Tag Archives: Middle East

Attending my First Illegal Mass

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An illegal Mass at an undisclosed location in the Middle East

I just got back from a business trip in an undisclosed location in the Middle East. It was supposed to last six months, but I had some medical issues that prevented me from finishing my mission, so I ended up coming back home after only two months.

In the region where I was living and working, any religion other than Islam is strictly forbidden. This not only includes, for example, Christian services and Mass, but also contraband items such as Bibles, rosaries, crosses, crucifixes, and images of Jesus and the saints.

To be honest, I wasn’t aware of the underground Masses in the city where I was staying. My purpose for being there was for my job. In my free time, my plan was to see the local sights and enjoy myself, taking a break from church since it was “illegal.”

However, something inside of me (the Holy Spirit) prompted me to search out one of the illegal Masses held every Friday. They’re held on Fridays because that’s the Muslim holy day; Sunday is the first day of the work week in Muslim countries, and, thus, is just an ordinary day.

After gaining the pertinent information, I showed up at the designated meeting place. I can’t go into details, but when I walked into this nondescript room, I was suddenly in the middle of a makeshift Catholic chapel! It was amazing.

About 20 to 30 people milled about, chatting and waiting for Mass to begin. Most of the parishioners were from the Philippines (a lot of workers in the Middle East are from the Philippines). I saw an African man in black jeans and a black hoodie in the back. It turns out that he was the priest! I watched as he opened a portable closet in the back of the room and put on borrowed purple vestments.

I was told that any religious contraband brought into the country could be punishable by death, so, needless to say, I left everything at home in the U.S. I didn’t even try to smuggle in my St. Jude holy card that I always keep in my wallet.

Before Mass, the priest, who had come from a different Middle Eastern country where Christianity was legal, began distributing little pouches. He gave me one, and, sure enough, there were little handmade rosaries inside. He risked a lot by bringing them into the country.

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Contraband:  a simple handmade rosary in a patriotic pouch

I was so happy to be holding a rosary! I guess the little “America” pouches were part of the plan to conceal the contraband.

Also before Mass, a Filipino couple were handing out booklets that were given out during the Papal Mass in Abu Dhabi earlier that month. I was now holding a piece of history. I could have kicked myself for not seeking out Mass sooner.

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From the Papal Mass held in Abu Dhabi in early February, 2019

As soon as Mass was over, the priest took off his borrowed vestments, returned them to the portable closet, and all the parishioners began taking down statues and other objects used during Mass. They hid them in other portable closets and locked them up.

I was truly blessed. A wonderful couple invited me to breakfast at a nearby restaurant along with some other parishioners and the priest. Father (I forgot his name) had to catch a flight back to Kuwait later that day, but that didn’t stop all of us from having some amazing fellowship.

The nice couple, Margaret and Stan (not their real names) filled me in on the underground Masses during breakfast. Apparently, in the city where we were, Catholics (mainly Filipinos) meet for church at a different house each week in order to evade the authorities. Margaret said that, a few weeks ago, the police were tipped off and were waiting outside a house where the Catholics were supposed to gather that week. They all got arrested, thrown in jail, and were finally deported. Their livelihoods were destroyed since they would never be allowed back into the country again.

Margaret also told me that at the particular congregation where we had just attended, a priest is only able to come once a month. The other times, a lay leader reads Scripture and distributes the consecrated hosts to the people.

I was humbled beyond belief. Here I was, a rich American by their standards, able to return to my country whenever I wanted, able to practice my faith in big fancy churches.

Needless to say, I haven’t missed a Mass since I’ve returned to the U.S.

Please pray for persecuted Christians not only in the Middle east but all over the world. They are risking their lives for something that you and I take for granted every Sunday.

~t


Sunday Musings: Hurting My Children

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  • I leave for the Middle East in four days. I will be gone for most of next year.
  • I was in a road rage incident with my two sons yesterday. My 12 year old was begging me to stop, but I didn’t listen to him. I didn’t stop until I rammed into the car that had made me angry. The police came, and I was in trouble. Luckily it won’t affect my business trip.
  • This is not how I wanted my kids to remember me. My oldest isn’t even talking to me.
  • Today is the fourth Sunday in Advent. I went to Mass to beg God’s forgiveness. The four Advent candles were lit in front of the altar, reminding me that God’s forgiveness is complete.
  • I tried to make sense of the readings. Hebrews 10:5-10 says Jesus overcame the power of evil that separates us from God. He became our bridge back to God when we fall into evil.
  • I got up and left before communion. I couldn’t stand it anymore. On my way out, I prayed in front of the statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe. She was looking down at me as I asked her to pray for my forgiveness. I touched her cloak before I got up and left.
  • I can’t forgive myself.

~t


I Won’t Be Back For A While

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I’m gonna take a holiday,
Be somewhere far away,
I won’t be back for a while,
For a long long time.

— Hanoi Rocks, “Oriental Beat”

Topaz has been doing better. Back in July, his supervisor (who is also his friend), challenged him to remember this single word: believe. Topaz made a poster with that single word for his office wall at work.

In autumn of this year, Topaz volunteered and was selected at his job for a very long business trip to the Middle East. He can’t be any more specific than this. This has shown that Topaz has been growing and overcoming his mental health issues (with the help of medication of course).

Topaz isn’t healed, nor has he “arrived.” He is simply trying harder and doing better than he has in years. He praises God for this. Through His help, Topaz has become more self-reliant and confident in his abilities.

Will this very long assignment halfway around the world change him more? Perhaps. We will just have to check in later and find out.

Today happens to be the third Sunday in Advent. Topaz was especially struck by this reading. It is Philippians 4:4-7:

Brothers and sisters:
Rejoice in the Lord always.
I shall say it again: rejoice!
Your kindness should be known to all.
The Lord is near.
Have no anxiety at all, but in everything,
by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving,
make your requests known to God.
Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding
will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

Topaz has a long, exciting journey ahead of him. He will keep you updated (he doesn’t post very often though).

~t