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Jesus does great things when you say ‘yes’

At age seven, the new auxiliary bishop of Auckland, Bishop Michael Gielen, already knew life was empty without Jesus.

In his thanksgiving speech at the end of his ordination Mass, Bishop Gielen recalled his struggles as a young boy and how having Jesus in his life made all the difference.

Bishop Michael Gielen blesses the congregation after the Mass.

“I remember as a seven-year-old, standing on our farm and wondering what life was all about. I had asthma, chronic asthma all year. I had had two weeks of injections. I was struggling at school. And I remember an emptiness deep inside and a lack of meaning in my life,” he said.

“A year later, all that changed. We started going back to Mass as a family. It was like rivers, fresh springs of living water, flowing within us, slowly changing us. And as a little boy, I noticed it.”

These “fresh springs of water” carried him through to his ordination as auxiliary bishop on March 7, at the Vodafone Events Centre in south Auckland, with 3000 people at the ordination Mass.

Auckland Bishop Patrick Dunn was brimming with joy at having an auxiliary bishop.

Hamilton Bishop Stephen Lowe was saddened at the loss of a good priest.

“The diocese of Hamilton is delighted for Bishop Michael, but it’s a sad loss for us. We wish him every blessing in his ministry up here. He’s been an awesome priest in Hamilton and we’re sure he’ll be an awesome bishop in Auckland,” Bishop Lowe said.

Bishop Gielen thanked his mum, Maureen, and dad, Deacon Henk Gielen and members of his “precious family” who had given him love and support. Deacon Gielen was the deacon at the ordination Mass.

During the powhiri before the Mass were (from left) Maureen Gielen (holding child), Deacon Henk Gielen, then-Bishop-elect Michael Gielen and Bishop Stephen Lowe.

Other bishops who were present at the ordination included Wellington Cardinal John Dew, Dunedin Bishop Michael Dooley, Bishop Colin Campbell, Bishop Basil Meeking, Bishop Peter Cullinane, Bishop Owen Dolan, Bishop Denis Browne, as well as Sydney Auxiliary Bishop Richard Umbers.

Waka faith journey

Bishop Gielen likened his faith journey to that of a waka travelling on rivers.

“[My family] went further upriver, to the land flowing with milk and honey . . . and trees, Tokoroa,” he said to the laughter of the crowd.

“It is there I learned how to be a Christian. It is there I was taught how . . . to move from a lamb to one of God’s sheep. I was loved and encouraged,” he said in a more serious vein.

He said the church in Tokoroa was a simple, rectangular, 1950s church.

“It’s not until you go inside, and this is true of our Catholic faith as well, it’s not until you enter that you really experience the beauty of the Church,” he said.

He recalled having his first communion, confirmation and eventually, his priestly ordination at that church.

“I was ordained a priest there by Bishop Max Mariu, and if I’m correct, I was the only one ordained by Bishop Max Mariu,” he said. “Thank you, Bishop Denis (Browne), for making that possible.”

Before the Mass, the bishop-to-be has a word with Bishop Denis Browne, who was in a wheelchair.

He served in parishes in the East Coast, Waikato, North Waikato and Raglan. “You formed me and carved me and beat me into the man that I’ve become today, into a shepherd. And I thank you for that, each of you,” he said.

He went to Rome for training and came back as formator for Holy Cross Seminary. “[I was . . .] to teach these seminarians, or to be formed by them or to form them. I’m never sure which way it goes,” he said.

Now, his waka is setting off for Auckland.

“I have good news. Whether you are seven or seventy, Jesus loves you. Jesus will never leave you alone. Jesus has amazing things in life for you, whatever your age is, if you trust him and ask him into your life, like my family did. It’s amazing what he can do when we say, ‘yes’. Thank you for your ‘yes’ and let us travel together in our waka wherever God leads us,” he said.

Just be yourself

Bishop Dunn, in his homily, gave the 48-year-old new bishop one piece of advice.

Auxiliary Bishop Michael Gielen

“Just be yourself. You don’t have to be a clone of anyone else. ‘Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you.’ God sees gifts he’s entrusted to you and all he asks, and you know this, is just to use them. Not with a spirit of timidity, but with a spirit of power, love and self-control,” Bishop Dunn said.

Speaking on the first and second readings chosen by Bishop Gielen for the ordination (Jeremiah 1:4-9 and 1 Timothy 1:6-14), Bishop Dunn noted how both the prophet Jeremiah and St Paul’s follower, Timothy, were young men.

“Jeremiah said, ‘I’m too young. I’m not qualified. There are other people better equipped. Haven’t got the right training.’ And God says, ‘just go. Get moving!’,” Bishop Dunn said. “I’m sure he said those words to Michael today. But he says them to all of us, too.”

Bishop Michael Gielen with students from St Joseph’s Catholic School, Pukekohe, after his ordination Mass.

Bishop Dunn said St Paul also told Timothy not to let people put him (Timothy) down because of his (Timothy’s) youth and lack of experience.

“He (St Paul) said, ‘Timothy, when I laid hands on you . . . which we say now to serve as a priest or a bishop . . . you didn’t receive a spirit of timidity. You received the spirit of power and love and self-control’,” Bishop Dunn said.

“(What) . . . Paul says to Timothy, he’s saying to Michael today . . . But he says it to us, too! When you were baptised, when you were confirmed, it wasn’t with a spirit of timidity. It was a spirit of power, love and self-control,” Bishop Dunn explained.

The Gospel reading, often called the Peter chapter, was about Jesus asking Peter if Peter loved him (Jesus).

“Jesus meets Peter and he (Jesus) doesn’t say, Peter, how could you screw up so much? Peter, what did you not understand? Peter, when will you ever learn to listen before you talk? He (Jesus) asks the only question that matters. He says, Peter, do you love me? Three times. Poor old Peter,” Bishop Dunn said.

“(Peter) . . . said, you know I do. And so, the fisherman is commissioned as a shepherd. Michael, we know that you love Jesus. I love your motto, Totus Tuus, all yours,” Bishop Dunn said. “We welcome you as a new bishop in the college of bishops. We certainly, I certainly, welcome you as a new bishop in Auckland.”

Pope’s letter

Deputy head of mission and first secretary at the Apostolic Nunciature in Wellington Msgr Edward Karaan read the papal bull at the ordination in the place of Apostolic Nuncio Archbishop Novatus Rugambwa, who went into self-isolatation after a brief trip to Italy.

In the letter to Bishop Gielen, Pope Francis said he has given in to the request of Bishop Dunn to appoint “an auxiliary bishop in order to more fittingly provide for the pastoral needs of the community”.

“Dear son, it seems fitting that this office be entrusted to you, for the necessary strength of reason and character and skills in pastoral matters have clearly been observed in you,” the Pope wrote.

The Pope urged Bishop Gielen to serve the people eagerly and act faithfully in his (Bishop Gielen’s) new ministry.

Reactions from the people at the ordination Mass

Tony and Jan Baker, Mt Maunganui: “Amazing, a special man, very spiritual, atmosphere amazing! We left at 6:30am this morning, in a big bus with 36 people.”

(Left) Airini Turner, Herne Bay/ Ponsonby: “Breath-taking, amazing, awesome, all those adjectives. The decision to have it here was absolutely right. Like Bishop Pat, a peoples’ bishop.” Taumi Hau, Herne Bay/ Ponsonby: “The whole thing was very holy. It was best to have it here. He’s such a hard case — better suited here in Auckland. The mix of people that came — of all the ethnicities, from the little babies to the older babies.”

Josephine Bartley, Glen Innes/ Panmure: “Felt really, really special to me, once in a lifetime. It helped me relive [a] Catholic upbringing, sitting in a Catholic school again but it [was] not ‘like this’ sitting in Mass. I’ve never been [at] Mass with 3000 before, I love the acknowledgement of Māori Tangata Whenua, of Pasifika or Samoa and Tonga.

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Self-isolation in our deserts of Lent

With the first cases of the novel coronavirus confirmed in New Zealand, authorities are responding in various ways. Among the tools being used are prevention of entry from some nations, being required to self-register if having returned from certain other nations as well as going into self-isolation for 14 days to help prevent the spread of the virus.

The “self-isolation guidance” issued by the Ministry of Health makes many recommendations about how to protect people from the spread of this disease and others. There is one section labelled “taking care of your well-being”.

It states that it is normal to feel stressed and lonely when self-isolating. But there are steps that can be done to help — such as reaching out to friends and family, talking about how one feels and sticking to a regular routine in terms of meals, sleep and exercise. Trained counsellors are available by phone to offer support with grief, anxiety, distress or mental well-being.

This is all happening in the season of Lent. The 40 days of Lent recall the 40 days and nights that Jesus spent in the desert in a type of self-isolation, except that he had been led there by the Holy Spirit after his baptism in the River Jordan.

Benedict XVI, in a 2013 general audience, said that the desert is many things. On the negative side, it can be a place of death, because there is little water. It is a place of silence and poverty, a place of solitude where “man feels temptation more acutely”. But it is also a place where the human person is driven to the “essential” and “for this very reason can more easily encounter God”.

In his Ash Wednesday homily in 2010, Benedict said that, for Jesus, “that long period of silence and fasting” in the desert “was a complete abandonment of himself to the Father and to his plan of love. The time was a ‘baptism’ in itself, that is, an ‘immersion’ in God’s will and, in this sense, a foretaste of the Passion and of the Cross”.

Jesus’ 40 days in the desert demonstrated “the dramatic reality of the kenosis, the self-emptying of Christ, who had stripped himself of the form of God (see Phil 2: 6-7) . . . “, Benedict said in an Angelus address in 2006.

“He who never sinned and cannot sin submits to being tested and can therefore sympathise with our weaknesses (see Hebrews 4:15). He lets himself be tempted by Satan, the enemy, who has been opposed to God’s saving plan for humankind from the outset,” Benedict said.

“What is the essence of the three temptations to which Jesus is subjected?” Benedict asked in a 2012 Ash Wednesday audience.

“It is the proposal to exploit God, to use him for one’s own interests, for one’s own glory and for one’s own success. And therefore, essentially, to put oneself in God’s place, removing him from one’s own existence and making him seem superfluous. Each one of us must therefore ask him- or herself: what place does God have in my life? Is he the Lord or am I?”

And it is only by looking at the figure of Jesus dead on the cross, Benedict wrote in his encyclical Deus Caritas Est (2012), that a fundamental truth can be known and contemplated: “God is love” (I John 4: 8,16).

“In this contemplation, the Christian discovers the path along which his life and love must move” (no. 12).

But at the same time as we look at the crucified Christ, we feel looked at by the Risen Christ, Benedict noted elsewhere. “He whom we have pierced with our faults never tires of pouring out upon the world an inexhaustible torrent of merciful love.”

Returning to the 2010 homily, Benedict wrote that salvation is . . . a gift; “it is the grace of God, but in order for it to make an impact on my life, it requires my assent, an acceptance that is demonstrated in my actions — in other words, the will to live like Jesus, to follow him”.

It is to be hoped that those who follow Jesus in 2020 in New Zealand act sensibly with regard to COVID-19, love their sick neighbour if it comes to that, offer prayers for those who are ill and for those working to find a cure and generally be good citizens at this time and always.

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Reflecting on March 15

by Mina Amso

This is the day that we dreaded the most. We felt the pain of loss, we felt the fear, we felt the terror. Could this really happen? New Zealand, the country far, far away. Isolated, enchanted, peaceful, tolerant and welcoming. Could this really happen? It did.

We certainly had other plans. On March 15, 2019, I was on my way back from a week-long retreat at the Beatitudes community in Leithfield, North Canterbury. I was in a spiritual bliss.

The bliss, peace and quietness I carried was quickly switched into confusion, being flustered, hurried, feeling panic, uncertainty, a troubled heart and concern. I was flipping between different news outlets on my phone. Watching different videos. Listening on the radio to any updates, trying to find out more about this disaster. I wanted to know if they had caught the person responsible.

Was he was still on the loose? Who was he? Whether I was in danger. Who died? Where are they now? Why did all this happen?

Little did I know, the terrorist attack was a big deal. Many people died. One person was responsible. But was I expecting it to happen? Sooner or later I thought terrorism would find its way to our shores. Now, New Zealand will be well-known for the “rugby” and “that terrorist attack”. Who would have thought that our often taken-for-granted tranquillity, silence and peace would be ruffled?

Those who’ve never heard loud gun shots before, screaming and bleeding victims, or known the pain of losing someone, now have. I have lived it myself, through the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s and the Gulf War in the 1990s. The sirens warning us to hide away, telling us to hunker down. These familiarised me with violence and hostility. What I wasn’t familiar with were the flowers, the hugs, the signs, the heartfelt messages and the love shown throughout Christchurch and New Zealand.

But how often, in our own lives and hearts, we experience little moments, sometimes long periods of bliss, calm and collectedness. We think “all is going well, my job is good, my family is doing well, I have friends, I am going to my place of worship, I am happy where I am, as I am”. I am comfortable. And bang. Something drastic happens. Sudden loud rattles us, something happens that violently shakes our core. Then comes the many
after-shocks mixed with fear and anxiety.

The quiet before the storm

Are we aware of our hearts? Are we aware what we are aware of? Are we thinking about what we are thinking? Were you aware of how turbulent your heart was on March 15? How did you respond to the fear? How reactive were you to people and thoughts that kill human life? Kill growth? Stop development? Pretend to end togetherness?

A year has passed. How different are you today to this day last year? How have you changed? Are you more human? Are you more compassionate? Are you more aware? Are you more sensitive? Are you more forgiving? Are you more loving towards your neighbour?

Yes, what happened on March 15 was wrong. No one should be killed anywhere or anytime. Who are we to kill another human being? Neither Christians, nor Muslims, nor Jews, nor Buddhists nor Atheists nor Agnostics nor any other faith background have the right to kill. Whether you believe it or not, God himself gave us the freedom to choose everything. What to do with our life, to love or not to love, or to believe in Jesus Christ or not. This freedom isn’t meant to be abused, though.

Freedom

If someone gave you $100,000 today and told you, “Here, take this free gift. You are responsible for it now. You didn’t earn it. You don’t really deserve it. However, it is yours for the taking because I am good and I love you”.

If you could do whatever you like with the money, what would you do? Would you take the money? Would you take it, but later throw it away? Would you take it and abuse it? Scatter it all away? Would you reject it? Would you use it to take another person’s money? Would you put it to good use in charity? Would you go travelling to explore the world? Would you invest it? Would you keep it in the bank and look at it every now and then? Would you consider giving it to the poor? Would you consult with a financial advisor who knows more about finances and wealth than you do? What would you do?

If the One who created the human person, and knows all about each person, gave you the thing called freedom, which to me, is priceless, then what would you do with it?

Take a minute, consider how the terrorist who slaughtered the victims on March 15 thoroughly abused his $100,000 free gift. Or, more appropriately, his gift of free choice. If you can recognise this, you are able to distinguish between using and abusing. Growing or halting. Lifting up or tearing down.

This freedom we have is beyond our understanding. Today I would like to remind you that you still carry this freedom. Freedom to find the truth. Freedom to explore who you are. Freedom to take the next step in your faith. Freedom to sacrifice. Freedom to love, though difficult. Freedom to endure hardships. Freedom to pray, then act. Freedom to recognise right from wrong. Freedom to choose life, not death. Freedom to be active, not lazy.

There’s a reason why we have freedom. It’s scary to have, but what a privilege it is. It means we are trusted by the One who created freedom and gave it to us. This freedom — the ability to “do whatever you want with your life” — is your weapon to stop hatred, division and fear.

Let’s reflect more. The next step to making our world a better place is to take a minute and think: “I am free”.

Mina Amso is NZ Catholic’s Christchurch correspondent. A Syriac-Chaldean Catholic, she spent her early years in Baghdad, Iraq, before her family came to New Zealand.

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Resources for prayer at home put on liturgy office website

The National Liturgy Office has put links to Masses around the world on their website as well as livestreams of daily celebration of morning Mass from different dioceses across New Zealand after the Government prohibited public gatherings to contain the spread of the deadly COVID-19.

National Liturgy Office acting director Fr John O’Connor told NZ Catholic there are already resources on their website that people can use to pray with at home, whether on their own or with others.

“We have links to Mass celebrated in other places, other parts of the world, just to give people a variety,” he said.

He said this will include Pope Francis’ Masses, but added that because of the time difference, the Pope’s Mass would be late for Sunday.

Fr O’Connor recently released as extract from the statement of the Apostolic Penitentiary on what to do when you cannot receive the sacraments because of quarantine.

Earlier, he issued guidelines for Mass practices, which included the distribution of communion by hand, not distributing from the chalice, avoiding shaking hands at the sign of peace as well as removing holy water from fonts.

These practices are voluntary at Mass, anyway, he said.

The website’s link: http://www.nlo.org.nz/news-and-events/media-releases/celebrate-mass-online/

Fr O’Connor also said Magnificat, an American online and app prayer resource, has made access to their site free for the time of the pandemic.

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Vatican confirms Pope does not have covid-19

VATICAN CITY (CNS) – Neither Pope Francis nor any of his closest collaborators have the Covid-19 virus, said Matteo Bruni, director of the Vatican press office.

In a March 28 note, Bruni confirmed that a monsignor, who works in the Vatican Secretariat of State and lives in the Domus Sanctae Marthae, where Pope Francis lives, did test positive for the coronavirus and, “as a precaution”, was hospitalised.

The Italian newspaper Il Messaggero and the Jesuit-run America magazine published reports on March 25 about the monsignor testing positive.

Bruni said that, as of March 28, the Vatican health service had conducted more than 170 tests for the virus. No one else who lives at the Domus Sanctae Marthae tested positive, Bruni said.

As soon as the monsignor tested positive, he said, his room and office were sanitised and all the people he had come into contact with over the preceding days were contacted.

“The health authorities carried out tests on the people in closest contact with the positive individual,” Bruni said. “The results confirmed the absence of other positive cases” among the residents of the Vatican guesthouse, but another employee of the Holy See who was in “close contact with the official” did test positive.

That brings to six the number of people in the Vatican who have tested positive, he said.

The Vatican press office had confirmed the first four cases on March 24. The first, already confirmed by the Vatican on March 6, was a priest from Bergamo who had a routine pre-employment exam at the Vatican health clinic. After he was discovered with symptoms, the clinic was closed temporarily for special cleaning, and the five people with whom the priest had come into contact were put under a preventive quarantine.

There were reports at the same time that the offices of the Secretariat of State were closed temporarily for a thorough cleaning.

The Vatican did not say when the next three people tested positive, but it said one worked in the Vatican warehouse and two worked at the Vatican Museums.

All four, the Vatican said March 24, “were placed in precautionary isolation” before their test results came back. “The isolation has already lasted more than 14 days; currently they are receiving care in Italian hospitals or in their own homes.”

Both America magazine and Il Messaggero said Pope Francis was unlikely to have had contact with the monsignor from the Secretariat of State who tested positive. Both reported that Pope Francis has been eating his meals in his room rather than the dining room since coming down with a bad cold after Ash Wednesday, February 26.

While the Vatican has cancelled all group meetings, Pope Francis continues to meet with individuals each day.

News reports said the Pope and his guests use hand sanitiser before and after the meetings.

Photo: Pope Francis raises the monstrance during eucharistic adoration at the end of Mass March 26, 2020, in the chapel of his Vatican residence, the Domus Sanctae Marthae. (CNS Photo/Vatican media)

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Pope Francis to give Urbi et Orbi blessing

Pope Francis is leading a prayer from the balcony of St Peter’s Basilica in Rome today March 27 (March 28 ,6 am NZ time) where he will confer a plenary indulgence and the Urbi et Orbi blessing.

Pope Francis is inviting everyone, Catholics and the rest of the world, to unite in praying for the end of the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic.

Urbi et Orbi ( to the city of Rome and to the world) is a formal blessing usually given only at Christmas and Easter or immediately after a new pope is elected.

Apostolic Nuncio Archbishop Novatus Rugambwa told NZ Catholic that the Holy See has asked all the bishops to inform everyone of the Pope’s invitation.

“This is an act of worship and prayer, imploring God’s mercy and intervention in what we are experiencing worldwide. It is in this context of fighting against the spread of this virus which is devastating and afflicting almost all the people in other countries now. We are asking them to come together as people of God,” he said.

The nuncio explained this is a special blessing, because it is not only for Catholics whom the Pope leads in service, but for every person of faith.

“It is not Mass. It is just an appointment of prayers. That is the first part will be the proclamation of the Word of God, some meditation on that, this will be followed by adoration of [the] Blessed Sacrament. After that, the Holy Father will confer and declare the indulgence that will go with this action. After that he will give the blessing,” Archbishop Rugambwa explained.

The plenary indulgence is for those who follow on television, radio or Internet. However, those who are receiving the indulgence should be sorry for their sins and go to confession and receive communion as soon as they are able.

The nuncio observed there are countries where the medical system is probably not as good as it is here in New Zealand.  He said coming together in prayer “could be a way to help and show our solidarity, not only physically but also spiritually”.  

“We hope this will help. That is the special element of this appeal of the Holy Father for prayer,” he said.

“Pray together. This trial that we are facing, we can’t do anything. We are not in control of the situation in this world. No matter how intelligent we might look and seem strong. But there is no doubt we need something supernatural, some supernatural element in our life in our way of tackling our problems.”

The papal blessing will be livestreamed in New Zealand on March 28 at 6 am. Those who wish to join can go to www.vaticannews.va and mondovisione.com

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NZ priest in Italy: Pray for those suffering

Italy has been one of the countries hardest hit by the novel coronavirus pandemic, with 15,113 confirmed cases and more than 1000 deaths as of March 12. 

The Italian government has taken measures in response. On March 9 it extended “red zone” restrictions already in place in the north to all of Italy, discouraging people nationwide from all unessential travel and from leaving their homes unless it was for work, getting food, medicines or seeing a doctor. Churches and places of worship in Italy were allowed to stay open, but they had to guarantee people stayed three feet apart and avoided congregating. All civil and religious ceremonies like weddings and funerals are not allowed until after April 3. 

After the Italian government issued a decree barring the celebration of all “civil and religious ceremonies, including funerals”, the Italian bishops announced the suspension of public Masses until April 3. 

Further restrictions followed by Government order, including the closure of all businesses except grocery stores, pharmacies, newsstands and other essential services. 

NZ Catholic spoke to New Zealand priest Fr Peter Janssen, SM, who is assistant priest in Pratola Peligna, a town with 9000 inhabitants in the Diocese of Sulmona in the Abruzzo region of Italy, about how he and people in the parish (which includes a shrine to Our Lady of Deliverance — initially from a plague in 1500AD), are faring at this time. 

NZC: Fr Janssen, how have the current restrictions affected your life and ministry? 

Fr Janssen: Even though there are no cases in our town and only 30 in the whole region, we are all behaving as if there were infected people or unwitting asymptomatic carriers living here. Our ministry has been severely curtailed by the order forbidding aggregations of people. For instance, we had our first funeral here since the expansion of the red zone. It was very brief and held at the cemetery rather than the church. Only the closest family members, who might be expected to share a house anyway, were present, and notably no one from out of town. Our ministry of direct pastoral contact is reduced to almost nil. A certain amount is still maintained through social media. It is all terribly frustrating. 

NZC: The Pope has prayed that priests would find the courage to visit those who are sick and offer accompaniment to health care professionals and volunteers working during the coronavirus pandemic, while also keeping themselves and others safe. What are your plans in this regard? 

Fr Janssen: Some people whose confession I regularly hear and to whom I take communion let it be known that they do not want anyone visiting them, even/especially the priest, who might be a carrier of contagion caught from other sick people. Perhaps they are right, because we do not know enough about this virus. No one can say for sure how long the incubation period is and the symptoms seem to be on a spectrum from asymptomatic to regular flu-like to deadly pneumonia. Even the medical advice is changing subtly. At one stage those with flu-like symptoms were encouraged to stay home and ride it out, but now they are finding that, when such types eventually have to go to hospital, . . . they are amongst the worst cases. My instinct is to be a modern-day Charles Borromeo, and go out of my way to visit the sick and even nurse them. Fortunately, at the moment it is a hypothetical question. There are no cases near about — and please God there will not be — but reasonably, I would expect those who are really sick and fearful to be ministered to by the hospital chaplains. Of course, I would be available to help out there.   

NZC: How have your parishioners reacted to the suspension of public Masses until April 3? How do you feel about it? 

The most common response is a disappointed resignation. To me it seems to be too drastic a move to suspend all public Masses — we should have more faith. But on the other hand, Italy is far from being the country of faith that it once was. The government had to extend the red zone to the whole country because (mainly) university students and school teachers treated the original two-week closure of schools and universities as holiday time. Only, they were frustrated that in their zone all places of entertainment were closed, so tens of thousands of them “escaped” to the ski fields and the South of Italy to enjoy their unexpected “holiday”. The North has much better medical resources than the South. Even in the North they are struggling to cope, but the death toll in the South would be horrendous if the virus were allowed to spread there. Unfortunately, when people will not do the right thing out of Christian care for one’s neighbour or out of civic conscience, they have to be taught and constrained. Perhaps the Church has also to play an exemplary role in that. 

NZC: Is your parish doing live-streaming of Masses over the Internet? What is being done in your parish to help people spiritually? (And practically?) 

Fr Janssen: All Masses are now private (only our religious community) in our house chapel. They are not streamed, but at the hour when Mass is on, parishioners are encouraged to participate spiritually. The Bishop of Sulmona has made his Masses available on YouTube and there is no shortage of Masses transmitted over TV. It is a totally new situation for us as well, so we are doing what we can, and as permitted by the regulations now in force, but it is rather ad hoc. Maintaining contact through social media and the parish website is more important than ever. 

NZC: Are people in your town/village fearful about the virus and doing things like panic-shopping? Are people too fearful, in your opinion? 

Fr Janssen: As far as I can tell, no one is fearful enough to go in for panic-buying or stockpiling. In this region there are so few confirmed cases that it all seems a long way away. The hyper-coverage in the media, if anything, is having a desensitising effect. 

NZC: What are you saying to people to encourage them at this time? 

Fr Janssen: I tell them to pray to Madonna della Libera — she saved Pratola from the plague and many other disasters before and she can do it again.  

NZC: Are people coming into your church to pray? 

Fr Janssen: Yes, but not as many as usual. Because all the shops and cafés are closed, no one is venturing out much. 

NZC: How is your own health? Do you worry that you might catch the virus? 

Fr Janssen: Right now, I am in good, if not perfect, health. However, if I get a cold, I have a tendency to develop bronchitis. Apparently, that is an indicator of those who might be expected to suffer more severe symptoms should they contract the virus. So, short of wearing a face mask, I’m taking all reasonable precautions.  

NZC: What can we in New Zealand do to help? 

Fr Janssen: Prayer! Please pray for the sufferers and those who fear for their health and/or livelihood. Especially, please pray for the medical staffs of the hospital intensive care units. They are becoming exhausted, physically, emotionally and mentally. I would love to be able to tell the parishioners that the New Zealand Church is praying in solidarity with them. 

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Avalanche drama reinvented

Odd as it may seem to filmgoers, subtitles for foreign-language movies are the exception rather than the rule.

The recent success of the Korean-made Parasite was unusual as last year, shortly after its win at the Cannes Film Festival, it received only limited release in New Zealand.

In the United States it opened in only three cinemas and at the time prompted news that an English-language remake was on the cards. No more has been heard of that project since the unexpected Oscar win in February pushed Parasite back into prominence, complete with subtitles.

Last year I noted that the Korean film industry, along with most others in Asia, preferred to release films in the local language, whether through remakes or, more commonly, voice dubbing, which is also the dominant practice in Europe.

Public acceptance is just one factor. The other is box office performance. France’s Le Diner de Cons (1998) made $US7 million at the global box office but Dinner for Shmucks (2010), the English-language version starring Steve Carrell, grossed $US87 million.

More recently, Chilean director Sebastian Lelio reworked Gloria (2013) as Gloria Bell (2018) with Julianne Moore in the title role. The latter made $US5.6 million at the American box office against the original at $US2.1 million.

Remakes of two other French movies, Three Men and a Baby (1987), adapted from Trois Hommes et un Couffin (1985), and The Birdcage (1996), based on La Cage Aux Folles (1978), were both huge box office successes, mainly due to the star power of their Hollywood casts.

These may be exceptions to some awful examples, but the the business case remains. The latest to undergo the process is Force Majeure (2014), a Swedish drama about a family holidaying in the French Alps.

It now reappears as Downhill (Searchlight Pictures) starring Will Ferrell and Julia Louis-Dreyfus, both of whom initiated the project for 21st Century Fox, now part of Disney. 

The original, by Ruben Ostlund, was a bleak study human motivations and a forerunner to the even darker machinations of The Square (2017), which featured Elisabeth Moss in a critique of modern art.  

Purists generally hate remakes and the reception of Downhill at the Sundance Film Festival wasn’t favourable. Disney also decided to hold it back from Christmas release, denying any chances of its two stars gaining a nomination for a major shift from comedy.

Despite this, Downhill rivals its recent peers such as Netflix’s Marriage Story, Denmark’s Happy Ending, the Kiwi-made Daffodils and Hope Gap (see Clips review).

The basic premise remains – a controlled avalanche swamps a family about to dine at a ski chalet, resulting In the father making a dash to safety while leaving his wife and two children behind.

The switch of setting to the spectacular ski fields of Austria is one improvement while Louis-Dreyfus and Ferrell expand on their familiarity as the quarrelling wife and husband.

The wife, a lawyer, is much the stronger of the two. A scene over a lost glove and a heli-skiing trip highlights the legendary American instinct for litigation and risk aversion.

Ferrell as the failed father is harder act. He under plays the part, presumably to deflect from his image as an over-the-top clown prince. 

Rating: Mature audiences. 86 minutes.

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