hero. German-Czech priest left old Bohemia to come to the New World to be ordained a priest and to serve as a missionary.  He was sent to the Niagara Frontier, a stretch of country along the eastern end of Lake Erie. In those days, Buffalo was a little town, and Father Neumann was sent to minister to German farmers from Alsace-Lorraine in the district of North Bush in 1836.  From his base at the log St John the Baptist Church, he went out on horseback to serve parishes from Williamsville to Lancaster, an arduous trek by horseback. In those days one could hear the roar of Niagara Falls, 27 kilometers/ 16 miles away! He left the frontier in 1840 to enter the Redemptorist Order. He founded the system of parochial schools in  America (so threatened today with extinction!) and, against his will, served as bishop of Philadelphia. He died there of overwork and exhaustion, and his incorrupt body rests under glass in the lower level of St. Peter’s Church in that city.

Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton was the widow of an upper-class New York City merchant, who died in Italy of tuberculosis. From the Protestant Episcopal Church and “old” English families of New York, she created a double scandal in America when she became a Roman Catholic (1805) and later founded the Sisters of Charity to staff Catholic schools, adopting the Rule of St Vincent de Paul in 1810. These Sisters were the first Order to work among the public in the young United States. Mother Seton founded schools and directed her Community in the spirit of St Vincent de Paul and St Louise de Marillac, with deep devotion to the Holy Eucharist, the Bible, and the Mother of God. She died in 1849 and is buried inside the Basilica in Emmitsburg, MD, and was canonized in 1975. Her former home along the southern shore of Manhattan is now a national shrine. This was where she used to walk the docks, begging from the captains of the ships for help for the children she was serving.  It was one of my favorite places to visit when I would go to New York City. 

The Watson House on the right and is now the rectory; the church is where her house stood and was added in 1964 but in the same Federal style. There has been a Catholic parish here since 1884. Mother Seton stands above the church door, with her arms out and facing New York harbor.  

Saint Rose Philippine Duchesne was born in France in a devout family. She became a Visitation Nun, an order of enclosed Sisters who taught children. She survived persecution in the Revolution’s Reign of Terror after being expelled from her convent along with all other Sisters in France thrown out of their homes. While she was able to join the new Society of the Sacred Heart, a community of Sisters who lived in an open convent and taught in schools,  her heart felt called to mission work in the New World. She came to America in 1818. She settled in Saint Charles, Missouri, after a journey of seven weeks from New Orleans. She and her Sisters established schools for both French children and for the new immigrants coming to America. Within ten years, there were six convents with Sisters teaching in schools on the frontier in Missouri and then in Louisiana.

At the age of 71 she gave all this up to move to Kansas, to work among the Indians who had been deported there. She served ng the Pottawatomi Indians, especially their sick.  To her grief, she could not learn their language, but the children revered her as “The Woman Who Always Prays” and she withdrew to live a life of seclusion in a tiny shack near her first convent at St Charles, Missouri, where she died in 1852.

When her body was exhumed in 1855, it was found to be incorrupt. This was buried in a small shrine, but in 1951 Pope Pius XII ordered that she be buried in a more proper church. This was built and her body placed there in 1952. She was canonized in 1988. What a way to be remembered, as a person who always prays!

Image of St. Rose Philippine Duchesne

The first Convent of the Sacred Heart – a far cry from France’s comforts! 

Father Nelson Baker is a famous priest on the Niagara Frontier and now beyond. He was the son of an Irish Catholic mother and German Lutheran father, but after his baptism at age 9, he was raised in the Catholic faith.  He served as a Union soldier in the Civil War at Gettysburg and in putting down the New York City draft riots, and at home was a successful businessman. But he gave it all up to become a priest in 1870. On a pilgrimage to Europe, he was profoundly moved at the shrine of Our Lady of Victories in Paris, and commended himself to Mary’s care under that title. Ordained in 1876, he eventually found his life’s work at the St. Joseph Orphanage, St. John Protectory and St. Patrick church in the factory town of Lackawanna, which is on the south side of Buffalo.

In order to pay off the debts of the three institutions, he paid all of his savings to creditors and founded the Association of Our Lady of Victory, writing to Catholic women all over the United States asking for help to support the orphans in his care.  This association is still ongoing today. The debts were paid in 1889. In 1891, facing the need to heat the growing colony of buildings at the site, he prayed to Our Lady of Victory, and a natural gas well was discovered on the site. Everything has been heated ever since for free.

Father Baker, as he is still known in Western New York, established a new orphanage for boys, home for unwed mothers and babies, hospital, parish school, an apostolate to African-Americans, home for disabled children, convent, rectory, and a basilica styled on those of the baroque era in Europe. Everything was paid for with donations. “Father Baker’s Boys” are famous as products of the orphanage and vocational school who became fine Catholic men and pillars of community and Church.  And it is worth noting, that not one child was ever molested, beaten or otherwise abused, right down to our day. Maybe that should count as a miracle1  Father Baker’s Cause for sainthood was opened in 1987. His body was moved from Holy Cross Cemetery into the magnificent church he built.  Scroll down for pictures of the church and then of Fr. Baker himself. 

Our Lady of Victory Basilica 

The High Altar

Father Baker and two of his “boys” waiting for candy


Posted by: Fr Chris | June 24, 2014

Saint John’s Day and Truth

Glory to Jesus Christ! I am back after another hiatus. One week was spent in Phoenix with our Bishop, Most Rev. Gerald Dino, and my brother priests, most of the deacons, and the Sisters of St. Basil who are assigned to work in our eparchy that is both little (2,500 souls) but big (19 parishes from Anchorage to Albuquerque).  The other weeks were once again, times in which I was having a lot of physical trouble and fatigue. Fatigue is not my favorite thing – you never seem to be able to get the rest to get the energy to get back on track! Well, back I am, and let’s get going:

Today is the Nativity of St. John the Baptist.  I’ve got a special affection for him, as he is the patron of my home parish in the Buffalo suburbs of Kenmore and the Town of Tonawanda.  You can read about the parish at http://www.stjohnskenmore.org/  – and it’s a remarkable place. Our first pastor was a saint, St. John Neumann, who was based at a wooden church, later replaced by the stone church (still standing), while covering a wide stretch of parishes on horseback.  This is a good photo of the fourth church, opened a few years before Vatican II and still serving today. The third church was incorporated into the school, of which see below.

Ini front is Saint John, baptizing Jesus Who is stooped down in front of him. A larger-than-life statue is inside of him  up front, in camel hair and lifting up a pole topped by a cross, looking like he is going to step right off the wall to lead you forward. This statue stands in the original church, which is still used today and was a sanctuary of prayer for me for most of my life, and was carved by the saint’s brother who left Bohemia to work alongside his brother.

The stone church built by German farmers who settled “North Bush”, now Kenmore-Tonawanda area.

The High Altar inside. You can see just how restful and peaceful a place it is! In my youth, it was always open, and I made good use of  that.


John the Baptist is the only “ordinary” saint whose conception, birth and death are commemorated on the Church Calendar (Sept. 23, June 24, Aug. 29). He is the Forerunner of Jesus, the last of the Jewish prophets, the one who prepared “the way of the Lord” for Jesus’ ministry.

The prophet’s birth took place almost six months before that of Jesus, and according to the account was expected by prophecy (Matthew. 3:3; Isa. 40:3; Malachi 3:1) and foretold by Gabriel. St. Elizabeth gives birth to him just one day before the end of a nine month pregnancy – this shows that unlike Jesus, Who is born after a perfect pregnancy, John is only a man, despite his prophetic abilities. The angel appeared to his father, the priest Zacharias, in the Temple sanctuary, but Zacharias doubted the angel’s prediction of conception and birth of a prophet to himself and his wife as they were old.  Zacharias lost his power of speech because of his unbelief over the birth of his son, and had it restored on the occasion of John’s circumcision (Luke 1:64). Zacharias, of course, should have known better than to doubt the angel’s word: there were several such occasions in the Bible, beginning with the patriarch Abraham himself, of conceptions by elderly or supposedly infertile women!

John was consecrated to God from birth. He went out into the desert, like so many prophets before him, and spent his early years in the mountainous area lying between Jerusalem and the Dead Sea (Matt. 3:1-12). He led a simple life, wearing rope and clothing made from camel hair, not fine linens, and eating “locusts and wild honey” (Matt. 3:4), not meat. This shows that he is a chosen one of God, who depends on God. And he is the last prophet – his duty is to prepare Israel for the Son of the Most High God. After John, no prophet has arisen in Israel since.

As an adult John started to preach in public, and people from “every quarter” were attracted to his message. The essence of his preaching was the necessity of repentance and turning away from selfish pursuits in order to serve and love God more. In addition he warned that a greater prophet was coming, and soon, who would transform the world by baptizing with fire. He denounced the Sadducees and Pharisees as a “generation of vipers,” and warned them not to assume their heritage gave them special privilege (Luke 3:8). He warned tax collectors and soldiers against extortion and plunder. His doctrine and manner of life stirred great interest, bringing people from Judea, Galilee, the Decapolis and beyond to see him on the banks of the Jordan River. There he baptized thousands who came in a spirit of repentance.

When Jesus comes to the Jordan river, John baptizes Him (reluctantly), at which the Trinity is revealed for the first time. From then on, John “humbly steps aside” as the song says for the feast of Theophany. He is killed by Herod Antipas, because he confronted him and his second wife with the sin of their adultery. According to Scripture, St. Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, abandons this corrupt and wicked court to become one of the holy women who followed Jesus. It is thought that she is a source of information to Luke about Herod’s court. She is also credited with rescuing John’s severed head and burying it on the Mount of Olives, whence it is much later retrieved by Christians.

So what is all this say to us now? John is the voice who not only prepared the way for Christ, but convicted people in their hearts of their sins and their failures to love God. In a time when the Name of God was barely ever spoken, he turns their hearts back to God, setting the scene for Jesus’ radical calls. He dies because he speaks the truth – he will not be silenced. An awful lot of people in our society lie today, blatantly, and get away with it. Some are even praised for their actions and quite a few VA workers in the US have been collecting huge bonuses which they did not deserve, having abandoned our country’s veterans for the sake of those bonuses and to “look good” to superiors. 

Truth will always win – not only does the truth set us free (John 8:32), it is an attribute of God Himself! To be truthful, then, is to imitate God. I’ve never been able to lie – my face will get red, I get flustered. It is my body’s way of saving me from more sins than the ones I already commit. We have to be truthful, to be honest, and we have to listen when the Lord calls us to Him. To turn from Him will result in nothing but grief and sorrow.

Saint John the Baptist, Forerunner of the Lord, pray for us!

PS If you live in the Buffalo area and are looking for a good Catholic school, check out my alma mater, St John the Baptist school, opened in 1931:  http://www.stjohnskenmore.com/  In my day, that school had over 1,400 students served by Sisters of St Mary of Namur and lay teachers. It is an all lay staff today, for 430 students, but has retained its reputation as a solid, Catholic, educational place: see the profile of a graduate of SJS:  http://www.stjohnskenmore.com/profile_of_sjs_grad.html

Check them out!

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