EAM CROSS

EAM CROSS
Honoring the Nestorian Christians

Thursday, December 22, 2011

POWER OF WORDS - FRED VERGARA

POWER OF WORDS – By Fred Vergara

Two cancer patients were given the same prognosis: “you have three months to live.” One negatively said, “Woe unto me, I may die soon!” He died after three weeks. The other one positively said, “I will survive and live forever.” He survived and has been in remission.

Words have power and we must be careful with our words. The words we speak, especially coming from our heart, can mean either life or death. Solomon, the wisest king of Israel said, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue” (Proverbs 18:21).

When I was a student chaplain, I often visited pre-ops patient and would teach them how to say positive words prior to surgery. I believe that the desire, the will and the words of the patient have a lot to do with the success of the surgery just as much as the skill of the surgeon. If the patient confesses death, then death-consciousness will begin to work in his system. If he confesses life, the body begins to release the natural forces of healing to make his desire or prayer come true.

This is also true among the elderly who have retired from work. When the mind begins to think of itself as old and confesses, “I’m retired now; I am too old to do anything productive,” then the body will respond to these words and rapid aging would take place. The mind begins to lose memory, the body becomes inactive, the bones atrophy. On the other hand, if one says, “my experiences give me more wisdom and I am learning more about life now that I've never known before,” then youthful enthusiasm kicks in, youthful energy is ignited and youthful aging gracefully moves.

Age is more than chronology, it is a state of the mind and is influenced by the things we think and the words we say.  That is why we find many active and strong elderly people in church. Church activities make them young. Singing and making melody to the Lord make them remember. Serving, sharing, being hospitable to others make them active. Teaching and learning new things make them alive. Talking with both young and old make them happy. A merry heart doeth good like a medicine. A broken spirit drieth the bones but a merry tongue from the merry heart is the joy of the Lord!
One other thing that positive words can change is poverty. I have lived, studied and traveled far and wide to know that poverty is not of God. I believe poverty is a curse of the devil and those who create and operate systems that perpetuate poverty are of the devil. I would not mention the countries, but I have seen many who suffer in abject poverty, struggling to survive just one more day. As a youth activist in the 1970’s, I had seen and experienced slum dwellers near the garbage “smoky mountain” who ate under the mosquito nets because the flies are swarming around the dining area. Oppressive poverty where people are chained in misery and hopelessness is demonic. God desires to deliver His people from the curses of sin, poverty, disease and death. His Son, Jesus Christ came to give us life and have it more abundantly (John 10:10).

As individuals, changing our self-image is one of the keys to deliverance from poverty. If we create a self-image of being poor, then we will always be poor and in need of other people’s hand-outs. On the other hand, if we create a self-image of being wealthy, then we attract the forces of prosperity. By confessing strength, the weak becomes strong; by confessing wealth, the poor becomes rich. The road to health, wealth and joy begins from the spirit and the mind. By trusting God and working hard to reach your dream, you will be able to lift yourself up from the quagmire of poverty and move into a place where you can share the bounties of the earth---and give enough for the Lord’s work.

Speaking creative and positive words started with God who from darkness said, “let there be light”--- and there was light. Creatio ex nihilo. God created something from nothing. The Bible says that the world, as we know it, was framed by the word of God, so that the things which are seen were not made of things which are visible. It is another way of saying that the universe came into existence by creative divine words.

Of course, we are not God to create something from nothing. But no matter who you are and where you are, you have at least “some” thing. There is not one person who has nothing. You have at least one thing or two things to start with. All you need is faith: believe in God, believe in yourself and speak your faith. Jesus said that if you have faith even as small as a mustard seed you can say to the mulberry tree, be uprooted and thrown into the sea, and it will happen (.Luke 17:6).  In modern parlance, if you have faith like a microchip, you can fly me to the moon. “Faith is being sure of what we hope for, the confessing of things we dream of” (Hebrews 11).

The principle of faith operates in the words we speak. So instead of whining and complaining, which are depressive to the spirit, soul and body, why not confess positive, creative and inspiring words? Proverbs 25:11 says, “Words aptly spoken are like apples of gold in a setting of silver.” So begin by aptly saying to yourself, “I am strong; I am healthy; I am wealthy; I am beautiful. I am smart; I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Then like Mary, end by saying, ‘Lord, let it be done to me, according to Thy Word.”

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Calling, Conviction, Clarity: Commisioning of Ethnic Ministers




Calling, Conviction, Clarity:  Homily at “Train the Trainers” Event
(Commissioning of Ethnic Ministries Ambassadors)
Rev. Dr. Winfred B. Vergara 12.15.11 Los Angeles, California

In most of history, there are three factors that make up the recipe of a revolutionary change: common experience of pain, common vision of hope and the emergence of authentic leaders who embody their people’s pains and visions. In the Church, it is not the institution that can effect real change, but a group of Christians who are keenly sensitive to the cry of God’s people, and who, like Mary of the Magnificat, would earnestly respond to the will of God.

Some portions of these elements are present among us today, and I prophesy that someday, we shall effect this revolutionary change in our beloved Church. A Chinese proverb says, “the journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step.” You as leaders from the four ethnic communities have just began to tie up the thongs of your sandals in order to march in the light of Christ, no longer behind, but alongside the enlightened members of the dominant culture---and effect, real change. 

God is still in the business of renewing the face of the earth and rearranging the order of things. “He has cast down the mighty from their thrones and has lifted up the lowly. He has shown the strength of His arm, he has scattered the proud in their conceit.” I am certain that us, who come from the margins, are being called by God to announce repentance and change so that the structures of racism and injustice will be dismantled and the disparity that exists between and among peoples and cultures will cease to exist. Justice and equity will come together, harmony and diversity will kiss each other.

As a concluding remark to the many lessons that you have already learned these past three days, let me just say three things why I believe you can be part of change:

First, is your sense of calling: After observing you and listening to how you responded to the presentations of your Ethnic Missioners, I am now starting to believe that it was not us who called you and invited you, but God Himself through the Holy Spirit. For not only that you exhibit a sense of mission but you also demonstrate the gifts of the Spirit and even more possess the fruit of the spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, kindness, gentleness and self-control.

Second is your sense of conviction: I heard many of you expressing your passion for mission and your willingness to be used by God as bridges, conduits or broad bands of Christ’s ministry of reconciliation.

Thirdly and finally, is your sense of clarity. This is very important, because, I believe the Church today is losing, if not already lost her message. In this time of anxiety, volatility, uncertainty and complexity, the Church is experiencing a fog of mission and a sense of confusion.

I remember an event when the pope died and a conclave was called in the Vatican City in Rome to elect a new pope. Unlike the Episcopal Church’s General Convention where election of the Presiding Bishop is an open assembly, a conclave is a secret meeting where the cardinals are locked in a room and they retreat to their prayer cubicles, seek discernment from the almighty and cast their votes. The people gathered at St. Peter’s Square will know if the pope is elected or not elected through the smoke that comes out from the chimney of the Vatican. When a Pope is not elected, the cardinals would burn their ballots and a black smoke will come out. But when a pope is elected, they will put a certain chemical and a white smoke will appear. Now in this particular election, there was not enough chemical put and so the smoke that came out was neither black nor white but grey----and the people outside were confused.

I am inclined to say that much as you will be the “ambassadors of the Diversity, Social and Environmental Ministries of the Missions Department of the Episcopal Church,” you must have the clarity that your primary role as a Christians and as Episcopalians is to become an ambassador for Christ, Christ making His appeal through you and entrusted you with the ministry of reconciliation. We do not have a mission of our own; we are only entrusted to become instruments of Christ’s mission. We do not have a ministry of our own, we are only entrusted with the ministry of Christ, like baby-sitters of God’s own children.

Sam reminded us yesterday that when all is said and done, our real calling is the salvation of souls. John Wesley, the Anglican priest who founded the Methodist Church a century or so ago, once said to the clergy and lay leaders: ”You have nothing to do but to save souls. Therefore spend and be spent on it. It is not by doing this or doing that, but being a member of this organization or that society, but it is by saving as many souls as you can and to bring them up to that holiness without which we can not see the Lord.”

It is this clarity of your message, this sense of mission and this conviction of your calling that would make you as true ambassadors. And so it is proper for us, the four Ethnic Missioners, to now call you our colleagues and fellow missioners. Let our common calling be grounded by faith, let our conviction be sustained by hope and let the clarity of our message be shaped by love. Amen.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

where It All Began- A Christmas Message




As missioner for Episcopal Asiamerica Ministries, I wish you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. Despite all its challenges, the Year 2011 brought tremendous blessings to us. All the ethnic convocations have met to plan their activities and their representatives have gathered to share best practices and strategize for the future. I am grateful to Jim Kodera+ for serving as EAM Council president from 2009 to 2011 and I pray for Bayani Rico+ who now carries the torch of leadership for the future.

The Chinese Convocation developed their E-Newsletter as an avenue for regular communication. The Korean Convocation started three new ministries in three dioceses: Washington DC, Hawaii and Maryland. The Filipino Convocation continues to grow in numbers with its Las Vegas congregation receiving a grant from Domestic Missionary partnership for expansion. The Japanese Convocation is experiencing a new revitalization. The Southeast Asian Convocation has lifted up Toua Vang as the first Hmong seminarian and a Vietnamese mission has just become a full-pledged parish. The South Asian Convocation is renewing ties with Church of South India, Church of North India and Mar Thoma Church..
The diocesan EAM Commission of California held its first regional EAM Consultation (2011); to be followed by the EAM Commission of Long Island (2012). The EAM partnership with Episcopal Divinity School towards a Doctor of Ministry program from the global perspective of Asian Episcopalian will begin on June 2012. The EAM Young Adults are being reactivated and an EAM Youth Camp on Summer 2012 is being  organized by Holy Apostles' Parish in Minnesota

The EAM Network has become more than just a sounding board for ministry and resources. It has become a prayer group, a support group, a Barnabas (encourager) group. We have become a spiritual community, a web of relationships of Asians and Asian Americans, bearing connectedness to our historical past and the homelands we left behind and navigating the challenge of assimilating into the culture we find ourselves. The burden becomes bearable and the struggle endurable because these are lived in the context of collegiality, community and solidarity. The collaboration in mission finds its fulfillment in the confluence of diversity: Asians, Black, Latino/Hispanic, Native American and the Anglo-European communities of the Episcopal Church. We are all streams of water flowing into the ocean of God’s loving embrace.

The Christmas manger is the place where all our journeys really started. The birth of Jesus, the Holy Child, was the first step of that arduous mission to reconcile the world and each other to God. The passion and crucifixion of Christ brought the final touches in the divine masterpiece called the incarnation. The resurrection brings forth the promise of a new and abundant on earth and eternal life in the heavens. Eternity was already signed, sealed and delivered into the hearts of those who believe.

“We shall never cease from exploring,” wrote the poet T. S. Elliot,” and the end of all our exploring is to arrive to where we started and know the place for the first time.” On this Christmas season, let us arrive to where we have begun and know the manger for the first time. With faith, hope and love, love, love.
Fred+
The Rev. Dr. Winfred B. Vergara
Episcopal Asiamerica Ministry
The Episcopal Church Center

Monday, November 28, 2011

Advent Sunday 1 - A New Journey Begins



ADVENT SUNDAY 1: A New Journey Begins
By the Rev. Dr. Winfred B. Vergara 11/27/2011)
(Readings: Isaiah 64:1-9; Psalm 80:1-7; 1 Corinthians 1:3-9; Mark 13:24-37)

The end of all exploring,” wrote the poet T. S. Elliot, “is to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.”

Today is the first Sunday of Advent, the first season in the Christian Calendar. We begin with one of Isaiah’s prophetic statements: “Since ancient times, no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who acts on behalf of those who wait for him” (Isaiah 64:4).

Coming from the Latin word Adventus, Advent means “coming.” We are expecting the coming of the One whom we waited for so long. As the Psalmist prayed, “As the deer pants for the water, so my soul longs for you, O God.” The coming of the Messiah is God’s response to the cry of His people. I love one of the Advent hymns which says, “O come, O come, Emmanuel and ransom captive Israel, that mourns in lowly exile here, until the Son of God appears.”

We, human beings are always on search for something, or someone. Often our activities are filled with seeking, with searching, with finding that which was lost---a lost cause, a lost love, a lost coin. A friend of mine said that he has three pairs of eye glasses: the first one is for reading, the second one is for driving and the third one is for finding those pairs of glasses. Yes, we go through life searching. We search for a job, we search for wealth, we search for education, we search for  relationship, we search for directions, we search for meaning.

Poets and writers tell us that behind all our searching for the things of this world, what we really search for, deep within, is God. For even if we found that longed-for success, that education, wealth, fortune, fame or power, we realize that our search for contentment eludes us. We realize, as many so-called successful searchers have realized, that no amount of wealth and power can make our lives secure, no amount of human achievement can lead us to peace. St. Augustine aptly spoke this illusion in his prayer, “Lord, thou has made us for thyself and our hearts are restless till they find rest in thee.” There is indeed a God-shaped hole in our souls that only God can fill. Thus we are told by Isaiah that rather than simply leaving us to search for Him, God decided to act on behalf of those who search for Him. He shall come down from heaven in order to dwell in the midst of His people who wait for Him. 

The First Coming
The story of God and man sitting at table, comes to us in the person of Jesus, who is Emmanuel, God-with-us. This is the uniqueness of the Christian doctrine of the incarnation. Carne in Latin means meat or flesh. This God, who is Spirit, has become flesh in the person of Jesus.  

Do you know what is an aardvark? You will know an aardvark by looking the word in the dictionary. Dictionary defines an aardvark as a “medium-sized, burrowing, nocturnal mammal native to Africa, that eat ants.”  Now you have an idea of what is an aardvark. But you don’t know how it looks like, so you go to Africa or a nearby zoo. Then you would see an aardvark, feel an aardvark and even hear the sound of the aardvark. But yet that is as far as you can go with regards to knowledge. To really know what is an aardvark is to become an aardvark. 

That is what incarnation means. Not only that God created us, not only that God studied us, not only that God came down to see us. In His unbounded love and compassion, God became like us. He took on human form, being born like us, growing up like us, living life like ours and dying like our death. The hopes and fears of all the years, the ultimate divine-human encounter, was realized in the person of Jesus Christ, full of grace and truth. Indeed, ‘no ear has heard and no eye has seen, besides God who acts on behalf of those who wait for him.” 

Waiting for Christ’s Return
Yet the coming of Christ was not just a historical blip 2,000 years ago. In a sense, God has come, continues to come and is coming.  And this is the second meaning of Advent. “Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again.” The actual day of Christ’s return in power and glory, no one knows. That is why we must live our lives with watchfulness. One theologian said, ”We must live our life as if one foot is on earth and the other foot is in heaven.” Another theologian said, “We must plan like we have hundred years but we must live like this is the last day of our life.” Of course, there is another theologian who said, “If you want to make God laugh, tell him about your plan.” Yes, our times are in God’s hands.  That is why we must learn to live in faith and the only way to live the life in faith is to be aware of God’s coming again. “Be alert, be watchful, be awake,” Jesus said.

So let this Advent season, set you once again to a new search and longing for God. Let us all be seekers of the holy grail and remain faithful in waiting. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 1:4 “I always thank God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. For in him you have been enriched in every way, in all your speaking and in all your knowledge…Therefore do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed.” He will keep you strong to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God who has called you into fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord is faithful.”

May this season of Advent set us once again to a new journey to God who comes and will come again to meet us and dwell among us. Amen.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

WITH SIGHS TOO DEEP FOR WORDS: A PRAYER IN HARD TIMES - Fred Vergara





The world today is in crises. We have fallen in hard times socially, economically and environmentally. A Filipino comedian said, “Life is like a rock; it is hard.”

Chinese alphabet (character) always presents “crisis” as both danger and opportunity. You must have heard of the man who found a job at the city zoo playing monkey.  Daily he would put on a monkey costume and swing from tree to tree. The job was becoming ennui and he was having self-pity, feeling he was the only one who stooped to this level of work. One weekend, school kids visited the zoo and despite warnings, insisted on feeding the ‘monkey’ with peanuts and bananas. So as he swung from a tree, he felt dizzy and fell into a lion’s cage. Scared to see the lion approaching, he began to scream. The lion roared and said, “Buddy, if you don’t shut up, we’ll both lose our job.” It is comforting to know that in hard times, we are not alone!

The economic hardship is felt by the Church. While Christians are “not of this world,” we realize we are still “in this world”---and not exempt from its worries and cares. At many church denominations, I have seen some of my colleagues losing their job, vital ministries losing their funding and church executives agonizing in making decisions. Restructure here, retrenchment there, lay off everywhere.

Whenever we fall on hard times, it is our instinct for survival that tends to override everything. We are prone to panic, to lose our direction and to give up. Therefore, it is in times like these that we need to remind ourselves that we are God’s people---a people of faith, a people of visions and a people of power.

We are People of Faith.
One of the songs I learned in the ‘60’s had this lyric: “Walk with faith in your heart and you’ll never walk alone.” Faith is the opposite of fear. Fear distracts us but faith anchors us. The Bible says that we should walk by faith and live by faith (2 Corinthians 5:7; Habakkuk 2:4). Those who walk with faith will have direction even in darkness for “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11).  Our ancestor Abraham was known as the “friend of God, “because he walked in search of a city not a visible, but one with a strong foundation, whose builder and maker is God.” God promises to “lead us continually,” even in ways we do not know. Rabindranath Tagore said, “Faith is a bird that sings while the dawn is still dark.”

We are People of Visions
On the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost, the Apostle Peter quoted Joel’s prophecy which says, “In these last days, God will pour out His Spirit. The young shall see visions, the old shall dream dreams” (Acts 2:17, Joel 2:28). (I’m middle age, so I guess I’m supposed to have both visions and dreams.)

Visions and dreams are the language of the Holy Spirit. In times of crises, we must see a vision of a great and mighty God, “who sits enthroned amidst the floods.” If your God is big, your problem is small; if your God is small, your problem is big.  I remember as a young priest, I joined a Clergy Retreat in Sabah, Malaysia. In our free time, a dozen of us decided to climb Mount Kinabalo. Halfway to the mountain, half of the group gave up. I was one of those who tried to persevere, but while we were about to reach the peak, there was a thick fog which covered our way. Not knowing how far the summit, with our strength ebbing fast, four of us also decided to call it quits and walked downhill, feeling defeated. Only two pushed through the foggy trail. When we returned to the camp, exhausted and spent, we were amazed to find the two successful climbers already there, rested and refreshed, telling their stories. I was amazed at their tenacity but even more amazed at their revelation: It turned out that the apex of the mountain was only a few yards after the fog, and when they were up there, they saw a cable car! In crisis, we should not give up. There is rainbow after the storm…or a cable car after the fog!

We are People of Power
St. Paul said the power within us is greater than the power that is in the world. With all the crises in our lives, we need to know, that in the end, God wins. We are clay pots but within us is a treasure more precious than gold or silver, not fashioned by human hands. Within us is the Spirit of God, the Holy Spirit who is the Lord and Giver of life. My Pentecostal friends often remind me, “You Episcopalians believe that the Holy Spirit is ‘resident’ in you; we Pentecostals believe, the Holy Spirit is ‘president’ in us.” In crisis or out of crisis, we need to reaffirm with St. Paul that “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13) and that “what lies within me is greater than that which lies behind and or lies ahead.”

Indeed, in times like these, in crises, let us allow the Holy Spirit preside over our thoughts and our lives.  And when God take hold of us, we shall not only survive but we shall prevail. As God’s beloved, we are a people of faith, a people of visions and a people of power. And we shall shine like the sun in our Father’s kingdom.
Let us pray:
Almighty and everlasting God, you are shelter from the storm, light in the dark and rock of our salvation. You sit enthroned amidst the flood and speak peace to the wind. In your still small voice, you calm our fears; by your mighty hand, you lift up our spirits.

In these times of economic, social and environmental crises, we turn to you in humility and faith. You alone can answer our deepest needs, you alone can mend our broken hearts, you alone can wipe the tears from our eyes, and you alone can heal our land.

In these hard and trying times, we ask you to keep our hearts connected to you as the Ground of our being and the Source of all good things. Help us to reach out to those who struggle, especially those who lost their jobs as a result of economic recession. As they transition to new life, help them to see open doors of new opportunities. Give them faith to believe that the power of the Holy Spirit within them is greater than that which is in the world. Give them the hope of new life that lies ahead.

We pray for the leaders of the Church and the nations. Give them wisdom to harness the energy and creativity of the people. Let the power of love overcome the love of power so that justice and peace will flow like rivers and prosperity will return to the land. Replenish the earth and fill this world with your grace and glory, as the waters cover the sea. Amen.

*The Rev. Dr. Winfred B. Vergara is  Missioner for Asiamerica Ministries of the Episcopal Church Center; Priest-In-Charge of St. Michael & All Angels Episcopal Church in the Episcopal Diocese of Long Island; founder of Holy Child Episcopal congregations in San Jose, California; Las Vegas, Nevada and Woodside, New York. He is also Moderator of Pacific Asian American Canadian Christian Education (PAACCE) of the National Council of Churches;He and his wife, Angela, live in Queens, New York.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

SACRIFICIAL LOVE:TRIBUTE TO A MOTHER - Fred Vergara

(My mother with one of her 21 great grandchildren, a few months before she died.)


How do you love your mother? Can you count the ways?

My mother, Clarita Bagao Vergara, was born on September 11, 1922 in Pili, Ajuy, Iloilo, Philippines and died last November 13, 2008 on her birthplace. She was named after a saint. “Clarita” (“little Clara”) refers to St. Claire of Assisi, the female counterpart of St Francis, the patron saint of peace-loving people. Many of you have not seen my mother, but if you have known me, you would have known my mother also. It is because all my good traits, I learned from my mother. The not-so-good ones, I submit, I learned it by myself. How much have I learned from my mother? Let me count the traits:

  1. Filial Piety
The first trait I learned from my mother is filial piety, the traditional Asian respect given to the elderly. The word mother in Philippines is “Nanay,” and my mother had the custom of calling elderly women as “Nanay” and elderly men as “Tatay.” The fifth of the Ten Commandments is “honor thy father and thy mother” and this is the only commandment with a promise---“that you may live long on the earth.”(Exodus 20:12).  My mother was the eldest and only daughter in the family of six children and she also lived the longest because she received the biblical promise. I remember as a child, she was the one who really cared for my grandmother when the latter was very old, blind and had Alzheimer’s. Not only that my mother lived long; she and my father were also blessed with 7 children, 22 grandchildren and 21 great grand children.

  1. Education
The second value I learned from my mother is the importance of education. Education is one of the equalizers in Philippine society and Filipino parents would sacrifice to great length to send their children to school. For our family, that was very hard. We were seven children. My father was a wounded veteran of the Second World War but did not receive any pension. It was because just after the War with Japan in 1940-1944, he was conscripted to proceed to the Korean War but my mother insisted that he did not go. My father resigned from the military and worked as a tailor but his income was not enough to send us all to school. So when I reached High School, I stowed away in a ship bound for Manila, became a street kid and finally worked as a janitor in exchange for school.

What motivated me to risk leaving my village and struggled against all odds to obtain education? This is the story: At age 7, my mother enrolled me to Grade 1 at the barrio elementary school. At that time in 1957, there was a nutrition feeding program for the children of indigent families and I was one of those who belong to the category. So at lunchtime, we would line up with our glass bowl to receive nutritious corn pudding and milk. Unfortunately, when the pudding was placed on my bowl, it was too hot that I dropped it. The bowl fell on the cement floor and broke into pieces. I went home crying because that was our only glass bowl. So my mother made me a bowl made of coconut shell! I went back to school but my classmates made fun of me. In our school, a glass bowl or ceramic bowl was like a badge of social status; a bowl from coconut shell was to be the poorest of the poor.  So from that time, I hated school but my Mom would patiently talk me to it. And when I became stubborn, she would spank and practically push me to school with this---a broom made from coconut sticks! Then she gave me an advice which I will never forget: “My son, you can be more than you can be, if you study and get education. But if you don’t, my broom will haunt you forever!”

Today, I finished High School, obtained a college degree, two masters’ degrees, two doctorate degrees and I have visited the classrooms of some of the best universities in the world---all because of my Mother’s Broom!

  1. Survival and entrepreneurship
 The third value I learned from my Nanay is plain survival. In our barrio, there were only five wealthy families. They were the owners of the farm lands. The rest were farming tenants, fisher folks or poor families. There were only two seasons: planting season and harvest season. The agricultural months of the year were divided into these: June-July-August were planting months; November-December-January were harvesting months; February-March-April were festival months, where the harvested rice are often consumed. Did I miss three months? Yes, they were August-September-October. They were the lean months. Most of the rice in the granaries was running low and we would experience hunger. What did my mother do?

First, to economize, she would cook rice mixed with cassava or sweet potatoes. Second, we would walk miles to go to town and line up for the government’s emergency rice program. At one time, I was almost crushed in a riot of people rushing to obtain what we called the RCA rice. RCA (Rice & Corn Administration) had a smell but it was good rice. Third, she went into cassava cakes business. At night, she would cook cassava cakes; early in the morning, she would go to the fishermen’s wharf and barter the cakes with fish; before noon, we would go up to the farms and barter the fish with rice. So as a child, I would carry for my Mom a large basket of cassava cakes to the beach; two pails of fish to the farms; and a sack of rice back to our barrio. That must be the reason why I did not grow up taller! I carried heavy loads to the sea shore, up the mountain and down the valley. That was the time when child labor was not a crime but simply a family survival tactic.

  1. Unconditional Love
Finally, the fourth value that my mother taught me was love, sacrificial love. I remember a story which my mother told me. It was about a mother and her son. She was a loving mother but he was a stupid son. He fell in love with a woman on the other side of the mountain who told him, “I would accept your offer of love if you can give me the heart of your mother.” Maybe it was just a figure of speech or that the woman was wicked. The boy however thought about it and in a moment of stupidity, took a knife, stabbed his mother and took her heart out. He then ran towards the mountain to offer the heart to his object of affection but he stumbled on the paddies and the heart fell in the mud. He scooped the heart and as he was wiping it, the heart spoke:” Son, are you hurt?”

That story was like a horror movie to me then but when I became a priest, it dawned upon me that it powerfully illustrated God’s love. God also forgave our stupidity in that “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). Christ’s suffering and death (like that of the mother’s) was substitutionary.  The prophet Isaiah aptly said, “he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, he was wounded for our transgressions, bruised for our iniquities, upon him was the chastisements that made us whole and by his stripes we are healed” (Isaiah 53).

I remember how my mother suffered every time one of us children got sick. Once I was very ill with “El Tor,” a form of dysentery. I lay dying but did not have the strength to take medicine. I would vomit it every time it was spoon fed to me. Then I heard my Mom praying, “God, let the sickness be upon me, for I can’t bear to see my son die.” I was thankful that God, in His wisdom, did not grant her na├»ve substitutionary prayer but it surely motivated me to take the bitter herbal medicine (boiled leaves and bark of star-apple or kaimito tree!) and cooperated with the healing process. I lived to tell the story.

My mother did not leave us with any worldly inheritance; she and my father brought us up in poverty. But she taught us how to live with honor and dignity. She left us with a legacy of values which can not be bought. She taught us faith and hope and showed us the power of sacrificial, unconditional love. Maybe that is why three of us brothers became ministers. Pepito became an elder of Jehovah’s Witness Church; Alberto became a priest of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente and I became an Episcopalian priest.

So today in the presence of you, my dear friends, I honor my mother. I have no doubt that her soul is now with our loving God, in that place where there is no poverty, no pain, no suffering, no mourning, but only life everlasting. She has returned to her eternal home in the heavens, where she ultimately belongs. Together with other loving mothers like yours, she will help prepare a mansion for me and for you, and for all their sons and daughters who live in faith, hope and love. Amen.

(Eulogy delivered by The Rev. Dr. Winfred B. Vergara, at the Memorial Service for Clarita Vergara, held at  St. Michael & All Angels Episcopal Church, Seaford, New York,  12/7/08)

Sunday, October 16, 2011

EPISCOPAL ASIAMERICA MINISTRY IN THE 21ST CENTURY - Fred Vergara

(The Ethnic Missioners of the Episcopal Church at the 2009 General Convention in Anaheim, California: L-R:  Anthony Guillen, Hispanic/Latino Missioner; Angela Ifill, Black Missioner; Sarah Eagle Heart, Native American Missioner; Winfred Vergara, Asiamerica Missioner)

ASIAMERICA MINISTRY IN THE 21ST CENTURY

The Rev. Dr. Winfred B. Vergara 

 I am going to make a statement: The 21st century is going to be the ‘Asia-America Century.’ It means that Asia will join the United States of America as a partner in the global search for a truly free, humane, just and peaceful world community. The Asia-America century will alter the way we do politics, religion and theology.

The Dawn of Asian Century
My faith statement is not without basis. Thirty years ago, as a Filipino priest serving in the Anglican Church of Singapore, I listened to a lecture from a renown economist, Gunnar Myrdal, author of a celebrated book, The Asian Drama.  When asked why he wrote Asian Drama and not African Drama or European Drama, he replied, “I got impressed with this idea that the destiny of humankind will come to be decided in Asia because it is such a tremendously large part of humanity.”

That Asia and Asians dominate the geographic and demographic milieu is a statement of fact. Asia covers 29.4% of the Earth's land area and has a population of almost 4 billion - accounting for about 56% of the world’s six million population. Together, China's and India's populations are estimated to be around 2.5 billion people. The dominant languages of the world are Mandarin, Hindi, English, Spanish in that hierarchical order.

China and India also complement each other (yin yang) as the via media of Asian pragmatism and wisdom traditions. Chinese pragmatism is exemplified by Deng Xiaoping who opened China to globalization. As China's foremost leader in 1978-1992, Deng instituted "open door" policy and introduced free enterprise into China socialist economy with such words “It doesn’t matter if they are black cats or white cats, so long as they catch mice, they are good cats.” India’s wisdom tradition is exemplified by one of its many sages, Mahatma Gandhi, who saw God in everything. “To a poor and hungry person, God appears in a loaf of bread,” he said.

Today, both China and India are leading the world in reaping the fruits of globalization. China with its manufacturing industry saturates the world’s retail shops with its products. India, with its developed computer industry, has become indispensable. It is a fact that when Silicon Valley in California had its computer glut in Y2K (Year 2000), the savvy American computer engineers turned to their counterparts in Bangalore, the technopolis of India..

Theology and Ministry
It is my belief that whenever something new happens in the external world, what follows is something new in the internal world. Religion often precedes science but sometimes it is the other way around. The spirit often precedes the flesh but sometimes it is the other way around. 

In the Christian world, whenever there is a spiritual awakening, there also follows material prosperity. As a nation seeks the kingdom of God, “all these things are added” (Matthew 6:33). But sometimes the reverse is true. When the world awakens to the truth and expresses it in arts and literature, the church also experiences revival of its own understanding of God. 

One example was the renaissance and the religious reformation in Europe. When Italian arts awakened to the works of Michelangelo, Leonardo Da Vinci, Donatello, Botticelli and the Medici family, the religious realm of Europe also brought the German Reformation of Martin Luther and the English Reformation of Henry VIII.

It is my belief that the Asia-America Century will bring forth a new revival of humanities and the arts as well as new thinking of theology. It was no wonder that Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California is now focusing on Asia as their priority target for seminarians, theologians and thinkers. In the words of David Bundy, the school’s librarian, “The most important discourses in theology and ministry in America in the 21st century, will be happening not across the Atlantic but across the Pacific.”  I wish to join this call for the American Church to “look east” and engage in partnership in mission, ministry and theology with Asia.

The American Church in the Crossroads
Following the Immigration Reform in 1965, hundred of thousands Asians immigrated to the United States. The rapid Asian influx of new immigrants altered the ethnic demographics of the United States. In 1990, TIME magazine published a special issue with the intriguing title, “What would happen to America when whites are no longer the majority?”

Surely it would alter the way we do things. There are many well-meaning Anglo-European-Americans who are beginning to feel the loss of the American society, they once knew. The Eurocentric American education is beginning to lose its status as the ultimate interpreter of history. The meaning of “American,” which used to mean “white Anglo Saxon Protestant” (WASP) is being challenged by the new citizens who assert themselves “We are Americans!” In the context of a country of immigrants and pilgrims, only the Indians (the First Nations) are considered the Native Americans. For this reason, the Chinese, Japanese, Filipinos, Koreans, as well as Mexicans, Guatemalans,  Jamaicans, Nigerians, etc. who have become American citizens, equally share the same status with their English, Germans, Italians, and Irish predecessors.

These changing demographics are also altering the American Church. For instance, The Episcopal Church was once considered “lily white.” Now the TEC is peppered with Asian and Latino Episcopalians mingling with their African-American and Native American counterparts in the margins of the Episcopal Church. As they form a “New Community,” they are slowly moving into the mainstream life of the church. It is only a matter of time, when this Anglo-European faith community will become an interracial Church where there would no loner be a single racial or cultural majority.

Certainly this possibility is being viewed differently from within and without. There are those who lament what they see as a “dying church” and there are others who welcome and celebrate, even from afar, a “Nuevo Amanecer,” a new dawn, a new birth of a Pentecost Church, a church that is like a diamond with many facets. I believe with Latino author, Virgilio Elizondo, when he wrote that the American Church of the 21st century will not be black and white but “mestizo.”

The Episcopal Asiamerica Ministry
The Episcopal Asiamerica Ministry, in which I am currently the missioner, began in 1973 as a missionary program of evangelism and service to bring people of Asian and Pacific Island background into the branch of the Body of Christ, the Episcopal Church. In partnership with the dioceses of the Episcopal Church, its two-fold goal was congregational development and advocacy.  

There are 49 independent nations in Asia, but in the United States, we consider at least 20 racial-ethnic groups that are represented in the U. S. Census, namely: Chinese, Filipinos, Japanese, Koreans, Taiwanese, Vietnamese, Laotians, Cambodians, Hmong, Burmese, Asian Indians, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis, Sri Lankans, Malaysians, Indonesians, Thais, Okinawan, Nepalese and Singaporeans. 

Asians are very diverse in races, languages, cultures, ethnicities and faiths. The core vision of the EAM is therefore to give a harmonious voice to the diverse Asian voices and help enable the Episcopal Church to truly become an intercultural Church, “a diamond with many facets.”

As a pastoral and evangelistic strategy, the EAM has grouped Asiamerica diversity into six ethnic convocations: Chinese, Filipino, Japanese, Korean, Southeast Asian and South Asian. “Asiamerica” is an Episcopal Church invented word to refer both to the Asian-born American immigrants as well as the America-born-and raised Asians.

Each of the six Ethnic Convocations is led by their respective conveners who also compose the EAM Council. With its elected Executive Committee (president, vice president, secretary and treasurer), the EAM Council will work in partnership with the Office of the Missioner of the Episcopal Asiamerica Ministry. 

The mission statement of the OM-EAM says: “The EAM Office builds a network of relationship with, among and beyond Asiamerica communities and provides resources for evangelism and mission, church growth and revitalization, racial justice and reconciliation.   

The four areas of priorities are:
1. Congregational Life- the EAMO assists dioceses in strengthening existing congregations and starting new ones.

2. Advocacy – through the EAM Council and diocesan EAM commissions, the EAMO advocates for Asian empowerment at all levels of the church life and their involvement in the secular society.

3. Support Group – EAMO provides support groups that will enable Asian Episcopalians to discern their vocations and support deployment of Asian clergy.

4. Training – in partnership with EAM Council and the Diversity, Social and Economic (DSE) unit of the Episcopal Mission department, the EAMO provides training in leadership and develops creative resources for ministry of all the baptized.
EAM Challenges in the 21st Century
Evangelism – In Asia, only two countries (Philippines and Korea) are considered Christians. Philippines is predominantly Roman Catholic (85% Christians) while Korea is rapidly growing evangelical (34% Christians). The vast majority are Buddhist, Hindu, Muslims, Taoist and ancestral worshipers. Christianity, as a whole, is a minority in the vast Asia Pacific basin.

In the United States, approximately 80% of Asian immigrants are not Christians. This represents a challenge and an opportunity in evangelism, Christian formation and congregational development. In an increasingly universalistic world, what should be the shape of EAM evangelism?

Mission – According to U.S. Census, Asian groups in the U.S. are some of the richest (South Asian high tech immigrants) but also some of the poorest (Southeast Asian refugees). Asians as a conglomerate group belongs to both the highest and the lowest socio-economic ladders. Many Asians are also victims of human trafficking, sweat shop slave labor, abuses against domestic helpers and ‘glass ceiling’ discrimination. This represents a challenge in mission for the advocacy of human rights, social justice and immigration reforms.

Theological Education – Asiamerica churches are largely served by immigrant clergy who suffer from marginalization in their dioceses and hand-to-mouth salaries from their ethnic parishes and missions. Serving more than just pastoral and administrative duties, they get “stuck” with neither time nor money for continuing theological education that will help them assimilate to the diocesan cultures.

The reverse is true to the Asiamerica clergy who grow up in the American culture and studied in American seminaries. Even when they were sent by ethnic churches, they often do not return to their home churches because their training in predominantly Anglo-European seminaries do not give them adequate skill and sensitivity to the Asian cultures.

The challenge is therefore to seek an Asiamerica theological education that is relevant, contextual, cross-cultural and intercultural. We seek to develop a theological education that will make Asiamerica clergy versatile in serving the multicultural milieu. On June 2012, we are partnering with Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Massachusetts for a pilot project on a Doctor of Ministry with concentration on Asia-America Studies.

Asia-America Relations – In the context of a 'glocalized' world (global-local) we seek a closer and deeper relationship and communication with our brothers and sisters in Asia. The Episcopal Church is being served competently by my colleague, Peter Ng, the Partnership Officer for Asia and the Pacific. During the past few years, the TEC have broken new grounds in developing deeper relations not only with the Anglican partners in Asia but also in the Concordat churches, such as the Iglesia Filipina Independiente (Philippine Independent Church), the Mar Thoma Church, the Church of South India and the Church of North India.

Recently the EAM Council has elected new officers to help lead the EAM in this new dawn of synergistic leadership. At its meeting in Colorado in October 11-13, 2011, prior to the Everyone Everywhere Conference (October 13-16, 2011), the EAM conveners elected the following as Executive Committee:

President – Rev. Bayani Rico
Vice-President – Mimi Wu
Secretary – Rev. Irene Tanabe
Treasurer – Inez Saley

It is my hope that together with the six EAM Ethnic Conveners, the EAM Executive Committee will lead the Episcopal Asiamerica Ministry community in breaking barriers and building bridges for Asia-America relations towards a reformed and reforming Church in the 21st century. We also hope that the various EAM Commissions working in the context of their dioceses will continue to make inroads in evangelistic, missionary, liturgical and theological enterprises.

(Workshop delivered at Everyone Everywhere Conference, Estes Park Colorado 10.15.2011)
  



Thursday, October 13, 2011

A GUIDE TO STRATEGIC PLANNING


A GUIDE TO STRATEGIC PLANNING
(Condensed and adapted by Fred Vergara from Strategic Planning for Church Organizations, Judson Press, 1969. This step-by-step process was used by the Episcopal Asiamerica Ministry Council at their national strategic planning last October 12, 2011 in YMCA Estes Park, Colorado.)

Introduction:
Strategic Planning begins with a vision, an imagination of a new future. When God blessed the Church with the Holy Spirit, the apostle Peter expressed this event through a passage from the book of Joel, “In these last days, God says, 'I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh. Your sons and daughters shall prophesy; your young shall see visions, your old  shall dream dreams.” (Acts 2: 17)

God intends the Church to be a visioning community, to move from “what is” to “what can be.” With the Holy Spirit present, the visioning work of strategic planning is an act of faith.

I. PLANNING Process (The GIADSIE Steps)
1. Gather key leaders to form a Strategic Planning Team. Who are the key leaders and who will commit to serve on this team?

2. Identify the shared values that unify and motivate the Team. What can build relationship? What values among team members which seems to conflict? How can these values be reconciled?

3. Analyze the situation: what are the needs and the available resources to meet them. What are the felt-needs; what resources do we have; what are those we have not yet gathered? Given our current resources, how will we meet our needs?

4. Define and write the mission statement. How can we tell the world in a compelling manner about what God calls us to do and to be?

5. Set goals and objectives. What are 3-5 goals must we reach in the next 3 years to be faithful to our mission? What are the short-term objectives we will pursue to reach each of these 3 goals?

6. Implement the plan with persons assigned to tasks. Who will take responsibility for each goal; what resources must we provide?

7. Evaluate the results. Who do we thank for the success and how do we recognize the contribution of those who made this possible? If failure, what caused the goal to fail and what needs to be changed to ensure success next time?


B. The IMPLEMENTING Groups (PC-PMB-MP)
1. Planning Committee – a relatively small committee to do the initial work of refining and clarifying the basic assumptions.  Environmental assumption refers to our analysis of the physical, e.g. “The world in which we live is undergoing rapid changes affecting the way we do ministry.” Theological assumptions are spiritual statement upon which we chose to act, e.g. “The church is called upon to be a sign of the kingdom of God to bring salvation, love, forgiveness and reconciliation.” The crucial factor for the success of the committee is that it be made up of people who are innovative and willing to work in a collaborative way.

2. Policy-Making Body. This is the body that that appoints the PC and regularly reviews its works and acts upon its recommendations. Its function is 3-fold:
(a) Approve assumptions, objectives and strategies;
(b) Allocate the necessary resources to implement these strategies;
© Review and evaluate progress or revision the plan.

3. Maximum Participation. This is both the bane and the blessing of planning. On the one hand, the more people are involved, the more difficult it is to arrive at consensus. On the other hand, wider participation not only means wider commitment to the objectives but also ensures they are realistic and workable.  How this principle works out, depends on each situation. The bigger the goal, the bigger the need for broad participation.

C. PRIORITIZING: A Loose-leaf Notebook
Since the strategic plan is a total list of operation and is continuously under review and revision, it is important that priorities be established to make the work manageable. For example, certain objectives are given higher priority rating at a given moment than others. Those of lower priority or which are future-oriented can be written down and placed in the loose-leaf binder as a constant reminder and then placed forward when the other more important priorities have been achieved.

A timeline in the implementation of priorities may be established.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Steve Jobs: Theologian and Prophet - Fred Vergara

(This is my tribute to one of the prophets of the 21st Century, Steve Jobs)
STEVE JOBS, THEOLOGIAN AND PROPHET – Fred Vergara

The globalized world mourns today the passing of Steve Jobs, CEO and co-founder of Apple. He is considered an exceptional high tech guru, entrepreneur, inventor, innovator, visionary and probably the newest richest man in the cemetery.

Aside from being a father to at least four human beings, Jobs is also the father of iPhone, iTunes, iPad, iPod, iMac. While I have only iNap, iSnore and iOwe in my possession, I quite resonate with his life, particularly his disadvantaged family origin; and although he was reportedly a Zen Buddhist, I consider him my new Christian theologian and prophet. I think his one Commencement Speech to Stanford University students in 2005 must have inspired more people (thanks to his high tech, high speed inventions) than any of my 1726 miserable sermons delivered during my 33 years of priesthood.

And so at the risk of making him my idol, I share three points why his life is worthy of emulation:

  1. He learned from adversity
Given for adoption and learning that his adopted parents were not as rich and educated as his biological mother had expected, he made the most of what he had. “At Reed College, I did not have a dorm room so I slept on the floor of friends’ rooms. I returned coke bottle for 5 cents deposits to buy food and would walk seven miles across town on Sundays to get one good meal at a Hare Krishna temple.” He would later drop out of college, to save money for a self-directed learning, including taking a course on calligraphy, which he would later use in his design of Macintosh computer.

  1. He considered love as antidote for failure
A positive thinking pastor, Robert Schuler once said, “success is never-ending and failure is never-final.” Jobs is a prime exemplar of this philosophy. He and Wozniak started Apple on his parents’ garage in Silicon Valley which grew into a 2 billion company with over 4,000 employees. But when it was settling down, they hired a leadership who later disagreed with him and he was fired from the very company he founded. He came back later after proving himself agile in founding NeXT and Pixar, two celebrated successes. On failures, he said, “Sometimes life hits you in the head with a brick. Don’t lose faith. I’m convinced that the only thing that kept me going was that I loved what I did. You’ve got to find what you love...Don’t settle.”*

  1. He believed death has a renewing purpose
I share with Steve Jobs the trait of being secretive about disease, a thing that most frustrate my own family. As a child, I endured a whole night suffering from food poisoning, because I did not want to wake my mother up. Jobs battle with pancreatic cancer, which ultimately claimed his life at age 56, was kept secret for a long time. St. Francis of Assisi called it “Sister Death” but for Jobs, death is life’s ultimate destiny. In his monologue on death, he said, “Death is the destination we all share…it is the single best invention of Life. It is Life’s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new.” *

It would be great to share with Jobs’ audience that his philosophy of life’s journey resembles that of our forefather Abraham who did not settle in villas and palaces but lived in tents because he was looking for a city with a strong foundation, “whose builder and maker is God.”  It will also give them comfort to share that the Christian faith offers a view that death is not the final statement for we, Christians, believe that God will raise us (including Steve Jobs), up on the last day.


*These quotations are taken  from Steve Jobs Commencement address at Stanford University, California, October 10, 2005

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

CHRISTIAN TAI CHI: A PRAYER IN MOTION - Fred Vergara


Due to a number of requests, I am presenting here the texts for this affirmation-prayer in motion, which I called A Christian Tai Chi. If you want a physical demonstration, visit this link in You Tube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qf795HXpq9whttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qf795HXpq9w

I am a child of God,
I stand on His Holy Word,
I breathe the Holy Spirit.
I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

I push out negative thoughts; I pull in positive thoughts.
I push out weakness; I pull in energy;
I push out sickness, I pull in good health.
I push out poverty; I pull in prosperity.

I push out hatred; I pull in love.
I push out despair; I pull in hope.
I push out sorrow; I pull in joy.

And now I will share the Good News to my family,
to my friends, to my neighbors, to all people I meet
here and all over the world.  
In Jesus Name, Amen.
(Jesus Christ is my God, my Master and my Friend.)

Thursday, September 22, 2011

My Italian Tour: The Eternal City and More






Last September 1-15, 2011 my wife (Angela) and I joined with a group of 46 other tourists from all over the world in what is known as the “Splendors of Italy Tour.” It brought us to over a dozen renowned cities and fantastic places in grand Italia. It is amazing that the country, being so rich in culture, history and significance continue to inspire pilgrims who visit it. Trafalgar Tour offered us a variety of optional tours, most of which we took.

Angela has lots of wonderful photos in her Face book (angieverg@aol.com) and I am preparing some reflections on my blog site, www.travelinasian.blogspot.com. While I have been to many places in Europe and Asia, I find Italy to be most fascinating and awe-inspiring.

Our first stop was Rome, the “eternal city,” with its famous St. Peter’s Basilica, the Sistine Chapel, the Vatican and some museums. Even roaming around Rome itself, if you can feel the Spirit, and, if you can see past the pickpockets, the anxious fellow tourists getting lost in the sea of humanity and the constant roaring of the scooters in narrow streets of cobbled stones, you can see God. Of course, for a pilgrim, not a tourist, God is written even in the graffiti of tenement walls. The frescos of Michelangelo was certainly beyond compare.

After Rome, we ogled the frescos (from ‘fresh’ paint), walked along the gardens of Tivoli.  The day was hot but when evening came, after a rowdy dinner, just before I dropped three coins in the fountain and made my wished, it rained---and the $3 Euro umbrella suddenly jumped at $5 Euros. The rest of the days were a staccato of fantastic places: Bay of Naples, Castellamare, Bay of Capri, Positano. In  the cruise along Lake Como, we were told to watch out for George Clooney and I swore it was my childhood crush, Sophia Loren (she must be a century old by now), whom I saw tending to her lakeside gardens. Of course, no one, including my wife would believe my imagination.

A visit to Assisi, where my favorite St. Francis and St. Claire, come from was a dream come true. I have always admired “brother Sun and sister Moon” but we did not have much time to explore Umbria where they played among the birds and the bees. Of course you know that the twin-patron saints of Italy were St. Francis of Assisi and Catherine of Siena; I reckoned Claire would be content being the saint of the poor and Francis the saint of the animals, including myself.

The ruins of Pompeii are a poignant symbol that the “city of man will always die but the city of God will never die” as another Italian saint, Augustine (thanks to his mother, Monica and the bishop of Milan, Ambrose for his conversion), would agree in his book, the “Civitas Dei.” Pompeii, a prosperous and cosmopolitan city in the 1st century was the center of many pagan and bacchanalian feasts. Many of the filthy rich had their Roman holiday villas there, feasting on licentiousness and decadence. The city was completely destroyed and buried by the volcanic eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 A.D., ironically a day after Vulcanalia, the festival of the Roman god of fire. Walking among the city ruins (rediscovered in 1749), it was eerie to be told that Mt. Vesuvius is still an active volcano.

Touring by bus can be ennui unless you learn to travel as a family. Our Tour Director, Dominic Harris, was a funny guy. His background as son of an Anglican vicar (he also married the daughter of a Scotland vicar), made him and me kindred spirits. At the bus, I prayed a “9-11 Prayer,” told some jokes and made adaptation of Frank Sinatra’s “My Way” into “He Did it Pompei”  and “New York, New York” into “Venice, Venice.” I was wondering if stand up comedy or a murderer of ballads would be my lot if I retire from the ministry.

Yes, Venice was a romantic city and still is. It is interesting to note that all the gondolas are now legally restricted to black color. It became a fashion statement and social status in the past, when the rich would have their gondolas in loud colors and bedecked them with gold and even diamond ornaments to set their gondolas different from those of the plebian’s. Venetian government wants them to be blind to socio-economic boasting, without poking their eyes. The visit to San Marco Church (in honor of St. Mark’s the evangelist) was intriguing. Venice is a city built atop a million logs dropped in the lagoon of the Adriatic Sea and it is amazing that it still stands today. “If I can float up here, I can float anywhere; it’s up to you, Venice, Venice,” I would sing. Marco Polo’s adventures speak of his Venetian lifestyle.

Verona was my idyllic place because it is the scene of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, the mother of all romantic tragedies. I can still hear Lawrence Olivier intoning the prologue “Two households both alike in dignity…” It has a huge arena not only for Shakespeare’s plays but hey, maybe Lady Gaga’s concerts as well. In Pisa, the Tower is still leaning and I wonder when it will finally fall.

We made an incursion into Lugano, border of Italy and Switzerland, for a peek of Gucci and other temptations. Of course, most of the touristic ladies bought their leather, later, in Florence. Firenze is the capital city of Tuscany and my interest was more on its art and architecture. As a priest, I used my privilege to enter the Florence Cathedral for free, and access to some of the holy places where the lay were not allowed. Florence was the birthplace of the Renaissance and been called the Athens of the Middle Ages.  The cathedral is undergoing reconstruction but I could still see the iconic statue of David and haunting fresco of Adam and Eve being driven out of paradise, another Michelangelo creation. The statues of Dante Alighieri, Machiavelli, Savonarola and Leonardo Da Vinci speak of the greatness of the Florentines.

The supreme highlight of the trip for me, was, ironically, the descent to the Roman catacombs. I will have a separate reflection about it but suffice it to say that the catacombs were an important signpost to Christian martyrdom (Latin martyrium for “witness”) and the power of God to convert the hearts. Ireneus and Achilleus, two praetorian guards in-charge of cutting off the heads of Christians, became converted and had their own heads cut off as well. An underground basilica was commissioned by Pope Gregory in honor of their martyrdom in the site where those they executed were buried. Talk about poetic justice.

I departed Italy not only with fond memories but a personal desire to study more of its past and its relevance to our contemporary world. Arrivederci Roma. Ad majorem Dei Gloriam.
Fred+