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Thursday, June 19, 2014

Religious Groups ‘Play in Favor of Life’ at World Cup


While the buzz of city life continued around them, a solemn procession of individuals strode across the streets of downtown Brasília. The “Play in Favor of Life – Denounce Human Trafficking” March took place on the eve of the opening game of the World Cup to raise awareness about the risk of exploitation during mega-events. Bathed in the patriotic glow of yellow and green colored lights, the Esplanada dos Ministérios, the political promenade running through the heart of Brazil’s capital, provided a sharp contrast to the white flags of the demonstration, which consisted of many local youth, priests, and consecrated religious.

In conjunction with the Conference of Brazilian Religious and Rede Um Grito Pela Vida, the Archdiocese of Brasília has sponsored a series of events to provide information about and opportunities to combat sexual slavery and forced labor. A delegation of Germans, including actress Eva Habermann, from Bischöfliche Aktion Adveniat, an organization aiming to support Catholic initiatives in Latin America, also participated in the march.

Participants received informational materials regarding human trafficking statistics in Brazil and around the world. Many carried flowers and banners in support of victims of exploitation.

The United Nations Refugee Agency reports that the Brazilian government is spending $2.9 million to implement a national anti-trafficking plan, which creates 10 new offices staffed by 400 officials. Identifying migrant workers and indigenous people as vulnerable groups, the International Labour Organization estimates that 4.5 million people are victims of sexual exploitation and 21 million people engage in forced labor.

While the World Cup promises to benefit local economies due to the influx of tourists, the games also involve an increase in the risk of human trafficking, a phenomenon observed by Rede Um Grito Pela Vida in the last two host countries, Germany and South Africa.

In its widely-distributed pamphlet, “Copa do Mundo: Dignidade e Paz,” the National Conference of Bishops of Brazil criticized the national government’s removal of families and communities from their homes and its allocation of public funds to stadium construction, monies which could have been used for health, education, and basic sanitation. The 2014 World Cup has been ranked as the most expensive to date, with Brazil spending $14-16 billion on costs associated with the global competition.

According to the Bishops, the success of the World Cup “will be in the guarantee of security for all without the use of violence, in respect to the right to peaceful protests in the streets, the creation of mechanisms which prevent slave labor, human trafficking, and sexual exploitation, above all, of socially vulnerable persons and efficiently combat racism and violence.”

The march concluded with a prayer service on the lawn of the Congresso Nacional. Sr. Rosa Maria Martins, MSCS, a coordinator of the march and a journalist for the Conference of Brazilian Religious, praised in a press release the grassroots efforts of local religious in condemning human trafficking. “CRB National welcomes all Brazilians, partner institutions, Christian denominations, Aktion Adveniat, and all those who play in favor of life and denounce all forms of the violation of the rights and dignity of the human being, for the sake of the Kingdom of God.”

For more information:




Photo Credit: Karin Miranda

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Habit of Service: A Sister volunteers at the World Cup

Sr. Melanie has prepared herself to welcome tourists to Brasília.
With an estimated 3 million people expected to attend the World Cup games in Brazil, FIFA and major cities have recruited hundreds of local volunteers to assist international fans in the upcoming weeks. Sr. Melanie Grace D. Illana, a Missionary Sister of St. Charles Borromeo, will be among the multitude of individuals prepared to welcome the world to Brasília. Brazil’s capital city is set to be the site of seven matches at its new Estádio Nacional Mané Garrincha, a stadium which has taken three years to construct.

Having been inspired by her community service in the United States, Sr. Melanie decided to become a World Cup volunteer, a position enabling her to greet travelers with her warm smile and the characteristic cadence of her Filipino accent. In an interview with Elite Millenial, Sr. Melanie provided some insights into the World Cup and the formation process of becoming a volunteer.

1. What influenced you to serve as a volunteer at the World Cup?

It is the voluntary work experience with people regardless of races, cultures, and religions that influenced me to serve as a volunteer at the World Cup.

2. What sort of preparation do you have to undertake as a World Cup volunteer?

First, the Virtual Training Course for five weeks to test my knowledge about the History of Football in Brazil, the Environment of the 12 states of Brazil, Hospitality & Tourism, especially in Brasília, and the First Aid and Security. Second, the Presence Training with speakers and facilitators and with volunteers done in the Convention Center and in the University of Brasília, where we actualized all the modules we learned from our virtual training course.

3. Do you feel Brazil is economically, linguistically, and socially prepared to host the World Cup?

Yes. I feel that Brazil is economically prepared to host the World Cup through the help of FIFA. The Brazilian governments are not the ones funding the World Cup but FIFA itself. I believe that it is linguistically prepared considering that most of the World Cup volunteers, who will do the best to assist the tourists, and the Media, speak English, or Spanish, or French. In fact, there are selected public transportation drivers in 12 states who took English and Spanish courses this year to prepare themselves to assist the tourists during [the] World Cup. As what I observed, Brazil is always socially prepared to host any mega events like [the] World Cup and is open to [welcoming] the foreigners.

4. What can international fans expect to see and do once they arrive in Brasília? Are there any special events and accommodations being organized for them?

Aside from seeing the football games at the World Cup, the international fans [can] expect to see the tourist spots of the 12 states; it depends on which states they prefer to stay. Some organizations or group networks linked to the Ministry of Sports, the Ministry of Culture, and some Universities are organizing special events for the international fans.

5. As a Scalabrinian Missionary Sister, how do you live out your religious vocation in light of your World Cup volunteer work?

I live out my religious vocation through the charism of our Congregation, which is “evangelical service to the migrants and refugees.” My constant desire to actualize the Scalabrinian charism through voluntary services, especially for the people of different colors, languages, and religions, is a form of selfless love. This is what I am hoping for my World Cup voluntary work.

6. You recently attended a Workshop hosted by the Secretaria de Justiça regarding human trafficking. What programs or initiatives has FIFA put into practice to combat exploitation?

There are no programs that FIFA made to combat exploitation. However, they encouraged FIFA and Brasil Voluntário volunteers and all the Teams working with FIFA to be attentive to any signs of human trafficking and sexual exploitation and to contact the respective numbers of the Federal Police and local government sectors responsible for confronting the delicate issues. Thus, combating human trafficking and sexual exploitation is part of our Hospitality and Tourism Module in the Virtual Training Course.

7. What has been the most difficult part about preparing for volunteer work?

The allotted time for the Virtual Training was the most difficult. I needed to organize my time in the evening between 8 and 10 p.m. or between 11 p.m. and 1 a.m. to do the course. A volunteer needs to spend 2 or 5 hours a day to read the long texts in four modules with knowledge tests and thematic forums. We were given only 5 weeks to complete all the four modules, including English and Spanish communications skills tests, the 80 second video presentation in English, and the seven long questionnaires to answer. The hours that a volunteer spent in the Virtual Training Course is recorded each day or night online.

8. Have you learned anything interesting/funny/shocking about the World Cup during training sessions?

I learned to be patient in accepting the reality that lack of communication from the coordinators of Brasil Voluntário during our presence training courses gave confusions [sic] to most of the volunteers especially in my group. I also learned to let go of my first voluntary working area which [was supposed to] be in the airport. Above all, I learned to be open [to] other possibilities in my voluntary services.

9. There is already talk of protests scheduled during the World Cup games. Are there any safety measures that FIFA is putting into place?

Yes. FIFA is collaborating with the Federal Police to provide safety measures to the players, fans, tourists, and the volunteers.

10. What has been the most enjoyable part of preparing to be a World Cup volunteer?

Meeting new faces and making new friends during our integration training course at the University of Brasilia was the most enjoyable part of my preparation as a World Cup volunteer.

11. Last question: who do you think will win the World Cup?

I think Brazil will win.

As featured on Elite Millenial, 17 June 2014

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Santo António e Dia dos Namorados


In addition to the opening game of the World Cup, Brasil celebrates today Dia dos Namorados (“Lover’s Day”). Like it’s North American cousin, Valentine’s Day, Dia dos Namorados is a time for boxes of chocolates, flowers, and cheesy cards. In Brasil, however, the day falls on the eve of St. Anthony of Padua’s feast day and has preserved a bit more of its religious folklore.

Born in Lisbon, Portugal, St. Anthony of Padua originally entered the Canons Regular of the Augustinian Abbey of Saint Vincent and later joined the young community of Franciscans in Coimbra. He engaged congregations with brilliant homilies and pioneered the academic legacy of St. Francis’ order.

The Catedral Metropolitana de Campinas, which is under the patronage of the Immaculate Conception
While St. Anthony is commonly associated with the retrieval of lost items, he is particularly invoked by Brazilian women seeking potential spouses as the Santo Casamenteiro (“Holy Matchmaker” or “Matchmaking Saint”). Last summer in Campinas, I spent time in the museum located inside the Catedral Metropolitana. I noticed that the cathedral had a collection of statues of St. Anthony which were missing the familiar Infant Jesus cradled in his arms. The tour guide regailed us with tales about the absence of the Holy Child. In the past, young women would apparently pray to St. Anthony for suitors and some would go as far as taking the little statue of the Infant Jesus, promising to bring him back if the Portuguese saint interceded for them.  Judging from the lack of baby Jesus statues at the Cathedral, not a lot of prayers were answered…

Sr. Leocadia’s version of the story is a tad different. She claims that after a series of fruitless prayers a disgruntled woman threw her statue of St. Anthony out the window. In a characteristically legendary fashion, the statue hits a man passing by, who brings the image back and complains about the lady’s unceremonious disregard for religious items. The young lad  happens to be a bachelor and the woman finally gets her suitor, inspiring other individuals to seek St. Anthony’s intercession in manners of love.

Sign in Campinas
While it’s important to separate superstition from genuine faith, people should adopt the habit of praying for their future spouses. Marriage should be the destination of a profound period of discernment and not merely done on a whim at Las Vegas. The priesthood and religious life has animated the concept of holy matrimony into a sincere vocation, one that needs to be actively sought after and chosen.

St. Anthony’s love for God is admirable, manifesting itself in his spiritual scholarship. Pope Benedict XVI suggests that “the richness of spiritual teaching contained in the Sermons was so great that in 1946 Venerable Pope Pius XII proclaimed Anthony a Doctor of the Church, attributing to him the title Doctor Evangelicus [“Evangelical Doctor”], since the freshness and beauty of the Gospel emerge from these writings.” St. Anthony is a model for students and teaches us to integrate our prayer lives with our academic pursuits.

On this Dia dos Namorados, let's pray for all of our loved ones and for the grace to follow our respective vocations. Also, vai Brasil! Croatia is going down!

Prayer to St. Anthony
Glorious St. Anthony of Padua, you renounced every earthly ambition when yet very young. You gave yourself wholly and perpetually to God's service. Hence, I beg of you to secure for me the means to respond readily to God's purpose for me. Grant me the favor I now seek if it is God's will. Amen.
(Our Father, Hail Mary, and Glory be)

Monday, June 9, 2014

Heart of Jesus: Son of the Eternal Father

In honor of the month of June, I’ve decided to offer a reflection on each invocation of the Litany of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Devotion to the Sacred Heart developed from the Church’s veneration of the Holy Wounds and Christ’s sacred humanity and was pioneered by a myriad of men and women amongst whom are St. Bernard, St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, and St. Jean Eudes.

We begin the prayer with the following invocations:
Lord, have mercy on us. / Christ, have mercy on us.
Lord, have mercy on us.  / Christ, hear us. / Christ, graciously hear us.
God the Father of Heaven, Have mercy on us.
God the Son, Redeemer of the world, Have mercy on us.
God the Holy Spirit, Have mercy on us.
Holy Trinity, one God, Have mercy on us.
Devotion to the Sacred Heart has a strong element of reparation. The plea “have mercy on us” recognizes God’s role as the divine Judge and reminds us of our tendency to sin caused by our fallen nature. Indeed, while it may seem as though the image of God as a benevolent Father is absent in the Litany, we must not forget the central image of the devotion: the Sacred Heart. What better way to approach God than through his Most Sacred Heart? The Litany empowers us to appeal to the Lord’s mercy embodied in his Sacred Heart, reminding Him of our filial intimacy. If we truly believe that God is love, the heart is an apt symbol to represent the totality of His divine charity.

The first invocation I’ll reflect upon is “Heart of Jesus, Son of the Eternal Father, Have mercy on us,” which affirms Christ as being in union with his Father’s love for the world. There are numerous examples within the Bible establishing the divine sonship of Jesus.

  • The angel Gabriel announced to Our Lady that her child “shall be called the Son of God” (Luke 1:35). 
  • In addition to the charge of breaking the Sabbath, the Jews were angered by Jesus’ claim that “God was his Father, making himself equal to God” (John 5:18). 
  • After Jesus calms the wind which had battered their boat, the apostles exclaim: “Indeed thou art the Son of God” (Matthew 14:33).
  • At Jesus’ baptism, “the heavens were opened to him: and he saw the Spirit of God descending as a dove, and coming upon him [and] a voice from heaven, saying: This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:16-17).

The Litany reflects Christ’s role as the mediator between God and man (1 Timothy 2:5). The consubstantial bond between the Father and the Son is one founded upon mutual affection, the ideal relationship between a parent and child. It is fitting to seek God’s mercy through his beloved Son, who redeemed the world through his Passion and Resurrection. Jesus opened his heart to the world as he lay on the cross, proclaiming the victory of loving sacrifice. The Litany enables us to remind the Father of His love for the Son by our veneration of Christ’s Sacred Heart, in which we seek refuge.

The invocation “Heart of Jesus, Son of the Eternal Father, Have mercy on us” provides us an opportunity to contemplate the divine filiation of Christ. Many countries celebrate Father’s Day in June, a reality which I believe adds to the loving symbolism of the devotion to the Sacred Heart.

May we pray in thanksgiving for our own fathers during the month of June.

Photo Credit: Nheyob

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Spiritual Drowning and the Sacred Heart

A stained-glass window at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart
The Church sets aside the month of June to reflect upon the devotion to the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus. After learning more about the Litany of the Sacred Heart and the historical background of the devotion, I have come to see the immersive element of divine charity. Jesus invites us to seek refuge in his Most Sacred Heart and to share his love with others.

Whenever I enter a church or a chapel, I like to say the prayer below, one inspired by a retreat I made with the Community of St. John during my sophomore year. The Community of St. John maintains the novitiates for its Brothers, Contemplative Sisters, and Apostolic Sisters in Princeville, IL. During the retreat, I met with Fr. John Luke to discuss a particular issue in my prayer life: spiritual drowning.

I phrased the problem as “spiritual drowning” because I sometimes felt overwhelmed by prayer to the point that it felt as though I was emotionally gasping for breath. I kept a rigid mental account of numerous petitions and made sure to pray for so-and-so and for such-and-such cause. The problem was rendering prayer a heavy burden for me and so I realized I needed to seek advice.

Chapel at Princeville
Fr. John Luke began by explaining that my issue was common for college students due to our inability to switch from a classroom mindset when we enter into prayer. Notre Dame is blessed with many spiritual places: the Grotto, dorm chapels, and the Basilica of the Sacred Heart. Yet like at any university, stress about grades, social life, and the future is never far away. The mechanical mentality of academic thought is not conducive to the fluidity of prayer. Prayer is a conversation and not a grocery list of petitions.

Fr. John Luke emphasized the image of the heart during our meeting. He explained how the Virgin Mary remembered events and people by keeping them in her heart (Luke 2:19). Fr. John Luke said that in lieu of listing everything I wanted to pray about I should just offer my heart to God. After all, we too keep things in our hearts, whether they be cherished moments or emotional wounds. By offering our hearts to the Lord in prayer, we are essentially bringing him all our intentions in one spiritually swift motion.

The last piece of his advice took the form of an important reminder: I’m not the Savior; Jesus is. When we encounter struggles in our lives, we are often tempted to believe that everything depends on us. If I don’t pray for so-and-so, she won’t be consoled. If I don’t pray for vocations for the priesthood and religious life, there won’t be any! Such thoughts are of course trivial but ultimately prideful. Having suffered and risen, Jesus has already redeemed the world. God already knows our deepest desires and needs. While prayer enables us to bring our problems before God, it doesn’t mean that He hasn’t already been helping us beforehand.

Inspired by my retreat with the Community of St. John, I no longer fell into the phenomenon of spiritual drowning. Instead, I simply began to offer my heart to God through the following prayer I came up with during Adoration:
Lord Jesus, I offer you my heart today with all its wounds, intentions, sufferings, joys, and miseries. I offer you my heart through the immaculate hands of the Blessed Virgin Mary and I pray that she might make it presentable and satisfactory in your eyes.Lord Jesus, I beg you to consume my heart with the flames of your divine charity so that I might burn with zeal for you and so that I might come to love as you do.
May we spend the rest of the month offering our hearts to God through prayer.
O, Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, have mercy on us! 


Saturday, June 7, 2014

Copa das Copas - World Cup 2014


Karin and I walked to the Centro de Convenções Ulysses Guimarães tonight and got our World Cup tickets. It’s going to be exciting to see the international community converge in Brasília in the upcoming weeks. Unsurprisingly, the Copa do Mundo is going to be one of the highlights of our ISSLP summer not only for it’s sports value but because it provides a glimpse into the underlying social and political issues facing Brasil.

Till then, my brain says “¡Vamos Colombia!” but my mouth says “Allez Côte d’Ivoire!”

The Greater Love: Life after the Seminary

Tomb of Bl. Basile-Antoine Marie Moreau, C.S.C. at Notre-Dame de Sainte-Croix (France)

        “Je suis certainement où Dieu me veut.”

During his seminary days, Blessed Basile Moreau, C.S.C., was advised by his spiritual director, Fr. Mollevaut, to say this phrase everyday to remind him to trust in Divine Providence. The phrase translates to “I am certainly where God wants me.” The young Moreau was enthusiastic and headstrong, always torn between the call to be a diocesan priest or to be a missionary. Although he would achieve both vocations after the foundation of the Congregation of Holy Cross, he remained in the diocesan seminary and heeded the wise instruction of Fr. Mollevaut, who understood that youthful zeal must be tempered by experience.


When I entered the Old College Undergraduate Seminary in the fall of 2011, I was very much the immature high school senior. Adapting to the seminary schedule was difficult at first but I grew to enjoy it. The Liturgy of the Hours punctuated each day with prayerful purpose and meaning, culminating in the daily Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Our various apostolates provided opportunities for loving service. Community life helped teach me the value of brotherhood, fraternal correction, and trust. I learned about the vibrant importance of the ministry of presence:  we may not know what to say or do during occasions when we encounter people suffering but what we can do, which proves to be the most meaningful, is to just be there for them. Like Simon of Cyrene, we can help carry the crosses of others, relieving them of their burden with a helping hand and an attentive ear.

Stained glass windows from Notre-Dame de Sainte-Croix

There were definitely moments during my time in the seminary that proved to be crucibles of change. It was during such painful periods that I turned to the spirituality of Fr. Moreau. I became (and still am) a Holy Cross history buff. I would purchase biographies of Holy Cross heroes or documents pertinent to the Congregation’s legacy. What began as a simple quest to discover the foundational elements of the Congregation transformed into a passion to celebrate the memories of this great band of men and women. I would busy myself with translating and sharing excerpts of books with fellow seminarians or apply for research grants to further explore Holy Cross in its birthplace of Le Mans, France. I fell in love with the Congregation and I knew that as long as I anchored myself to the spirituality of Fr. Moreau I would be able to overcome the tumultuous sea of life.

A sign at the Postulant House in São Paulo, Brasil

Divine Providence and the motif of the Cross as our only hope serve as pillars of the Congregation’s spirituality. It’s often difficult to discern God’s plan during moments of trial. We blind ourselves with our own desires and needs, leaving no room for the Lord to work in our lives. Yet to tell someone to merely accept such-and-such event as God’s will appears harsh, indifferent, and ultimately un-Christian. The balm of charity must be applied to the sensitive wounds of those who suffer. We must not forget, however, that we cannot hope to be disciples of Christ if we fail to carry our cross (Luke 14:27). Therefore, we are obliged to discover meaning and dignity in suffering, the means by which we arrive at redemption. In the seminary, I realized that it is easier to see God working in our lives after we remove ourselves from the problems we encounter, which is to say after some time passes by. The Cross becomes our hope if we deem it a fruit of Divine Providence.

As many people know, I recently left the seminary in April. The decision to leave was a blend of different factors, both internal and external. Through the help of close friends and family, however, I have come to the realization that leaving was a good outcome. The three years I spent at Old College were not wasted; many opportunities for travel and growth came from my time as a seminarian. Religious formation in the Holy Cross tradition fostered in me a devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, Our Lady of Sorrows, and St. Joseph. I entered the seminary as a freshman with a rigid prayer life and I left as a junior with a more fluid understanding of my personal relationship with Christ. When I moved into Morrissey Manor, I felt confident and secure, immersing myself in the newfound freedom of possibility.

This is not to say, however, that I don’t miss the seminary or feel confused about the direction my life is taking. I tried at first to distance myself from Holy Cross during the weeks after I left. I stopped praying with the Directory,  which I had touched to the tomb of Fr. Moreau in Le Mans and which was bookmarked with the various holy cards I’ve received over the years. I avoided Holy Cross religious on campus. I essentially tried to forget three years of my life in the hopes that I could better focus on my future.

As you can probably tell, such an approach was not healthy or advisable.

I felt disoriented and isolated, as though I was missing an irretrievably lost part of myself. It was only after a particular conversation with a friend who also enjoyed the Congregation’s spirituality that I came to the realization that I should cherish the Holy Cross experiences I carry with me. She helped me understand that while I left the seminary I didn’t leave myself behind. I have to be true to myself and realize that I still love St. André Bessette, praying the Stations of the Cross, and being a man with hope to bring. Fr. Moreau’s spirituality continues to inspire my life and I am proud of that. I am excited for life outside of the seminary, a new road of opportunities ahead.

For those who have or are considering leaving a seminary or religious order, I have these words to share, sentiments which I would have wanted someone to express to me when I left:
You made the right decision to enter and don’t forget it. God wanted to form you during your time here and now He simply wants to build you up elsewhere. Not a lot of people have the courage to enter a life of work and prayer, but you did. You took the risk and are better off because of it. Don’t be afraid of what the future may bring. Continue to trust in Divine Providence and in the support of those close to you. You are appreciated.
Vocations are about love both for God and for neighbor. People discover love within the embrace of marriage and others within the priesthood or consecrated life. Our collective call is to seek the greater Love that invites us to lead lives of divine charity. While I don’t know what the rest of the summer has in store for me let alone the rest of my life, I will strive to live by the words of Deuteronomy: “Yet there too you shall seek the Lord, your God; and you shall indeed find Him when you search after Him with your whole heart and your whole soul” (Deut. 4:29).