Daily Archives:November 5th, 2018

Fr Gastel: I am extremely proud to have served here in Sabah

Fr. Gastel with Archbishop John Wong and some of his ex-students of St.Michael’s Secondary School, Penampang

KOTA KINABALU – Forty six years ago, a freshly-ordained Mill Hill priest, Fr William Van Gastel, stepped ashore the land of North Borneo (now Sabah), not sure he could do what he would be tasked.  But one thing for sure, he was to share the Good News of Christ to whoever he would meet.

He was only 25 when he was ordained in London on 12 July 1959, after completing two years Philosophy at the Major Seminary in Holland, followed by four years Theology at Mill Hill England. His first posting overseas was North Borneo.

Forty six years later, Fr Gastel, 84, arrived Kota Kinabalu Sep 22 to be assailed by many positive aspects of all that he has experienced during his tenure in Sabah, be they spiritual or material. So much so that he was driven to exclaim, “I am extremely proud to have served here in Sabah!”

He recalled on arriving at this Far East destination by the end of 1959, when he was almost immediately appointed to Limbahau, Papar (1960-61) as principal of St Mary’s Limbahau and supervisor of the Catholic schools in Kinuta, Biau and Batu 8, Papar Road.

The tempo of service was unrelenting with his next appointment at Toboh (1962-63) where he was also required to do pastoral work in the many outstations, followed by a year’s stint (1964-65) as principal of St John’s Secondary School, Tuaran.

In 1966 he left for a renewal course in connection with Vatican Council II and a brief home leave to Holland, but by 1967 he was appointed to Penampang as principal of St Michael’s Secondary School and supervisor of the mission schools in Inobong, Limbanak and Kinarut (1967-71). He had the added task of finishing the re-building of St Michael’s Secondary School.

Realizing the change in the government education policy which had both great advantages and also its disadvantages, Fr Gastel persuaded Bishop James Buis to look for a lay-principal, to which the bishop reluctantly agreed.

His first visit (2018) after leaving Sabah in 1972 has been a meaningful and rewarding time revisiting memories and his ex-students. Catholic Sabah was informed that the classes of ‘69, ‘70 and ‘71 of St Michael’s  Secondary School, headed by Datuk Clarence Bongkos Malakun, were responsible to bring about “a down the memory lane” experience for their ex-principal.

Gastel recalled mixed feelings when he was first approached by Malakun for he has come away from the eastern culture and immersed into a different culture. “I am not sure if I can cope with the revisitation of a beloved culture tucked away into a far corner in my heart after all these 40 odd years,” he wryly admitted.

Half way through his three-week long visit, he confessed that there were no regrets with his decision to visit. Uppermost in his mind, he did not manage to have a good closure with his students as he left abruptly because of the government’s decision to expel foreign priests (see separate story).

The visit has provided for him to speak his heart to all those whose life he has touched, particularly the students, many of whom are now grandparents and retirees. Judging from their current standing in society and business, he has witnessed a successful, growing and glorious community come forth. He sees much more in the missions, more churches built, more involvement of lay people, etc.

“Though we thank God for the prosperity of the people who have come from simple rice planters, from difficult times, we need to be aware of the affluence of prosperity, and to watch out for the negative influences so as to avoid passing them on to their children,” cautioned Fr Gastel.

He explained, “In difficult times, people come together but when in times of prosperity, there is a danger of people becoming individualistic, chasing only material wealth.”

Finding that St Michael is doing very well academically during his visit to the school on the Feast of St Michael the Archangel Sep 29 as part of his program, he was especially happy to note that the school is training students to be also respectful of nature when he visited the herbs garden.

How the future of the schools would look like depends on the government, but he called on those who are parents now to “be united” and be “people of empowerment who would speak up and be a good representation” so as to ensure that their children would have a better future.

Fr Gastel ruefully admitted that he could not recognize all when some came up to him during his various visits in different places and asked “Do you remember me, Father?”, though they had fond memories of him.

What he would like to be remembered, however, would be these parting words, “Forget the era of the missions. Don’t live in the past. See the positive out of the negative. Watch out for the negative side of prosperity.  Keep doing what you are doing, especially for the schools.  Look for opportunities, particularly to raise up good leaders who will stand up for the local population.” – Catholic Sabah

Help along the way

THE canonization in Rome of seven new saints on Oct. 14 was one of those moments that remind believers why we’re making this journey. With thousands of Catholics from around the globe gathered in St. Peter’s Square, Pope Francis officially proclaimed the sainthood of seven individuals, among them the foundress of a religious order, a pope, a teenage layman and a martyred Salvadoran archbishop.

The first – Mother Catherine Kasper – reminds us of the role that religious have played in every age of the Church, cultivating the Spirit’s gifts and fostering renewal.

The second – Pope Paul VI – reminds us not only of the vital unity of the Body of Christ, but also of the power of the Gospel unleashed when we have the faith and courage to listen to the Spirit together.

The third – Nunzio Sulprizio – affirms that the call to holiness is indeed universal and that even the witness of an ordinary, devout teenager is capable of edifying faithful men and women nearly two centuries later.

The fourth – Oscar Romero – reminds us that following the Holy Spirit’s lead and being a prophetic voice for the Gospel has, from the Church’s beginning, carried with it the possibility of giving everything over to God.

It is a gift that these canonizations fall as closely as they do to the celebration of All Saints Day and All Souls Day, on Nov 1 and Nov 2. During a truly rough year for the Church, with the resurgence of sexual abuse scandals on several continents, there is real consolation in having “so great a cloud of witnesses” (Heb 12:1) praying for the Church and supporting all of us with their prayers from heaven.

The holy witnesses of the saints are not frozen in the amber of the past. The graces of their merits still flow in the world and, thankfully, help to relieve the debt of our sinful failings.

The prayerful intercession of the saints can also help us to see with greater faith the supernatural realities of the Body of Christ we comprise. Reminded of this, we can embrace the signs of unity and communion with one another in this life. The saints remind us that the Church is God’s tool for carrying out the salvation plan and that, even when we struggle with pain and confusion, we do not struggle alone or beyond the reach of God’s providence.

And lastly, as we remember with joy and gratitude the saints in heaven, we also remember with love and thanksgiving – and often with the lingering sadness of loss – all who have gone before us. And just as the saints are praying for us, we should in charity be praying for them and for all souls. The full effects of these prayers and relationships are invisible to us, but this month’s canonizations are yet another reminder from the Church that we are awesomely bound together in ways we seldom appreciate. – OSV

New international body for Catholic Charismatic Renewal

The Dicastery for Laity, Family, and Life unveils a new body that will provide services to the international Catholic Charismatic Renewal which will be established on 8 December.

The Holy See is establishing a body that will provide a “new, single, international service for the needs of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal in the Church”. This news was announced by the Dicastery for Laity, Family, and Life in a Press Release on 31 October.

Details of the new organization

According to the Press Release, December 8 is the day that will see this new structure come to light. In addition, the statutes governing it will be approved, “ad experimentum” (i.e. on an experimental basis). Pope Francis himself has requested the creation of such an organization “on several occasions”, the Press Release states. CHARIS will be its name and it “will operate in favour of all expressions of the current of grace that is Catholic Charismatic Renewal”.


CHARIS will have no authority over what the press release calls “realities of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal”. Each Charismatic entity will remain autonomous, under “the jurisdiction of the ecclesiastical authority upon which it currently depends”. All of these groups will be able to benefit from the services that CHARIS will provide.

CHARIS Members

After December 8, the following people will be appointed by the Dicastery for Laity, Family, and Life to various services within CHARIS for a 3-year period beginning on Pentecost in 2019:

Dr. Jean-Luc Moens from Belgium as Moderator

Members of the International Service Communion:

Bishop Peter Leslie Smith from the United States for English and French speaking North America and the Caribbean
Mr. Andrés Arango from the United States for Spanish-speaking North America and Caribbean
Mrs. María Eugenia de Góngora from Guatemala for Central America
Mr. Pino Scafuro from Argentina for Spanish-speaking South America
Mrs. Gabriella Marcia da Rocha Días from Brazil for Portughese-speaking South America
Mr. Cyril John from India for Asia
Br. James Shin San-Hyun from South Korea for Asia
Mr. Jean-Christophe Sakiti from Togo for French-speaking Africa
Mr. Fred Mawanda from Uganda for English-speaking Africa
Mr. Paolo Maino from Italy for Europe
Rev. Deacon Etienne Mellot from France for Europe
Mr. Shayne Bennett from Australia for Oceania
Mr. José Prado Flores from Mexico for Diverse Catholic Charismatic Renewal ministries
Fr. Etienne Vetö from the United States for Charismatic priests or religious:
Mr. Jean Barbara from Lebanon for Charismatic communities
Deacon Johannes Fichtenbauer from Austria for Charismatic Communities:
Mr. François Prouteau from France for Associations with Holy See recognition
Ms. Giulia Rancan from Italy for young charismatic Catholics under 30 years of age
Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa, O.F.M. Cap. from Italy as the Ecclesiastical Assistant

Statutes and finances

The Press Release concludes by setting the Solemnity of Pentecost, 2019, as the day on which the Statutes take effect. On that day the following organizations “will cease to exist”: International Catholic Charismatic Renewal Service and the Catholic Fraternity of Charismatic Covenant Communities and Fellowships. “The patrimony of these two bodies will be transferred to CHARIS, in order to provide this new body with the financial means necessary to undertake the mission intended for it by the Holy Father.”Sr Bernadette Mary Reis, fsp, Vatican News, 01 Nov 2018

Vatican in two inter-faith events in Singapore, Thailand

The Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue (PCID) has announced two inter-faith events in Singapore and Thailand.

The Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue (PCID) has announced two inter-faith events next week in Asia – one in Singapore and the other in Thailand.


The PCID is organizing the Second Christian-Taoist Colloquium at Fr. Jean Marie Beurel Centre, in Singapore, November 5-7, in collaboration with the Archdiocese of Singapore and the Taoist Federation of Singapore.

Seventy-two scholars and people engaged in interreligious dialogue from Singapore, China, France, India, Malaysia, South Korea, Switzerland, Vatican and Taiwan will discuss the theme, “Christian and Taoist Ethics in Dialogue”, in its various aspects.

Among the participants are also representatives of the PCID, the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences (FABC) and the World Council of Churches (WCC).

The PCID explained that the colloquium intends to provide opportunities for academics and those engaged in Christian-Taoist dialogue to share views and aspects related to the theme by means of the conference podium as well as informal discussions.

The meeting also aims at acting together urgently, with a shared sense of co-responsibility, to face the grave human, ethical and social degradation in the world on the basis of a patrimony of moral values common to all human beings.


The second event is a commemorative ceremony of the 230th Anniversary of the Buddhist Royal Temple of Chetupon (Wat Pho) in Bangkok, Thailand on November 9.  On this occasion, Venerable Phra Thepweeraporn, Abbot of the temple has invited two officials from the PCID, who will be joined by Holy See’s officials and local Catholic Church representatives of Thailand.

Good relations

According to the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue, the Holy See and the Wat Phra Chetupon (Wat Pho) enjoy a long-lasting friendship and mutual collaboration.

His Majesty King Rama VII of the Kingdom of Thailand visited Pope Pius XI on 21 March 1934. The King gifted the Pope with a copy of Phra Malai, a sacred Buddhist Scripture written in ancient Khmer alphabets. At the request of the Vatican Museums, a group of Buddhist scholars from Chetupon Temple translated this sacred book into both the Pali and Thai languages.

On 16 May 2018, a delegation comprising of fifty Buddhist monks, government representatives and lay people led by Venerable Phra Rajaratanasunthon presented the copies of the translation to His Holiness Pope Francis during a private audience.

The first delegation of Buddhist monks from Thailand visited the Vatican on 5 June 1972 and had an audience with Pope Paul VI. One of the three monks of the delegation was Most Venerable Somdej Phra Wanaratana, former abbot of Wat Phra Chetupon (Wat Pho). – Vatican News, 01 Nov 2018

Vatican’s Deepavali Message urges defence of the vulnerable

Woman in India lights a lamps for Deepavali

The Hindu Festival of Lights, or Deepavali, takes place in November, prompting the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue to send “cordial greetings and prayerful best wishes”.

Vatican – On November 6 and 7, millions of people throughout the world will celebrate the Festival of Lights, or Deepavali. Rooted in the Hindu culture, Deepavali celebrates the triumph of good over evil. As is customary, the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue issued a message on 31 October entitled “Christians and Hindus: In Defence of the Vulnerable of Society”.

Dear friends

“Dear Hindu Friends”, the message begins. “The Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue sends you most cordial greetings and prayerful good wishes as you celebrate Deepavali. May the celebrations surrounding this festival strengthen the spirit of friendship and fraternity among you and enhance peace and joy in your families and communities!”

Defending the vulnerable

The message then stresses how both Hindus and Christians can be inspired by this celebration in order to defend those who are vulnerable in society. This stems from a “shared belief that we are all God’s” children who share an equal dignity. Furthermore, we are responsible for one another, and everyone is vulnerable at times looking to others “to offer a helping hand”. The result is “doing all we can to alleviate” suffering, defend rights and restore dignity.

Together in the triumph of good over evil

In conclusion, the message calls on all believers to be active participants in the triumph of good over evil.

“May we join hands with the adherents of other religious traditions and all people of good will to make a collective and concerted effort to secure a joyful present and a hopeful future for our vulnerable brothers and sisters! We wish all of you a happy Deepavali!”

Where Deepavali is celebrated

The countries Guyana, Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore, Sri Lanka, and Trinidad and Tobago are celebrating Deepavali as a public holiday on 6 November. Fiji, India, Kenya, Mauritius, and Suriname are celebrating it on 7 November. – Sr Bernadette Mary Reis, fsp, Vatican news, 31 Oct 2018

Blessed Clelia Merloni fixes her gaze on God

Blessed Clelia Merloni, Foundress of the Apostles of the Sacred Heart of Jesus

Vatican – Cardinal Angelo Becciu, the Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, beatified Clelia Merloni at St John Lateran on Saturday saying that she kept her gaze fixed on God even amid suffering and tribulation.

Clelia Merloni, who lived between 1861 and 1930, is now beatified. Her beatification ceremonytook place at the Basilica of St John Lateran in Rome on Saturday morning. Cardinal Angelo Becciu, Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, celebrated the Mass. In his homily, he praised Bl Clelia, saying her gaze “was always turned to God”, especially “in time of trial”.

Charity in return for hostility

Cardinal Becciu said that Mother Clelia embraced Paul’s hymn to love and Jesus’ command to love our enemies even when dismissed from governing the Apostles of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, which she had founded. That period of her life was “hard and exhausting, a personal ordeal, made of loneliness and solitude, and poor health”, the Cardinal said. Yet, that was the moment when Mother Clelia encountered her Spouse, Jesus Crucified. Mother Clelia “responded to hostility and contempt with charity”, he said.

Credible signs of God’s love

“Her life was given in total oblation”, the Cardinal continued. She lived the charism of the community of women religious that she had founded, and witnessed to it “in her flesh”. That charism, said Cardinal Becciu, “is contemporary and fascinating: to offer oneself totally and joyfully to the Heart of Jesus” so as to be a “living and credible sign of God’s love”.

God alone

Mother Clelia centred herself on Christ in the Eucharist and would spend hours in the chapel, Cardinal Becciu related. “God alone” was her motto. And so she would encourage her sisters to “impress in your hearts that God alone is your only good and your only refuge”. She herself, Cardinal Becciu said, was “transformed into a ‘flame of love’ ”. Precisely because she belonged entirely to God, Bl Clelia’s “heart was open to all, especially to the sick and the suffering”, he said.

Bl Clelia’s message

Bl Clelia has a message for us, the Cardinal proposed. That message is embodied in her life of “moral suffering” through which she became a “strong and courageous woman who knew how to witness the love of Jesus in every circumstance”. For life to flow around us, he said, it is essential that we unite ourselves to Jesus’ pierced Heart. Death, hatred and division will thus yield to life, love and communion. Mother Clelia first practiced the charism she would share with others, “where prayer and suffering emerged as essential elements”, Cardinal Becciu said.

Keep Mother Clelia’s charism alive!

The Cardinal then turned his final remarks to the Apostles of the Sacred Heart of Jesus who were present for the beatification of their Foundress. “We ask you”, he said, “to keep her charism alive, and above all her spirituality of self-offering, whose focus is the love that bears all things and forgives all things”. He told the women religious that their mission is still contemporary, as is the motto of their Institute, “the love of Christ impels us”. That motto, the Cardinal said, is a commitment to make St Paul’s words their own, thus constantly radiating love.

Blessed Clelia Merloni, pray for us!

The Cardinal then concluded:

“Let us ask the Lord that the path of holiness, which Mother Clelia Merloni has shown us with a life sustained by love for the Cross, may every day become the luminous and sure path on our journey of love for God and our brothers and sisters.

“Let us repeat together: Blessed Clelia Merloni, pray for us!” Sr Bernadette Mary Reis, fsp, Vatican News, 3 Nov 2018



Algeria prepares for beatification of 19 martyrs

The 7 Trappist monk who were martyred at Tibhirine monastery in Algeria

Seven of the nineteen martyrs rose to international fame following the film Of Gods and Men. But on December 8th, all of the 19 men and women martyred by Islamic terrorists in Algeria between 1994 and 1996 will be beatified in Oran, Algeria.

Vatican – The cause for their beatification opened in 2007, thus titling Pierre Claverie and Companions as Servants of God. Earlier this year Pope Francis confirmed their beatification.

On December 8th the ceremony of beatification will take place in the cathedral of the Diocese of Oran, of which the martyred Pierre Claverie was bishop. Cardinal Angelo Becciu, Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, will preside the beatification Mass as well as represent the Holy Father on the occasion.

Algeria’s “dark decade”

Between 1991 and 2002, Algeria was thrust into a civil war between the Algerian government and Islamic rebel groups. During the years in which the brutality of the rebels reached new heights, 19 men and women had to pay the ultimate price for their Christian faith and unwillingness to leave their land.

Among these was bishop Pierre Claverie of Oran, who was the last of the martyrs to be killed in a bombing outside the bishopric in 1996, alongside his Muslim friend and driver. The martyrdom of the monks of Tibhirine in 1996 inspired the award-winning film Of Gods and Men. The French Trappist monks lived a quiet life of coexistence and friendship with their Muslim neighbours. Refusing to leave their country and the people of Algeria, they were kidnapped and subsequently decapitated.

“Their message was love”

In their press release of October 2018, the bishops of Algeria make it clear that the purpose of the beatification is not to make of these men and women heroes. Rather it is to show that through these ordinary men and women we see how even in the darkest of times there are glimpses of hope. And their unconditional love of God, their country and their people shows us how “only love can end the alienating spiral of evil”.

The bishops quoted Dr. Issam Toualbi, a Muslim and the Director of the UNESCO Chair Emir Abdelkader for Human Rights and Culture of Peace, who said to them: “May this beatification be a precursor to the building of a better future between the two banks of the Mediterranean; a future built on respect, understanding and sharing.”- Joachim Teigen, Vatican News, 31 Oct 2018

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