Parish News

Advent/Christmas 2016

We have had a very eventful summer and autumn. The refugees continue to flee from Syria via Turkey to Greece. The numbers are much smaller than last year but we still host 860 in Kos and around 90 in Rhodes. We are thankful for the guidance of Marco Procacinni the head of mission for UNHCR who continues to guide us towards those who most need our help. We have recently been approached to open the parish hall for the refugees to receive free education thrice weekly. The teachers will be supplied by the University of the Aegean. Thanks to ATS and other generous people both local and from abroad, we are still able to help to feed these needy people and the poor who come to the monastery every Tuesday for food parcels. The numbers grow as the winter begins and the people are without work now the tourist season has finished. Free Greek and Italian lessons are still very popular at St. Francis monastery and we are grateful for the teachers who give their time free of charge. The numbers of school groups from the State schools visiting the Catholic Churches has increased. We enjoy this contact with the local children and are delighted to share our history and presence here in Rhodes.
In May we held our biennial meeting of priest and our bishops on the island of Tinos. It is always good to see brother priests and bishops. It is a great time of sharing and fellowship. I was honored to be asked to join the commission of the Catholic clergy of Greece; discussion and exchanging ideas in a group is always so fruitful and beneficial. The Finnish Lutheran Church celebrated 30 years of pastoral service in Rhodes. Along with Rev. Bror, the leader of the Finish Church Abroad, came visiting choirs to mark the occasion and various celebrations were held in the Franciscan theatre. Fr. Benoit from France brought a group of young people to Rhodes for a week. A new Swedish pastor has been appointed to Athens and Rhodes, Rev. Bjorn; we were pleased to welcome him. Both the Swedish and Danish church members have been very generous with their donations of food for the poor and we thank them. In May and in August we had two beautiful processions of the Blessed Sacrament and then of Our Lady in both Rhodes and Kos. The processions are very devotional and a great public witness. Father Mirek helped us in Kos for three weeks whilst at the same time receiving Greek lessons. Father Adam, a Redemptorist who lecturers at the Alphonsianum in Rome joined us for a week. Fr. Andrew Verdote ofm came from Cyprus. We continue to provide pastoral care to the staff of the many cruise ships that come to Rhodes throughout the year. They often ask for memorial Masses for deceased staff members which I am happy to celebrate aboard the ships. It is also an opportunity to hear confessions and give support and encouragement to the many staff that live away from their families for months at a time. I was honored to be appointed as president of the Catholic Commission for tourism in Greece by the Bishop’s Conference. Of course it is a subject close to our hearts living and serving in the midst of so much tourism in Rhodes and Kos. The outreach and possibility of evangelization to the many tourists is of the utmost importance. Mons. Vincenzo Peroni, the Vice-Master of Pontifical ceremonies came to stay with us again. We hope his book “Toccati da Gesú” will soon be published in English. It has been a great success amongst the pilgrims to the Holy Land. He kindly asked his friend, Don Marco Baresi to give pastoral service in our parish in Kos; the people were absolutely delighted with. Don Marco who is an exceptionally good priest and we are very grateful for his goodness and generosity.
In July we held our Franciscan Chapter in Jerusalem. I attended as a delegate. I met our new Custos, Fr. Francesco Patton ofm for the first time. He really is a most solid Franciscan, sincere, simple and humble. The Custody is very safe in his capable hands. He is a prayerful man, courageous and a gifted leader. During the Chapter, to my great surprise, I was elected a discreet; (counselor) the role is of service to the Custos in the governance of the Custody. I am one of five friars chosen to represent the main language groups of the Friars who make up the Custody We were fortunate to have had Father Jakab Várnai ofm as our Visitor General; we thank him for his calm, dedicated and supportive presence. The Chapter bore much fruit. Before the Chapter, the Custos had already visited many of the friaries in order to come to know the friars and their missions. After the Chapter he continued his visits to all the friaries. We were delighted to receive him in Rhodes in August. It was a most pleasurable and very fraternal visit; albeit a very busy one. We met with the Prefect, the Mayor, and the Greek Orthodox Archbishop. Their warmth and hospitality shown by all was much appreciated. We also visited the refugees both in Rhodes and Kos. The Custos was able to speak with them personally. The Parish Pastoral Council gathered was affirmed in our Franciscan evangelical outreach. We felt blessed by his example of Franciscan life and commitment. He reminded us that even though we are far from the centre of the Custody we are still in his thoughts and prayers and that he is always at hand whenever we are in need.
In September we commemorated the many Italian and allied soldiers who lost their lives on the island of Leros. The event was professionally organized by Mr. Enzo Bonanno with the support of Colonel Antonio Albanese. Archbishop Paisius was present. He invited me to lunch at his home. He cooked himself, and it was delicious. He has remained the same friendly simple priest he has always been since I knew him whilst he was Vicar General here in Rhodes. He really is a very lovable character. He had a house guest, Archbishop Joseph Harriolakis from the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Constantinople. We ate together and it really was like being at home. Our beloved ex-Custos, Father Pierbattista Pizzaballa ofm was consecrated Archbishop in the Cathedral in Bergamo. What a splendid occasion it was. It was good to see our former Minister General, Archbishop José Rodriguez Carballo; he remains the same friendly and simple friar that he always has been.
In August I returned to Jerusalem for the Convengo which took place in the guest house of the Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in Tiberius. The Convegno is a meeting wherein the different families of friars are allocated to the various friaries. Mother Telesphora, the superior of the guest house was one of my lecturers when I was a seminarian. These sisters administered the Catholic hospital in Rhodes until 1949. During this week we returned to Jerusalem to spend an afternoon to be present at the new Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa Solemn Entry into the Latin Patriarchate of which he is the Apostolic Administrator. The Custos allowed me to return early to Rhodes in order to be present at a memorial ceremony commemorating around 38 tourists who lost their lives in a fire in the 1970’s in a restaurant in Rhodes. There were many Scandinavians and several Irish. The Irish Ambassador came from Athens and the Mayor of Limerick with some of the family members of the deceased. The Vice-Ambassadors of Denmark and Sweden also attended. We celebrated a Mass in their memory and a plaque has been placed as a lasting memorial in the centre of Rhodes. We also had a joyful celebration of the Silver Jubilee of the marriage of Romolo and Eleonora. We were delighted to have a visit from Sr. Rita from Albania she is, a Franciscan sister of the Stimmatine order. Sr. Rita’s brother, Zef lives with his wife Lucia and their children in the parish. At the end of July we were honoured by the visit of His Beatitude Theophilos III, the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem. I know him from years ago. He was then parish priest in Cana of Galilee He spent an hour with us at Sancta Maria. He really is a very nice person, simple, kind, always smiling and a great diplomat.
In October we commemorated the Italian Military War Dead in Kos. Mr. Giovanni Millo and others came from Italy for the occasion. The Finnish Police choir returned to us to give a concert in the Franciscan Oriens theatre. We also had a gifted Finnish violinist who played for us during the Masses it was very devotional. A Finnish Children’s choir came and they sang beautifully. I spent some time with them and asked them “do you know who I am?” they were not sure, as they would see very few friars in Finland. So I asked them: “do you know of Robin Hood?” “oh yes they said” well I said: “I am of the same order as the jolly fat friar you see with him called Friar Tuck” they soon understood and then we spoke about St. Francis whom they knew of and of his love for animals and ecology. These encounters, especially with young people are of great significance and importance. After many years I celebrated my feast day in Jerusalem, St. Luke, I was touched by the good wishes of the friars At the end of supper cakes were shared with the community and one of the young friars, Br. Clovis led the whole community in the refectory singing happy birthday in English!. I was pleased to be asked to visit the Greek Orthodox Patriarch Theophilos III. The day I visited Cardinal Koch from Germany was also present with members of the German Lutheran Church. After they left I spent an hour with the Patriarch discussing Greece and the deteriorating economic situation. He is a very wise man and a master of diplomacy. It was a wonderful experience to attend the wedding of Elene and Apostolos, the daughter of Father Sklevakis, the Greek Orthodox archbishop’s secretary. Archbishop Kirilos conducted the ceremony and it was good to meet and greet many of the Greek priests present. Ecumenism can develop and make progress in the ordinary small and simple gestures of our daily encounters. Colonel Antonio Albanese the Military Attaché from the .Italian Embassy has been a great help to our community. It was with pleasure I attended his farewell celebration on the Italian National day and armed forces day in Athens. He has a marvelous wife Maria and three wonderful children. The Italian Ambassador and Vice-Ambassador were amongst the many guests present. I was able to visit one of our seminarians who are studying Greek in Athens, Brother Javier Ignacio Jubal ofm. He is lodging with the Capuchin Friars in Athens and making steady progress with the Greek language. I stayed with the Capuchins when I too was a student and it is very much home from home. They really are a very hospitable and welcoming community. I was offered excellent hospitality at the Cathedral Clergy house by Father George Altouvas, a very zealous pastor of souls, his mother Mrs. Georgia comes to Rhodes to restore our religious artifacts. I was also able to visit Agni the Archbishop’s sister and his mother, whom I have grown very fond of. After many years we have re-activated the OFS in Rhodes. We have two of the original members, Tetta and Michael Karambella. Attilio and Rosa Galimberti came from the OFS headquarters in Italy to help us prepare a programme of formation for future members. We remember Father Cesare Adofini ofm, a former friar from the Seraphic province in Italy; gave most of his life serving these islands and was a great promoter of the OFS. May he rest in peace and reap the rewards of his dedicated service in the Father’s house.
Last but not least we give thanks for our own beloved Archbishop, Sebastian. With great effort and purpose, he has opened a major seminary in Athens to supply the archdiocese with priests. It is admirable and there are already some students in formation. Notwithstanding his everyday responsibilities in the archdiocese, the opening of the new seminary, he has also been nominated president of the Bishop’s Conference for Greece. Needless to say, we are accompanying him with our prayers and are willing to help him in any way we can. Ad moltos annos!
This year we have prepared a small Christmas gift of chocolates and a card for the poor who come to the door every Tuesday, 192 families this week, your generosity has made this possible and therefore we thank everyone, especially all our volunteers and benefactors wishing each and everyone a blessed Advent , Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.