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‘I often wondered why Brother So-and-so never took to the priesthood despite his academic degrees. But then each man to his chosen profession.’ This statement, in a column in a daily newspaper in which the writer was paying tribute to a recently deceased friend who was a De La Salle religious brother , is a variation of a question your editor has been asked or has heard many times over the years. Below is an expanded version of a letter in response published by the newspaper.

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What is the meaning of Lent?

Here Fr Tom O’Reilly, the Regional Director of the Columbans in Britain, offers some answers arising from an experience in Pakistan.

There's a crack in everything and the light gets in

Fr Tom O’Reilly

When I arrived at a small chapel on the outskirts of Gujranwala, Pakistan, to celebrate Mass on the first Sunday of Lent I was surprised to see the place was practically empty. Eventually, I was told that the people were assembled in the house of Rashid, a parishioner, to support him in the rigorous fast he had begun on Ash Wednesday.

On investigation, I found Rashid solemnly seated on a raised platform before his house and surrounded by many admirers. He had decided not to eat or drink anything from sunrise to sunset for the 40 days of Lent and thus to prove that Christians could 'out-fast' Muslims, whose fast lasted only 28 days in the month of Ramadan!

To Search is to find

The Feast of the Sto Niño is observed in the Philippines on the Second Sunday in Ordinary Time, which falls this year on 15 January. Some time ago we received a question at about the different kinds of statues of the Sto Niño and responded in our Forum. Here are the question and answer, slightly edited.

Hi. I am from Singapore and recently I've started the devotion to Santo Niño after I brought back a Santo Niño from Tacloban. The Holy Child is wearing a hat, carries a bag on his left hand, which is raised in blessing, and on his right hand, he carries a cross. He is dressed in green.

Below are the questions I have:

  1. I would like to know the name of this particular Santo Niño and its historical and cultural background.
  2. It seems that there are so many types of Santo Niño in the Philippines. Why is that so?
  3. I would also like to know how I can express my devotion to this particular Santo Niño which I brought back from Tacloban.
  4. How many Santo Niños can I place in my house? Can I have a collection of different Santo Niños on one altar? Will there be a conflict?
  5. What is the difference between a Santo Niño dressed in green and one in red? Do I need to have both on my altar only one?

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I want to ask humbly about the blessing of inanimate objects with holy water. I have learned in what I read that it is God who sanctifies the water and that it in turn blesses through the Holy Spirit. I wish to hear what God's word in the Scriptures says about this. Thank you. To God be the glory!

Is it alright if I skip Sunday Mass and just have my own personal reflection during the height of winter when it is extremely cold if I have no means of transport? .

(The question came from a Filipino studying in the USA but the situation is representative of many others, eg, having to travel, having to deal with an emergency such as the illness of someone in the family, etc)

Q. ‘If the lay people have a proper appreciation for the unique role of the priesthood, they will join in the effort to encourage more priestly vocations.’ I like this point very much. What specifically should I do to encourage more priestly vocations? 

The question comes from a report on a talk that Pope Benedict gave on 17 September to a group of bishops from Brazil on the occasion of their ad limina visit. ‘Ad limina’ is the Latin for ‘to the threshold’. ‘Ad limina Apostolorum’ – ‘to the threshold of the Apostles’ - is the name used for the visit that diocesan bishops are required to make every five years to the Pope in which they give a report on what is happening in their dioceses and make a pilgrimage to the tombs of St Peter and St Paul. It is an expression of the unity of the Church.

While riding in a public vehicle, I overheard a conversation between two passengers and the driver. They were discussing both national and local issues like the oil deregulation law and the implementation of the ‘No Segregation, No Collection’ policy in regard to garbage collection in Bacolod City. I enjoyed listening to the three and was amazed at the free and healthy flow of ideas and I realized that on issues like these the media should also consider the points of view of ordinary people and not just those in authority.

As I got off the vehicle, the three were discussing the Church and State relationship and clergymen running for political office. My subsequent research on this led me to ask this question: Is it all right for clergymen and women to run for political office? What is the stand of the Church on this?

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Hearing Mass via TV

My Lola and aunt, God rest their souls, were bedridden before they passed away. They regularly had Holy Communion, through the kindness and compassion of their priest-friend. As for their Sunday Masses, they attended them from home, by watching a televised Mass. Is that acceptable? How about some of my friends who when they're too busy or too tired, opt to hear Mass too by putting on the TV?

Is it okay to stop my rosary in the middle and then just continue with it later? Last night I was praying the rosary but I started dozing off. So I stopped, busied myself with some paperwork, and then went back to my rosary. As a child my Lola told me the rosary, once halted, loses its meaning.