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100 Years of Carmelite Presence in the Philippines

Homily of H.E. Most Rev. Charles John Brown D.D., Apostolic Nuncio to the Philippines

on the occasion of the 100 Years of Carmelite Presence in the Philippines

“Jesus said to his mother, ‘Woman, this is your son.’ And then to the disciple, he said, ‘This is your mother.’ And from that moment, the disciple made a place for her in his home.” - John 19: 26-27

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, for me as your Apostolic Nuncio, it gives me so much joy and happiness to be with you here this morning in the Metropolitan Cathedral of St. Elizabeth of Hungary, the National Shrine of Our Lady of Candles in the Archdiocese of Jaro, here in Iloilo City to join you in this great outpouring of gratitude and praise to God for the gift of 100 years of Carmelite life here in the Philippines.

I want to greet, in a very special way, His Excellency, the Most Reverend Jose Romeo Olazo, Archbishop of Jaro, affectionately known as Archbishop Romy. I greet, in a very special way, Fr. Miguel Marquez Calle, the Superior General of the Discalced Carmelites, who has come all the way from Rome to be with you this morning. And in a very special way I want to greet Reverend Mother Teresa Josephine of Jesus and Mary, the prioress of the Jaro Carmel, and all of her sisters who, if I'm not mistaken, are here in the front row of the cathedral this morning. I greet all the priests who are concelebrating, of course, the bishops as well, priests, Carmelite friars, who have come from near and far, Carmelite nuns who have also come from near and far, as far as France, if I'm not mistaken. We welcome you, we thank you for coming to join in this moment of rejoicing, this moment of gratitude, this moment of exuberant praise of God, for the gift of Mount Carmel.

For me, as your Nuncio, it's a special joy to be present with you this morning because I made my first Holy Communion and I was confirmed in the parish of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in New Jersey, and I celebrated my first mass as a priest in May of 1989 in the parish church of St. Teresa of the Child Jesus in New York. So, my sacramental life is intimately bound up with Our Lady of Mount Carmel. And for that reason, I want to be, and I wanted to be present with you this morning to say thank you to God, thank you to the Blessed Virgin Mary for the gift of Carmelite life here in the Philippines. Because it was on this day brothers and sisters, back in 1923, that the story of the Jaro Carmel began here in this place in Iloilo.

That story is intimately connected with your American-born Bishop, Bishop James Paul McCloskey, who was originally from Philadelphia. He was, for a brief time serving in the Church in Luzon in Vigan, and then in 1917, he became Bishop of Zamboanga. Then, only three years later, the Pope transferred him from Zamboanga to Jaro. He arrived in 1920. And one of the first things that Bishop McCloskey wanted to do was to have the Carmelite nuns come here to pray for his Diocese, to be a source of prayer, a source of adoration, to be the heart of his Diocese.

And so, as all of you know, he wrote a series of letters to the Carmelites in Vietnam, in Hue, asking them to please come to the Philippines and establish a Carmelite Convent. And finally, in 1922, the Carmel in Hue, agreed to send some sisters. Four sisters, to be precise, a little group of four sisters, all of whom are French, two of whom are already in Vietnam, and two of whom came from France: Mother Teresa of Jesus, the prioress; Sister Mary of Christ, the sub prioress; Sister Mary Germaine of Christ; and Sister Mary Gabrielle of the Child Jesus, who was only a novice. And this little group of four sisters, heroic, courageous, missionary, contemplative Carmelites, came here. They left Vietnam by ship. They didn't have Cebu Pacific. In those days, they didn't have AirAsia. They took a ship from Vietnam, and where did they go? They went first to Hong Kong. In Hong Kong, they got another ship, and finally arrived in Manila on November 3rd of 1923, where they stayed with the Benedictine Sisters of St. Scholastica College, which is very near where I live in Manila, in Malate.

The sisters, the Benedictine Sisters, gave hospitality to this group of four French Carmelites there in Manila in early November. Then on November 6, they got in another boat, the third boat. And this boat brought them from Manila, down here to Iloilo. And then here in Iloilo, they were received and given hospitality by the Sisters of St. Paul of Chartres, a French congregation which has been here in the Philippines for many years. (The Sisters of St. Paul of Chartes worked in the Nunciature with me on Taft Avenue in Manila.) They received the sisters here in Iloilo, and then, as all of us know, on November 9, 1923, the foundation mass was celebrated, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass was celebrated and the first Carmelite Convent of nuns here in the Philippines began this day, 100 years ago.

It was all because of Bishop McCloskey, this heroic, missionary Bishop, a Bishop who really gave his life for the people, the Catholic people of the Philippines. (As we know, 1923, the Carmel was founded.) And Bishop McCloskey was Bishop here from 1923 up until his death in 1945, excuse me from 1920 to 1945. That's 25 years of his service here in the Philippines here in Iloilo.

And in 1927, he had an interesting event in his life. He went on, went on a pastoral visit to Dumaguete day, and was on another ship, the Notching Ship, which then proceeded to sink in the Ocean off the coast of Cadiz and Negros Occidental. And very interestingly, the ship was going down, and there weren't enough lifeboats for everyone on the ship. And everyone said to the Bishop, you know, you're a bishop, take the lifeboat. He said, "No," he stayed on the ship. All the people got off into lifeboats, and those people for whom there weren't enough lifeboats stayed in the ship. One of them was Archbishop McCloskey, and he literally went down with the ship in 1927 into the water, and swam and survived. He lost his Bishop's ring in the Ocean, somewhere out there, around Cadiz. So if any of you are fishermen or no fisherman, you can go look for it even now, almost 100 years ago, 1927. He was able to swim to shore and to survive. Later on, he died in 1945, just before the Battle of Manila.

It seems, and I would be interested if there are any historians who can enlighten me further about this, that he seems to have been interned with other Americans at the University of Santo Tomas, in Manila and died in the Order of Sanctity in April of 1945, just before the liberation of Manila at the end of the Second World War.

Our gospel this morning, brothers and sisters, takes us to the foot of the cross, takes us to stand with Mary the mother of Jesus, the other Mary's, Mary, the wife of Clopas, Mary Magdalene, St. John, and we hear those words of Jesus spoken to Mary spoken to St. John, "Woman, this is your son," and then to St. John, "This is your mother." And those words which I repeated to you, from that moment, St. John made a place for Mary in his home. And the original Greek, it says something like,"He took her among his own, he took her to himself."

So St. John, the beloved disciple, the only apostle, who was there at the crucifixion, is given the gift of Mary, to stay with Mary, to be with Mary, to contemplate the miraculous, amazing gift that God has given us in Jesus with Mary. To return always to the foot of the cross to contemplate the gift of Jesus to his heavenly Father, to draw us into that mystery. That's what St. John and Mary do, taking us to be part of that home.

And that brothers and sisters, that home of St. John, that home of Mary, that is what a Carmelite monastery is. It's a place where women who have been called in a special way by Jesus. It's a place where women come to live with Mary and St. John to contemplate Jesus on the cross, Jesus in his passion, his death and of course, in his resurrection.

The contemplative life, the life of prayer. That is why Carmel exists. That is why Carmel is such a beautiful gift. That is why Carmel, is in the words of Saint Therese of the Child Jesus, "At the heart of the Church."

The Church has a heart, as Saint Therese of the Child Jesus tells us. And the Heart of the Church is love. Mary and St. John image that communion of love at the foot of the cross. And that communion of love continues in a Carmelite monastery. And maybe there are young women who are listening this morning who are celebrating these 100 years of Carmelite life here in the Philippines. Maybe, some of you are hearing the voice of Jesus knocking on the door of your heart and saying, "Come follow me. Come follow me into this intimacy of love, this intimacy of trust and abandonment, this intimacy of contemplation, which is Carmel at the heart of the Church." Carmel at the heart of the Church, and Bishop McCloskey realized that Carmel needs to be part of a diocese also. So that at the heart of the Diocese, there is this beating heart of love, which is a Carmelite Convent. Sisters praying, interceding for all of the intentions of the priests, the Bishop, everyone in the Diocese. This is the beautiful gift of Carmel. This is why it's such an amazing presence in the Catholic Church.

And you know, there's an interesting and beautiful connection between Carmel which is enclosed, which protects and respects the cloister, which stays in union with Jesus and Mary and St. John, in the cloister, and yet Carmel which is a furnace of love, which then spreads love and radiates love throughout the Church and that love takes the form of mission.

There's a missionary element in Carmelite life. As all of us know, nearly 90 years ago, in 1927, the same year that Bishop McCloskey ended up in the Ocean outside of Cadiz. In that same year of 1927, Pope Pius the XI proclaimed Saint Therese of the Child Jesus, the patron saint of the missions. Here is a young girl who really only left France once in her life to go on pilgrimage to Rome, spent her life in the Carmel in Lisieux. And yet she is a patron of missions. And Bishop McCloskey realized that if the Church is going to be fruitful in its mission in her missionary outreach, she needs to have that beating heart of love which is Carmel at the heart of the Church.

So for that reason, the Bishop called the sisters here 100 years ago, and that one convent has multiplied convents throughout the Philippines and indeed beyond the confines of these islands. Of course, our first sisters came here from France, the eldest daughter of the Church, they came to the youngest daughter of the Church or a young daughter, the Philippine Church. And now, of course, the Church in the Philippines is sending missionaries all over the world to evangelize.

That beautiful Catholicity of the Church where we compensate for one another, that beautiful communion of love. But at the heart of that communion is the heart of love, which is Caramel.

So, brothers and sisters, on this day, we give thanks to God for the gift of the Carmelite presence here in the Philippines. We give thanks to God for all the sisters who have lived and prayed here in Jaro and throughout the Philippines. We give thanks to the friars, for all of their good work of evangelization. We ask the Lord to grant us another 100 years of Carmel here in the Philippines, another 100 years of this beautiful furnace of prayer, this heart of prayer. We ask the Lord also to speak to the heart of young women this morning and throughout the year, calling them to give their life to Christ in this beautiful vocation of intimacy and love, which is Our Lady of Mount Carmel. We ask Our Lady, our Mother, to watch over us, to intercede for us. And we thank her for the gift of Carmelite life here in the Philippines.

On behalf of Pope Francis, whose representative I am, I congratulate you on this birthday. I ask you as I always do to pray for Pope Francis. He needs our prayers. He asks for our prayers. Let's pray for him today. And may God bless you on your 100th anniversary.

Transcribed by Gel Katalbas

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