Memorable Palm Sunday

This coming Sunday is Palm Sunday. It is the final Sunday of Lent, the beginning of Holy Week, which commemorates the triumphant arrival of Christ in Jerusalem, days before he was crucified. During Palm Sunday Mass, parishioners carry palms in a ritual procession into the church. Many parishes have integrated various creative elements and contextualizations into this procession. Baclaran shrine is no exception. One memorable, albeit hilarious, incident of this kind of “creative contextualization” happened during the Palm Sunday celebrations in the shrine in 1974. This is narrated to us by the late Fr. John Maguire, CSsR. 

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On a Palm Sunday in 1974, April 7th a large crowd witnessed an event that left them spellbound and with a real feeling of what Palm Sunday was all about.

The actors in the event were a zealous and creative priest, a man who made his living selling “fireworks” and a white horse. The priest was Fr. Vincent Warren who was then the Prefect of the Baclaran Church. He was a man of great ideas and lots of creativity. He had planned for many weeks for the Holy Week ceremonies and had decided that he should try to imitate the real events of the first Palm Sunday.

It was not easy to find a colt, (a young horse) or a young donkey but someone told him that there was a big white horse in Tondo which had featured in many movies, was unbelievably tame, and could be depended on to remain calm in any type of situation.

The man selling “fireworks” was just an ordinary vendor of “fireworks” who, for a reasonable fee, would guarantee to produce the right effect at the right time.

And so on the 7th April 1974, Palm Sunday, they all came together for the big event. The horse arrived early and showed all the qualities for which it was renowned. It was completely unfazed by the crowds of people and even let little children touch it. It was slightly surprised when the tall six-foot priest appeared in a huge red Cope (liturgical cape) wearing a crown like a king, however, it remembered its breeding and pretended not to notice.

The priest tried to mount the horse and for a while the horse resisted but eventually it agreed and at last Fr.Warren was seated in glory on the white horse in cape and crown ready to head for Jerusalem (or at least the church door). Everybody was thrilled and full of excitement.

The “fireworks” vendor remembered that he was supposed to let off the fireworks at the appropriate time. This was surely the appropriate time. He got a Kuwitis (sky rocket) and lit it. Unfortunately, he was situated about two meters behind the horse. Swoo-sh-sh-sh-sh-sh boom!!!!!

The horse rose on his back legs and started to urinate. The priest “gracefully” slid down the horses back over his tail and was caught by a few kind people standing by. Everybody laughed until their ribs hurt.

Sometime later the priest and the horse were seen heading for the church door side by side. Everyone said that it was the most memorable Palm Sunday since the first.

John Maguire, CSsR

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Finding the Icon

This is the second part of the story when the Redemptorist missionaries returned to Baclaran in April 1945 after they were incarcerated by the Japanese in Los Baños, Laguna during World War II. This story is published to commemorate today’s “Araw ng Kagitingan” (National Heroes Day).

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When the Baclaran Community were interned during the Japanese occupation, most of the equipment belonging to the Church had been saved. One thing, however, was still missing, the Icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help. It had been left with a family living near La Salle, and when the Japanese raided their house, a number of things had been stolen and the rest, including the house, were burned. Where was the icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help? Was it destroyed in the fire? Had the Japanese taken it?

We read in the Chronicles on April 30th 1945:

“A few days before April 30th, 1945 Bro. Athenasius, the Superior of La Salle came to see us. He said that he had been informed that some looted property had been recovered by the U.S. Army and was stored in the old Bilibid Prison. They asked him to come and identify any La Salle property that might be there. While there he noticed a icon which he thought he had seen in our Church and came to tell us. Fr Cosgrave , Rector of Baclaran, sent Fr. Gyger and Bro. Blacid to look at the picture. We (Bro. Placid is the writer) went with Fr. Scheuth a Major in the Engineering corps, who was one of our great helpers, just after we returned to Baclaran. We went in his jeep and on arrival at Bilibid, saw the Major in charge. He looked up his list and said there was no record of such a picture. Fr. Scheuth asked if we might go inside. He would not give his permission and accused us of doubting his word.

Fr Scheuth whispered that there were other ways of getting inside. We went around to a side gate where a Sargent appeared, We told him our story and he unlocked the gate and let us in.

Bro Placid wandered into a bodega and soon reappeared saying the icon was in there. The Sargent immediately handed it over. We asked if we had to sign any receipt but he told us to say nothing about it, as we had been told officially that the icon was not there. We put it in the back of the jeep and brought it home. Fr Scheuth asked us to have a special ceremony to celebrate the homecoming. In those days there was hardly anyone living in Baclaran, but a day was set and Fr. Scheuth was invited to say Mass in the chapel. With this modest celebration Our Lady was reestablished in the Chapel.”

The Chapel has since become the Shrine and the Icon is still above the High Altar.

John Maguire, CSsR

Last House Standing

Today, “Araw ng Kagitingan” (National Heroes Day) we commemorate the heroism of our Filipino fighters who brought freedom and democracy in the Philippines during World War II. In commemoration of this day, we publish a story of the Redemptorist missionaries who returned to Baclaran in April 1945 after they were incarcerated by the Japanese in Los Baños, Laguna.

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It was 1945, and the Japanese had withdrawn from the Philippines and were about to accept that they had lost the war. The Redemptorists had been released from internment in Los Baños in February and had slowly worked their way back to Baclaran.

On their return to Baclaran, they noticed that one house was standing alone in the midst of many blocks of wreckage in what is now the City of Pasay. What was so special about this house?

This is recorded in the Chronicles of the Baclaran Community, 30th April, 1945:

We returned to Baclaran to day and our first meal was in the Sacristy of the Church. Much of the equipment belonging to the Church had been saved. The benches, the altars and their attachments except for a few small pieces. All of these had been placed in the house of a woman named Mrs. Chrisologo, who had agreed to have them put there even though this meant that she could no longer rent this section of the house.  This would have been a considerable financial loss to her at a time when life was very hard for anyone without a source of income. This house remained intact while those around were mostly destroyed.

Why was this the only house standing in the midst of the wreckage? Was the owner a friend of the Japanese? Surely not, for if this was so, the Americans would have certainly destroyed the house when they drove the Japanese out from Manila.

The final sentence of the chronicles’ paragraph says it all.

John Maguire, CSsR

The Legacy of St. Clement Hofbauer: Preaching the Gospel Ever Anew

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Baclaran shrine is a 24/7 church and because of this it has sometimes been called a shrine with a perpetual mission.  This is not the only shrine in the history of the Redemptorist, however, that was identified with a perpetual mission. There was also a church in the 18th century run by the Redemptorists, which experienced a continuous influx of people day and night because of the lively and invigorating services in the church. This was the St. Benno’s church in Warsaw, Poland. The main Redemptorist behind the vibrant activity of this shrine was a Redemptorist who is now a saint. He is St. Clement Hofbauer whose feast we celebrate today. The shrine joins the whole Redemptorist congregation worldwide in thanking God and celebrating the life and legacy of St. Clement on his feast day today.

St. Clement Hofbauer (1751–1820) is often called the second founder of the Redemptorist congregation for bringing the congregation across the Alps in Northern Europe.[1] He is a  model of missionary dynamism and creativity encapsulated in his most famous quote of “preaching the gospel anew.”

St. Clement was born on December 26, 1751, in Tasswitz, Moravia (present day Czechoslovakia) of a poor family with twelve children.  He worked as an apprentice baker before he became a Redemptorist.

St. Clement lived in one of the most difficult and trying times of Central Europe.  The ideas of Enlightenment had pervaded the whole of Europe and the Church was slowly groping for meaning.  “He had to face Josephism, Illuminism, the French Revolution, the Empire of Napoleon I, Protestantism, Free Thought, but he had German Romanticism as an ally”[2]  Hans Scherman describes the impact of these socio-intellectual currents on theology in Clement’s time:  “Theology was searching for new ways of speaking to the intellectual currents of the age only to have its attempts condemned by Rome.”[3]

At the same time, this social milieu provided a good opportunity for Clement to develop a great ecumenical spirit and the formation of a genuine freedom of conscience.  Within his circle of friends he was responsible for many conversions from Protestantism.[4]   He had a “global” perspective which at that time was European.[5]

The Saint, with a deep knowledge of his times, was able to adapt his pastoral work.  When the government at that time forbade the preaching of missions, Clement endeavored to compensate the people for the loss of the occasional mission by conducting a “Perpetual Mission” in the church of St. Benno’s in Warsaw, Poland.

In the midst of these difficulties, Clement would often say that the “Gospel had to be preached anew.” The keyword in this Clementian expression is “anew”.  Josef Heinzmann, in examining the historical context of these famous words, explains:

The famous student of Hofbauer and preacher at the cathedral, Dr. Emmanuel Veith, reports: “I heard him say these splendid and emphatic words very often, yes almost daily: “The Gospel must be preached anew!” And in fact, people have wondered a great deal about this word anew. Does it mean again, or in a new way? What’s the difference?  Both are included in it.”[6]

St. Clement’s distinct legacy of “Preaching the Gospel anew” suggests two important points.  First the gospel must be repeatedly preached at all times, in all places.  Clement, who was always on fire, cannot accept the reality that the gospel cannot be preached because of external repressive conditions. Clement admonishes us that we should not give up preaching the gospel as it is relevant in all times and places. “Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel!” (1 Cor 9: 16).  Thus, Clement preached the gospel with utmost persistence and zeal in spite of the political turmoil and persecutions in Europe during his time.

Second, each time the gospel is expressed it is preached in a new way.  Preaching the gospel anew speaks of the newness of both the act and content of preaching.  Every act of preaching and its content is ever anew as the gospel is preached in different places, cultures and times.

Clement’s manner of preaching is marked by utter simplicity and connectedness with the language of the people.  “‘Today I’ll preach a sermon so simple that even the most stupid of you and every little child can understand’—he is supposed to have said, according to a police report.”[7]  Clement did not use elaborate theology and pageantry.  Although Clement was not a gifted rhetorician his sermons made an impact on all walks of life—rich or poor, illiterate, intellectuals and academics alike.  “God’s word must be preached in such a way that everyone understands it: the small and the great, the educated and the uneducated.”[8]

Although Clement manifested exemplary apostolic spirit, he was also known to be ascetic.   Clement’s asceticism was, however, “principally the asceticism arising from an apostolic activism.”[9]  Joseph Oppitz sums it up: “Clement was innovative and daring, an existential opportunist.”[10]

The mission system, which was a creative instrument of evangelization crafted by Alphonsus and appropriated by Clement, however, became fossilized in the nineteenth century for many reasons.  Moran laments this fact: “It is one of the great ironies that Alphonsus dedicated his life to preaching the bounty of God’s mercy available in Jesus Christ, while the Redemptorists later came to be renowned as blistering preachers of hell-fire and brimstone.”[11]

In 2009, the General Chapter of the congregation adopted the theme for the sexennium (2009-2015) from the tradition of St. Clement : “To Preach the Gospel Ever Anew (St. Clement): Renewed Hope, Renewed Hearts, Renewed Structures—For Mission.” The General Chapter recognized the crucial imperative of “preaching the gospel anew” amidst the many challenges of today’s global age.

St. Clement lived the gospel amidst insurmountable personal and social conditions.  He was confronted by the problem of speaking about God amidst the many obstacles of his time. Nevertheless, he upheld that “the gospel must be preached ever anew” in the midst of the intellectual challenges of the Enlightenment, the secularist environment of capitalism and the persecution and suppression of religious houses.   He experienced personal doubts, failures and struggles.  But these negative experiences did not deter him; on the contrary, these emboldened him to proclaim the gospel in the milieu in which he lived.

The Redemptorist congregation throughout its history has always thrived when, in the context of insurmountable challenges, they were open to opportunities for the proclamation of God’s abundant redemption.  They reach the lowest point in their history when their evangelizing ministry has become fossilized and the members become passive and retreat to security and complacency.

May the legacy and example of St. Clement continue to inspire and challenge all Redemptorists and missionaries towards constantly living with fresh vitality in mission, witnessing and community life.

 


 

[1] Louis Vereecke, “The Spirituality of St. Clement Mary Hofbauer,” Readings in Redemptorist Spirituality, Vol. 5, ed. Redemptorist General Council (Rome: Redemptorist General Council, 1991), 37.

[2] Vereecke, “The Spirituality of St. Clement Mary Hofbauer,” 39.

[3] Hans Scherman, “Saint Clement Hofbauer,” Readings in Redemptorist Spirituality, Vol. 5, ed. Rededemptorist General Council (Rome: Rededemptorist General Council, 1991), 13.

[4] Vereecke, “The Spirituality of St. Clement Mary Hofbauer,” 43.

[5] Scherman, “Saint Clement Hofbauer,” 21.

[6] Josef Heinzmann, Preaching the Gospel Anew: Saint Clement Maria Hofbauer, trans. Bernard McGrade

(Liguori, MO: Liguori Publications, 1998), 67.

[7] Scherman, “Saint Clement Hofbauer,” 20.

[8] Heinzmann, “To Be a Redemptorist Today,” 60.

[9] Joseph Oppitz, Alphonsian History and Spirituality (Rome: Private Re­demptorist Publication, 1978), 82.

[10] Oppitz, Alphonsian History and Spirituality, 82.

[11] Moran, “Alphonsus Liguori,” 248.

The First Complete Tagalog Mission

 

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In March 1933 the first complete Tagalog Mission was given in Obando, Bulacan. Frs. Edward “Ned” Gallagher and Charles “Charlie” Taylor were the Missioners and this Mission was complete according to the Baclaran Chronicles in all ways including the trimmings. The Mission lasted from March 8th-17th.

This is all contained in one paragraph of the Baclaran Chronicles. But this paragraph contains a big chapter in the lives of these two men. Who were they?

They were born in Australia. They studied in the Redemptorist Seminary in Australia. When the Monastery in Baclaran was almost completed they were among those chosen to be in the first community. They arrived in the Philippines on Feb. 15th 1932 with hardly any knowledge of the Philippines or the Filipino people. Fr. Taylor was 34 years of age and Fr. Gallagher was already 40. Yet in one year they were to give the First complete Redemptorist Mission in Tagalog.

This was not their first work in Tagalog. We read in the Chronicles that less than six weeks after the arrival of the first Baclaran Community they were already serious about learning Tagalog. “After Easter March 27th, Fr. Taylor went to San Jose del Monte Bulacan to learn the language, with the help of the Parish Priest. By July 3rd Sunday Fr. Taylor, who had already preached several times in San Jose del Monte, preached the first Tagalog sermon in the Redemptorist Church on Baclaran.”

And on July 18th we read “Fr Superior, Gallagher, opened a retreat to the children of the Good Shepherd Convent in Sta. Ana, Manila. It will close on the morning of the 22nd. This is the first Tagalog Apostolic work undertaken by any member of the Community since our arrival.” This was only five months after their arrival in a foreign land.

We also read that “from December 18th – 25th, a Mission was given at the request of the Archbishop in Jalajala in Rizal. This Mission was given by Frs. Gallagher and Taylor.” Apparently they were not completely satisfied by this effort because we read in March 1933 the first complete Tagalog Mission was given in Obando, Bulacan.  According to the Baclaran Chronicles “this Mission was complete in all ways, including the trimmings.” So what was the difference?

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What comprised a Complete Mission in those days? The regular timetable for a Mission was, Mass, usually at 5.30 a.m. followed by a 15-minute instruction which was followed by another Mass.  The Morning was spent in Home visitation. In the afternoon there could be listing for Baptisms, or Marriage rectifications, (many were only married by the judge). The Baptisms would follow immediately, but the marriages would be done after the Mission at night. Confessions were also available during this time. After supper, there followed the mission proper which was made up of the rosary, notices of coming events, jokes, efforts to urge people to bring their friends and relatives for the next night, then the Mission Sermon, which lasted at least 30 minutes. If the Mission was in the town, there would be Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament. This included the ìSinners bellî which was rung during the recital of five “Our fathers”, Five “Hail Marys” and Five “Glorias” for the conversion of all poor sinners. This was followed by Confessions. And in this case the Mission lasted for a week.

Quite an effort for two men who had only been in the country for around one year, and were still struggling with the language.

Obviously God was with them.

Fr. John Maguire, C.Ss.R.

The First Redemptorist Community of Baclaran

This month of February marks the 87th year of the Redemptorist missionaries at Baclaran. When the Redemptorists settled at Baclaran, the land area was a grassland near the shore of Manila Bay. Let us look back into the events of 1932, the year when the Redemptorists settled at Baclaran.

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First Redemptorist Community in Baclaran, 1932

The Redemptorists had already been in Malate parish since 1912 but found that the work in the Parish made it impossible for them to give Missions, the work for which they were principally founded. As a result of this they handed over the parish of Malate to the Columban Fathers on March 9th, 1929. Eventually they all withdrew to Cebu.

When the Archbishop of Manila Very Rev. Michael O’Doherty generously gave the perpetual use of three hectares of land in Baclaran, to the Redemptorists in 1930, Fr Grogan was chosen to return to Manila and take charge of building a Monastery and Church. He returned to Malate as a guest on Nov 6th, 1930 and was warmly welcomed by the Fathers. He wasted no time in getting to work on the job that had been assigned to him.

This was not easy. The land had no fence and had not even been surveyed. Worse, there was a Public Artesian Well in the middle of the property. All he could do was to start working and leave everything in the hands of his patron saint, Sta. Teresita of the Child Jesus. This apparently worked for by June 1931, he was able to sign a Contract for the building of a Monastery and another for the Church by October 17th, of the same year. Both were to be finished by February of 1932.

The new Community arrived on Feb 15th, 1932. They were Frs. Gallagher, Frean, Cosgrave, Taylor and Bros. Paschal, Adrian and Albert. They had supper in Malate and then proceeded to Baclaran to check out their new home. We read in the Chronicles of the day:

All were delighted with their new home but the romantic was not wanting. They discovered late in the evening that the gas for the stove had not been connected and breakfast next morning, the first meal, was cooked in true camp style by boiling the billy in the open.

The blessing of the Church took place on the 21st, of February. The blessing was done by Very Rev. Michael Doherty, assisted by Fr. Clementine Rodriguez, Parish Priest of Sta Rita, Baclaran, James Hayes S.J., Provincial of the Jesuits and Canon Jose Jovelanos.

Fr. Grogan left for Australia by boat on March 21st. He had finished his work and left to the new Community a home where they could live as Religious and get on with their principal work of learning Tagalog to give Missions to the Filipino People.

On Sunday July 3rd Fr. Taylor preached the first Tagalog sermon in Baclaran Church. On July 18th, Fr Gallagher opened a retreat to the girls of the Good Shepherd Convent in Sta. Ana. This finished on 22nd, and the whole was preached in Tagalog. The next month they hired a translator, Juan Santos to help speed up the Translation of their sermons. Within the first year the community had succeeded in learning sufficient Tagalog to give Missions and had begun to do so.

Fr. John Maguire, CSsR,

Cardinal Sin and Cory in Baclaran before the People Power Revolution

This week we commemorate the 1986 EDSA People Power revolution. Baclaran shrine played a pivotal role during this momentous event. This week we will run a couple of articles depicting Baclaran shrine’s role in this historical event.

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photo courtesy of Philippine Star

During the week after the Snap Elections in 1986 the Superior of the National Shrine received a phone call from the Secretary of Jaime Cardinal sin requesting if the Cardinal could say Mass and preach on the following Sunday at the national Shrine at 5.00 P.M. The Superior said there was no need for the Cardinal to seek permission, as he was always welcome in Baclaran.

In the following days there was great speculation as to why the Cardinal had chosen to come to Baclaran and what he would say. Someone leaked the story to the press and it was suddenly news everywhere that Corazon Aquino, who was the loser in the so called Snap Election, would be in Baclaran with the Cardinal on the following Sunday.

Phone calls were coming in all day on the Saturday to know if the news was correct. However, we could only reply that they, the callers, seemed to know more than we did. On Sunday afternoon the churchyard was soon full and by the time of the Cardinal’s arrival people were even standing on the roofs of the cars in the parking area. Cory Aquino did arrive and the crowd went crazy crying out “Cory, Cory”.

The Cardinal spoke about the Election and said that due to the massive cheating and bribery that had taken place there was an obvious failure of election. From then on nothing could be heard of what happened as the people responded with screams of “Cory, Cory, Cory……….”

Fr. John Maguire, CSsR,

COMELEC Programmers Take Refuge in Baclaran

This week we commemorate the 1986 EDSA People Power revolution. Baclaran shrine played a pivotal role during this momentous event. This week we will run a couple of articles depicting Baclaran shrine’s role in this historical event.

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In 1986 when President Ferdinand Marcos was under some pressure, both at home and abroad, to show that the people still supported him he called a snap election. The election was held on February 6th. The official Comelec quick count of the votes was held at the PICC and computers were used to speed up the counting.

The people were able to watch the counting on Television and the figures being fed into the computers were transferred immediately to the large television screens in the PICC.

By Feb 8th, the second day of counting, the figures were big enough to be interesting and in the evening the Redemptorist Community of the National Shrine of Our Mother of Perpetual was watching the television, as was most of the country. Suddenly they saw a group of the computer operators stand up collect their belongings and walk out of the Convention Center. Was it a protest? Did they all have to go to the comfort room at the same time? What was the problem?

About twenty minutes later the front door bell of the Redemptorist Convent rang. One of the Fathers went to the door and returned a little later to declare that the people who had just left the Convention center were at the door looking for refuge. They had walked out because they had noticed that the Computers had been preprogrammed to count incorrectly. They could see that the figures going into the computers were nothing like the results appearing on the screens in front of them and on the Television. So they had left taking with them many of the computer discs with the incriminating evidence on them.

After a short discussion they were brought in and spent the night in an upstairs hall, which had been the community chapel many years before. One of the fathers provided merienda for them while they tried to contact by telephone their relatives and others who they felt would be ready to help them. By the following morning they left as they had already contacted lawyers and some support groups.

When asked why they came to Baclaran they said that they had no idea where they would go when they walked out but when they got outside someone said lets go to Baclaran. And so they did. Even the News reporters had no idea where they had gone.

The rest is history.

Fr. John Maguire, CSsR,

The Redemptorists as Regular Confessor of the President

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These days, the relationship between President Duterte and the Catholic church is at an all-time low.  Same is true between the Redemptorists and the President. This has not always been the case, however. Believe it or not, there was a time when the Redemptorist had a very good relationship with the President. This was during the term of President Ramon Magsaysay–popularly called the “Man of the Masses” and “People’s President”.

The late Fr. John Maguire reminisce these good old days:

On January 20th, 1954, Fr. Rector went to Malacañan to conduct the Novena for President Magsaysay’s family and household. A few days later, we read on the Jan 23, 1954 entry of the Baclaran chronicles about the request from Malacañan:

“The Redemptorists were asked by the Head Chaplain to be special confessors to the President’s family and household. The request was from Mrs. Magsaysay. The reply was; “We will go each Saturday afternoon if requested.”

The President used to send his car once a month to Baclaran to fetch one of the Redemptorist Fathers. The Father was then requested to hear the Confession of the first family including the staff of Malacañang. He was then treated to a presumably ‘presidential’ meal, before being returned home.

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Ramon Magsaysay on the cover of Time Magazine, November, 1951

When I first came to the Philippines there was a ‘Prayer for Peace’ recited in the Novena to Our Mother of Perpetual Help every Wednesday during the Benediction. This was only removed when the Novena was revised in 1973 as it was felt that this was already included in the prayers of petition in the Revised Version of the Novena. This prayer had been included in the Novena at the request of President Magsaysay during his term of office.

Fr. John Maguire, CSsR,