Showing posts with label L'Arche. Show all posts
Showing posts with label L'Arche. Show all posts

9 Mar 2017

‘This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!’ Second Sunday of Lent, Year A


Transfiguration, Fra Angelico 
Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)
Readings (Jerusalem Bible: Australia, England & Wales, India )
Gospel Matthew 4:1-11 (NRSV)
Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. Then Peter said to Jesus, ‘Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.’ While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!’ When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, ‘Get up and do not be afraid.’ And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone.
As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, ‘Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.’

Like Peter, James and John, I caught a glimpse of something of the Purity of God on a hill. Tradition tells us that Jesus was transfigured on Mount Tabor, Israel. My 'Mount Tabor' was a hotel at the top of a hill in Lourdes, France.
During Holy Week 2001 I took part in the international pilgrimage of Faith and Light to Lourdes which takes place every ten years. Faith and Light was born of a desire to help people with an intellectual disability and their families find their place within the Church and society. This was the main purpose of the organized pilgrimage to Lourdes at Easter of 1971. The founders of the movement were Jean Vanier and Marie-Hélène Mathieu. 
Jean Vanier is also the founder of L'Arche. In the video below he speaks about the beginnings of that, not as a project or movement but as a covenant with two individuals with learning disabilities and their own dreams, Raphael Simi and Philippe Seux.
Jean Vanier speaks about the early days of L'Arche and finding God in others
Full post here.

27 Jan 2017

'Blessed are . . .' Sunday Reflections, 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A


Sermon on the Mountain, Károly Ferenczy
Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)
Readings (Jerusalem Bible
Gospel Matthew 4:12-23 [or 12-17] (NRSV,Catholic Ed)


When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:
‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted
‘Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled
‘Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
‘Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
‘Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven.'



Isenheim Altarpiece (First View), Matthias Grünewald[Web Gallery of Art]

In the video below Fr Robert Barron (now Bishop Barron, Auxiliary of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles) offers a reflection on the Beatitudes based on St Thomas Aquinas and the painting of the Crucifixion by Matthias Grünewald, part of the Isenheim Altarpiece (First View).

Full post here.

21 Jan 2016

'Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.' Sunday Reflections, 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C

An extract from Franco Zeffirelli's Jesus of Nazareth [Today's gospel ends at 2:28]

Gospel Luke 1:1-4; 4:14-21 (NRSV, Catholic Edition, Canada)

Since many have undertaken to set down an orderly account of the events that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed on to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, I too decided, after investigating everything carefully from the very first, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the truth concerning the things about which you have been instructed.
Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone.
When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, St Luke tells us. Thirty-three years ago in the Diocese of Bacolod on the island of Negros where I now live in the Philippines the Spirit led nine men to jail, three priests and six laymen, all falsely charged with multiple murder. Fourteen months were to pass before the nine were released.

Two of the priests were Columbans, Fr Brian Gore from Australia and the late Fr Niall O'Brien from Ireland. The third was a diocesan priest, Fr Vicente Dangan, now deceased

The six laymen, all working for the Church during the very difficult Martial Law years in the Philippines, were Jesus S. Arzaga, Peter Cuales, Lydio J. Mangao, Conrado Muhal (RIP), Geronimo T. Perez (RIP) and Ernesto Tajones. They became known as The Negros Nine and you can find their photos here.

Full post here.

4 Dec 2015

'Prepare the way of the Lord.' Sunday Reflections, 2nd Sunday of Advent, Year C

Linaoli Tabernacle, St John the Baptist, Fra Angelico, c.1433
Museo di San Marco, Florence [Web Gallery of Art

Gospel Luke 3:1-6 (NRV, Catholic Edition, Can) 

In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah,

“The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.
Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low,
and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’

Charles Kuralt was an American journalist who worked for many years on the CBS TV network in the USA. He was especially noted for his 'On the Road' features on the CBS Evening News. These started in 1967, the year I was ordained, and I became familiar with them when I went to study in the USA the following year.

I vividly remember one particular story - they were never from the highways but from the byways of the United States - about a man somewhat on the older side who lived in a small town somewhere in the heartland of the country. I forget the particular state. The nearest town was only a few kilometres away but there was no road connecting the two. People had to take a very long way around to get from one to the other.

The residents of both houses tried for years to persuade their politicians to build a road between the towns, without success. So this particular elderly citizen decided he'd start to build a road himself, using planks. When Charles Kuralt caught up with him he hadn't got very far - but he had started.

Setting for a meeting of the Legion of Mary
Full post here.

31 Oct 2015

'Rejoice and be glad . . .' Sunday Reflections, All Saints' Day and All Souls' Day

The Coronation of the Virgin, Fra Angelico, 1434-35m Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence, Italy [Web Gallery of Art]

Gospel Matthew 5:1-12a (New Revised Standard Version, CatholicEdition, Canada)


When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven.”
Dublin buses [Wikipedia]
When I go home to my native Dublin I use public transport all the time. I often find God's presence in in those around me, passengers and drivers. 
Full post here.

27 Sep 2014

Happy Birthday, Louilla 'Lala' Vicente!

Lala, with Jordan
I first wrote the post below for the short-lived Negros Times in October 2008. I have re-posted it a number of times because Lala's story is one that should be told over and over again. Today she has been celebrating her 35th birthday on a pilgrimage to Lipa City, Batangas, south-east of Manila, with members of Faith and Light, which holds a pilgrimage every year on or near the Feast of the Nativity of Mary. 

No doubt, there will be something to mark the occasion at Punla, Ang Arko, where Lala lives, the only L'Arche community in the Philippines, in Cainta, Rizal, part of the metropolitan sprawl of Manila.L'Arche, which might be called the 'older sister' of Faith and Light, is celebrating its Golden Jubilee this year.

The Pope's Universal Prayer Intention for September is: That the mentally disabled may receive the love and help they need for a dignified life. The truth is that persons with mental or learning disabilities can teach the rest of us about the dignity of life, as the photo above of Lala helping Jordan with his meal shows.
 Full post here.

3 Jul 2014

'I thank you, Father . . . because you have . . . revealed [these things] to infants.' Sunday Reflections, 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A


Christ blessing the children, Nicolaes Maes, 1652-53
National Gallery, London [Web Gallery of Art]
Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)
Readings (Jerusalem Bible: Australia, England & Wales, India [optional], Ireland, New Zealand, Pakistan, Scotland, South Africa) [This link is to the readings for the Vigil Mass and for the Mass on Sunday]
At that time Jesus said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.  All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.
“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”


One night about forty years ago when I was chaplain in the college department of Immaculate Conception College (ICC) - now La Salle University - I was looking out of an upstairs window of the convento (presbytery/rectory). There were only two persons to be seen in the plaza in front of Immaculate Conception Cathedral. One was a young man, a beggar. The other was a gentle, simple-minded woman known to everyone, Goria, whose baptismal name I take to be Gregoria. Sometimes Goria would ask for money. However, she wasn't a beggar and, as far as I know, spent most of her time with her family in nearby Tangub City. She would smile if you declined to give her money.
Full post here.

9 May 2014

'I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.' Sunday Reflections, 3rd Sunday of Easter Year A

Murillo, c.1660, Museo del Prado, Madrid [Web Gallery of Art]
Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)                 Readings(Jerusalem Bible: Australia, England & Wales, India [optional], Ireland, New Zealand, Pakistan, Scotland, South Africa)

Jesus said: "Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.” Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.
So again Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture.  The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.
And the sheep follow him because they know his voice.
Fr Noel O'Neill is a Columban priest from the city of Limerick in Ireland who has been in Korea for most of 60 years now. Fr Peter Woodruff is an Australian Columban who worked in Peru for many years. Here he tells part of the story of Father Noel. 
                                              Do you love me?
Fr Noel O'Neill with friends in Korea. 
Fr Noel O'Neill arrived in South Korea in 1957, four years after the Korean War ended in 1953. The whole country had been devastated by war and was still in the throes of reconstruction.

Full post here

14 Mar 2014

'This is my Son, the Beloved . . . listen to him!' Sunday Reflections, 2nd Sunday of Lent Year A


Paolo Veronese, 1555-56 [Web Gallery of Art]


Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)    
                        
Readings (Jerusalem Bible: Australia, England & Wales, India [optional], Ireland, New Zealand, Pakistan, Scotland, South Africa)











Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Get up and do not be afraid.” And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone.

As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, “Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”

Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, Lourdes [Wikipedia]



Like Peter, James and John, I caught a glimpse of something of the Purity of God on a hill. Tradition tells us that Jesus was transfigured on Mount Tabor, Israel. My 'Mount Tabor' was a hotel at the top of a hill in Lourdes, France.

Full post here.

31 Oct 2012

'Blessed are . . .' All Saints' Day



For All the Saints
Words by William Walsham How, music by Ralph Vaughan Williams

This is sung in Cardiff, Wales, a country noted for its choral singing and for its brass bands. Both are here. Williams gave the name Sine Nomine, 'Without a Name', to the melody.

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

Readings (Jerusalem Bible: Australia, England & Wales, India [optional], Ireland, New Zealand, Pakistan, Scotland, South Africa) 

Gospel Matthew 5:1-12a (Revised Standard Version – Catholic Edition)

Seeing the crowds, Jesus went up on the mountain, and when he sat down his disciples came to him. And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying:

"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

"Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

"Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

"Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

"Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.

"Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.

"Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

"Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven.


27 Sep 2012

Happy Birthday, Lala, VERY IMPORTANT PERSON!

I first wrote the post below for the short-lived Negros Times in October 2008. I have re-posted it a number of times because Lala's story is one that should be told over and over again. This evening she will be celebrating her 33rd birthday with a quiet dinner at Punla, Ang Arko, the only L'Arche community in the Philippines, in Cainta, Rizal, part of the metropolitan sprawl of Manila.


Lala, with Jordan
Let us show our service to the poor, then, with renewed ardour in our hearts, seeking out above all any abandoned people, since they are given to us as lords and patrons.(St Vincent de Paul, used in the Office of Readings for his feast day, today.)

Both Lala and Queen Elizabeth II have have two birthdays, the real one and the official one. Lala’s official birthday is 27 September and she turns 33 today. Queen Elizabeth’s official birthday is celebrated in 53 Commonwealth countries, but not on the same date. Only the Falkland Islands observes her official birthday on her real one, 21 April. In the United Kingdom the Queen’s official birthday can be on the first, second or third Saturday in June. She turned 86 on her last birthday.

While there’s no confusion about the date of birth of Queen Elizabeth, there is about that of Lala. The young Princess Elizabeth was born in a palace in London. Lala was found shortly after birth in a trashcan in Cebu city in the central Philippines. Those who found her took her to the Asilo De La Milagrosa, the orphanage of the Daughters of Charity there. The Sisters noticed that the little girl had Trisomy 21 (Down Syndrome) and took her in and raised her. Since they didn’t know who her parents were they had to choose a name for her.

St Vincent de Paul (24 April 1581 - 27 September 1660)

The Sisters chose 'Vicente' as her family name, in honor of St Vincent de Paul, and 'Louilla' as her Christian name, in honor of St Louise de Marillac. The two saints founded the Daughters of Charity in France in 1633. Lala, as all her friends know her, probably has something else in common with St Louise. She was almost certainly born out of wedlock, as the saint was, and, like St Louise, never knew her mother. I suspect that Lala’s mother, probably very young and unmarried, panicked – this possibly added to when she saw that her daughter wasn’t 'normal' - and left her baby where someone could find her and take care of her.

St Louise de Marillac (15 August 1591 - 15 March 1660)

I first met Lala in Cebu in 1992 at a Faith and Light celebration. We had just begun a community there, after a retreat given by the co-founder of the movement, Jean Vanier, a Canadian layman, in Holy Family Retreat House, Cebu City, in October 1991. During the retreat he gave a public talk in the auditorium of St Theresa’s College, as I recall, and a group of interested people got together after that. The gathering at which Lala was present included members of Faith and Light from Manila who had come to tell us more about the movement.

I could see immediately that Lala had a special gift – she’s a natural 'ice-breaker'. Though she seldom says anything, she lights up any group into which she comes, unless she’s in a bad mood, which happens from time to time.

Lala became a member of our Faith and Light community in Cebu but I lost contact with her when I went to Lianga, Surigao del Sur, in 1993 as parish priest and to Manila the following year to become vocation director of the Columbans. But one day when I visited the L’Arche community in Cainta, Rizal, known as 'Ang Arko', I was surprised to see Lala there. L’Arche, the French for 'The Ark' as in Noah’s Ark, was founded by Jean Vanier, in 1964 when he invited two men with learning disabilities, Raphael Simi and Philippe Seux, who had been living in an institution, to join him in a small cottage he had bought and was renovating in the town of Trosly-Breuil, France. Jean had no intention of founding anything, but he realized very quickly that he had made a commitment to these two men. One of them, I forget which, chose to live independently some years later, something he could never have done had he stayed not met Jean. Out of these small beginnings has grown an international movement of about 130 residential communities where those with learning disabilities are enabled to live in a family-type situation and to develop their abilities to the greatest extent possible.

Jordan and Raymon, now young men, were welcomed by Ang Arko when they were very young. Both have physical as well as learning disabilities. The original house was in Manila but the community moved later to Cainta.

Lala and Hachico, each looking more content than the other!

In Holy Week 2001 I attended the international pilgrimage of Faith and Light to Lourdes as chaplain to the group from the Philippines. Lala was one of the twelve or so Filipinos.

The Easter Vigil was celebrated in the underground basilica. Some of the Old Testament Vigil readings were dramatized. During the account of creation when the words 'God created man in his image; in the divine image he created him' were read, a spotlight shone on a young man in a wheelchair. But what moved me most was when 'Lala' was part of a group dramatizing the reading of the Exodus.

I simply marveled at the fact that a young woman who should never have been born, according to the 'wisdom' of so many, left after birth among garbage, was on the other side of the world helping to proclaim the Word of God to thousands of people, many like herself, and doing so with the joy that permeates her soul.

Queen Elizabeth, Queen of Canada, in Toronto in 2007(Ever since I was a small child I've just loved the scarlet jackets of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. I used to draw Mounties with crayons but never evolved into an El Greco or a Van Gogh.)

Queen Elizabeth has been blessed by God with a long and healthy life, in which she continues to serve her people with dignity. Though Queen Elizabeth is among the richest people in the world, Lala, also with her two birthdays, enjoys even greater riches, because the words of Mary’s prayer, the Magnificat, have been revealed in her life: 'God has lifted up the lowly'.


The Visitation, El Greco painted 1610-13. (From Web Gallery of Art.)

Deposuit potentes de sede et exaltavit humiles.

He casts the mighty from their thrones and raises the lowly (Luke 1:52, Grail translation.)

From Vespers of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Claudio Monteverdi (1567 - 1643).

2 Sep 2012

Jean Vanier on hospitality



While posting the link Misyononline link for today's Sunday Reflections on Facebook I saw there a link to a new video by Jean Vanier, founder of L'Arche and co-founder with Marie-Hélène Mathieu of Faith and Light. He is speaking to a young fellow-Canadian, Maya Pot, a fifth-grader, about hospitality, which I had also focused on in Sunday Reflections, where a Filipino seminarian told me about the experience of hospitality that he had when he went to visit some workers from Kerala, India, living in an overcrowded labour camp in Dubai.

Marie-Hélène Mathieu

I've since discovered that Jean speaks to Maya in a number of short videos on hospitality, each directed to a different group. The one above is for parents. He speaks to teachers (below), to senior elementary students here, to junior elementary students here and to secondary students here.

Full post here.

2 Apr 2012

Madonna House: The People of the Towel & Water

Video made at Madonna House, Combermere, Ontario, Canada

I have visited the Madonna House community in Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, Canada, a number of times, in 1985 and in 2005. One of many blessings was meeting and working with a priest of Madonna House, the late Monsignor Art Bukowski, from Michigan, USA, in Kentucky during the summers of 1969 and 1970, when I was a young priest studying in the USA. He was much older than me and when I first met him he had just finished 29 years as president of Aquinas College, Grand Rapids. He later, I think, spent some time in Latin America. He died in 1989. I remember him for his quiet, missionary zeal as a priest and his driest of the dry humour. I also remember the Madonna House cross that he wore.

 Monsignor Arthur F. Bukowski

The video, which begins with part of the gospel for Holy Thursday, highlights the consecration of Catherine de Hueck (de HUEeck) Doherty and her husband to Jesus through Mary. This consecration comes form the teachings of St Louis-Marie de Montfort. The film mentions that that saint had a similarly deep influence on the spirituality of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta and Blessed John Paul II. It was also the bedrock of the spirituality of the Venerable Frank Duff, founder of the Legion of Mary.

Something else emphasised in the video is 'Nazareth spirituality', which deeply influenced Blessed Charles de Foucauld, though in a somewhat different way. It is also implicitly part of the spirituality of Jean Vanier, founder of L'Arche and co-founder of its 'cousin' Faith and Light. Both of these, like Madonna House, are very Marian. Indeed, Faith and Light grew out of an international pilgrimage to Lourdes for persons with learning disabilities and their families in 1971.

The very title of this video also reminds me of something that Jean Vanier places great importance on, the washing of the feet. In a retreat I made under him in Manila in 1995 we spent a whole afternoon reflecting on this, ending in small circles where we washed the feet of one of the persons beside us. The one who washed mine was Lala, about whom I've written a number of times before.

 Lala taking care of Jordan in the 'Nazareth' that is the L'Arche community, Cainta, Rizal, near Manila

Though based in England at the time, I was chaplain to the small Philippine group at the Faith and Light international pilgrimage to Lourdes during Holy Week 2001. After the Evening Mass of the Lord's Supper we had our own washing of the feet ritual in the garden of the hotel where the Filipinos were staying.

'Nazareth spirituality' shows the extraordinary presence of God in the ordinary. Most of us spend our whole lives in 'Nazareth' and yet very few of us are aware of this.

A quiet joy comes through this film, the kind of joy that Pope Benedict spoke about in his message for this year's World Youth Day, observed yesterday, Palm Sunday.

27 Sep 2011

Lala and Queen Elizabeth II

This column, updated 28 September 2011, appeared in the short-lived Negros Times 13-14 October 2008. The above was the picture that appeared with my weekly column. Yesterday, the feast of St Vincent de Paul, was Lala's 'Official Birthday'. I only remembered that today and thought of posting my three-year-old article here.

Both Lala and Queen Elizabeth II have have two birthdays, the real one and the official one. Lala’s official birthday is September 27 and she turned 32 yesterday. Queen Elizabeth’s official birthday is celebrated in 53 Commonwealth countries, but not on the same date. Only the Falkland Island observes her official birthday on her real one, April 21. In the United Kingdom the Queen’s official birthday can be on the first, second or third Saturday in June. She turned 85 on her last birthday.

While there’s no confusion about the date of birth of Queen Elizabeth, there is about that of Lala. The young Princess Elizabeth was born in a palace in London. Lala was found shortly after birth in a trashcan in Cebu city in the central Philippines. Those who found her took her to the Asilo De La Milagrosa, the orphanage of the Daughters of Charity there. The Sisters noticed that the little girl had Trisomy 21 (Down Syndrome) and took her in and raised her. Since they didn’t know who her parents were they had to choose a name for her.

The Sisters chose 'Vicente' as her family name, in honor of St Vincent de Paul, and 'Louilla' as her Christian name, in honor of St Louise de Marillac. The two saints founded the Daughters of Charity in France in 1633. Lala, as all her friends know her, probably has something else in common with St Louise. She was almost certainly born out of wedlock, as the saint was, and, like St Louise, never knew her mother. I suspect that Lala’s mother, probably very young and unmarried, panicked – this possibly added to when she saw that her daughter wasn’t 'normal' - and left her baby where someone could find her and take care of her.

I first met Lala in Cebu in 1992 at a Faith and Light celebration. We had just begun a community there, after a retreat given by the co-founder of the movement, Jean Vanier, a Canadian layman, in Holy Family Retreat House, Cebu City, in October 1991. During the retreat he gave a public talk in the auditorium of St Theresa’s College, as I recall, and a group of interested people got together after that. The gathering at which Lala was present included members of Faith and Light from Manila who had come to tell us more about the movement.

I could see immediately that Lala had a special gift – she’s a natural 'ice-breaker'. Though she seldom says anything, she lights up any group into which she comes, unless she’s in a bad mood, which happens from time to time.

Lala became a member of our Faith and Light community in Cebu but I lost contact with her when I went to Lianga, Surigao del Sur, in 1993 as parish priest and to Manila the following year to become vocation director of the Columbans. But one day when I visited the L’Arche community in Cainta, Rizal, known as 'Ang Arko',  I was surprised to see Lala there. L’Arche, the French for 'The Ark' as in Noah’s Ark, was founded by Jean Vanier, in 1964 when he invited two men with learning disabilities, Raphael Simi and Philippe Seux, who had been living in an institution, to join him in a small cottage he had bought and was renovating in the town of Trosly-Breuil, France. Jean had no intention of founding anything, but he realized very quickly that he had made a commitment to these two men. One of them, I forget which, chose to live independently some years later, something he could never have done had he stayed not met Jean. Out of these small beginnings has grown an international movement of about 130 residential communities where those with learning disabilities are enabled to live in a family-type situation and to develop their abilities to the greatest extent possible.

Jordan and Raymon, now young men, were welcomed by Ang Arko when they were very young. Both have physical as well as learning disabilities. The original house was in Manila but the community moved later to Cainta.

In Holy Week 2001 I attended the international pilgrimage of Faith and Light to Lourdes as chaplain to the group from the Philippines. Lala was one of the twelve or so Filipinos.

The Easter Vigil was celebrated in the underground basilica. Some of the Old Testament Vigil readings were dramatized. During the account of creation when the words 'God created man in his image; in the divine image he created him' were read, a spotlight shone on a young man in a wheelchair. But what moved me most was when 'Lala' was part of a group dramatizing the reading of the Exodus.

I simply marveled at the fact that a young woman who should never have been born, according to the 'wisdom' of so many, left after birth among garbage, was on the other side of the world helping to proclaim the Word of God to thousands of people, many like herself, and doing so with the joy that permeates her soul.

Queen Elizabeth has been blessed by God with a long and healthy life, in which she continues to serve her people with dignity. Though Queen Elizabeth is among the richest people in the world, Lala, also with her two birthdays, enjoys even greater riches, because the words of Mary’s prayer, the Magnificat, have been revealed in her life: 'God has lifted up the lowly'.


Rafael Simi (left) and Jean Vanier (right). You can listen to an interview with Jean here. He turned 83 on 10 September.
 
This comment was posted when I first posted this three years ago:
 
Wow..I can't believe Im actually sitting here reading this post about Lala..This is wonderfull..Well, I actually grew up with Lala in the orphanage at Asilo dela Milagrosa..we are the same age..I was there from 1986-1994 until I was sent here in America to be adopted..The first time we were introduce to Lala we were a little nervous, we were very young and we never met someone like her, then she started to sing "Tomorrow" and for some reason we were all drawn to her..As I remember, I was a little jealous because she was always happy, didnt care what everyone thought of her, she welcomed every visitor we had with a smile, she's very friendly..After I finished high school, I started working as a volunteer camp councelor but I was assigned in the office and there was this girl and she is also my age and I was ask to be her counselor for a couple of months and I was so excited, nobody knew why I was glad to do so and it all because I remembered Lala, it was 8 yrs. ago that i work at the camp, and here I am writing and remembering Lala..
I would like to thank you Fr. Sean for writing this post..

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