50th Anniversary of Priesthood Pilgrimage to Rome

In this article, I just want to briefly share my own reflections on the pilgrimage to Rome, Assisi, and Siena on the occasion of my 50th Anniversary of my priesthood. All together we were 25 pilgrims from St. John’s and 2 from Our Lady of Perpetual Help (OLPH). The pilgrimage was from December 2-12, 2018. Those 10 days were fascinating with certain highlights on each day. Here I just want to share my three top highlights:

My first highlight was Wednesday, December 5 at the Weekly General Audience with Pope Francis. We were all anxious to hear the message of the pope. On this day he started a new series of his catechesis on “The Our        Father” sub-titled “Lord, teach us to pray”. In his usual simplicity, Pope Francis underlined Jesus as a person of prayer; in his life, it was a prayer that energized everything; there was a profound mystery about his prayer to the Father, and that was why his disciples asked Him: “Lord teach us to pray.” We too need to ask the Lord to teach us how to pray. The Pope concluded by   asking us during Advent to repeat the prayer of the disciples: “Master, teach us to pray.”

My second highlight was the private Mass with Pope Francis at Santa Marta, on Tuesday, December 11. In his brief homily (5 minutes) commenting on Isaiah 40:1-11, the pope started by “Let us allow ourselves to be consoled by God” The entire homily was a beautiful synthesis of the pastoral ministry of consolation, which should always be practiced by Christians. We console other people by tenderness, just as the Lord does to us. After Mass, the pope greeted all priests one by one as well as the lay faithful present at the Mass.

My third highlight was our celebration of the Holy Mass at the Catacomb of St. Callistus on the Appian way.   The main highlight here was the celebration of the Holy Mass at one of the altars underground, surrounded by thousands of saints of 3rd and 4th centuries buried there.

The pilgrimage was meant to help us deepen our faith through the prism of the many sights we visited, in Rome, Assisi, and Siena. 

Monsignor John S. Mbinda

Liturgical Symbolism of the Advent Wreath

The Advent Wreath comes from an old European tradition. It was mainly a way to involve even very little children in learning about preparation for Christmas spiritually. The main symbolism of the advent wreath is the coming of Light into the world is clear. The gradual lighting of the four candles, one on each Sunday of the Advent season, combined with the liturgical colors of the candles purple is the penitential color used during Advent and Lent. The desert rose color used only on the third Sunday of Advent Gaudete Sunday – Rejoice Sunday) helps to symbolize not only our expectation and hope in Our Savior's first coming into the world, but also in his Second Coming as Judge at the end of the world.

As a family tradition, the wreath itself is also symbolic. The circle of evergreen in which the candles are placed represents everlasting life. The seedpods, nuts, and cones used to decorate the wreath are symbolic of new life. On the first Sunday of Advent, the wreath may be sprinkled with holy water to bless it before the first purple candle is lit. Then the blessing before meals is said if you use the wreath at mealtime. The second Sunday two purple candles are lit; the third Sunday, two purple and one rose; and all candles are lit on the fourth Sunday.

In the family, children who are old enough can take turns lighting the candles every Sunday at the beginning of the dinner meal. The littlest ones can blow them out at the end of the meal. If you use the wreath at mealtime, it is helpful to place it on a tray or platter so it can be moved, and to protect the table from candle wax.

On Christmas Day, all the greens and decorations may be replaced with fresh ones, and four new white candles, symbolizing Christ. The white candles replace the colored ones and are lit throughout the Christmas season. Since the Advent season is a reminder to pray and watch, the family when together may pray the Angelus at the lunch and dinner family meal.

Monsignor John S. Mbinda

Advent: The Reason for the Season

 

The word Advent means "coming" or "arrival." The focus of the entire season is twofold:  1) a preparation to celebrate of Jesus the Christ in his First Advent; 2) the anticipation of the return of Christ the King. Advent helps us to reflect on the mystery of how God, in his divine providence, prepared the entire human race for salvation through God’s gradual revelation of in Christ, born in the history of the Blessed  Virgin Mary. As we prepare to remember this event, we relive that history and prepare ourselves spiritually. We relive in expectation of the birth of our Savior. The Advent days help to prepare us spiritually for the coming of Christ.

Thus, Advent is a spiritual journey that we as Christians take, through the truths of Scripture that point to the birth of Messiah. The themes we will meet during the four weeks of Advent are Hope, Peace, Joy and God’s love for his people. The readings of Advent in a special way prepare us for the journey towards Christmas. On the first Sunday of Advent, the Gospel from Luke underlines the urgency of our readiness. For the coming of our redemption. On the Second Sunday of Advent, the gospel will quote the prophecy of Isaiah drawing our attention to the preaching and ministry of John the Baptist who came to "Prepare the Way of the Lord." On the Third Sunday, (Laetare Sunday), the Gospel from Luke will speak about the message of John the Baptist to the crowds, tax collectors and the soldiers, exhorting them all to treat others with God’s love and justice. On the Fourth Sunday, the Gospel from Luke will focus our attention on the Visitation of Mary to Elizabeth.

May you have a blessed and fruitful Advent journey.

Monsignor John S. Mbinda 

Beyond Hospitality

In follow up to the article on hospitality, I wanted us to reflect on what more we can do after welcoming our new parishioners before the Sunday Mass. Greeting them with a lei before Mass is meaningful, but what happens next? The first thing our hospitality ministers need to do is meet them after Mass and give them a registration form as they do not know where to find them. This past Sunday I met one new parishioner who was walking away with a lei and I asked her where she came from and said she had just moved to Mililani from Waipio. She wanted to register, and so I gave her the registration form which she completed and gave to me. We have to make an effort to encounter them before they leave the campus. If I am new in the parish and I receive a lei and no one bothers to talk to me after Mass, I might not come back because I do not matter at all!

Beyond hospitality in the Church, the first step the pastor takes after receiving a registration form is to send a letter of welcome to the new parishioner. A letter from the pastor is not enough. In the 2017 and 2018 we started meeting with new parishioners, mainly to introduce them to our parish. We have had two such meetings that take place after the 11 am Mass on the rectory lanai with a light lunch. Hospitality ministers, parish staff two of us priests are usually present.

Along with self-introduction, the new parishioners share a little about themselves and what they like about our parish. We also introduce our parish to the new parishioners using our well researched parish brochure that contains all the beautiful art work in our church. In this way we engage our new parishioners so that they feel a sense of belonging. Part of engaging new parishioners is also to lead them share the talents and gift they bring along to the parish. In that process, we help them to identify what their contribution to the life of the parish would be in terms of ministry.  

Monsignor John S. Mbinda

Hospitality Grows our Parish

In the last two years, we have taken our Aloha Hospitality Ministry more seriously. When one arrives on our campus, the first thing one notices is a banner that says “Welcome to St. John’s: A Place to Feel at Home.” Hospitality helps to grow the parish. This year we have gone to a new level of hospitality and welcome to a shared responsibility of all volunteers and clergy as well. We go long ways before Mass on Sundays to greet and welcome all visitors and new parishioners. We offer them leis as a sign of our welcome and hospitality. We realize that only when people feel welcome to do they get a sense of belonging. A sense of belonging leads to being actively engaged in the life of the parish and engagement opens the door to being equipped and formed for ministry and witness in the community in terms of evangelization. In welcoming new parishioners, we prepare them for witness in their own lives, so that they may be ready to evangelize others.

One new component of Hospitality is marking areas in our church space designated for persons with disability with a clear sign. The results have been amazing. There have been very positive comments by persons with disability. One such person said that St. John’s was the only parish with reserved space for persons with disability. The person also added that they would not think of going to any other parish because of showing such care for persons with disability.

By practicing hospitality as a way of life, we have actually grown the parish. The results of hospitality have been amazing. From 2014-2018 our parish added 496 new registered households.  However, the best measure is not the number of new parishioners, but the engagement of volunteers in ministries. Our ministries have grown and so has the number of volunteers serving in these ministries. Just look at the lanai on any given Sunday and you notice volunteers engaged in ministry mainly to serve others. Our daily Mass attendance has increased. We have become a more vibrant parish community more particularly because of our vibrant weekend liturgies that engage parishioners to participate.  

Monsignor John S. Mbinda

OCC Construction Update

 

We are seriously building! On Wednesday, November 7, a preconstruction meeting took place between the Architects, General Contractor (GC), the Project Manager (PM) and parish representatives. The purpose of the meeting was to get an update from both the GC and the PM on where we are at the moment. The meeting also aimed at putting in place areas of coordination between the Architects, GC, PM, and St. John’s before the construction begins.

According to the GC (Design Build of Hawaii), there was still more paperwork to be done before getting the construction permits. With regard to the construction, the tentative date of beginning the construction of the One Community Center is now set for November 26, right after Thanksgiving Day. If you look on our lawn, you will see red paint marking the line of the construction fence that will soon be put in place before construction begins.

In preparation for construction, the GC will cordon off the total space needed with a “silt fence on three sides and plywood fence on the church side.  Part of the parking lot towards Kipapa Drive will also be cordoned off for the GC use. The entrance on Kipapa will be gated and used only by the GC trucks. This means that our parking lot will be reduced by about half during weekdays, but we will have access to the other half on Sundays. We will be using Kuahelani Avenue entrance only and exit through the same gate. The good news is that the GC is prepared to accommodate us especially when we have funerals. All we have to do is inform them. As construction begins, we will all be able to monitor the progress via a site camera with a link on our parish website.

We will give more details before November 26. We will all have to be patient as well as considerate especially to those differently abled, the elderly and families with small children.

 

Monsignor John S. Mbinda

Bulletin Special Announcement

Just in case you missed this special announcement last Sunday, we are seriously Building! I am happy to announce that the Diocese has authorized us to award the construction contract of the OCC to Design Build of Hawaii (DBH). The good news is that we are saving over $200,000 with DBH. The contract has been signed by the Diocese and by me and given to the General Contractor. The next and final step is for the GC to get the construction permits that should be done in about two weeks. Since you cannot make an omelet without cracking an egg, there will be inconveniences when construction begins. There will be more announcements before the construction begins.

The Projector Manager for the OCC Construction is Robert Woodring from Rider Levett & Bucknall (RLB) company, the same company overseeing the Resurrection of the Lord parish hall construction. Robert will meet with the parish leadership monthly for update on the construction which will take about 12 months.

We are particularly grateful to Les Hunkele for his professional advise throughout this process and providentially he is with us this weekend. It is because of his professional guidance that we have arrived at this point on our OCC plans. The professional advice Les has given has saved us thousands of dollars if we were to hire someone to do what he did for us. I take the opportunity also to thank our parish Leadership Advisory Council (LAC) for their continuous guidance on both the OCC planning and the capital campaign.

Our Parish Leadership Advisory Council (LAC) will soon meet to discuss on ways of bringing phase 2 of the capital campaign to conclusion. You will receive an update after that meeting.

So, stay tuned!

Monsignor John S. Mbinda

Making a Return to the Lord

 

“How shall I make a return to the Lord for all the good He has done for me?"  (Psalm 116:12.) 

                                                                  

After such successful renewal weekend, I wanted to say thank you to all parishioners who submitted their commitment cards with great generosity. At times it is important to see why the Church speaks about treasure. It may come as a surprise that while the Bible has about 500 verses on prayer and fewer than 500 verses on faith, there are over 2,300 biblical verses dealing with money and possessions. Without apology, Jesus says more about money and possessions than he does on any other subjects including heaven and hell. Jesus knew the human heart so well. He knew the way money gets hold of our hearts and the way at times we forget the giver of all we possess.

We give to God because He first gave us all we possess. “What do you possess that you have not received? But if you have received it, why are you boasting as if you did not receive it?” (1 Cor 4:7). We have been abundantly blessed by God. Each time we come to Mass on Sunday, we come intentionally to express gratitude to God. Shortly before the consecration, the priest and the congregation exchange a dialogue of thanksgiving. The priest says, “Let us give thanks to the Lord our God”, and we respond, “It is right and just.” The priest continues to pray, “It is truly right and just, our duty and our salvation, always and everywhere to give you thanks, Lord, Holy Father, almighty and eternal God, through Christ our Lord.” The Mass is also called Eucharist because it is the highest form of thanksgiving prayer.

Just as the Father sacrifices His Son on the Cross for our salvation, our thanksgiving to God needs to be sacrificial and not just a tip to God!  One of the tensions in our stewardship lies in God giving us so much, and turning around to give to God the leftovers! Should we not rather give to God first, and then manage the rest?  Well, that is a challenge. Count your blessings first, and then write down your annual commitment to God. May God bless you and family abundantly.

Monsignor John S. Mbinda

How can we not be Grateful?

From 2014 to 2018 we have followed an intentional purpose driven game plan whose purpose has always focused on spiritual formation of all parishioners through the various gatherings: staff, leadership, ministries and parish-wide intentional process: praying our stewardship prayer at the beginning of all our meetings; bible sharing by reading and sharing the gospel of the following Sunday. At staff and stewardship council meetings, we have an ongoing book study with each member reading before the meeting and sharing some thoughts during the meeting. Only then do we have the agenda business. That intentional process has been implemented for the purpose of transforming our parish life so we may get “to the next level of stewardship as a way of life.” Every year, we have a parish-wide stewardship leadership retreat guided by a priest. This year we had Fr. Herman Gomes, SS.CC, provincial of the Sacred Hearts. Last Sunday, we had Jun Tantamco who gave us a powerful witness of his journey of stewardship as a way of life. At the end he asked, “How can I not be grateful?”

 

This year’s Stewardship Renewal theme is “Gratefulness”. As a parish we have so much to be grateful to God too. For the last 5 years 2014-2018 there is so much to be grateful. There has been significant observable change in our parish. Our ministries have increased from 51 to 62 with more parishioners giving their time and talent to serve. Our parish has grown in numbers too. Between 2014 and October 2018, we added 473 households. That is why we need the One Community Center (our #1 priority in the 2015 pastoral plan.) We have become a more vibrant parish community, thanks to our dynamic liturgical celebrations each Sunday. Out of nowhere an anonymous donor gave us $1,000,000 for the construction of our One Community Center. We also received two relics – that of St. Damien and of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton. The good news is that on November 8 Bishop Larry Silva will give to our parish the relic of St. Marianne Cope. With so many blessings, how can we not be grateful? This Sunday let us offer to God our gratefulness for all his blessing by committing our time, talent and treasure to Him. When you give to God, God give back 100-fold.

 

 Monsignor John S. Mbinda

Why Lay Witness This Sunday

One of the important ways we prepare for stewardship renewal weekend is lay witness. A lay witness is a parishioner chosen each year by the pastor to give his or her testimony on their stewardship journey. They are parishioners who already believe and practice stewardship as a way of life, by giving to the parish of what God has given them in time, talent and treasure.

Lay witnesses send a strong message to their fellow parishioners about giving of oneself and one’s possessions and time in gratitude for all the gifts God has given them and their families. People who hear that stewardship is working for other people are motivated to bring stewardship into their own lives.

This year, I asked Nestor Tantamco (Jun) married to his wife, Medina. They have three beautiful children: Jessica, Kyros and Lea. I got to know Jun better when he volunteered to be a daily altar server at the daily morning Mass. He told me that he was a small businessman, a family business. At first I was surprised by his self-giving of his morning time before going to his business. He told me that this is how he begins his day, by giving to God what God has given him and his family.  Before long Jun asked to be a Sunday and daily Mass Extraordinary Minister of the Holy Eucharist (EMHE). Sunday after Sunday I saw this family together at Mass, and after Mass they would take time to talk to their family friends in the church before going home. While others rush to their cars, the Tantamco’s would still be there after the 9 am Mass joyfully talking story! These are all qualities of an ordinary family with an extraordinary sense of stewardship as a way of life. Jessica, Kyros and Lea, you are so lucky to have such wonderful parents who with you live stewardship as a way of life.

May God bless you. May God bless all families here at St. John’s for their stewardship hearts of giving their time, talents and treasure so that God’s work in the parish may continue.

  Monsignor John S. Mbinda