FR. BERNARD McGUCKIAN, S.J., recounts his experiences earlier this year in the greater Manila area of the Philippines.
Thursday, 9 May 2002
Friday, 10th May 2002
It was encouraging to learn that Fr. Paddy Hurley, a Columban Father from Bantry, who was in the congregation, had been a Pioneer all his life. He was a cousin of our late Jesuit colleague, Fr. Joe Hurley, better known an t-Athair Seosamh O'Muirthile, S.J., also a Pioneer and one time editor of an Timire, the Irish language Messenger. Attending the Retreat were very committed Catholic people from all sorts of different organizations. They were interested in hearing more about the Pioneers. This was an encouraging start.
That evening in the house of Ed and Mary Mijares where we were invited for a meal, the guests talked about things religious without the slightest embarrassment. One of them, Lydia de Leon Sison, told me of an extraordinary experience from her childhood in Manila during the Japanese occupation. Her father and mother were arguing, in the presence of their large family and some neighbours, about whether to stay or leave the city. Her mother, who was carrying a large picture of the Sacred Heart, insisted that they should leave, otherwise they would all be killed. Her father was equally insistent that they should stay put because there were Japanese soldiers all over the city and every escape route was mined. The mother, however, was adamant that they were going. "In that case" the father said, "I am going first and everyone has to follow in my footsteps". As they were picking their way carefully in the father's footsteps (there were more than a hundred people in the group) they looked up and saw a number of Japanese soldiers a short distance away with machine guns trained on them. Her mother held up the picture of the Sacred Heart and began shouting "Sacred Heart of Jesus, blind them!" The others took up the chant and kept on walking. Lydia remembers seeing the soldiers peering confusedly in their direction, looking from side to side, obviously wondering where the people they had just seen had gone. All of them walked freely to safety. It is little wonder that Lydia has had such a devotion to the Sacred Heart all her life.
Saturday, 11th May 2002
When Agnes Pimentel Paynor, one of the ladies at the meeting, heard about our video on the Pioneers, "A Hundred Years of Happiness" she told me that she could have it broadcast nation-wide on a Cable TV station in which her family were involved. All in all it was a very satisfactory meeting.
Sunday, 12th May 2002
When we arrived at the Centre a congregation of about 2000 people was gathering. The day began with prayers, hymns led by Gerard and Magda, the very talented son and daughter of Lydia mentioned earlier and then Sr. Briege spoke. Her theme as always was on the goodness of God, Devotion to Our Lady and the power of prayer and the sacraments. On this occasion she spoke on the meaning and purpose of the Pioneer Association which served as an excellent introduction to my talk which came immediately after hers. Then we had concelebrated Mass.
During the Mass I had the privilege and pleasure of enrolling Sister Briege and Fr. Kevin as Full Pioneers. They had already undergone the preparatory period and after prayer and reflection applied for full membership.
After Mass, I was mobbed by people looking for further information. Fortunately, I was carrying samples of Pioneer literature, badges, materiels, magazines, etc. and I was able to give out he address of our website, www.pioneertotal.ie. I got the distinct impression that with God's help there is a future for our Association in the Philippines.
Before leaving Manila a few days later to go to Hong Kong, I had a chance to discuss the Pioneer possibilities with a number of people both clerical and lay. Among them was Bishop Ramon C. Arguellos who is Bishop to the Armed Forces of the Philippines but who also happens to be Titular Bishop of Roscrea, something of which he is very proud. Another was Fr. Kevin McHugh, from Knocknacarry in Co. Antrim, who is carrying on the great Columban tradition in a rural area to the south of the country. Mrs. Nathalie Palanca, who showed great interest, has already contacted us in Dublin indicating that she was now a group of 50 people willing to join.
I have to confess, however, to something else, not strictly connected with the promotion of temperance. Through the generosity of Ed Mijares, both myself and Lucas (he uses the Irish form of his name) Chan, a Chinese Jesuit scholastic who had spent some time in Ireland were taken on a helicopter ride around the greater Manila area. Our Jesuit superiors and the University authorities acceded to our unusual request both to go on the trip and also to have Ed pick us up in his helicopter on the football pitch at the University Campus. He took us on an unforgettable three hour trip to Tagataya that included flying over the beautiful lake, circling inside the crater of the volcano, hovering over the permanently hot, black lava as well as providing us with lunch before depositing us back on a Golf Range in the city.
Wednesday, May 15th, 2002
FOR about three decades now Sister Briege McKenna has been a household name around the world. This Sister of Saint Clare was born in Jonesboro, Co. Armagh, within a stone's throw of Faughart, Co. Louth, the birthplace of the great Saint Brigid.
So it was not surprising that the little McKenna girl should be called after the heroine known to history as the Mary of the Gael. Briege is in the mould of Brigid. Like Brigid she moves freely and confidently in a world that to a large extent has been preserve of the male of the species for many centuries. A one-time parish priest there once jocosely remarked that Jonesboro was famous for two things; its open-market and its healing nun!
After coming to Tampa, Florida as a teacher, she became crippled by the onset of rheumatoid arthritis. At the age of twenty-four, she was miraculously healed during the celebration of the Eucharist and some time later received, in prayer, the gift of healing for which she has become so widely known. In 1974, again during prayer, she was given a deep spiritual insight into the mystery of the call to priesthood. Since then, bishops and priests in many parts of the world have invited her to speak and minister at their retreats and conferences.
Only God Heals
Sister Briege is the first to say that she is not a "healing nun". Only God heals. But she down know and proclaims that God wants to heal in all sorts of ways, more than the rest of us are prepared to admit. This is something that she is prepared to shout from the housetops. She also believes that, for some strange reason known only to Himself, God called her from being a teacher of first graders (baby infants) in Florida to being a herald of the Good News to people of every age, condition and creed around the world. With her friend Fr. Kevin Scallon, a native of Irvinestown, Co. Fermanagh and a member of the Congregation of the Missions (popularly known as the Vincentians) she carries on an apostolate that takes them to all five continents.
The apostolate of Sister Briege and Fr. Kevin is focused firmly on prayer and sacraments. They both know how quickly things would go out of focus if the preachers were not first of all practitioners themselves. In her auto-biography, Miracles Do Happen, (Veritas Publications) Sister Briege tells how Sister Angelica, the legendary foundress of EWTN (Eternal Word Television Network), the large cable TV station, convinced her of the value of Eucharistic Adoration. Taking Briege into the chapel at Birmingham, Alabama, she pointed to the monstrance, and said "There's the teacher. Don't be trying to copy other people's styles. Come to Jesus and let him teach you." In the intervening years Briege has set aside two or three hours a day for adoration, in the midst of the busiest of schedules. She has found that the Lord cannot be outdone in generosity. Knowing from personal experience the value of daily eucharist and frequent confession she tirelessly recommends them to all who listen to her.
In the early 1970's, Fr. Kevin felt moved to start what came to be known as the Intercession for Priests. Given the maelstrom of the past three decades and the crisis in the priesthood in the North America and Europe, this initiative was timely. Sister Briege, through work with an American Jesuit, Fr. Harold Cohen was alerted to the importance of this "ministry to ministers". Very soon she was co-operating with Fr. Kevin on this programme, which attracts a large number of priests each August to All Hallows College, Dublin and also to other venues around the world.
Both these ardent apostles realize the importance of the words of Jesus that some "demons can only be cast out by prayer and fasting". This goes some way towards explaining why they decided after long reflection and prayer to commit themselves to the Pioneer Association.