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Diocese of Rockville Centre

Pontifical Mission Societies & Mission Office
Fr. Joseph Kelly, C.S.Sp. Print E-mail
Friday, 08 July 2011 14:21

Fr. Joseph V. McCabe, M.M.

My father, a native of County Tyrone in Northern Ireland, came to America and married a beautiful red-headed girl from Sayville, NY.  I was born on September 16, 1924, and attended Catholic elementary school where I became best friends with an African-American in the 5th grade. Later on I wanted to become a priest so that I could help the African-American people. My uncle was a member of the Holy Spirit congregation and told me that his order worked among my friend’s people.
After high school I attended St. Francis College in Brooklyn, entered the Holy Spirit Seminary and was ordained in 1950.  The following year I was assigned to Tanzania, East Africa. The Kilomeni Mission to which I was assigned with Fr. Bob McCraley was in the Pare Mountains which was accessible only up a 70º incline. I was even asked to offer Mass on the peak of Mt. Kilimanjiro.  Supplies and even harvests from the plains had to be carried up the on the heads of the people.  Eventually we were able to erect the Stations of the Cross along the trail. With the help of a strong donkey that carried bricks up to the mission we were able to build a school.  One of the students later became the bishop of Kilomeni.

In the 1950’s I was asked to supply the Fides News Agency in Rome with information about the local Church which I did for fifty years. I also served as correspondent for the Catholic News Service in Washington D.C.  Because there was a lack of communication in Eastern Africa, the bishops formed an association called AMECEA (Association of Member Episcopal Conferences in Eastern Africa).  They asked me to help them disseminate information from Vatican II and other pastoral initiatives. I started AMECEA Documentation Service.  It worked well - the bishops were quick to see the value of modern communication; however, they themselves were unschooled in it.  Fr. Joe Healey of Maryknoll and I teamed up and worked with the bishops and local clergy of Eastern Africa. They were eager to learn, and I learned much from them also.

One of the many pastoral initiatives of the eight AMECEA countries was the implementation of Small Christian Communities.  These are sub-divisions of the parish composed of small groupings of family units.  They meet weekly, pray together, reflect on what it means in the every day life in their village and decide what to do about it. These small Christian communities eventually multiplied by the thousands and have been effective in spreading the Christian message in the AMECEA countries.
Meanwhile much was happening within the Spiritans to which I belong.  Large numbers of young men in Eastern Africa had become diocesan priests, but enough expressed the desire to become Holy Spirit Fathers to warrant that a Spiritan Province be started.  It grew fast.  With the generosity of the people, the needed facilities for the seminary were built. 

Ever since the Spiritans landed on Zanzibarin 1863, our missionaries always emphasized education, which evolved through a series of kindergartens, bush schools, full primary and secondary schools.  But Catholic education ended there.  So when AMECEA decided it should start the Catholic University of Eastern Africa, it was a joy to be assigned as Director of Development for the project.  Bishop McCauley took me to a large vacant lot near Nairobi and told me the university would stand on that lot.  On August 8, 1985 the Catholic University of Eastern Africa was formally inaugurated by Pope John Paul II.  Today thousands of students study at the university which has as its motto; “Consecrate them in the truth.”   As a young priest I was sent to “Go and teach”; I thank God for the graces we Spiritans have received to do so in Eastern Africa.



November 2nd
Fr. Joseph V. McCabe, M.M.

All SoulsAs the autumn leaves change color and begin falling gently to the earth, the Church throughout the world prepares for the onset of the long and dark winter months with the solemn commemoration of ALL SAINTS DAY and the more quiet and reflective day dedicated to the POOR SOULS on November 2nd.

On this day, the Church prays for and remembers the faithful departed – those who passed away throughout the entire year, as well as those who have “gone before us marked with the sign of peace,” our deceased relatives and friends. All Souls Day is that special time when the Church remembers, prays for, and offers A child's grave in the USMasses and prayers for the faithful departed in the state of purification. Throughout the world, Catholics take this day to offer prayers up on behalf of their departed relatives and friends.

There are many customs associated with All Souls Day, and these vary greatly from culture to culture as we see in the Mission World. In Mexico they celebrate All Souls Day as el dia de los muertos, or "the day of the dead." Customs include going to a graveyard to have a picnic, eating skull-shaped candy, and leaving food out for dead relatives. The practice of leaving food out for dead relatives is interesting, but not exactly Catholic Theology although it is found in many cultures, both in Latin America, in Central and Eastern Europe and Russia, and in some parts of Asia.

Through these various rituals around the deceased and the Poor Souls, we remember that all cultures deal with death in different manners. Our Western aversion to anything related to death is not present in other cultures. In the Philippines, they celebrate "Memorial Day" based loosely on All Souls Day. Customs include praying novenas for the holy souls, and ornately decorating relatives' graves. On the eve of All Souls (i.e. the evening of All Saints Day), partiers go door-to-door, requesting gifts and singing a traditional verse representing the liberation of holy souls from purgatory. In Hungary the day is known as Halottak Napja, "the day of the dead," and a common custom is inviting orphans into the family and giving them food, clothes, and toys. In rural Poland, a legend developed that at midnight on All Souls Day a great light shone on the local parish. This light was said to be the holy souls of departed parishioners gathered to pray for their release from Purgatory at the altars of their former earthly parishes. After this, the souls were said to return to scenes from their earthly life and work, visiting homes and other places. As a sign of welcome, Poles leave their windows and doors ajar on the night of All Souls Day. All of these customs show the wide variety of traditions related to All Souls Day.

St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus Patroness of the Missions Print E-mail
Tuesday, 05 October 2010 08:36
Fr. Joseph V. McCabe, M.M. 

St. Theresa of the Child JesusThe month of October, dedicated to the Catholic Missions ad gentes worldwide, begins with the feast day of the Patroness of the Missions, St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus, or Sister Thérèse of Lisieux, the great Carmelite mystic, born Marie-Françoise-Thérèse Martin in 1873, and who died in 1897.

Many marvel at how a cloistered Carmelite nun in 19th century France came to be venerated and celebrated as the Patroness of the Missions, especially one who died at the age of 24 without every physically visiting a mission land. And yet one need only to glance at her many letters and spiritual testament to see how her heart burned with zeal for the missions.

 On this first day of October, as we begin this month dedicated to the Missions, I would highly recommend for those interested, reading the book entitled, Maurice and St. Teresa di LisieuxThérèse, The Story of a Love by Patrick Ahearn (Doubleday: 1998), which is a wonderful and moving biography of this cloistered nun and a young man studying for the foreign missionary priesthood, and especially of her advice and encouragement to him in his vocational journey.

All of us who have been privileged to be called to be missionaries overseas can find great solace in the wisdom of St. Thérése who used her own personal suffering as a way of praying for and with missionaries all over the world. Her generosity of spirit, deep love and zeal for the works and sacrifices of missionaries and her burning desire that the love of Christ be brought to all corners of the globe underscore why she is the Patroness of the Missions.

A Lesson From The Grandparents of Jesus Print E-mail
Monday, 26 July 2010 08:07

Fr. Joseph V. McCabe, M.M. 

While accompanying Cardinal Jozef Tomko on an extensive pastoral visit to the Northwest Territories of Canada some 15 years ago, I was introduced for the first time to the traditions surrounding the parents of the Virgin Mary, Saints Joachim and Anne, and their veneration as the “forebearers of God,” or more simply as Jesus’ grandparents. These celebrations are highly anticipated among the First Nations peoples of North America and held annually in midsummer (July 26th) with a pilgrimage drawing thousands to Lac Ste. Anne in Alberta.

Grandmother and GrandchildAt this annual pilgrimage on the shores of the lake over 40,000 First Nations families gather each summer for a week-long celebration of these saintly grandparents of Jesus, camping on the shores of this mission founded in 1842, and celebrating the virtues and values associated with grandparents (such as care, wisdom and love), rededicating themselves as families and as peoples to deeper respect for their traditions, their faith, and those moral standards and ideals that uphold family life.

In the cultures of the First Nations peoples, it is the grandparents who are the primary teachers of their grandchildren. Traditionally the parents would have been busy outside of the village compounds from morning to night hunting, farming, herding, and providing for their families. The children would be left inside the compound with their elderly grandparents, who would use this time for instruction in language, skills, folklore, and above all, in faith.

Many years later, while serving as the pastor of a small community in Khabarovsk, Russia, I learned quickly enough of the deep faith and courage exemplified by so many grandmothers in the religious formation and upbringing of their grandchildren. Often risking banishment, imprisonment or even death, grandmothers living behind the “Iron Curtain” maintained the religious fervor of their children and grandchildren, passing on to them rudimentary forms of prayer, pious practices and devotions, and instilling in them that same faith in God that they received from their own grandmothers. Cardinal Tomko often told me stories of how women in his own country of Slovakia kept and passed on the faith. But now in Khabarovsk I saw living testimonies to this courage in the faces of my parishioners.

And so, taking a cue from my experiences on Lac Ste. Anne, I began to celebrate this Feast of Sts. Joachim and Anne in my parish in the Russian Far East as a time for thanking all of the grandparents who took up the cross of Christ in a unique way, using all of their gifts to pass on to their grandsons and granddaughters the faith they had received from their own grandparents, keeping faith alive even under times of bleak tyranny. I had the privilege of meeting men and women who were baptized in secret by their grandmothers, and who were raised as Catholics in the concealment of their homes, learning prayers and hymns by rote memory, keeping small religious articles such as rosaries or prayer cards hidden under floorboards or behind armoires in their homes, gathering in the stillness of night to secretly observe Christmas or Easter, always with the fear of one or another grandchild or neighbor exposing them or reporting them.

Meeting these strong grandparents both in the Northwest Territories of Canada and in the Russian Far East (as well as grandparents in almost all mission territories), I have come to learn how important saints such as Sts. Joachim and Anne are for us in our faith formation. Do we respect and honor our grandparents as those great custodians of the faith that they have been for us? Do we keep as a treasure in our hearts the values they so patiently instilled in us? Do we show that same reverence and esteem for this faith they handed down to us as an invaluable treasure?

Missioners are privileged to share in such life stories. I was honored to participate in the Feast of Sts. Joachim and Anne, the Grandparents of Jesus, at Lac Ste. Anne some 15 years back, and I was humbled meeting the babushke and dyadushki of my parish in Russia who so daringly overcame enormous obstacles to pass on the faith to their grandchildren, showing a love that goes beyond physical care to one that cares for nourishing the soul.

During these summer months, let us reflect on the example of faith we have from our grandparents and in some way show our thanks for all they have done – and do even today – for us.


The Passing of an Asian Giant Print E-mail
Monday, 12 July 2010 13:46

Fr. Joseph V. McCabe, M.M.


Earlier today I read the sad news of the funeral rites for one of the greatest missionary Bishops of Asia, Bishop Francisco Claver, S.J., of the Philippines, who died on July 1st at the age of 81.

Funeral for Bishop Francisco Claver, S.J

I first had the honor of meeting Bishop Claver when he came to the U.S. in 1972, and was invited by my Society, Maryknoll, to preach the retreat to my Novitiate Class before we took our First Oath in the community. I will always remember the week Bishop Claver spent with us, his gentle manner, his profound spirituality, his deep commitment to the people of the Philippines and their rights, and above all, his warm smile and words of encouragement that he gave our class of novices.

While we had all met bishops at different stages of our training, including many Maryknoll Bishops serving in Africa, Asia, and Latin America at the time, Bishop Claver (and another guest we met during our training, Cardinal Stephen Kim Su-hwan of Seoul, Korea) left a special mark in our hearts as we trained to be missioners.

He was eulogized widely both in the Philippines as well as in Asia as a vocal defender of civil rights in the Marcos martial law era,  most notably since, at the request of the late Cardinal Haime Sin of Manila, he drafted the 1986 Philippine bishops’ statement that is believed to have triggered People Power that was to unseat Ferdinand Marcos and pave the way for Corazon Aquino’s installation as president.

The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) described Bishop Claver as “one of the strongest defenders of civil rights among the bishops at the height of strongman Ferdinand E. Marcos’ martial law.”

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