Friday, November 17, 2017

Bring All To God

I was reading in the PDN a few days ago something about what Archbishop Byrnes said.  I could not find the article I read, but I found it in USA Today, which was copied off PDN.  According to USA Today.
All these critical missions aside, Byrnes, 59, lives a simple life.
One can see him walking in his sandals in the parking lot of Pay-Less Supermarket at the Agana Shopping Center after grocery shopping. Or having lunch in the food court of the Micronesia Mall in Dededo with other clergy members. Or having his hair cut just like anyone else.
“I hope that people will remember that I am approachable,” he said. “In places like Detroit, I could go incognito. I really can’t here.”
Guam is a very small island that where the Archbishop goes, everyone recognizes and acknowledges him.  It is true what Archbishop Byrnes say.  In places like Detroit, he can easily go incognito, but not in a small island like Guam. If he is seen swimming at Ipao Beach, you can be sure that news of that will spread by word of mouth throughout the entire island.  People here tend to talk a lot.  Because he is recognized everywhere here, this is where he needs to be careful.  People who receive a lot of attention and recognition can easily fall into the sin of pride.  This is not about him.  This is about God. 

Pope Francis had to remind himself everyday that it is not about him.  It is about God.  This keeps himself in check otherwise the sin of pride can easily crawl into his heart.  The role of the shepherds (bishops and priests) is to bring all people to Christ, not to themselves.  Unfortunately, there are some priests who have brought people to themselves rather than to Christ.  We see this whenever a priest is assigned to another parish. When he leaves, the parishioners of his previous parish follow him to the new parish he is assigned to.  


If a parishioner only comes to Church because they like the priest or because they like the music, they are coming to Church for the wrong reason.  Likewise, if a priest enjoys the attention he is receiving and is flattered that his former parishioners attend the church he is assigned to,  then he has failed to do his duty as a pastor, which is to lead the faithful to Christ rather than to himself. The priest would do well to remind his former parishioners to follow Christ, return to their parish, and welcome the new priest assign to their parish.


The Apostle Paul had the same problem when some people look up to him rather than to Christ. 


1 Corinthians 1:11-13  My brothers and sisters, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas[fn]”; still another, “I follow Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized in the name of Paul?  


St. Paul did not like that some people were saying that they follow him when they should be following Christ.  


Missionaries also remind themselves that this mission is not about them.  This is about God. We are only His instruments. Before Archbishop Byrnes became the Coadjutor Bishop in Guam, we have gone on the two by two mission, announcing the Good News on foot from door to door here in Guam.  During the two by two, we tell people that we are from the parish of so and so. Our goal is to bring them to God and His Church.  This is not about us.  This is about God.  We remind ourselves that we are only His instruments doing His will on earth.  We are His hands and feet, doing works of charity, and announcing the Gospel to everyone so that all may come to know Christ.         

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Vocations In The NCW

Image result for Vocations

A vocation is a calling from God.  It is a calling to holiness regardless of whether one is married, single, living a consecrated life, or ordained into the priesthood.  We all have a vocation.  We all have a calling from God.  And we are all called to live a life of holiness.  God said, "Be holy for I am holy" (1 Peter 1:16).  

There are four vocations in the Catholic Church: a married life, a single life, a consecrated life, and the life of an ordained priest. 

Married couples are to live a Christian marriage and open to life.  They are to put Christ in the center of their marriage and live a life of faithful vow to their spouse. Husbands and wives share a self-giving, love-giving, and life-giving relationship with each other and are committed to helping their spouse grow into Christian maturity.  They are also open to life.  

Those who are single are also called by God to holiness.  A single person comes to believe that remaining single is the true and right way to faithfully live his or her baptismal call by embracing the gift of celibacy while living alone, with family members or with others who are also single.  They are able to devote more time and energy in service of the Church in various ways.  In the Way, some of these single folks become itinerants, spreading the Good News throughout the world.  

Some have been called to live a consecrated life. Religious priests, brothers and sisters (nuns) are called to serve in areas such as education, health care, parish, youth ministry, aged care, pastoral ministry, social work, or even missionaries.

Those who are called by God to be ordained priests are also called to live a life of holiness. These are the vocations in the Catholic Church. Each vocation is a calling from God to live a life of holiness.       

All members of the Way have a Catechist, who act as their spiritual director. It is in our walk that we strive to answer God's call to holiness.  It is in our spiritual walk in the Way that we strive to live out the vocation that we all have been called for by God.  To live a life of holiness so that we truly become sons and daughters of God.  In each vocation, the person lives a lift of faith and prayer to continually grow closer in a relationship with God.  Each vocation is equal in the sense that no vocation is better or less than any other.  Because God calls you to a particular vocation - whether marriage, priesthood, religious life, or single life - that vocation is the best one for you.   

The Neocatechumenal Way has inspired many vocations.  Some have chosen marriage and a family.  However, some of these married couples have also chosen to become mission families, serving the church as a family in mission.  Some girls in our communities have also been inspired to join the monastery while young boys were inspired to become priests.  Some of the single members have also chosen to live a life as an itinerant, doing mission work.   

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Message to Anonymous Poster

This is a message to the anonymous poster who did not want his/her comment published:  

Dear Anonymous poster, 

Your comment was not published as you requested.  In my blog, I do not always publish comments I agree with.  Disagreements are common even in the community.  Reconciliation is what Christ favors, but you cannot have reconciliation if you cut off communication. Communication is important to help foster understanding and reconciliation with the brothers and sisters.  One should at least try to communicate to help them and bring them back to the Church.  You only leave it up to God when the person continues to be obstinate, as in the case with the junglefolks.  In the past, I have tried to communicate with the junglefolks. Why?  Because they are our brothers and sisters too. But their hatred made them so blind that there was nothing else that can be done except to pray for them.  So, I left it in God's hands. 

If there is anything to be learned....it is that we can disagree and still be civil and love one another.       

Thursday, November 9, 2017

When The Church Defames Her Priests

Father MacRae wrote many articles with many links to other articles.  This is one of the links I found in his articles, which deserves to be read.  According to the Pacific Daily News:
The Archdiocese of Agana will compile a list of clergy with credible allegations of child sexual abuse against them, according to Archbishop Michael Jude Byrnes. 
A list can be complied, but the question is...should the names be made public? it is very important to read the following article.  The article is something that all bishops should discern about.  The article can be found here.  The bold red is mine
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

       When the Church Defames Her Priests


Over the last two decades, the Roman Catholic Church in the United States has reeled under claims of clerical sexual abuse. The claims resulted in extraordinary liability and wide-spread publicity. When bad things happen in any organization, the counter-policies imposed to fix those problems often overreach. This is precisely what is happening with the decision of some dioceses to publicize lists of names of former clerics who have had claims of sexual abuse made against them. The rationale is that publication of these names serves an interest in “accountability.” The motivation to publish the names is not based on any civil law, court order, or other legal mandate, but simply on internal diocesan policy.
While the motivation may be understandable, many bad policies are the fruit of very good intentions. In the wake of the sexual abuse scandal, bishops have faced intense scrutiny over their knowledge and responsibility for acts of abuse that occurred under their watch or under their predecessor’s watch. No bishop, anywhere, wishes to be perceived as having failed to address a known problem. Conversely, every bishop, everywhere, wishes to be perceived as having taken strong action to fix a problem previously unknown and to prevent it from happening again. Surely, as a general goal, every bishop should do so in response to the sexual abuse crisis. Who could object to transparency and accountability?
So, who can object to publishing the names of former clerics who have had “credible claims” of sexual abuse made against them? To date, some two dozen dioceses and archdioceses have decided to publish lists naming names of those accused of sexual abuse. Some, like the Diocese of Gallup, publish a list of clergy identified by the diocese “as having credible allegations of sexual misconduct made against them.” Others, like the Archdiocese of Baltimore, publish a list of clerics who have been “accused of child sexual abuse during their lifetimes,” and for individuals accused after 2002 “information from the public disclosures that were made.” Still others, like the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, publish such lists under a page for “Status of Clergy,” that includes those whose ministry has been restricted and faculties withdrawn due to credible allegations of child sexual abuse, along with lists of those laicized or deceased who have also had credible allegations made against them, too. Some offer a rationale for publishing the lists; some do not. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops keeps statistics on those accused, but it does not publish any list identifying the individuals so accused.
Opus Bono Sacerdotii has assisted some 10,000 clerics over the past fifteen years who have been accused of misconduct. The organization has received the respect and accolades of many members of the hierarchy and at the highest levels of the Church, because of the organization’s dedication to offering unconditional love to those ordained in persona Christi, irrespective of the charges made against them. Some may have been credibly accused of misconduct; some not. All deserve to know the love of Christ. But we take special issue with those dioceses who think that publishing a list of names of clerics who have been “credibly” accused of sexual misconduct is warranted. We disagree for many reasons—canonical, theological, pastoral, and legal. It is this latter reason we wish to address here.
The Problem: Naming The Mere Accused
As a threshold matter, it is far from clear how a bishop’s publication of names serves an interest in “accountability.” If a diocese does not publish the names of those accused, does that indicate the diocese is hiding something? Is disclosure a kind of public confession, an acknowledgement that claims have been made against diocesan clerics and that the diocese is sorry such claims have been made? Will publication of names deter other clerics from engaging in misconduct? Will publication of names please all who made the claims? Why publish only names? Why not publish all details of the claims, too?
One sign that publication of names (or details of claims) does not serve any interest in accountability is that such a practice is entirely unheard of in the American employment experience. We are aware of no employer (large or small), no government entity (Federal, state, or local), that undertakes to publish as a matter of institutional policy the names of all individuals employed by that organization for whom “credible” accusations of misconduct have been made. That such a complete absence of practice exists is remarkable, as we live in an age in which employers of all kinds are subject to an extraordinary array of laws, the vast majority of which are designed to protect employees and to foster employer accountability in the workplace. Try to recall the last time General Motors published a list of all supervisors for whom credible claims of sexual harassment have been made over the last twenty years. It has not happened; it will not happen in the foreseeable future. And there are many reasons why it has not happened that have nothing to do with accountability.
One such reason begins with the class of individuals whose names are being published. The dioceses do not purport to publish the names of those individuals who have been criminally convicted of having sexually abused a minor. There is little to be achieved in publication of those names, as these identities have already been well-publicized through very public criminal proceedings. The same is true for civil court proceedings. Re-publication of their identities is both unnecessary and belated. Moreover, one should wonder why it would be appropriate to remind the public of those individuals whose names were in the public for having been charged with crimes, but who were ultimately acquitted of them or who successfully defended against any civil suit. Charges against those individuals may have been “credible,” but no interest is served if, after their day in court, they prevailed against those charges.
Rather, dioceses are proposing to publish the names of those who merely had “credible” charges against them. This is a very different class of individuals and may, or may not, include those who have been found guilty of criminal charges or who lost civil judgments against them. It could include a variety of other individuals, including those who settled cases out of court and who, like the vast majority of all civil defendants, agreed to settle on condition that they admit no wrongdoing. Some might object that settlement with no admission of liability undermines the truth of what happened, but that objection applies to every civil settlement everywhere and it is undeniable such a ubiquitous practice serves the interests of both the plaintiff and the defendant, which is exactly why settlements occur.
But there are plenty of other clerics against whom “credible” accusations have been made who, in fairness, deserve no publicity for those accusations. Clerics often cite a host of reasons why they will refuse to contest accusations made against them—they have reached a crisis of faith and decided that the accusations are a good excuse to leave the ministry; they do not believe they will be properly defended; they wish to acquiesce to the charges for the sake of spiritual goods; they have psychological or emotional problems unrelated to the claims made against them; they do not wish to contest the accuser for pastoral reasons; they fear they will lose their pension or health insurance; they fear the bishop to whom they have taken vows of obedience and have come to regard as the figure of God. Under all such scenarios, clerics deny the claims made, but decline to challenge them.
Then, again, there are scenarios where clerics will also refuse to challenge the claims made, not because they believe the claims are false, but because they only believe they are exaggerated. Lastly, there are those who simply admit guilt, because they did, in fact, engage in the complained about conduct. But in sum, the class of individuals against whom “credible” claims have been made includes individuals who both did. and did not, engage in the complained conduct.
Who Decides What?
And herein lies the problem, which explains why every other employer will refrain from publishing a list of names of employees it reasonably believes have engaged in misconduct: Who decides whether the claims of sexual abuse are “credible” or “substantiated?” The Bishop? His Chancellor or other delegate? A committee? Some law firm? What standards do any one, or more, of these individuals use to determine whether the claims are “credible” or “substantiated?” Standards of civil law? Canon law? Internal policies? Can we be sure the bishop made such findings impartially, or did he do so to protect himself? What conflicts of interest existed that were taken into account? What procedures were employed in the determination? Did the accused represent himself? Was he given the opportunity to be represented by counsel? Did he have the opportunity to confront his accuser? Was he even told the identity of his accuser? Did he acquiesce to charges irrespective of culpability for any of the reasons mentioned above—tired of the ministry and looking for a way out, or “offering up” the charges made against him? Did he have other undesirable “baggage” that colored the investigation against him? Were the standards employed twenty or thirty years ago the same standards applied today? Were outside professionals–psychiatrists, forensic examiners, detectives—employed? Were they not employed when they should have been employed? Were they screened for suitability and bias?
These are important questions for both sides—priest and bishop. And that these questions can be raised therefore highlights the crucial difference between informal and formal claims. By informal, we mean those outside the conventional legal process, where determinations are made apart from civil or criminal proceedings, and irrespective of whether some one person, or others, determines that the accusations are “credible.” By formal claims, we mean those that arise through the judicial process—the civil and criminal courts. Those courts, however imperfect, are the tribunals we trust to make proper findings of fact, and conclusions of law. Decision-making apart from the courts may well be superior—and even controlled by clear provisions of Canon Law—but that is of no consequence, because courts of law necessarily trump all other forms of decision-making. Truth is the goal of any investigation; legal process is merely the recognized means of determining it. And it matters not when a bishop rightly determines that a cleric should be removed from ministry due to “credible” claims of sexual abuse, or when General Motors determines that a supervisor should be fired due to “credible” claims of sexual harassment. The issue is whether the bishop is right to publish the names of those so accused.
But neither the bishop, nor any private employer, is a recognized surrogate for the American civil and criminal court system. In fact, some diocesan statements candidly admit they assume no such surrogacy and note, by way of disclaimer, that just because someone’s name appears on the list, does not mean “a presumption of guilt” exists. This admission is extraordinary. The bishop is publishing a list, ostensibly to let the public know which of his former clerics has been accused of sexual abuse, but he is cautioning the public to know that such individuals might be innocent of those charges. One would expect that caution would tip in favor of non-disclosure, not disclosure. It does not work to say, in effect, that: “I have reason to think you are a sexual abuser, but I don’t know for sure if you are.” A published list is tantamount to a bishop’s “Megan’s List,” without any of Megan’s Law behind it. Ironically, clerics who have been adjudicated of sex abuse crimes will already be on a “Megan’s List.” What is worse (for accused clerics): Individuals on Megan’s List can get their names removed; the bishop offers no such allowance for those on his list.
And that is precisely what is at stake here when a bishop decides to publish the names of those whom he thinks have had “credible” accusations made against them. Those whose names are so published therefore have potential claims for defamation, and other civil claims, which the civil courts will review, to determine the truth of those accusations, not whether they were “credible.” If the accusations are untrue, then whether the bishop believes they were “credible” is irrelevant; he has published defamatory information.
Claims Against The Bishop
Because a bishop stands before his priests in the same role that an employer does for his employees, it is worth considering the kinds of civil claims a former cleric may make against his bishop for having published his name on a list of those whom the bishop believes that credible accusations of sexual abuse exist. First, there is defamation—known as “slander” where oral communications are concerned, and “libel” when communications are in writing. Defamation is simple in concept: a plaintiff must prove (1) the defendant made a false and defamatory statement concerning the plaintiff; (2) the defendant made an unprivileged publication to a third party; (3) the publisher acted, at least negligently, in publishing the communication; (4) special damages, at least in some cases.
The first element—whether a communication is defamatory—is established if the communication “tends so to harm the reputation of another as to lower him in the estimation of the community, or to deter third persons from associating with him,” (as the Restatement on the Law so states). As the law readily finds defamatory communications to exist when they indicate that the plaintiff was involved in a serious crime involving moral turpitude or a felony, a bishop’s indication that a former cleric may have committed sexual abuse surely meets this standard. It matters not whether the bishop believes the allegations are true, and is simply, for the sake of accountability, publicizing allegations made by others. A claim for defamation is sufficient when it impugns the cleric’s good name or reputation, which, of course, would happen here, given the explosive nature of the charges made. If the bishop were to simply pass on allegations made by others, the bishop can be held liable for defamation by neglect.
The bishop would be on untested grounds to argue the second prong of a defamation: that he had a “privilege” to publish this information to third parties. A bishop’s decision to reveal accusations to an inquiring employer may be, but is not always, permitted. In such cases (often recognized by a specific state statute), the bishop may enjoy a privilege to communicate such information. But we are unaware of any court that has allowed a bishop (or for that matter, any private employer) to make a gratuitous public disclosure of such information as a matter of “privilege.” In short, if a bishop aims to publish the names of accused clerics, the bishop should be prepared to defend the truth of every one of those allegations, or suffer the consequences for having defamed them.
Another likely claim a former cleric could raise against the bishop would be a claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress. Such claims are established when the plaintiff shows a defendant has engaged in extreme and outrageous conduct, and that such conduct has caused the plaintiff to suffer severe emotional trauma. What conduct is extreme and outrageous? Courts vary on this. But to our knowledge, they have not sanctioned publication of lists of names of employees merely accused of misconduct. Solid arguments can be advanced that a bishop’s publication of names of individuals, who are presumed innocent as a matter of law, is both extreme and outrageous, especially as it conflicts with every known employment practice in the United States. The presumption of innocence lies at the core of the American judicial system. Even those individuals charged with despicable crimes, like child abuse, enjoy that same privilege: that they are innocent until proven guilty. A bishop would rob them of that privilege by letting them be tried in the court of public opinion, which is hostile to the point of being judged “lethal,” murder and suicide both included.
And the anguish former clerics could suffer is both real and extreme. What families could be broken up, what friendships could be destroyed, what jobs could be lost, what contracts could be terminated, simply because one’s name appears on a list of former clerics for whom “credible” accusations of sexual abuse existed? What physical attacks, what emotional outbursts, what suicides will occur because one’s name is on a list? Whatever such damages may occur, the bishop could well be liable for them all. How ironic that a bishop, who aims to demonstrate his concern for one victim of abuse, will thereby create another victim of abuse—and end up paying large amounts of damages to each in the process. How doubly ironic that a bishop who initiates such a policy may someday find himself on the list.
Two other similar common law claims may lay within the former cleric’s domain: invasion of privacy, and interference with a contract. A former cleric who proves a bishop has made public a false reference, or disciplinary matter about him, could make a claim for invasion of privacy. In addition, a former cleric who proves the bishop gave false or misleading information to others that led to the termination of a contract (employment or otherwise) could make a claim for intentional, or negligent, interference with contractual relations. Current employment contracts of these individuals would certainly fall within this scope. Would a bishop really wish to accept liability for all former clerics who lose their current jobs because of his publication of their names?
Attracting The Media Hurricane
One unintended consequence of publishing names of accused clerics is the media interest that may arise because of it. Those who are hostile to Church interests do not praise a bishop for his openness; instead, they question his motives for doing so. Rightly or wrongly, questions may arise over why the bishop is releasing these names. Is he doing so to deflect scrutiny over his past conduct? Does he think this will avail him of support when later questionable actions of his come to light? Nothing in the history of modern media relations indicates either of these scenarios would work to his advantage. Nor will he have any control over which way the hurricane will blow when a media frenzy occurs. Nor will he have any control over the media leaks that will occur from those in his own bureaucracy, who have less than pure designs. If the threat of civil liability does not deter a bishop from publishing names of accused individuals, the prospect of a media hurricane should. Far from receiving credit for publishing those names, the bishop may well receive opprobrium, and for reasons unconnected to the particular publication.
And then there are those victims who themselves have moved on with their lives. How they will be shielded from media attention remains to be seen if, and when, disclosure of their identities arises by naming names of the accused. And for those who truly are victims, it is far from clear how a ten-second clip on the evening news, or a quote on the front-page daily, will better their lives, as they relive details they have tried to leave behind. Arguably, the bishop advances his claimed interest in accountability, but at the expense of the victim whose past is now dredged up again for further review.
One reason (among many) why private companies refuse to publish names of accused offenders is the effect such publication would have on morale. As most employees would say, “My colleague’s name published today; my name, tomorrow.” What priest will not wonder whether his name will be publicized, and forever connected to heinous misdeeds, if some allegation is made against him, and if he finds himself twisting in the wind unable to counter it, and if his bishop (or his delegate) finds the claim “credible?” One need not have a fertile imagination to think of the myriad of ways in the past several years that priests have been thrown into the diocesan buzz saw, and been cut to pieces, their lives ruined, as fear-mongering has led to a spiritual “Reign of Terror,” where the loss of one’s collar feels like the loss of one’s head. At a time in history when priests are most in need of support, comes a millstone in place of a life-ring.
If a bishop were truly interested in “accountability,” why not poll the priests who serve under him, and see if they think such a policy serves that interest? What percentage would it take to convince him the action is inappropriate and unwarranted—70, 80, 90 percent? Is it hard to imagine that nine out of ten priests would oppose such an initiative? We don’t think so, based on our limited queries. Is any administrative decision worth acting upon when ninety percent of your rank and file are opposed to it? Cannot the Holy Spirit be discerned through consensus?
While to our knowledge, no former cleric has yet sued a bishop for landing on a “credibly accused” list, we suspect that the time is at hand for such lawsuits. A great many priests have felt betrayed and mistreated by accusations made against them, and their stories are legion. If they have declined legal action to date, it is for many reasons, fear being chiefly among them—fear of media attention, fear of retaliation (such as loss of pension or health benefits on which they critically rely), fear of challenging their spiritual leader. But fear will eventually give way to indignation, and indignation to civil suits; the bishops should not be surprised if and when a counter-offensive occurs. The bishops have enjoyed a de facto immunity from such suits to date; they will face a difficult task in finding de jure immunity when those suits eventually occur.
WWJD? What is the Imitatio Christi in such situations?
Finally, we are left to ponder what we should have considered first: What would Jesus do? Would Jesus publish the names of individuals for whom only reasonable grounds of guilt exist, when those individuals are presumed innocent as a matter of law? We are unsure he would even publish the names of individuals who are found guilty in criminal proceedings—“Let the dead bury the dead” (Lk 9:60). We are not suggesting Jesus would take no corrective action or discipline. Far from it. But corrective action or discipline is not at issue. What is at issue is the mere voluntary publication of names, and we see no Gospel interest advanced in doing so. To the contrary, we see an initiative designed to protect the bishop, and his quest for transparency, that may benefit him, but will harm others.
In sum, we see no good reasons why bishops in the United States should depart from the path that every other employer observes who is subject to the same legal system. They should let the legal system control the truth-finding process of guilt or liability for sexual abuse claims, and not substitute it for their own judgment, however well-intentioned. Such a practice not only exposes them to significant legal liability, unwarranted media attention, and bad morale; it is not even the Christian thing to do.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Interesting News From The Vatican Insider

This post was published on September 20, 2017.  I am re-publishing it by moving the date to today's date because some people apparently forgot that there is another side of the story.  Archbishop Apuron never had a chance to tell his side of the story.  It had to take a newspaper outside of Guam to do that. 

An anonymous poster brought some interesting news published by the Vatican Insider in Rome.  His/her comment can be found here.  The news report is written in Italian.  However, I have found the English version.  The English version is found here.  Apparently, someone in the Vatican Insider has been doing some research on the Apuron case and even collected documents and testimonies from witnesses.  This is worth reading!     

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

The Guam problem, a diocese rocked by financial and sexual scandal 

Vatican Insider reconstructs the story leading up to the trial of Archbishop Anthony Apuron, now awaiting his verdict by the Tribunal presided by Cardinal Burke in the coming days. An island in the midst of corruption, intrigues, abuses, and power plays


VATICAN CITY

Corruption, revenge, lobbies, financial scandals, and sexual abuses. Everything seems to intertwine in Guam, the largest island of the Mariana Archipelago in the Western Pacific Ocean, most recently under the international spotlight because of North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un’s threats to bomb the island’s US military bases. The threat of nuclear annihilation is one more worry to be laid on the faithful of Guam, a flock already deeply disturbed by the scandals engulfing the Archdiocese of Agaña—scandals which have paralyzed a church which in the landscape of the Pacific distinguished itself for its liveliness, making up about 85% of the island’s 160,000 inhabitants: a data not irrelevant in a part of the world where every trace of Catholicism is gradually disappearing. 

Right now, the island is awaiting the verdict of the canonical trial of their archbishop, seventy-two year old Capuchin Anthony Apuron, who has suspended himself from any office after being charged with sexual abuses of minors following allegations relating to his time as a priest over forty years ago. 
  
But what might seem at first glance like another sad story of a pedophile priest on closer inspection becomes a much more complex account of rivalries, plotting, power games, and sex scandals (real or invented) and media campaigns. All this played out on a tiny island where most of the population is related by blood. It is, in short, a feuilleton much darker than what up to now has emerged on the media, which Vatican Insider has sought to reconstruct in details through statements gathered by local witnesses, records, and documents which we have been granted access to. 
  
Guam and the project to transform it into the "Las Vegas of the Pacific" 
Everything began in 2002, when a group of Chinese entrepreneurs first laid eyes on the Accion Hotel in Yona, built as a Japanese resort in 2000 but soon ended up in bankruptcy and set among 20 hectares of seaside property. When it first opened, the property was valued at between $60-80 million. David Lujan, their local lawyer, was authorized to offer $5 million for the site. The idea was to transform the hotel into a grand casino; this was part of a larger strategical project aiming at turning the island of Guam into a “Las Vegas of the Pacific” which would attract gamblers from China, Russia, Japan and Korea. It was an ambitious project, one which came to involve Mark Anthony Brown, the former Chairman of Trump Hotels & Casinos Inc., which would have produced millionaires earnings but also would have imported into the island crime, prostitution, and drugs, as Archbishop Apuron said and who always opposed the project because casinos “don’t bring money but moral misery.” 

The Japanese owners refused Lujan’s offer. Meanwhile Archbishop Apuron, under advice of close collaborators, bid $2 million (raised from donations) for it, to turn the bankrupt Hotel into a Redemptoris Mater seminary, whose vocations and formators would come from the Neocatechumenal Way, an ecclesial reality widely present on the island since 1996 and of which Apuron was a strong supporter. The Archbishop’s hope was to offer a point of reference for the formation of young future priests for the area of the Pacific to solve the crisis of the religious orders traditionally present in the different and serve as a bulwark against the increasing investments of people and resources being poured into the Pacific by the Church of Latter-day Saints and Jehovah’s Witnesses. 

The Birth of the Redemptoris Mater and the Theological Institute  
Apuron’s offer for the property was accepted. After signing a contract establishing the restriction of usage of the premises for a educational purposes, the new Redemptoris Mater Seminary formally opened in 2004. One year later, the “Blessed Diego Luis de San Vitores S.J.” Theological Institute was born. It was sponsored by 31 bishops of the Pacific and affiliated with to he Pontifical Lateran University by the decision of its former rector, Archbishop Rino Fisichella, and its dean of the Faculty of Theology, Ignazio Sanna. The birth of the Institute—which houses a library with over 30,000 books, was greeted with enthusiasm by many Australian, Filipino and American prelates who visited it over the years. The seminary was home to more than forty students who came from all over the world to train for service in the Pacific. Seventeen of these men were ordained to the priesthood and entered ministry in Guam or served as missionaries on the nearby island of Saipan, China, and the mainland United States. But today, both the seminary and the theological institute are going to be shut down by Archbishop Michael J. Byrnes, who has been serving as coadjutor archbishop of Guam. 

A Very Powerful Monsignor 
But to understand the decisions taken in recent months, it’s necessary to take a step back and consider the figure of the influential Msgr. James Benavente, known in Guam for his threefold role as rector of the Cathedral in Agaña, chief administrator of the archdiocesan cemeteries, and director of the prominent St. Thomas Catholic School. Benavente, who boasts a close friendship with Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, has been the subject of considerable criticism (and more than a little speculation) for some of his behaviors and especially for the luxury with which he surrounds himself, including cars, houses (three acquired for himself) and a whole compound for his family, first-class air travel, expensive restaurants and exclusive parties. Among the official archdiocesan documents shown to Vatican Insider, invoices and receipts are kept ranging from $9,000 to $17,000 for accommodations in five-star resorts and hotels like the Saipan World Center and the Makati Shangri-La in Manila. 

Benavente is also head of the Finance Council of the Archdiocese of Agaña, which in 2002 was overwhelmed by a super-typhoon causing millions of dollars in damages. Under Apuron’s management, the debts incurred by the Archdiocese following the disaster had been reduced to a manageable level. However, several financial holes emerged in three archdiocesan entities: the cathedral, the archdiocesan cemeteries, and St. Thomas Catholic School. These three institutions accounted for outstanding debts of $7 million and a half, as documented by the Agaña Archdiocese’s Finance Council report. 

In 2011, these issues were submitted to the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, the Vatican department responsible for Guam. The Congregation’s prefect, Cardinal Fernando Filoni, asked for a full audit to clarify the matter but the audit was blocked. There were “significant accounting deficiencies” and difficulty detecting income and expenditures in the entities managed by Monsignor Benavente. 

Apuron Reforms the Archdiocesan Finance Council 
Following the unsuccessful audit, Apuron summoned the six members of the Archdiocesan Finance Council, asking them for an explanation and solutions. Benavente—regarded as a “godson” of lawyer David Lujan—submitted a proposal to sell the Redemptoris Mater Seminary and use the proceeds to cover the financial holes and thus avoid public scandal. “Over my dead body,” Apuron replied, dismissing the plan from further consideration. Despite the decision of the archdiocese ‘s head, members of the council attempted to pass the plan. In response, Apuron dismissed the Council already out of term, ousting member such as Richard Untalan—whose presence on the council was expressly requested by Benavente—a lawyer disbarred in the late 1980s for “moral turpitude” after he was condemned by the Washington DC Court of Appeals for “criminal facilitation of a felony of second degree, theft by deception.” One of Apuron’s collaborators—present at the time of the events and a direct witness—reported that the archbishop, his vicar general and his chancellor received threats following this decision by Msgr. Benavente, who claimed to have important friendships within the FBI and powerful figures in the Vatican. 

Deloitte & Touche fail to produce a financial report 
In 2012, a blog called “Jungle Watch” was created online, attacking Archbishop Apuron and the Neocatechumenal Way, accusing them of manipulating the prelate and “colonizing” the entire Agaña diocese. The site is managed by Tim Rohr, a real estate agent employed by Msgr. Benavente and involved in the projected sale of the seminary. The online attacks became more and more violent; Apuron again appealed for help to the Congregation to the Evangelization of Peoples, which commissioned well-known independent auditing service Deloitte & Touche to conduct a review of the disarrayed finances of the Guamenian church. Also this time it is practically impossible to conclude the audit, as stated in a document from Deloitte & Touche dated January 8, 2014, declaring it was impossible to draw “satisfactory results” from the financial statements that were analyzed. Some documents have disappeared. According to witness testimonies collected by Vatican Insider, the documents relating to Benavente’s financial administration were promptly destroyed to avoid any verifications or findings. 
  
Heavy accusations against Monsignor Benavente 
Some details are still emerging, of which civil lawyer, Jacque Terlaje, former secretary of the Finance Council of Guam Catholic Cemeteries tells Vatican Insider: “As an official member of a non-profit company, I have seen countless abuses of cemetery funds that have led to great injustices against the dead and their families,” she says. “For example, in cemetery funds there was no presence of ‘perpetual care’, responsibility in the long term to finance the care of niches sold. During the change of administration, it was discovered that there were undue appropriations and thefts that occurred within the Catholic Cemeteries. For example, unauthorized donation of 380 thousand dollar lands of cemeteries for families and friends of Monsignor James Benavente. One of them is back to repay the amount received. Benavente also used 13,000 dollars of the institution's own funds to pay for the celebrations of its 20th anniversary as a priest in July 2014.” 
  
Not only, “The review of funding from the period of 2009 to 2014 - again emphasizes the lawyer – showed that a credit card was issued to the Board of Cemeteries but intended solely for the use of Monsignor Benavente for expenses of meals in luxury restaurants, first class airfares, overnight stays in 5-star hotels. A further $23,000 expense was tracked onto another credit card, always using cemetery funds. In a period of five years, Benavente also paid himself sums of $326,913.61, mixing and transferring funds between the Cemeteries and the Basilica "Dulce Nombre de Maria" (the entities of which he was director) without complying with restrictions; in the sense that cemetery funds were used to pay salary employees of the Cathedral or to pay Basilica loans, or, worse, to repay personal credit card payments. This made it impossible for Deloitte & Touche to conclude the audit. " 
  
The accusations of the legal - immediately removed from the Financial Council and has ended up in the midst of threats and complaints - have been made public on the website of the Archdiocese also www.aganaarch.org (currently, the page was obscured). 
  
Benavente is then dismissed from his post and Archbishop Apuron forms a new board for the management of the funds of the Cathedral and Cemetery (the school has since gone bankrupt). 
  
Propaganda Fide intervenes again 
  
To avoid the worsening of tensions, Cardinal Filoni intervened again by sending the secretary of the Dicastery, Salesian archbishop and Hong Kong native Savio Hon Tai-Fai on an “information-gathering visit” in January 2015. The prelate remained on the island for fifteen days. In these two weeks, he made several changes in the Church of Guam and carried out interrogations on his own initiative in collaboration with the Apostolic Administrator of the Pacific and nuncio Martin Krebs, a German from Essen. 
  
In the meantime, while the online accusations against Monsignor Apuron continued, Deacon Steven Martinez, a member of the Financial Council, created together with other fellow members a group called Concerned Catholics of Guam whose main goal—among other things—was to “monitor the corruption” of the Archbishop. To this end sit-ins were organized in front of the Cathedral through a website updated in real time, where signs were shown asking for Apuron’s resignation or his dismissal from the clerical state. The leaders of the group were Gregory Perez, president, and David Sablan, vice president, whose name has recently made headlines for an embezzlement case currently being investigated by the US Federal Government.   
  
Sexual abuses 
After a brief respite of a few months, in May 2016 an ad by Tim Rohr appeared in every newspaper on the island inviting anyone who had been a victim or had knowledge of abuse perpetrated by Apuron in the years 1976-77, when he was pastor of Our Lady of Mount sCarmel parish to “come forward”. The ad appeared over the course of a month in every newspaper. After a few days, four people came forward, among them Roy Taitague Quintanilla, who alleged having been abused forty years earlier when, at the age of 12, he was an altar boy for Father Apuron who, according to his allegations, had taken him by night in his own home to rape him. However, Vatican Insider has learned that statements were made by multiple former altar boys to the tribunal who maintain that they had never seen Quintanilla in the parish and that the parish activities were always carried out in groups and never alone. 
  
Together with Quintanilla other people came forward who, crying in front of the cameras, claimed to have been molested. Tim Rohr, as heard in the recording of an interview by Patti Arroyo on the K57 Newstalk radio, publicly boasted, “it took me four days to publish an ad to find Roy and to pay a ticket for him from Hawaii” and to coordinate the group of victims and relatives suggesting to them “what to say and when to cry”, as well as encouraging them to hire David Lujan as their lawyer.  
  
“Your Holiness, I am innocent” 
Not even five hours after the release of the accusations, Nuncio Krebs called Apuron from abroad—as he kept doing for the entire following week—to ask him to tender his immediate resignation at the behest of the Pope. However, it is precisely to the Pope to whom Apuron wanted to turn to in order to discuss the situation. He left for Rome to ask an audience to the Pontiff and met him in St. Peter’s Square at the end of the General Audience of May 24th, 2016. During the kissing of the hand, Apuron told Pope Francis: “Your Holiness, I am innocent; I would like a private audience with you.” Bergoglio called an aide asking to set a date. That audience though, would never take place.  
  
The archdiocese tries to defend its bishop 
In the meantime, the archdiocese tried to intervene in defense of its bishop and contacted the Denver based law firm “Lewis Roca”, one of the most important in the US in the field of sexual abuses related to the Catholic Church, often consulted by the US Bishop’s Conference. The firm “Lewis Roca” accepted to represent the archdiocese and Apuron for free, agreeing on a potential percentage of the damages just in the case of a judicial victory.  At the same time Mr. David Lujan, Esq. filed suit against the bishop and the archdiocese for slander because they declared that the abuse accusations were false.  
  
Apuron suspends himself, Hon Tai-Fai arrives as apostolic administrator “sede plena” 
At this point Apuron decided to suspend himself from all his duties and asked the Holy See to name an apostolic administrator to bring back peace and order on the island and give him the possibility to defend himself from the accusations. The Vatican granted the request and on June 6, 2016 a bulletin of the Vatican Press Room announced the appointment of the secretary of Propaganda Fide, Monsignor Savio Hon Tai-Fai, as apostolic administrator sede plena of Guam. For the moment Apuron has been kept in his post as archbishop, although deprived of any authority. He sent a video message to the faithful in which he reaffirmed his innocence and announced the imminent changing of the guard by inviting them to receive “with open arms” the new apostolic administrator representing a sign on the part of the Pope of his will to “reestablish the truth” and which would “allow me to defend myself from the false allegations made against me.” 
  
The general restructuring  
Monsignor Hon arrived in the Marianas a few weeks after his appointment and in his first move asked that all priests, especially those formed in the Redemptoris Mater seminary, to resign as “proof of loyalty to me and to the Church.” Some accepted, others resisted. Accusations began to be thrown against those who didn’t give in immediately, some even of sexual nature, or else they were sent back to their countries of origin. Two Samoan bishops were forced to recall the seminarians they had sent to study in Guam. David Quitugua, the vicar general who was appointed by Apuron rector of the cathedral in place of Benavente, was removed. The same fate befell then-chancellor Adrian Cristobal (a Chamorro, native of Guam) and his deputy Alberto Rodriguez. The pastors of the four biggest and most populous parishes of the archdiocese of Agana lost their posts. Among them was Monsignor Brigido Arroyo, old and already near retirement, much loved by the parish community of St. Anthony which knew him as “Father Bibi.” Hon also altered the board charged with sorting out the cemetery funds and in place of Quitugua, entrusted the cathedral to Fr. Paul Gofigan, who had been removed two years earlier.  
  
Father Gofigan and the convicted felon 
  
At this point we need to take a step back and recall that Archbishop Apuron had dismissed Father Gofigan after having received complaints and pressure regarding the fact that the priest was living in the parish together with a former convict, Joseph Lastimoza, 54, who had been sentenced to life for raping and killing a 25-year-old flight attendant from New York in 1981 and to have tried to do the same with other women. Released on parole in 2002, Lastimoza had the keys of the neighboring kindergarten “Santa Barbara Catholic School” where he was head of maintenance. Several parents had voiced to Apuron, in person, by letter or email, their objections to the fact that a convicted felon had such freedom of movement in a place attended by women and children. Moreover, it is the same law of Guam that states that any person convicted of serious sexual crimes “cannot be employed, directly or through an independent contractor” in a sector such as “a school or an education institution while children are present.” 
  
In 2004 Lastimoza’s name had been entered for life in the first level of the Sex Offenders Register of Guam’s judicial system, following an impassioned letter written to the local press by military veteran David Mills, now living in New York, who had followed the case at the time. At that point Apuron, after having given a warning already two years earlier, asked Gofigan repeatedly to send off Lastimoza, given that his presence was in violation of current laws. The priest did not comply with the bishop’s indication and hence, under counsel of Archdiocese’s lawyer Edward Terlaje, decided to remove him.  
  
The removal of this priest, who was also the founder of the movement “Rainbow Mercy” for young gay Catholics, has often been characterized by “Jungle Watch” commentators as an outcome of the Neocatechumenal Way manipulations.  
  
Hon’s “reform” 
Meanwhile, even before the trial was set in motion, Hon granted interviews and issued declarations in press conferences declaring Apuron guilty even before trial began(insert link), and accusing the archbishop of being a “liar” for denying the abuses. Then he publicly rehabilitated Benavente and reinstated him as pastor of the most populous parish in Guam, member of the Financial Council (with him also Richard Untalan is reappointed) and as member of the committee for cemetery funds. Furthermore, the Apostolic Administrator sede plena rescinded the contract with the Lewis Roca and in its place hired “Swanson & McNamara”, a very expensive law firm from San Francisco. He also started a series of interrogations of priests and seminarians from the Redemptoris Mater during which seminarians were placed before a crossroads: to obey Apuron or “an archbishop invested by the powers of God.” As a consequence, the Redemptoris Mater underwent a dramatic reduction in numbers: from 40 to little less of 15 seminarians. 
  
Hon Recalled to Rome, Replaced by New Coadjutor, USA Byrnes 
During Hon’s five month stay in Guam, Pope Francis received three letters updating him on the situation. They never received a direct response. But on October 31st of 2016—after having asked Filoni to quickly find a candidate to replace him—Francis recalled Savio Hon to Rome and appoints an archbishop coadjutor, American prelate Michael Jude Byrnes, then auxiliary bishop of Detroit, to guide the diocese, which was by now falling apart. Before departing, Hon gave a lengthy interview to Pacific Daily News suggesting the course of action his successor should take. Four days before Byrnes’ arrival on the island, he also submitted a packet containing a series of documents on the island’s finances and a letter insisting that the Redemptoris Mater’s statutes be modified and that the restriction of use be eliminated. This choice, which was taken to safeguard a diocesan good, but which instead, according to its detractors, would take away any right Apuron had over the property (accusations disproved by the fact that with a simple signature, Byrnes has eliminated the restriction of use). 

The Redemptoris Mater is going to be closed, the Theological Institute affiliated to the Lateran suspended  
In Rome monsignor Savio Hon went to the Congregation for Catholic Education – according to the Congregation’s officials account – to ask for the suspension of the renewal of the affiliation of the Theological Institute with the Pontifical Lateran University, which had been already renewed for another ten years. Last news report that on August 29, 2017, Byrnes announced the closure of the Seminary and the Institute. Again, in the last few weeks Byrnes has removed four priests from the diocesan Presbyteral Council accusing them of insubordination for having written a letter to cardinal Filoni informing him of the intention to sell the building in Yona, an information requested by the same cardinal. Monsignor Benavente instead was given all previoiusly held assignments with an added appointment as delegate for the Archdiocese Patrimony. 

Cardinal Burke’s Investigation 
Regarding the sex abuse allegations against Apuron, the world awaits the verdict from the “First Instance Tribunal” presided by Cardinal Raymond Leo Burke— an outspoken critic of Pope Francis and one of those who signed the so-called “dubia” published in the wake of Amoris Laetitia. When on February 17 of this year Francis sent the cardinal to the Marianas to investigate the Guam case, many read the move as a “punishment” or “exile.” But in light of the facts, it seems more likely that the Pope’s pick was actually rooted more in the cardinal’s remarkable competence shown over the years as Prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Segnatura. In about two weeks’ time, the American prelate gathered the documents and statements to be submitted to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, personally travelling not only to Guam but to Hawaii, San Francisco, Phoenix and the East Coast to listen to alleged victims, many of whom—as reported by local media at the time—refused to meet the cardinal if not in the presence of their lawyer David Lujan. 

Waiting For The Verdict 
Burke and four other judges—all bishops—are expected to issue the verdict on Msgr. Apuron’s innocence or guilt soon—a decision which should have been issued last August 4th but which appears to have been delayed. Maybe because of the outside pressures on the cardinal himself, who is said to have privately expressed surprise at the influence of external lobbies on the island. If Apuron were declared guilty, the decision will have canonical—not civil—consequences. “The fact that the Pope granted this process to a bishop indicates that the Church wants to reestablish due process,” explains one canon lawyer to Vatican Insider. If he is declared innocent, it won’t be easy for him to return to the head of Guam’s archdiocese, given the damage to his public image. Nevertheless the archbishop has privately confided his willingness to do so, albeit with the help of an auxiliary bishop. In any case, it’s hard to imagine the words “The End” marking any kind of conclusion to this turbulent story.  

Saturday, November 4, 2017

NCW in South Africa

Christ told his disciples to take no money when they evangelize.  This is the extreme kind of evangelization that the Neocatechumenal Way practice when they go in two by twos.  However, the two by twos usually lasts until two weeks.  

Mark 6:7-9   Calling the Twelve to him, he began to send them out two by two and gave them authority over impure spirits. These were his instructions: “Take nothing for the journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in your belts. Wear sandals but not an extra shirt.

Those who go in two by twos have many stories to tell.  In fact, I believe Kiko Arguello collected many of those stories and had them printed in a book.  Below is an article dated August 25, 2017 of the Neocatechumenal Way in South Africa: 
Johannesburg (Agenzia Fides) - From 11 to 21 August, to answer to the call of Pope Francis, 72 men and women of the Neocatechumenal communities of South Africa have been sent on a worldwide mission two by two, with nothing but a Bible in their hands, to announce the Good News in all of South Africa, Swaziland Botswana and Lesotho. 
The group was blessed for their mission by His Exc. Mgr. Brislin, Archbishop of Cape Town and President of the Southern African Catholic Bishops' Conference (SACBC) during a sending retreat in Cape Town, as he addressed them with the following words: "Through our Baptism we share, as the apostles, in the ministry of Jesus Christ of the proclamation of the Kingdom of God… The evangelization in the modern time is not only to take Christ to those who have not heard of Him, but also to people for who Christ is not more relevant, to rekindle their faith". 
This same mission is currently being held in all parts of the world, as announced last year during the World Youth Days in Krakow, when more than 150,000 youth of the Neocatechumenal Way gathered for a vocational meeting. 
"This mission is not just for consecrated people", said Dino Furgione, responsible of the Neocatechumenal Way in South Africa. "There are married people, single, young and old, priests and seminarians. This is the spirit of the Second Vatican Council, the body of the Church as a true presence of Christ. We have experienced the fact that Christ accompanies us. And to the question he poses to his disciples in the Gospel of Luke:  
"When I sent you out without a purse, bag, or sandals, did you lack anything? ". We can testify that we didn't lack anything! Some have indeed suffered some deprivations, but we all experienced the 'perfect joy' of Saint Francis, who also used to send his friars two by two". (L.M.) (Agenzia Fides, 25/8/2017).


Tuesday, October 31, 2017

The Experience of Father Maurizio

As you know, Father Maurizio Pallu was the RMS priest who was kidnapped in Nigeria.  He was later released by his kidnappers.  Below is his experience and a photograph of him doing missionary work in Nigeria and elsewhere: 
---------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Fr Maurizio greets all the brothers and sisters in the UK, saying: “Dear Brother and Sisters, I thank you all from the depth of my heart for your nearness in this difficult moment. I felt the strength of your prayers and your love. Christ is truly risen and with him we will evangelise Nigeria, Africa and the world! Pray for me a sinner. Maurizio” 

The experience of Fr Maurizio: his homily on 19 Oct 2017 at the Eucharist in Scandicci, Florence, on the day he arrived.

Italian recording on https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nDlinArl0Uc

 Firstly when I got to the Church and saw so many people I thought: “but all these brothers and sisters didn’t come here for a fool like me?” and I see this… sincerely. We all came here to celebrate our faith, and our faith is the Risen Christ so I wanted to speak about the Risen Christ through my experience. 

First of all I am touched, moved by your presence, your participations and your prayers I say it sincerely because I’m sure that these prayers, vigils, sacrifices you made saved my life.

We were in the forest for 6 days and we did not move, only in the first days we moved a little… and there, I experienced a total impotence of my being. I had no Bible or breviary, they only left me a rosary. I prayed the rosary a lot. 

I am very devoted to the Virgin of Fatima because already in Holland she (the Virgin of Fatima) saved my life allowing me to do a work of Christianization in the parish and I consecrated the parish to the Madonna of Fatima 

But last year I had an even stronger experience because on 13 Oct 2016 we were attacked by bandits in another city of Nigeria and we were kidnapped by bandits who were pointing a gun on us for an hour and a half and who stole the little money we had, but we managed to survive 

This year the attack happened on the vigil of the feast of the Madonna of Fatima - the Miracle of the Sun, 13 Oct, and the Madonna pulled us out.

Now, my first conclusion is this: If the devil unleashes such a big battle for 4 poor people, a cretin like me who goes to announce the Gospel, it means that what is behind is immense, I can’t even evaluate it because every time we go out to Evangelize, there is an attack, and then there is an intervention by the Madonna who is stronger that the devil’s attack, and it frees us - but it doesn’t just free us but it also doubles up our strength. 

In truth, this evening I am a little tired because I arrived this morning from Nigeria. I am falling asleep… I was 7, 8 days practically awake most of the time… 

One thing is certain: after this experience my faith has grown, my hope has grown and my charity has grown, and I know that I did nothing there 

We were 3 hostages, a Nigerian (female) student and a Nigerian accountant… 

I discovered the total impotence of my being, I discovered my fear. I did not want to die. I prayed so much for my persecutors and I prayed so much that the Lord will free me. 

I did my examination of conscience. I said “Am I ready to die now? “No, Lord I am not ready to die because I still have not expiated my sins, and not done sufficient contrition”. “If you, Lord, concede me a few more years of life, I promise to multiply my zeal to bring many souls to you”

 …this is what I said: “Let me live because I want to fight the devil so much with the help of the Virgin Mary” This is what I prayed constantly. I prayed for my colleagues, I tried to assist them, they were a little more worried than me. I mean I was so afraid inside… 

…and I saw a response from the Lord. The response from the Lord was as follows: that on the 13th October, the day after our kidnapping, the feast of the Miracle of the Sun, the heart of the bandits’ leader softened, became a little more tender. We started to maintain a dialogue… I told him “you are my brother I pray for you, you are not my enemies, I pray for all of you” “Pray, Pray, for me”, he said, and we started establishing a relationship… 

because one thing that I discovered in all these years of life is that the contrapositions we make are inexorably wrong. When we say: “Muslims, Christians, good, bad, adulterous, pure…” I could go on… because in any of us, at least in me, perhaps also in you, there is a little bit of everything. There may be a violent man who is capable of killing... I saw that at some point of my life I was capable of killing somebody, and you?... and at other times I was capable of sleeping with somebody else’s wife, and you?... and we could go on… 

hence this pharisaic attitude is always dangerous: to divide in good and bad, dividing in half creating a cast of pure ones

I was not pure in that situation in the forest, my intentions were not necessarily pure… what I said to the leader of the robbers… he was the only one who spoke English, the others were speaking Hausa, a language from the North of Nigeria… In this endemic corruption in Nigeria perhaps I’d be violent… I am very violent… You can ask my mother that sometimes I was throwing objects in the air… What did I throw in the air today? I was a bit annoyed… …maybe I threw the telephone in the air… so I am a violent person. How can I judge you…? 

I saw that they did not feel judged because at the end of the day either we think that Saint Francis was a fool in his approach to the Muslim robbers who took him prisoner, or we think that San Francesco was making Jesus Christ present 

I’d like to make it clear that I have nothing in common with Saint Francis, not even the name… 

but the following is certain: it is not true what the World says that if you are like the sheep you will be eaten alive. The one who is like the sheep, wins. He wins because he may lose in this world but wins in the world to come.

I said: Lord, if you want us to die, take us all to heaven, me and the others. I offer my life for their salvation even though I’d like to remain here… 

…so the leader offered me a cigarette, on 13 October, and said “smoke, smoke” “I don’t like these cigarettes, the cigarettes in Tuscany are better”, I said…. 

Then on Sunday it was a very difficult day because there was a blood-thirsty member of the gang and, I gather he was possessed by the devil, for various reasons that I noticed. He really wanted to kill. (It was obvious that) he wanted to kill because he would grab a stick and hit this other Muslim hostage brother who was with me and the student, in an inhumane way, with his stick… At night we were in chains and he was hitting him inhumanely… 

The leader realised this and said: “He is a very evil man, a very wicked man, he is bad…” I thought if this one doesn’t go away… so I prayed, I implored Carmen and the Madonna. “Father please take this blood-thirsty man away because this one will kill us all, he is not interested in money… he is interested in spilling blood…” and on Sunday the leader sent him home. This is a fact. You can interpret this fact anyway you want but this is a fact. There were 8 bandits, and then they became 5 and most importantly without the dangerous one. 

On Sunday I started thinking that perhaps we will manage to come out alive. Also because I saw that this was a Triduum. Friday, Saturday a real death, and Sunday the resurrection. I couldn’t celebrate the Eucharist but I lived it spiritually. 

In the evening they were so happy that they went out to hunt, they killed some wild rabbits, they roasted them, and they gave some to us so we had a BBQ, only the beer was missing. Basically overall we ate pretty badly, but in truth food was the least of our preoccupations. They gave us some kind of polenta and sugar and lots of water of a brown colour, we will probably get the hepatitis… … The doctors are now carrying out some analysis, I hope they’ll hurry up a little because they are a bit slow… so this is what we ate, but the hunger was not the main issue… I was never really hungry even though I normally have an appetite… then yesterday it was my birthday and at the Embassy in Abuja they offered me wine, cognac… we smoked Tuscan cigars.. but in the preceding days I wasn’t hungry because with the adrenaline, the fear of dying is really strong and you are not hungry. What affects you is thirst... so we drunk the water they had. They were drinking and eating the same drink and food that they were giving us. 

Alright, so this was my experience. Then on Monday, Tuesday I managed to pray the lauds because this protestant girl had a Bible so I said: “can you lend me the Bible”? 

What struck me was that on Sunday I was still too afraid.... I prayed the rosary a lot… but on Monday I relaxed a little… and I took the Bible. I took the Psalms at random. The 1st Psalm was number 18, is what you were singing, the psalms helped me a so much in captivity, then I skipped forward 5 psalms to Psalm 23… “the Lord is my shepherd, I don’t need anything even if walk in the dark, I do not fear because You are with me…” and then further four psalms forward: Psalm 27: “The LORD is my light and my salvation - whom shall I fear? even if an army besiege me… I will be confident”.

Then I opened the New Testament at random: Acts of Apostles 10, Cornelius: God regards all the men in front of Him as pure. 

Here all men in front of Him were Muslim. This wasn’t a religiously inspired kidnapping, nothing to do with religion but they were all Muslim. Every man is pure in front of Him pure because he was purified by Christ’s blood.

This helped me. This was my experience. On Tuesday we were freed and left near the road. To conclude I’ll say: my experience is that I did nothing these days. I absolutely don’t feel like a hero, absolutely not. I was very afraid. I was an obstacle to the actions of the Lord, but I saw the power of our Lord’s grace. No-one will take this away from my heart. The power of the Lord’s grace which acted in my poverty and saved me. 

I conclude with an anecdote: have you seen “The Lord of the Rings”? because when I go to Africa and ask the neocatechumens, no-one saw it. “Have you seen the Lord of the Rings?” and they answer “Noooo”. 

To finish I’ll say this, what sustained me was the Christian community, the prayers… Here we do not have great evangelizers, I’m certainly not one of them, here there are no great preachers, big stars, we are all small potatoes, but there is a body, there is a community of the poor, sinners where the sin, the weakness illuminated and sustained by the grace of God becomes a force, and creates communion, and this is what I wanted to testify with my experience. I didn’t do anything heroic, I am grateful to God, I thank Him for His actions through the Community because this is where the force is.

Without the Community you are lost because the man who is alone gets devoured in the World with so many attractions that make him even more alone… let’s leave it at that. 

“The Lord of the Rings” touches me because there is this community of Hobbits, people of short stature, similar to us who are in a sense short in stature, and these persons of short stature save the World. So much so that the great hero Aragorn, you remember this beautiful hero, the man, this great hero, says that the only thing that we have to do is to wait for this half-slave* to take the ring and throw it inside. We just have to gain some time.

This is what I felt profoundly in these days. I can only gain time by praying, awaiting that Christ, through the poor, will destroy the work of the devil and… "CHRIST HAS DESTROYED THE WORK OF THE DEVIL! CHRIST IS DESTROYING THE WORK OF THE DEVIL! Although it seemed that the devil dominates the World, this is not true. CHRIST IS RISEN!

Interview on Vatican Radio (you can listen to it in italian at: 

http://it.radiovaticana.va/news/2017/10/18/don_maurizio_pall%C3%B9_sto_bene,_ho_sentito_la_vicinanza_di_ mar/1343612 

18 October 2017: (English translation) 

Fr Maurizio Pallù was released last night, 63-year-old Italian diocesan priest in Rome, kidnapped last Thursday in Nigeria where he is a missionary as a catechist of the Neocatechumenal Way. Today, among other things, is his birthday. The Diocese of Rome rejoices at his liberation and expresses gratitude to the Lord. So many prayers these days for the missionary, beginning with Pope Francis. 

Fr Maurizio is well as he tells in the exclusive interview of Debora Donnini : 

A. In the three of us taken as hostages, we were a Nigerian brother, a Nigerian student, and myself. They released us around 10 in the evening. 

Q. - How are you doing? 

A. - Well, happy! The Lord has risen, accompanied me, I have had moments of fear but I must say I have felt very much the assistance of the saints, of the Virgin Mary. and of Carmen Hernandez (initiator of the Neocatechumenal Way - ndr) ... We have entrusted our mission in Nigeria to the Virgin Mary, to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, to Saint Daniele Comboni, and to St. John Paul II ... so it's an iron team! In fact, it's the second time in a year they have kidnapped me, not the first; this was more difficult than the first time, but I saw the miracles that the Lord did, just great miracles that the Lord did to keep us alive. It means that the Lord has a big plan in this country because the devil is attacking with great force to destroy the work of God in this nation. In a year I was kidnapped twice but I am convinced that God will destroy the work of the devil. Another important fact to point out is this: the two abductions both occurred in the feast of Our Lady of Fatima on the 13th of October. Last year we were kidnapped on October 13th and through a miracle of Our Lady we were released after an hour and a half. This year we were kidnapped on October 12th, the eve of the miracle of the sun in Fatima. In fact, I was going to Benin City where the bishops of Nigeria celebrated once again Nigeria's consecration to the Virgin Mary and I wanted to be there on October 13th for this great Eucharist and instead on October 13th I had to go into the forest where I received a sign of Mary's maternal attention. And then on Sunday I received the confirmation that Our Lady and all the saints would pull us out of this situation. We did not give up! 

Q. - Are you now returning to Abuja? 

A. Yes, we are returning to Abuja.

Q. And will you return to Rome? 

A. - They told me to come back to Italy. I would like to stay here [in Nigeria] because we defeat the devil by staying here; the devil is cowardly, he wants us to be scared but he has chosen the wrong way. We are poor men, so we are afraid, but we are supported by the grace of God. And the devil is keeping millions of people slaves here using lies, cowardice and corruption, and when they allow me to return, I will return to here very happy and offer my poor person for the evangelization of Nigeria.

Q. - You were picked up on October 12th, how did these days go? 

R. - On October 12th we were picked up on the road, they came out shooting and then they took us to the forest. There were three of us, it was a band of kidnappers, we walked quite a long way to a lonely place, and then we were there, they had little to eat, they gave us what they had, we went ahead, we drank the water of the creek, a water of brown colour ... and anyway we are alive!

Arrival in Florence on youtube https://youtu.be/rLW2bDfE46E 

Ending with his message to us and the press “with the risen Christ we will evangelize Nigeria, all over Africa and ALL THE WORLD”


Image result for Fr Maurizio Pallu
Photographs of Maurizio Pallu during his missionary work in Nigeria and elsewhere