Parish News

Advent/Christmas, 2017

Without a doubt it has been a very eventful year. The Governing Body of the Custody known as the Discretorium, visited Lebanon, to celebrate the Franciscan Chapter of the region of St. Paul. It felt like a spiritual retreat up in the mountains, such a beautiful country. The Chapter finished, we travelled to Syria. Nothing could have prepared me or Father Bruno whom I travelled with, for the situation we found. The devastation is catastrophic; as far as the eye could see both in Homs and Aleppo, whole areas are completely raised to the ground. Despite all their problems, the Syrians were welcoming and we felt a sense of urgency to return to normal life. The friars were so hospitable and other than hearing missiles being launched from afar, inside the monastery, the life of prayer and community continued as normal. The friars remained with the people through the whole of the conflict. It is truly admirable.

In February, Fr. Simon Donnelly came to visit us; we have known him since he was a cleric, now he is in service in the Vatican Secretary of State. The Italian Ambassador visited us, such a charming and intelligent man. Sadly in April my father died, it was close to Easter, in front of such loss, the Resurrection is our only hope and consolation. We were blessed to have Father Carlos Molina and Brother Javier Ignacio Lazo Jubal ofm for Eastertide, they were a great help and brought much joy to the community and parish. I, as a member of the Commission for Justice and Peace (JPIC), were delighted to have Father Giorgio Vigna ofm with us. The parishioners were very enthusiastic regarding the issues of justice, peace and the integrity of Creation. He is a very capable and able teacher. In May and June respectively we held our May and Corpus Christi processions. The tourists participate with gladness alongside our own locals. A visiting group of Slovenia friars and pilgrims spent a week in Rhodes with a pilgrimage group. Mons Luigi Falcone, from the Vatican Secretary of State spent ten days with us; he is a valued friend and we appreciate his support. I was privileged to preside at the Blessed Sacrament procession that takes place each Thursday in Gethsemane in the Holy Land. The musical input by Fr. Diego is superb and the prayerful atmosphere is tangible. Br. Benito Jose Choque ofm greets the many people who frequent this hour of prayer and peace and knows most of them by name. I spent many happy years with Br. Benito in community at the Holy Sepulchre some years ago now!

Mons. Vincenzo Peroni, the Vice-Master of Papal Ceremonies was with us for two weeks in August. He has been a tremendous help and support to our mission in Rhodes. It is through him that we have been assisted pastorally in our parish on the island of Kos with priests from his Diocese during the summer months. This year five young priests came to Kos from Brescia. Br. Oscar Emanuel Alvarado Para ofm, now a deacon, came to learn English and Greek. He was a great success in the parish and a very good student in both languages. His capacity for manual work is an example for all and he chopped enough firewood to last us for two winters! To his great credit, after ten days he was reading the gospel in Greek at Mass! We missed him when he left. It was also a real pleasure to have the company of the Naval Cadets on the Italian sailing ship, Palinuro; the whole event was perfectly organized by Colonel Enrico Frisson, the Military Attaché from the Italian Embassy in Athens. He stayed in the guest wing of the monastery. We celebrated a Requiem Mass on the altar at the Italian War Graves in our Catholic Cemetery; it was very touching as the many hundreds who are buried in Rhodes were around the same age as the cadets present at the Memorial Mass. The Lutheran pastors continue in their pastoral work from our property, along with many choral and various activities from visiting Finish children’s groups which are performed in the Franciscan theatre. Their organist, Margaret, continues to accompany the Catholic liturgies too.

Nothing could have prepared us for the earthquake of 6.7 that hit Kos on July 21. We felt it in Rhodes. The following day I sailed to Kos to see how I could help. The centre of town was badly damaged. I visited the Synagogue, the mosque, the Orthodox Churches and our own Church and house, they are unusable. Oh what a sadness to see our little Church of the Holy Cross so badly damaged. We had only just finished renovating it and now we are back to square one. Still, as during the refugee crisis of 2015, the islanders of Kos rose to the challenge. The 200 injured were cared for in the small hospital, people were comforted and life began to return to normal despite the evident damage everywhere. There was even a small tsunami after the earthquake that washed a boat up into the town centre! I have to say our Archbishop Sebastian, Mons. Massimo Catterin, secretary to the Apostolic Nunciature, our beloved Custos Fr. Francesco Patton ofm and many more called to offer help and support. Mons. Massimo Catterin from the Nunciature has been instrumental in helping us with a proposed restoration project for the Church and the small Franciscan house at the entrance to the cemetery. The On-going Formation meeting (FOPE) in Cyprus was informative and formative. It was wonderful to spend time with the Custos and the Friars in Cyprus. Fathers Giorgio Kray and Marcelo Ariel took me to visit the Turkish side of the island and we made a pilgrimage to the tomb of St. Barnabas. On the 30th September, I was honoured to be present at the Consecration of the New Greek Orthodox Bishop Kirilos who has the same name as our beloved Greek Orthodox Metropolitan Archbishop of Rhodes. It was a beautiful and moving ceremony. Bishop Kirilos is from Rhodes, he is young and full of zeal and humility. He is very well liked and will do much for the Kingdom of God.

The organ festival in October was again a huge success thanks to the brilliant organizational skills of Mr. Christos Paraskevopoulos. This year the evenings were themed on Greek, Italian, French, German and Celtic culture. The musicians were wonderful and the attendance at all concerts was high. We were honoured by the respective Honorary Consuls plus a very enthusiastic support from the audience.
The Italian Commissariats of the Custody of the Holy Land chose Rhodes as their venue for their annual Conference. It was wonderful to have so many friars with us, 27 in all. Mother Petra from the Congregation of Our Lady of Mercy from Poland allowed Sr. Sangwina to join us in order to help with the Conference. We had a Holy Hour every day to pray for the success of the Conference and for the refugees. Needless to say, prayer must be the basis of all our endeavours. The theme of the Conference was on Migration and very apt for our islands and the many refugees whom we host. Mons. Massimo Catterin from the Apostolic Nunciature.Father Dobromir Jasztal ofm the Custodial Vicar, Father Marcello Ariel the director of On-going Formation and Fr. Ramzi Sidawi ofm the Custodial Treasurer and our own parishioner Dr. Lucia Conte were also present. Each gave a very interesting presentation. We visited the unofficial Refugee Centre in Rhodes that the Franciscans support with basic food on a weekly basis, thanks to the help of ATS. Some of the friars were visibly moved seeing the plight of the children. We took gifts of chocolates and games which is always a treat for the children. Thank God they can have some joy in their lives. They have been allowed to attend the State schools this year and were pleased to show me their exercise books and the positive comments written therein by their teachers. It was also possible to visit Kos and the friars saw for themselves the damage the earthquake had wrought to the island. We thank Fr. Sergio Galdi, the Commissary General, for choosing Rhodes for the Conference and hope they will return. We so enjoy having our friars to visit. The priests steering group, of which I am a member, met in Athens. I stayed with the Capuchin friars who are always so hospitable. After our own meeting of priests, we met with the Greek Bishops’ Conference. I was invited to the Nunciature to meet the new Apostolic Nuncio to Greece His Grace Savio Hon. We wish him well in his new mission. The retreat on Mount Tabor was wonderful in November. The hospitality of the community was laudable.

This year we are renovating the Christmas Crib, it is huge. It was built by the Italian friars in the 1930s and still has models from that period. Mr. Desmond O’Leary who was a set builder for the theatres of London along with Robert Gregory, have set about the restoration of this much loved Crib which indeed is being renewed from top to bottom. It is well loved by the people of Rhodes and evokes many happy childhood memories for them.

I have touched on some of the main events of this year but the support and enthusiasm of the many other groups, the Secular Franciscans, Legion of Mary, Free language schools, Cancer support group and many other activities in Rhodes and Kos are a credit to the collaboration and enthusiasm of our parishioners. We have much to give thanks for.