Abstract: Memoirs of a Franciscan Monk born in the Italian Alps, who served as a missionary in China and Guatemala, becoming Bishop of Zacapa.
Keywords: book review, religion, missionary, Bishop Luna, China, Guatemala, OFM, Order of Franciscan Monks, Memoirs, biography.
book cover
Title: Memoirs of Bishop Luna: The Life of Bishop Constantino Luna, O.F.M., D.D.
Author: Joseph E. Riley
Publisher: Mary Farm Press
Date Published: January 16, 1998
Pages: 123
Bibliography: 11
Photos: 21
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REVIEW by Orville R. Weyrich, Jr.

The Memoirs of Bishop Luna is the inspiring account of the life of a truly dedicated missionary priest. It charts his life from his humble birth in the Italian Alps and childhood hardships during World War I, to his mission in China that was punctuated by World War II, to his mission in Guatemala serving the Mayan peasants, to his latter years working to improve the lot of people with disabilities as head of the Apostolate of the Suffering, and President of the Blue Army of Our Lady of Fatima. Along the way he endured the tragic death of his father, near martyrdom, and earthquakes, practiced exorcism, and became personal friends with Cardinal Luciani, later known as Pope John Paul I.

While many events which Bishop Luna describes are moving, I found two passages to be particularly poignant. The first is his account of the death of his father due to World War I and how it affected his outlook on life. His descriptions of his sense of loss caused me to pause and to reflect on how important the father-son relationship can be.

The second passage which I found particularly poignant was his account of the abandoned babies in China, in which I can't help but to envision the horror of seeing my own precious children's faces in his narrative:

Startled from my reverie by the sound of a feeble cry, I suddenly halted in my steps. I searched frantically for the source of the weeping sound and found a little bundle. I lifted and loosened the dirty foul smelling cloth with my foot to discover a very tiny baby girl under the wrappings. She was covered with dust and appeared almost dead, but seeing me she moved, extending her fragile arms, wordlessly crying tears flowing in rivulets that cleansed a path through the grime on her face, her dark eyes tenderly begging for help, begging for food and water, begging for the comfort of human love.
Bishop Luna continues to comment that such events were so commonplace in China that one of his associates, Father Robert Massalongo, found his full-time calling hunting for such babies to adopt them into an orphanage run by the missionaries. Bishop Luna wonders out loud
How could an ancient highly cultured nation of people, who especially demonstrate such respect to their ancestors, give up their babies?
I am unfortunately reminded that similar events are becoming more common in the United States, although most people still possess sufficient outrage that such incidents are newsworthy when discovered. Bishop Luna does not address the current practice in Communist China of government-forced abortion of second pregnancies and its attendant increase in the rate infanticide of girls born to families seeking a male heir.

While Bishop Luna more than adequately conveys the senseless brutality of the war in Italy and in China, and the tremendous flow of blood from missionary martyrs primarily at the hands of the Communist Chinese, on other topics he left me wishing for more detail, for example his brief chapter on exorcism, and his fleeting references to the problems of Liberation Theology, which he briefly derides as abandoning theological soundness to the attitude that the means justify the ends.

One area in which Bishop Luna expresses some pain is the unfortunately controversial role of the special devotion to Mary Mother of God in the Roman Catholic Church. Let me provide a little bit of historical background, especially for our Protestant brethren in Christ. In the early 1960's, Pope John XXIII realized that the time had come for an open and frank re-examination of the role and teachings of the Catholic Church. He convened what is officially known as the Second Ecumenical Council in the history of the Roman Church, commonly referred to as Vatican II. Because it was ecumenical, the various Protestant denominations were also invited to send representatives or observers. Many did so, including Lutherans, Anglicans, Methodists, and Baptists.

One of the many topics that were addressed was the perception by many of the Protestant denominations that Mary Mother of God had been elevated to a level of esteem higher than the Holy Trinity itself. The result was that the Council clarified the teaching of the Catholic Church by re-emphasizing that Mary's importance to the Church derived from her role in the birth of Christ, and that references to Mary should always be made in the context of her subordinate relationship to the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.

The Council also dramatically restructured the celebration of the Mass. The most obvious outward sign of the change was the change from Latin to the vernacular of the people. But more significantly, the theme of the Mass was changed from that of Priest acting on behalf of an onlooking, passive congregation, to a theme in which the congregation took a vital, active role. Whereas in the past the Priest conducted the Mass on a high altar in Latin with his back turned to the congregation, the Ecumenical Council recommended instead that the Priest face the congregation and encourage direct participation. The upshot of this change was that the congregation was given exciting new ways to actively express their faith, ways that were directly related to the celebration of the Eucharist [Communion]. The Eucharist is of course is the essence of the core of Roman Catholicism.

Bishop Luna found the way that this change in emphasis was implemented to be troubling, as he writes:

... my fidelity to the Blessed Mother, the Rosary, ... were dismissed as old fashioned and passe. There was no need and no room for these and other traditional devotions close to my heart and the heart of many Roman Catholics. In spite of my constant attendance at Vatican Council sessions I remember no condemnation of our traditional beliefs, and I wonder how the movement to forget Mary and devotional rites found its way into our religious beliefs.
I think that the only answer to Bishop Luna can be found in Saint Paul's First Letter to the Corinthians, Chapter 8, in which he describes seemingly contradictory approaches to honoring God by not eating meat which has been offered to pagan idols [as was most meat available at the time], or honoring God by recognizing that the pagan idols are of no consequence and have no power to defile the meat. Saint Paul concludes that in the name of charity, those who have a deeper understanding should refrain from confounding the beliefs of those don't. In the present situation, speaking only for myself, I think that Saint Paul's argument can be reformulated:
Those who mute their devotion to Mary Mother of God in order to honor the Holy Trinity, honor God in so doing. Those who honor Mary Mother of God because of her special relationship as the Mother of Christ also do honor to God. Those who understand this insight have an obligation to conduct themselves so as to not confound those who don't . Charity edifieth.
In conclusion, I recommend this short book to all Christians seeking insight into the missionary lifestyle. It would make an excellent Christmas gift.

I have taken this program and I highly recommend it to all health-care providers - Orville R. Weyrich, Jr PhD NMD.
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