October, Month of the Rosary
On Wednesday of this week we celebrated the Memorial of Our Lady of the Rosary. October has traditionally been the month when Catholics make an effort to pray the Rosary if it is not part of their day to day spirituality.
The Rosary developed out of the very ancient practice which began in the monasteries of using a ‘prayer rope’ with a variable number of knots as a means of saying the short ‘Jesus Prayer’ (Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner) over and over again in the course of the day. The Jesus Prayer was particularly popular in the monasteries of the Eastern churches and promoted a manner of praying known as ‘hesychasm’, from the Greek word hesychia =, stillness, rest or silence, a form of contemplative prayer which sought union with God at a level beyond language, images and concepts. It was not so popular in the Western Church, perhaps because of the frosty relationships between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches over the centuries, but Pope John Paul II spoke about the practice with great affection.
In the West the growth of the Rosary as a prayer based on the constant repetition of the Hail Mary seems to have emerged in the ninth century, but its beginnings are now associated with St Dominic, the founder of the Order of Preachers, following a vision of Our Lady in 1214. It was commonly used by the lay monks in the monasteries who were not obliged to take part in the Divine Office and in time became a very popular devotion. Over the centuries the basic prayer developed, quite slowly it must be said, and the latest development came under Pope John Paul II who added a new set of 5 Mysteries known as The Luminous Mysteries, or the Mysteries of Light – The Baptism of Jesus in the Jordan, the Wedding Feast at Cana, The Proclamation of the Kingdom of God and Repentance from Sin, the Transfiguration and the institution of the Holy Eucharist.
The Rosary as a prayer is ‘both simple and profound’(John Paul II, Rosarium Virginis Mariae). It can be said on its own or with others – there is a long tradition of saying it in families – and it is a vehicle for both meditation and contemplation. Meditation, or reflection upon the mysteries of Christ’s life, death and resurrection, and contemplation, the silent presence of love directed towards Jesus Christ, the Lord and Giver of Life, together with his mother, Mary.
While at first sight Mary seems to be in the foreground of the Rosary, in fact she is in the background. The Rosary is primarily centred on Christ, but we pray the Rosary in and through Mary. Mary stands at the beginning of Christian Faith. She expressed that faith when the Angel announced to her that she would bear a son and she accepted to give birth to the Son of God. In the Gospel of Mark when the mother of Jesus appears for the only time she is identified with the outsiders who did not understand the mission of Jesus. This would appear to be in contradiction with the story in Luke, but not necessarily so. Faith is not to be identified with full knowledge and certainty. When the angel reveals to Mary her vocation, she has to question him, ‘How can that be?’ And likewise when the shepherds come to Bethlehem and announce to Mary what the angel told them, that her child was a Saviour and Messiah, Mary does two things; first she stores up the words of the shepherds, consigns them like treasure to her memory, and then she ponders on them, literally tosses them about, seeking to understand them. Mary’s is an intuitive faith that grows in the silence of her heart. Divine providence uses the shepherds to announce the gospel to Mary, helping her begin to clarify the identity of her son and the meaning of his words and deeds as she follows him through life and death.
Although in Mark’s gospel Mary is associated with the family who clearly were concerned about Jesus but did not understand him( see also John 7:5), Luke associates her with the disciples of Jesus. After the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus we see her waiting with the disciples in prayer for the coming of the Holy Spirit that Jesus had promised. Acts1:8, 12-14. Lk 24:49). Having followed Jesus throughout his life it is only with his death and Resurrection, and the coming of the Holy Spirit, that along with the other disciples Mary will understand the depth of meaning of what the angel said to her. Full of grace, Mary’s life was nevertheless one of struggle to understand amid puzzlement and sorrow, as we see in the episode where Mary and Joseph lose their son (Lk 2:49-50). Faith does not keep us safe from sorrow but enables us to journey through sorrow in hope. That was true of Mary, and it is true of us. When we pray the Rosary with Mary she is walking with us along the path that she has already trodden, continuing to point us towards the face of Christ.
Thursday 3 September 2020, Fr John writes:
As the nation contemplates returning to work and to school there are signs of a return to our churches too. During the month of August I have noticed a slow but steady increase in the number of people attending Sunday Mass, and with the schools now opening we hope to welcome more families.
For those who may be wondering how safe our church is, I can only say, ‘It’s as safe as it can be’. We have kept the two metre rule and members of the congregation are well spaced out. Now that we have to wear masks, this is an additional precaution which prevents others being infected. Sanitising hands on entry lessens the possibility of the virus being spread by touching surfaces. There are signs on the floor indicating two metres so that we do not crowd up on one another.
We owe a big debt of thanks to our parishioners who have been stewarding before Mass and cleaning after. If you are below 70 and in good health please do not leave it all to them. Please volunteer to take part yourself in this work for our community.
To those who wish to return at a time when the church is not crowded, I recommend you come either on Saturday morning (10am) or Saturday evening (6pm). At both these Masses there is still plenty of room in the body of the church. Both Masses on Saturday are celebrated according to the rite of the Mass of Sunday.
At the two Sunday morning Masses we receive about double the numbers we accommodate on Saturday, and last Sunday for the first time we had to ask people to use the gallery upstairs. However by using the gallery we should have enough space for those who wish to return over the next few weeks.
An additional burden has been placed on our stewards in the form of the track and test signing in requirement. We are looking at ways of streamlining this but in the meantime we ask you to arrive in good time so that we can begin Mass on time, out of respect for those who have come early. The stewards will not be supervising the doors once Mass begins, so that they too can join at Mass, and it will not be possible to come in.
I look forward to seeing many more of you back over the next few weeks, provided you are in good health and feel that it is safe for you to join us.
Holy Land Update
Below is an update about the situation of Catholic communities in Israel, Palestine and Jordan, all of which belong to the Patriarchate of Jerusalem, one of the five great sees of the Church that go back to the time of the Apostles. It also covers the island of Cyprus.
The update is addressed to the Knights of the Holy Sepulchre, a worldwide Order under the patronage of the Pope which exists to support the Christian presence in the Holy Land by making pilgrimage to the Holy Land and giving financial support to the Patriarchate.
Situation Update from the Latin Patriarchate – July 2020
Effects of Covid-19
The last few months has been one of the most difficult periods as a result of Covid-19, mostly due to the mysterious nature of the virus and the so many unknowns surrounding its spread. Science that was supposed to provide some answers and clarity seems to provide confused and at times contradictory messages which only made the situation worse. Thus, the past period witnessed many changes that were necessary, and in many instances, flexibility was an absolute must. In the following paragraphs, I will try to provide an update on the major events since the beginning of the pandemic affecting the day to day life at the LPJ.
The general health situation seemed to be under control until about two weeks ago when there was a major increase in the cases in both Israel and Palestine, while the situation is relatively controlled in Jordan. Most all easing of the restrictions have been canceled and there is almost a complete reversal leading to localized lockdowns in areas where the spread is greatest. In Israel, the number of cases now is almost 31,000 cases and increasing by several hundred on a daily basis and the number of deaths stands at close to 340 with a sharp increase in the cases that require hospitalization. In Palestine, after an early and swift response at the beginning, the cases now stand at close to 4,500 with an increase in the hundreds on a daily basis and a relatively very low death rate at 17. The Palestinian Authority just renewed the emergency orders for another thirty days through 5 August. In Jordan, they have been able to control the situation more tightly and the number of cases stands at 1,180 with a very limited number of new cases and the deaths at 10. In all three countries, land borders as well as airports remain closed with a minimal number of flights mostly to transport returning citizens.
In the early days of the pandemic and during the total lockdown and curfew conditions that were imposed, we are able to work through a skeletal staff reporting to work and many working from home whenever possible. As the restrictions were eased, we gradually returned to more normal working conditions with most staff reporting to their locations. Needless to say, most staff returned to a different work environment where all health regulations of measuring temperatures, social distancing, and mask usage became the new norm. Even with all those measures, an early relaxation on use of public transportation, opening of schools, restaurants, gyms, and allowing wedding halls to function at a capacity of 250 people at a time was certainly bad news and contributed to the more strict measures being reimposed now including the closure of such facilities, limiting use of public transportation, and requesting 30% of the workforce to work from home… again! Luckily with a strong IT support and most operations utilizing online banking, we were able to function, certainly at less than ideal circumstances and we shall be able to do it again. We are forced to continue to adjust and be flexible as we move forward into an era of further unknowns.
As for the unemployment rates, Israel has seen an improvement since the early days as it was the first to restart the economy and allow more normal activities, including school re-openings. It is reported that the unemployment rate dropped from the high of 27% to around 20% now. However, the generous unemployment benefits offered by the government will come to an end in mid-August which will leave hundreds of thousands without much governmental support. In both Palestine and Jordan, the economies there are too weak to be able to offer any meaningful stimulus packages. Unemployment rates in both countries remain very high hovering around the 40-45% by a number of unofficial reports.
The scenario played out at the 43 schools of the Latin Patriarchate (5 in Israel, 25 in Jordan, and 13 in Palestine) followed a mixed pattern, but all finishing the school year with some combination of operating modes. In Palestine and Jordan, the respective Ministry of Education encouraged following an online mode and eventually closed the school year online towards the end of May without a return to school. Israel however seemed a bit more confused with a strong labor union that eventually did not accept the full mobilization of online education and demanded a return to school to finish the school year. The issue was eventually resolved after the matter was referred to the courts who ordered a return to classes and closing the school year on time without any extension. It is worthy to note that the return to school in Israel did not go very well as initially, most parents were reluctant to send their children back to school, and eventually, when larger numbers started showing up, there were many cases detected. In one day in early June, 180 schools were shut down for the discovery of cases, and over 4,000 people ordered in quarantine in a span of four hours!
As for any meaningful summer activities, despite the fact that many children were in need of summer camps and various activities, very few felt that the conditions were ripe to hold such large group activities given that the risks were too high, and thus there was a decision not to hold any large group summer camps and to revert this year to smaller activities following all ministry of health regulations of hygiene and social distancing.
One important element that is being considered now is to address the shortfalls that were identified as a result of the abrupt switch from in-class to online education without much planning or preparation. Issues including capacity building, software development, and hardware issues as well as internet infrastructure are being discussed and addressed in order to enhance the on-line experience.
As was widely shared at the beginning of the pandemic, the major loss of jobs meant that many families will not be able to settle their tuition fees at our various schools who historically witness the largest tuition collection during the months of March, April, and May. This period coincided with the beginning of the pandemic, and thus the lack of tuition collection resulted in an operational deficit in the Palestine and Jordan schools in excess of seven million US dollars. Thus, an emergency was declared, and an emergency committee was set up to plan how to improve the income and reduce expenses. The emergency committee met once a week to review income and expenses trends, government-mandated regulations, cashflow issues at all LPJ entities, and staffing levels. As a result, the following moves were adopted:
- Discussions with the Governor-General and through him with the Grand Master; Grand Magisterium and various Lieutenants lead to the Grand Master launching a Covid-19 humanitarian appeal in support of the LPJ.
- An appeal was launched with various Catholic Diocese and Catholic charities around the world.
- An appeal was launched with the priests, whereby the vast majority of them donated a portion (or in some cases all) of their monthly living subsidy towards the school fund.
- During the month of June, all administrative staff of the LPJ amounting to about 150 employees donated 20% of their salary towards the school’s fund.
- Most operating expenses were monitored and reduced since the beginning of the pandemic.
- Requested school principals and accountants at all schools to encourage parents who were not affected by Covid-19 to settle their outstanding balances.
These measures will allow the LPJ to meet its financial obligations towards its 1,850 employees and about 150 religious till the end of the fiscal and academic year in August. Since it is anticipated that the pandemic will carry forward into the next year, the schools in Jordan and Palestine (where the major shortfall is) were requested to present short term rationalization plans with cost-cutting measures that can be considered in the short term, as well as longer-term strategic plans possibly for the next 3-5 years that will include greater measures in order to better position the LPJ schools in the areas where they serve. It is expected that such plans will be presented for decisions and action soon.
Given the shortfall in the cashflow that resulted from the lack of tuition collections, some measures had to be taken in the last few months including the following:
- During the month of April, only 50% of salaries were paid to all 508 teachers and staff at the 13 schools in Palestine with a promise to pay the balance when cash becomes available.
- During the month of May, only 75% of salaries were paid to all 1,390 teachers and staff at the schools of Jordan and Palestine with a promise to pay the balance when cash becomes available.
- During the month of June, deducted 20% of the salaries of all 150 administrative staff. This amount will not be refunded.
- Delay the increase in salaries promised to the teachers in Jordan that were supposed to take effect in September 2020 until further evaluation takes place with the Grand Magisterium.
- During the month of July and given summer vacations the staff of the following entities will donate 20% of their salaries including Beit Jala Seminary; Christ the King Bookstore; and Our Lady of Peace Center. This will affect some 60 staff.
The situation will be monitored continuously by the emergency committee who make monthly recommendations to the Apostolic Administrator and the Consultors Council on a monthly basis. The coming weeks will be critical to determine if more drastic measures are needed in the coming months, especially after evaluating the tuition collection; appeal results; and cost-cutting measures.
As was expected and with the sharp increase in the unemployment rates and lack of governmental support mostly in Jordan and Palestine, there was a sharp increase in the requests received for humanitarian support. As agreed with the Order, the Covid-19 appeal will be utilized in two tracks. The first would be to support families in desperate need to put food on the table; buy hygiene supplies; provide children supplies including milk and diapers; buy medicines; or pay utility bills including recharging electric meter cards. Thus, parish priests submitted their lists of needs based on a survey of parish members, especially those who lost their jobs and are most affected by the pandemic. The majority of the lieutenancies were very generous and already sent in special donations for humanitarian support related to Covid-19. So far close to 20 parishes in Jordan and Palestine were assisted with aid reaching over 800 households benefitting thousands.
The second track of the humanitarian funds will be utilized to support needy families who lost their employment to meet their financial obligations towards the tuition of their children studying at LPJ schools. This scheme has not started yet as we are trying to exhaust all possibilities to collect tuition first before allocating funds. It is expected that thousands of families will be assisted with this fund, which will support the schools budget and allow us to meet our own financial obligations through continued employment of the 1,390 (mostly Christian) teachers and staff in the Jordan and Palestine schools.
As for the implementation of the projects, by mid-March and with the closures and lockdowns, all project works came to a standstill. As the lockdowns eased, around 12 projects are now being prepared at various stages. Some have already been through a bidding process and the contracts awarded and work started, while others are in the planning and preparation mode with the bids to be solicited soon. As for the Jubeiha Church construction, despite the curfew and lockdown conditions, we were able to secure a special permit in Jordan to resume works, and indeed the works resumed in early June. It is now hoped (though I should be very careful with this assessment!) that the Church may be completed by the end of September, Inshallah!
This is the first time in recent history where the suffering in other parts of the world was greater than it was in the Holy Land. If one considers the number of cases and deaths in the United States or Brazil today, and the large number of deaths in a number of European countries in the early part of the pandemic, not to mention the economic conditions and high unemployment rates around the globe, we truly feel blessed here in the Holy Land. The incredible show of concern, prayers, and financial support granted to your brothers and sisters has been a great breath of fresh air amidst all the negativeness and difficulties that have characterized the world since the pandemic started. We are truly blessed to have the Order of the Holy Sepulcher of Jerusalem behind us. A big thank you to the Grand Master His Eminence Cardinal Filoni; the Governor-General His Excellency Leonardo Visconti; the Members of the Grand Magisterium; Members of the Holy Land Commission; Lieutenants; and all members for their generosity. Though the future is still so unclear, we are confident that with your support, we will be able to continue to fulfill our mission in pastoral care, educational services and humanitarian assistance and continue to do the best we can to support our Christian communities in the Holy Land.
7 July 2020
Parish Pilgrimage to the Holy Land,
has been arranged from 1st to 8th February 2021.
Monday 1st February: Fly from Luton to Tel Aviv and onwards to hotel in Bethlehem.
Tuesday: Visit the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem then to Jerusalem, retracing the steps of Jesus on Palm Sunday and visiting the garden of Gethsemane.
Wednesday: In the morning we follow the way of the Cross and visit the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre. In the afternoon we visit Mount Zion and the Western wall, before returning to Bethlehem. That evening we will meet a member of the local committee of the Friends of the Holy Land in Bethlehem.
Thursday: Visit two projects for the local Christians, St Martha’s House and the School of Joy. In the afternoon we go to the Shepherds’ Fields
Friday: We head north from Bethlehem to Galilee, stopping at Jacob’s Well and the ancient city of Sebastiye.
Saturday: We travel to Nazareth, stopping at Cana on the way, and visit the Basilica of the Annunciation. In the afternoon we go to Mount Tabor.
Sunday. In the morning we will celebrate Mass on the shore of Lake Galilee then travel to the site of the Feeding of the Five Thousand and the Mount of Beatitudes and Capernaum. The day will finish with a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee.
Monday morning we check out of the hotel and visit the river Jordan and the Baptismal site before heading to the airport, arriving back in the UK in the early evening.
This is just a taste of the places we will visit. If you are thinking of going I can provide you with a fuller itinerary.
Price: £1,490 per person sharing a twin/double room on a half-board basis. Single rooms are available at a supplement of £250. Price includes return airfare including hold baggage, accommodation in 3* hotels, all transport whilst in the Holy Land, services of a professional guide, gratuities and all entrance fees. Price does not include lunches, drinks or items of a personal nature. Please note that this itinerary is not suitable for the less able traveller. Deposit of £400 and completed booking form required by 01.04.2020 with balance and any single supplement due by 1.10.2020.