My first religious recollection was when I was in the U.S., at the school of Our Lady of Assumption parish, Atlanta, Georgia, in first grade. The religious sister teaching me used a saying to help us kids to remember to cross our "t's". She would say: "Jesus died on the Cross for thee, don't forget to cross your "t's". This must have made a great impact on me as I would often think about this as I crossed my "t's" from then afterward on many occasions.  This experience I see as the first seeds sown in my heart of my specific Passionist vocation within my general Christian vocation, which focuses it's charism on the Passion of Jesus in which the Cross is central. [1]


On the other hand, around this time, I remembered being thoroughly bored and impatient, as I attended an Easter Vigil with my family. I thought: how could anyone want to be a priest, putting up with such long ceremonies?


Some years later, on 13th May, 1957 at St John's, in St Petersburg, Florida, I made my  1st Communion. I obviously lacked enough devotion afterward for the Eucharist, as we were told at school that if we went to communion on 1st Friday's, we would get a hot cross bun afterward. I have to admit, it was for the hot cross buns that I went to communion on 1st Fridays! This also points out one of my weaknesses: I certainly enjoy eating good food! I try to remember we are not supposed to "live to eat, but eat to live!" The cross on the bun must have helped me though, to grow in my devotion to Our Lord in the Eucharist, as a few years show later on in life, between 1959 and 1962. And I will explain why:


While I was at boarding school in St Paul's, La Cumbre, Province of Córdoba, in Argentina, we had to walk two miles to church on Sundays for mass; and because of the 3 hour fast requirement before mass that existed back then, I could not eat breakfast that morning, until I got back to school. By then, it was almost lunch time, and the sandwich which I had, was dried up.

(note: We were in a very dry climate up in the hills). No doubt, this was a way to learn how to do some penance and appreciate that the Lord as spiritual food, was infinitely more valuable than regular food. My mother also taught me to turn my suffering into an offering of love to God. For instance, when once I skinned my knees, when falling off a homemade go-cart, while coming down a hill in 1954, in Atlanta, GA, she would say to me "offer it up", but naturally attended to my wounds. I remember on some occasions when things like this would happen, I would say under my breath: " Right!…you are not the one in pain", probably because I expected a little empathy, rather than being preached down to. She was right though, to teach me to turn suffering into a prayer offering, which is at the heart of our Catholic faith and of my Passionist charism. This is much like what St Paul of the Cross said, when he cried. His mother one day was combing his long hair (the custom back then), when he was six. Since it hurt, he cried. His mother then showed him a crucifix, and instantly he stopped crying.


Once, I was traveling down from the Province of Corrientes, by train, with my family, towards Buenos Aires. It was a trip that lasted several days. I remember one night, that I was looking out at the stars through the window, to see how many crosses I could find in the sky. I found many, more perfect in shape than the famously known "Southern Cross", which I hadn't heard about back then. Again, this shows how much the image of the Cross had impacted my life.


Both of my parents were instruments in teaching and accompanying their kids to pray. An example of this would be to say the rosary together, mostly during Advent. We also had religious objects in our house, like crucifixes in our bedrooms, a vase in the shape of the Virgin Mary, a picture of the Sacred Heart, etc.


With this background, coming back to my school days at St Paul's, I remember I would walk up a hill behind the school sometimes, and in a hidden place, under a bush that concealed me, I would say the rosary kneeling down on little stones as penance. No doubt the lives of some saints must have inspired me to do something like this.


It was during this period at St. Paul's that I had two very powerful experiences that left a strong impression on me, as it proved to me in a very vivid way how merciful God is. On one occasion I was feeling very rejected, as the kids at school would gang up and tease me, calling me "Yankee doodle, doodle", repeated over and over again. One night, I called out to God that I wanted my mother, amidst heart wrenching tears. The next morning, my parents showed up at the school. To give some context to this experience, our home was many miles away and it took, back then, several days of travel. Usually, when I would go home for vacation, I would travel by an overnight bus to Buenos Aires with other school boys and then be met by my father's uncle, Clem Gibson. He would then place me on a hydroplane, used during World War II and I would arrive several hours later up north, on the Paraná River, at Posadas, Misiones, bordering with Paraguay.

(note: the windows still had the holes in them for machine guns to fire from, during the war! The engines were so noisy, that they left my ears ringing after we landed). There, my parents awaited me. From Posadas it would be another couple of hours to drive home, across the border, into the province of Corrientes.


I have always considered myself a great sinner, even as a child, so when my parents showed up at school that morning; I realized how much God loved me, despite my sinfulness.


The following year, something similar happened. I cried out at night to God once more, after being teased again. The next morning, as I was doing my homework in the classroom, at 6.30 am before breakfast with the other kids, the headmaster called me over, and announced that my parents would arrive to visit me that day! Wow! That was so incredible! I remembered then, what I had experienced the year before. These were the only times my parents visited me, during the three years I was at St Paul's. We had traveled together, when they brought me to school for the first time. We had traveled from Posadas, in the Province of Misiones, on a paddle steamer boat, for several days, down the Paraná River. We got off at Rosario, in the Province of Santa Fe, and then took a long distance overnight bus, to my school in Cruz Grande, nearby La Cumbre, in the Province of Córdoba.


At home, in La Merced, Province of Corrientes, just near the border of the Province of Misiones, when on vacations, apart from spending a lot of time in the pool, which I loved, I would venture out into the jungle, which put me in contact with nature. It was an area where there was a multitude of so many kinds of butterflies, other insects, birds and other animals.


One day I decided that I would breed caterpillars and watch them turn into butterflies, as they emerged from their chrysalises, especially the owl butterflies, which literally look like the face of an owl as a disguise. My fascination, though, for these creatures, started back at our home, just outside of St. Petersburg, FL, near the Gulf of Mexico, when I would watch monarch butterflies come out of their beautiful green chrysalises with a golden girdle. All this helped me to admire God's Creation. My heart would soar in admiration. If something reaffirmed my faith in the existence of God, it was this experience. I could understand why St. Paul says in Romans 1:20, that there is no excuse for not believing in God, because He expresses His existence through nature.  I would think, for instance, how could a butterfly look like a leaf or the face of an owl, or a stick insect look like a stick, as camouflage from predators, if there wasn't a Superior Being behind them? Check this out at "insects camouflage mimicry" on YouTube.


No doubt, this experience was the basis for my thoughts of the Paschal Mystery, which we will deal with in chapter 10: THE CROSS AND THE CATERPILLAR.


Love for nature ran in the family. Both of my parents loved the outdoors, being surrounded by the beauty of nature. Along with that, was the adventurous side, especially on my father's side of the family. My spirituality is as a consequence very connected with contemplation of God through nature and especially connected to His Son's Crucifixion and Resurrection. The adventurous spirit I feel helped me to have the courage to share the Cross of Jesus by sacrificing myself as a missionary to India later on in life, which I was aware of at that time, would be a great challenge.


My father in 1962 was at that time in charge of a farm belonging to the Liebig's company located 30 miles south of the city of Mercedes, Province of Corrientes, Argentina. Once, when I was home on vacation from school in Buenos Aires, I had an insight, while at prayer in my room. I thought that even if I ever had to suffer like Jesus, which I had expressed my willingness to bear out of love, my sufferings could never match His, as He was the Son of God, while I was only a creature, making His sufferings infinitely more significant than mine.


Once I made myself a crown of thorns and with it on my head, I carried a heavy log on my shoulders in a secluded area of the ranch, just to get a tiny sense of what Jesus went through. The thorns hurt as did the log on my shoulders, but it didn't make me bleed, which was intentional. When looking back, it may have seemed to be an "adolescent" thing to do (I was 14 then), but the intent was good, as I was able to get a minute sense of what Jesus went through.


In the following year, vocation to the priesthood and religious life emerged at my boarding school, St George's in Quilmes, Buenos Aires, where my father had gone to school as well, and who had become its captain in 1939. Incidentally, the reason we kids had to go to boarding school at this stage of our lives, was not out of preference, but out of need, as there was no school close by where we lived on the ranch and my parents wanted us kids to get a good education; that wasn't to be found anywhere nearby where we lived. I was almost 15 when I felt the call, on the 3rd June, 1963, around 10 pm, Pentecost Sunday. I remember realizing then, that many of my companions at school didn’t look happy, especially the older boys.  Immediately inside of me a question arose: ‘Why not becomes a priest so as to help young people find happiness?’  This question however came as interference – I had other plans for myself, including a career as a pilot or architect and marriage with many children – so I told myself: ‘why you? Let others do that’. But then I thought: 'If everyone were to react in this way, there would be no priests.' So I then opened my heart, accepted the call and immediately I was filled with an immense joy. My best friend, Rocky Gordon Davis, close by, noticed that I was notably altered. He asked me, what was going on? I said: "I want to be a priest". He said: "Are you crazy? Tomorrow you will see that that idea will have gone." Even when the initial euphoria had gone the next day, I knew deep down, that if I didn’t follow this path, I would be denying my very self. It was as if I had a new inner identity. St. Pope John XXIII also died at this time, early Monday morning, which with the hour difference between Italy and Argentina would have been close in time to my call. I found out afterward as a novice, that on his death bed, he was saying the rosary for priestly vocations. No wonder I felt close to him afterward, realizing that his death happened around the time of my call.


A few weeks later, a Passionist priest, who was the chaplain at the school, asked me, what I planned to be, later on in life. I took this as an indication, that God was guiding me to the Passionists, as this took place soon after my call to the priesthood. No priest had ever asked me that question before. So despite the fact, that I had recently become a Franciscan Tertiary, I was convinced that God was calling me to this congregation. No doubt I had some knowledge of the Passionists and their way of life attracted me.


After joining the postulancy, the next year, looking back, I realized how the Passionist charism was very close to my heart. In the months leading up to my call, I had developed a very close relationship with Christ Crucified and our Sorrowful Mother at the foot of the Cross. Without knowing where the prayer came from, I would recite the "Stabat Mater" every night in English, which helped gel my relationship with them in a very special and affectionate way. The parts of the prayer that most impressed me are shared below with two special impacting images of Jesus Crucified and the Sorrowful Mother. The image of Mary is from the school of St Gabriel's in Quito, Ecuador, run by the Jesuits.


St Gabriel of the Sorrow Mother, CP, who went to a Jesuit high school before joining the Passionists, had a great devotion to Our Sorrowful Mother. I believe that this image must be a replica of the one he had. I have, in fact, seen this image in different Passionist houses in Italy, and another one in our retreat center of Mater Dolorosa in Sierra Madre, California. What most impresses me is the face of Mary in this picture, especially the eyes. Also, I like the simplicity in the way she is dressed, without a crown or jewels. The image of Christ I found out afterward was used by the Passionists of St. Paul of the Cross Province in the US, in relation to the program called "The Hour of the Crucified". 


identially, while my mother had given me this image of Mary, I did not know at the time that someone else had given it to her: it was a cloistered nun, who was a convert to Catholicism, like us. We had been allowed to visit her when I was 5, after our entrance into the Catholic Church. She converted after her sister was cured of paralysis at Lourdes. My mother gave me some letters, after I entered the Passionist seminary in 1964, which she had kept for me over the years, which this nun had sent to me around that time of meeting her in 1955. It became evident, that this nun's wish for me was to become a priest, with a special mention of the Passionists. She mentions St Gabriel of the Sorrowful Mother in particular. Her wishes and prayer then would become a reality. I have included here extracts from her letters to me back then.


The next year, at the age of 15, I entered the postulancy. It was a beautiful piece of property, just acquired by the Passionists, with a small chapel made mostly of glass which looked out onto the garden: certainly very appropriate for prayer through nature. One of my chores was to take care of the bees. Sometimes I would get stung, but I did not like using gloves or a net over my head after some months of using them, as the mask reduced visibility, and it was hard to handle the panels with gloves on. Once I got stung in three places on the face. My eyes were practically closed because of the swelling. This lasted several days. This was not the first time, though, of being stung. They say it's good for arthritis! Who knows?


On the 26th February, 1967, I started my novitiate in our monastery [2]out on the "pampa" founded by Fr. Fidelis Kentstone, CP, from the U.S., which he mentions in one of his books. This was a truly spiritual "honeymoon" experience for me. We had an excellent novice director, Fr. Juan Ignacio Clarey, CP, who among other things got us into the heart of Vatican Council II, especially in regard to the importance of the Paschal Mystery in our life. At a young age, it made an impression on me to wear a patched up habit that reminded me, that I was embracing a life of religious poverty, even though this was a more symbolic way of reflecting it. I was able to spend a lot of time reading the Scriptures. Once again, nature surrounded us. Outside the grounds of the monastery, were fields of corn, wheat or soy, depending on which time of the year it was. There was a huge beautiful eucalyptus tree visible from my window. I associated it with Christ's association with the mustard seed, which is very small but becomes a large plant. I was aware at that time that the eucalyptus seed is much smaller than the mustard seed and becomes enormous. Jesus would have driven home his point if eucalyptus grew in the Holy Land in his time. The image of the tree with its biblical connections ultimately reflects the image of the Cross of Christ as the tree of Life. I will pick this image up again later in my meditations in Part II of this book. 


I was very much at peace, and loved the moments of prayer. We had back then, the traditional practices of maintaining silence in many places, getting up to pray Matins at 2 am, three times a week. On those days, the 'discipline' was used and other unique practices to religious life in those days, now outdated, one known as the "culpa". I didn't find these practices difficult. I found it harder though, getting up again at 6 am for Lauds (morning prayer) than at 2 am, at which time I would be asked to sing the opening psalm 95: "Venite adoremus…" in Latin, something I was nervous to do and more so at that hour of the night! The chords for the 'discipline', I felt weren't painful enough to do penance, so I substituted them for a tennis shoe to use on my thighs. That really did hurt! Later on, I would develop more realistic ways of doing penance, in the spirit of the Vatican Council II, like being willing to minister in places with harsh conditions, at the service of others, or concentrating on eating foods that were better for one's health independent of whether I liked them or not. One of the important lessons I learned through our wise Novice Director, was that while doing many of these practices, which we knew were on the way out, we did them out of respect for the senior members of the community.


I must admit, I found some of those practices, like the culpa,[3] so out of sync with history, that rather than being a sign of humility, for me it was entertainment!


One of the hardest penances I experienced was wearing sandals when the temperature was extremely cold. We actually did not have any kind of heating in the monastery. Once it went down to -8̊ C (17.6̊ F) and the next day -5̊ C (23̊ F). Water in the monastery had turned to ice. Chilblains formed on my toes for the first time in my life. Kicking pointed sticks accidently with cold feet was also painful. However the most painful moment for my feet was when I once raised one foot onto a bench, where someone was smoking a cigarette. He lowered his hand towards the edge of the bench, with the head of the cigarette facing towards me, just as I raised my foot. This was bad timing, as the head of the cigarette lodged itself between my big toe and the following one, right where they join, detaching itself from the rest of the cigarette. Before I could get it out, it had left a deep burn. Infection would set in afterward; certainly a painful situation.


During the novitiate, on Thursday afternoons, I would be in charge of cutting the hedges. There must have been about 500 yards of hedges on the property, so it was hard to keep up with the growth. I would move along quickly using a sickle to trim them. Unfortunately sometimes the point of the sickle, when cutting the sides of the hedges, would move beyond its target and stab me on top of my head or jab me in the back of my leg, before reaching the hedge. I obviously was cutting with too much haste in order to keep up with the growth of the hedges. Luckily these were not serious wounds and with time I mastered better the use of the sickle. The novitiate was a good place to turn one's pains into prayer of offering, as a way to put into practice the Passionist spirituality, as a way of sharing in the Passion of Christ, for the Salvation of the world. (Colossians 1: 24). To assist me in internalizing this spirituality in the novitiate, there was a bust of the head of the Christ of Limpias (Spain), very common to find in Passionist retreats; usually though, they are found as the head on a crucifix. It was my first encounter with such an impressive image of the suffering Jesus on the Cross, with his eyes open. This became the second image of Christ that, along with the other one, plus the image of our Sorrowful Mother, have been my preferred icons of devotion ever since. These are the images that help me connect with Jesus and Mary in a special way. As Pope Francis says: "let Jesus (or Mary) gaze on you".


There is no doubt, on many occasions in life, when suffering surprises and visits one often, in unsuspected ways. For instance, the ones previously mentioned. On another occasion, during the novitiate, I decided to patch up the bellows of a harmonium in the choir loft of our church. As I attempted to lay the harmonium on its back, it got too heavy. Not wanting to drop it when it was close to the floor and as it got heavier, three of my fingers as a consequence, got squashed between the floor and the lid of the harmonium, which was one inch thick. I was stuck! I started calling for help in a low voice out of respect for the Blessed Sacrament, but after a while, I was shouting as loud as I could. With the church being sound proof, no one could hear me. Finally after 45 minutes someone appeared in the church for some other purpose and I was able to get help to be released. My fingers were completely flattened to 1/3 of their normal size, and white. A minute stone was buried into the knuckle of my middle finger. One of the novices, who had studied medicine, said that I was lucky that blood vessels run down the sides of the fingers. This prevented me from losing my fingers due to a lack of blood circulation for such a prolonged time.


My profession took place on the 27th February, 1968, feast of St Gabriel of the Sorrowful Mother. I too, would take on a similar title as St Gabriel. Mine was "Christopher of the Seven Sorrows of Mary". I'm glad we didn't have to change our first names back then, as I was happy with the meaning of my name Christopher, i.e. "Christ bearer", from the Greek "Christophorus". For me, the "Seven" meant more than a specific number. I embraced it because of the biblical meaning of seven as perfection. Mary had suffered perfectly in intensity and quality. She truly participated in a perfect Christ-like way with her Son especially at the foot of the Cross, for the sake of our Salvation. Because of this she could become a true Mother for us, to guide us or "mother us" into doing the same.


No doubt many intense sufferings have come my way in life, though mostly not in the way I foresaw. Traumatic experiences have been one kind, like those who lived with Military dictatorship, during the Dirty War in Argentina, which affected me closely. I embraced them as well as I could. Later on in life, I would develop a special devotion to the "Seven Sorrows of Mary" in prayer, though I would add two more: the suffering Mary went through after the Annunciation and the rejection in Bethlehem, having to give birth to Jesus in a cave that was used to shelter animals.


After my profession, I started my four years of Philosophy combined with Humanities which was given the name of "Propadeútica". There were 43 students in my class. One of our professores was Jorge Bergoglio, SJ,  the future Pope Francis.


During this period of my life, I had very opposite spiritual experiences. I remember once, when walking outside at night in prayer, I felt my heart soar with joy in the Holy Spirit. I felt as if my heart wanted to lift me up in the air. However, as time went on, the crisis which we all were feeling during this post Vatican period, set in. I became spiritually dry for over a year. It was a real challenge for instance, to drag myself daily to early morning meditation. Everything was being questioned, until a point where I felt like a question mark myself. It was not clear to me at this point, the difference between being a priest and a committed lay person. Vatican II was clear on the role of a bishop and a lay person, but not that of a priest. A document on the priesthood would be published at a later date. Some of my companions felt that we could exert change in society, which was under military dictatorship at this time, by becoming active politically, as lay persons, working toward bringing back democracy. The fact of living in a big house with a large property, instead of living like the poor, was also questioned. Many priests, sisters and people in formation started leaving in droves. The Josephites had 27 professed students studying, who like us, the Passionists, studied with the Jesuits, in the "Colegio Máximo", San Miguel, on the outskirts of Buenos Aires. Other communities also attended. When the Italian director of the Josephites went back to Italy on vacation, the students found out that he had married. All 27 left the seminary! Of the 43 students who started their studies with me in "Propadeútica", only 4 of us, all from different orders, entered Theology 4 years later. I remember one day, lying on my bed, looking up at the ceiling and saying to the Lord, how I felt and thought, while remembering how powerful my call to the priesthood was, when I was nearly 15 years old. I remember my thoughts as saying: "Lord, I don't understand anything anymore and don't feel anything. All I know is that you call me". This was a spiritual cross, and as I look back to that moment, I could compare it to Jesus' experience on the Cross when he cried out, "Eli Eli Lama Sabachthani" (Father, why have you abandoned me?) (Mark: 15.34), referring to the opening words of Psalm 22:2: "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"


This was an experience of dryness and confusion that helped me realize that faith is deeper than reason and feeling. I realized afterward, that God must have given me such a noticeable calling, so that I could pull through difficult moments like this. Slowly I was able to weather the crisis. Recently, when sharing this experience with another priest, he told me, that I was a survivor: a good insight. Interestingly enough, my vocation regained its strength, when after my "Propadeútica" graduation, equivalent to a Bachelors degree, in 1972, when I traveled north, for an "experience", a typical practice of those times. I did a two year course of training for rural professors. It was a very helpful experience. Among other things, it gave me useful educational tools, which would come in handy when I would become the director of our postulants in India. But it was in that environment, away from the seminary, that I felt that my vocation was valued among lay people and they indirectly, without knowing it, were a support and affirmation. One's vocation had meaning at the service of others. Having lived with peers, who had seemingly been called to a similar vocation, led one to feel like one in the crowd, losing a sense of one's unique worth.


At the end of this educational experience, I decided that I was ready to make my final profession in our church of Holy Cross (Santa Cruz) in Buenos Aires, constructed under Fr. Fidelis Kentstone, CP. I chose a Friday, being the day on which Our Lord died, and it was planned to fall on the 19th of October. As I was sitting at the back of the church, just before mass on the Sunday before the 19th, I felt the presence of St. Paul of the Cross in the air in front of me, a bit to the right. I could not see anything with my earthly eyes, but he was there, I know for sure. During the homily, Fr. Bernard Hughes, CP, who was presiding, announced that on the 19th of October it was the Feast of St. Paul of the Cross, and that four priests would be celebrating their silver jubilee of ordination, two their golden jubilee and that I would be making my final profession. Wow! I was not aware of all these other happenings on the day of my profession. In fact, the feast of St. Paul of the Cross until then had been celebrated on the 28th of April, so I was not aware of the change of date to the 19th of October. I only chose that date because it was a Friday, on the day in which Jesus died on the Cross for us. This experience was very helpful to reconfirm my Passionist vocation, and I am grateful to the Lord for giving me this assurance, for while my vocation had strengthened in recent years, I was having doubts whether it was the Passionist option. I had been thinking for instance of maybe joining the Franciscans, the Salesians and even the Benedictines. After all I had been a Franciscan Tertiary and felt close to the spirituality of St Francis. Furthermore as my vocation was born with the purpose to bring happiness to the youth, the Salesian way also appealed to me. Sr. Mary Rosario was my inspiration for the Benedictine option due to my closeness with nature. But in the middle of my doubts, the charism of the Passion of Jesus seemed to hold out the strongest option, even when many Passionists in my home province turned me off. So even in the future, when doubts would arise again, I just needed to remember that experience, to remind me that I am in the right place, where God wants me.


During my profession, I chose to do it barefoot. I felt, that it helped me to feel humble before God. I also used a large, thick, lit candle, which I would afterwards give to my parents, asking them to light it every time they prayed for me, until it was totally consumed. The idea behind this was that my life was to be constantly wearing out, in the service of Christ and others.


On the 20th of December, 1975, I was ordained to the priesthood at Holy Cross (Santa Cruz), the same church where I made my final commitment as a Passionist. It was a very moving experience. The church was full and people participated actively in a lively manner. As I had come to know those present, I felt much supported. There were also family and friends, including those people from where I lived and ministered to as a student in San Miguel. Unfortunately a group of them could not make it, as the train station they had to use to get to our Santa Cruz Church, was temporarily closed, due to a bomb that went off there. We were after all in the middle of the "Dirty War" under military dictatorship at this time!


I put a lot into preparing my own ordination, except for a lot of the externals. In fact, I had to run around, at the last moment, looking for a chasuble to use! It was the choice of songs, readings, meaningful remembrance prayer cards, invitations and people involved in the liturgy that I concentrated on, including the presiding bishop, Marcelo Mendiarat, in exile due to the unjust persecution of the military government of Uruguay. He was a true saint: very humble and dedicated to serving the poor. On weekends, he would move around in a poor "barrio" on his bicycle, to attend to the spiritual needs of the people, even if the earth roads he traveled on were muddy due to a recent rain fall. He actually was living with us at Santa Cruz for a year. I got permission from the Archbishop of Buenos Aires, to allow him, to ordain me. Having watched  Archbishop Aramburu preside on occasions in the cathedral of Buenos Aires was hard for me to deal with. He seemed totally lifeless. I did not want him to be the one to ordain me. Luckily he allowed Marcelo to do it for me.


An important part of preparing for my ordination was a nine day solitary retreat, which I made in an abandoned school, on our property, close to the monastery, where I had done my novitiate, in the Province of Buenos Aires. It was a powerful experience. I had been ordained a deacon the September before, so I felt it was OK to bring the Blessed Sacrament with me, before whom, I spent long periods in prayer. Each day, I would place Him on a flower, one of God's creatures, instead of in a manmade monstrance[4]: a red flower on Tuesdays and Fridays, in honor of the Sorrowful Mysteries, following the guidelines of the rosary; a yellow one on Mondays, Thursdays and Sundays (because of the Advent season), in honor of the joyous mysteries and a white one on Wednesdays and Saturdays, in honor of the Glorious Mysteries.


My meals were always garbanzo beans which I boiled up and tangerines, which I picked off the bushes close by. I did actually lose quite a bit of weight in the process, which was a blessing in itself. After some days, I kept getting the urge to socialize with the brethren at the monastery. To refrain was a major penance. It helped me realize how important it was being with others, while at the same time, this was a time to practice detachment, which would help me not become over-dependent on others.


There were signs of God's supportive presence for my ordination, including being graced by such a holy bishop to ordain me. This was the 200th year of the death of St Paul of the Cross and it was a Holy Year for the Universal Church which happens every 25 years.


I have been blessed by a very meaningful family crest that symbolically brings together much of what I am meditating on, be it the symbol of the 3 keys, the gate, the wings, the blood, the body, and their connection with Scripture, the Liturgy of the day, together with meaningful real life experiences, which highlights God's merciful presence in our life. In my autobiography of 2018, I reflected on the crest which has been at the back of my mind since my priestly ordination.


A copy of the details is as follows:


“On 20th December, 1975, I was ordained to the priesthood. Many families, you may know, have a family crest. My family crest from my father's side of the family acquired significance for me at the time of my ordination. First of all, it was a Holy Year, during which a special door is opened in Rome and other designated places. My family crest has 3 keys on it and the motto "Pandite coelestes portae" (English: Open heavenly doors). On that same day, the Liturgy refers to Christ as the "Key of David" and uses the psalm 24 which acclaims "Open heavenly portals to allow the entry to the King of Glory". So it becomes clear to me that the 3 keys on my crest represent Christ as Priest, Prophet and King, a mystery we all share in since our baptism, enhanced through the gifts of faith, hope and charity and in a special way through the vows of obedience, poverty and chastity. These are the three means through which we enter the Kingdom of God. Christ is the Key and the Door (John 10:7) through whom we enter, summarized in his loving sacrifice on the Cross, symbolized in the phoenix on the crest who sacrifices itself for others with special attention for the little ones: the vulnerable, the kids, the elderly, the sick, the poor, the marginalized, the ones society counts for nothing. Notice that the phoenix is in a basket: we eat Christ as the Bread of Life to become transformed into being like Him in every way and being led to eternal life as the legendary phoenix which rises again out of the ashes. Pope Francis has insisted on the importance of family in our life. Certainly my family has meant a lot to me, who was also at my ordination. It is a blessing to have experienced my first mass celebrated on my mother’s birthday, 21st December, and know that the same psalm 24 is used in the mass on my father's birthday, on the 2nd February, Feast of the Presentation of Our Lord.” (Chris Gibson, CP. 2018)


I would add to the reflection, that the open side of the phoenix from which it is feeding its young with its body and blood, reminds us of Christ who feeds us with Himself from the his open side which is over his loving heart, in a special way in the Eucharist. It is no coincidence that this symbol is found on many tabernacles of churches. [5]


Also, when I was ordained, I felt as one with our Mother Mary when she proclaimed: “My soul magnifies the Lord... for He has done great things in me. Holy is His Name”. Looking back over the years, this song of Mary still resonates in my heart, as I am ever so grateful for the many blessings the Lord has bestowed on me. Yes, there have been very painful experiences on the journey, but life is full of “sunshine and shadows”, and it is through suffering that the Lord purifies us and makes us better people, like gold purified in fire.  (Psalm 12:6; 1 Peter 1:6-7) 


The years following my ordination were very active in ministry covering many diverse areas: like parish ministry, involving baptisms, confirmations (during my missions), marriages, visiting the sick and administrating the sacrament of the sick and chaplaincies at schools. At the same time, I  preached novenas and missions and was superior and formator for the Passionist students. Basically I was putting into practice, a wise recommendation, to do a variety of ministries in the first 5 years after ordination, so as to build up an experience, before specializing in any one area.


An area of my suffering that I have perceived as associated with demonic forces. Often when I am faced with important ministry and vocational work I have experienced meddling in my ministerial tools, and unjust, unmerited violent and unexplainable reactions of people towards me. The following is an example I share from my autobiography.


13 May8 June 1978 - Mission of La Mendieta. Province of Jujuy. ARGENTINA


"Giving a mission in La Mendieta was a real challenge. There was no pastor, as the bishop was upset with the behavior of the people in the parish, so the pastor was replaced with sisters instead, which didn’t work out very well. When I arrived, I found it hard to find a key to open the church. I finally did track down a neighbor who had the key. I could feel a strong sense of evil, as many things happened to stop the mission from going forward.


There were three tape recorders available to work with, but none of them would work as I prepared an audio visual for the mission. I planned to use one, to accompany in sound, a slide show, enacting the last supper of Jesus with his apostles. When I did finally track one down that did work, the central message of the commandment of love at the last supper had been erased! On the other hand, the first day of mission coincided with a national soccer game on TV, which drew many people away from the mission. The following day when we had the “Way of the Cross”  in the streets, the weather turned so cold that people dropped out along the way to take refuge from the cold. There were also strange, unexplained noises in the rectory of the parish, in the middle of the two nights where I stayed, that kept me awake. This didn’t help me to be sufficiently rested, to be an effective preacher the next day. 


La Mendieta, as mentioned, was where the sugar refinery was located. The manager was an Evangelical and gave better positions and higher wages to those who joined his church. Bear in mind that the majority of people in Argentina are Catholic.


Despite all the difficulties in this mission in La Mendieta, I had a good number of people in the church at La Mendieta on the final day of the mission. The use of audio visuals, despite the drawback was a great asset.


After the mission was over, the tape recorders were all working again. When I opened up one of them, I found that a piece of plastic had detached itself on the inside and was jammed in a rotating part of the recorder, which was needed for it to work. Once the piece of plastic was released, the recorder was working again."


Because of my missionary zeal during this period, I wasn't wise in measuring my human limitation, young person that I was. Here is an example of constant ministry without a break.


In August of 1980, I preached a novena in the province of Cordoba, with 8 hours of confessions daily for 9 days. It was the only parish in the town and the pastor didn't help out. One day I had 11 hours of confessions which was too much for my brain. I felt affected by it to the point that I told myself, I should never do that again.


Immediately after the novena, I travelled north on an overnight trip by bus for some 12 hours to the city of Salta in the northwest of Argentina. Here I would be hearing confessions again, 8 hours daily for a month preparing for the feast of Our Lady and Our Lord of the Miracle which would finish with a procession of more than 100,000 people. We were 7 Passionists hearing confessions and preaching the novena. Each of us also celebrated the Eucharist daily for an institution of the city: schools, police, firemen, those from the institute for hearing and speech impaired, etc. There were 5 sessions daily for the novena with 5,000 to 8,000 people attending each one.


It was a good experience, but exhausting, and more so when trying to get a little break after lunch with a short 'siesta', but it became impossible to sleep, as the church bells would make a single "bong" every minute for half an hour in honor of the people who were saved from the 2 devastating earthquakes centuries before. Also, the bells ring on the anniversary of one of those powerful earthquakes, which destroyed the city, but with no deaths. This was attributed to the protection of Mary, whose statue during one of those earthquakes, fell onto the altar facing the tabernacle and whose crown fell off at her feet. The bells would imitate the type of ringing that took place very early in the morning on the anniversary of one of the earthquakes. It might have been a nice devotion, but it kept me from getting some much needed recovery sleep!


On September 14, we had to attend to the pilgrims that arrived mostly from all over the Province of Salta by celebrating the Eucharist and hearing confessions all night. Yes, exhausting ministry is also sharing the Cross of Christ! But our sacrifice was very small compared to people who had walked over 400 km. to reach the shrine for the feast.


The 15th of September was the actual day of the Feast of the Miracle which included a huge procession. The image of the Crucified Christ had appeared in a box off the shores of Lima, Perú in 1582.  It was sent to Salta as requested by a bishop in Spain who had sent the image from there with a note accompanying it. It was venerated by 3 saints in Lima: St Rosa of Lima, St. Martin de Pores and St. Tolivio, before it was sent to Salta, in 1592. At that time, the countries of Perú and Argentina did not exist, just overseen by the "Virreynato (Viceroy) del Alto Perú" under Spain.


This experience in Salta was truly a Passionist ministry, as the devotion was centered on the Crucified Christ: with the main feast being on the 15th September, feast of the Exaltation of the Cross of Jesus. This year also coincided with the centenary year of the arrival of the Passionists in Argentina.


We Passionists would return with the same procedure the following year in 1981[6]. Even Fr Jorge Bergoglio, SJ, (Pope Francis), went to this novena the following year in 1982 with his novices.


Immediately after the Feast of the Miracle in Salta, I travelled south, to preach a mission in Arecifes, a city in the Province of Buenos Aires. The first days of the mission, I was so exhausted, that my health broke down. I landed up in bed for the first days of the mission. After the mission I attended a National Marian Congress in the province of Mendoza.


All these places were far apart from each other and meant many hours of travel by bus: around 12 hours, each trip. So this multitude of apostolic activity was an example how of my youthful zeal was not taking into account the importance of measuring my limitations. I was unaware of this then, and it was the reason I broke down when I reached the mission of Arecifes.


When I got back home to our monastery in the Province of Buenos Aires, where I lived at that time, I was in for a shock. I arrived back at lunch time. When I came into the dining room, not a single reaction of a "Welcome back", or "How did it go?" from the community, not even from the superior. It was as if I had been away for only five minutes. I was devastated and very hurt. To help deal with it, I went off to the eucalyptus woods on our property and set up a tent, where I did a solitary retreat of intense prayer and meditation. This experience strengthened me spiritually. I can recall the words of St Paul of the Cross when he says: the greatest cross is community life. Truly, that has been my case, in many communities that I have lived in. Suffering from hurtful relationships, I have found, were much more painful than any other kinds of suffering, be it physical, which I've dealt a lot with in life, or environmental ones, like living in harsh living conditions, extreme heat or cold, dealing with cultural adjustments, etc. Often there is one of these in a community that is problematic. We find this reality even in the best of families. Bringing these painful moments to the Cross of Christ has always helped me to deal with them. I would remind myself, that when I was in my teens, I would tell the Lord that I was willing to die for Him as a martyr. However, when suffering came to me in unexpected ways, I was slow in turning it into a prayer of offering.


In 1981, I was transferred to our parish of "Santa Gema" in Montevideo. as assistant pastor, while carrying on with my missionary activity and school chaplaincy in Uruguay and Argentina. It was a difficult situation, as the previous pastor, much loved by many of the parishioners, told the people, that he had to leave the parish, because the provincial superior had requested it, making it clear that he really didn't want to leave. The next time the Provincial Superior showed up at the parish, one of the parishioners was so angry, that he punched him in the face! I and the new pastor, Fr. Juan Ignacio Clarey, CP, were visibly unwelcomed. Once, when I asked a kid his name, he kicked me in the shins and said: "what is it to you?" Wow, such behavior I had never encountered from anyone, let alone from a child! The child was actually the son of a prominent member of the parish! The biggest problem however, was that the previous pastor had re-organized the parish based exclusively on the base-community system, which meant, that any services like preparation for baptisms, marriages, etc., had to go through a base community.


People were obliged to join a base community, in order to have a kid baptized, probably after a year or more of being in that community. However, with the lack of expertise in any particular base community, the chances of parents getting a proper formation, if any at all, were very slim. The same was true with marriage preparation. The need for sacraments, in other words, was used, to force people into a base community! The parish council was made up of the leaders of the base community and the pastors. I quickly learned that it was one or two of the lay people who manipulated the decisions in the parish council. These lay people wanted to control everything, even the movements of the priests. I was close to a couple, who completely opposed this system of running the parish. They, previously, had spent many years preparing couples for the sacrament of marriage. Obviously, they did not belong to any base community. Most of the time, many people from base communities, would not be at Sunday mass, as they had mass in one of the homes of their base community. They also were highly politicized. I don't oppose base communities; on the contrary. What I opposed, was the way they were overemphasized and organized in a parish structure that wasn't appropriate. In Tanzania for instance, when I lived there, in Arusha, later on in life, I had a very different impression of base communities. They were integrated into a broader setting of the parish and were more scripturally based. Basically, I share this, because I learned one important lesson. I was already aware of the problem of clericalism, and as a part of the Church back then, we were trying to break down that structure. However, here we had the rise of what I call "laicism"[7], where pastors were under domineering and controlling lay leadership. However, domineering lay persons in parishes are not uncommon. I call them "Mr. or Ms. Parish". Priests naturally can also abuse their power, becoming controlling and/or manipulative.


Obviously this experience was another way of sharing in the Cross of Christ.


In 1980, I felt a special call to get into a more challenging life style within my Passionist vocation. It was that more penitential or sacrificial loving outreach, that I was feeling the need for. This had nothing to do though with my frustration with the parish in Montevideo. After all, I had many other ministries going on at the same time. Many times, I was out preaching missions, retreats or acting as chaplain at several schools in Montevideo and Buenos Aires. Furthermore, this inspiration started even before leaving for Montevideo.


The choices of a more austere life before me were:


a. Move into a slum in Montevideo with a Salesian and diocesan priests, to minister to the poorest of the poor there.


b. Join our mission, among the Wichi Indians, in Ingeniero Juarez, Province of Formosa, central/north Argentina, in very harsh conditions, where daily temperatures often reach 40 ̊ C (104 ̊ F ) and more. (Note: on one occasion in recent years, it reached 60 ̊ C (140 ̊ F) in the sun! The Wichi describe the rising temperatures, due to global warming, as the sun that seems to be getting closer to the earth. [8]


c. My third option was, to volunteer, as part of the Indian Passionist foundation, which would start in 1981. The General Superior Fr. Paul Boyle, CP, was actually looking for volunteers. And this is the option I took, as, not only would I be doing missionary work in a poor, challenging environment, but I would be helping to call and train future Passionists. I remembered the Chinese proverb: "give a fishing rod to people, so that they can catch their own fish." Who better to preach the gospel of the Passion, than those who spoke the many languages of India, once they were trained and who knew about the different cultures of their own country.  I was expecting an environment that was very hot, with no running water, a poor residence, with an earth floor, not to mention the adjustment to a different culture, food and language. It was no doubt very tough, but rewarding as well, though the toughness was different from most of what I was expecting, as we did have running water and a simple, but decent house. I did, however, feel better if I walked around barefoot, while on our property, as others did. My greatest cross though, was dealing with some of the Passionists assigned there, especially one who had been a serious problem in his own religious province and who is now out of the Congregation. The bottom line though, is that the cross I was expecting was far more lenient, than the one Our Lord had offered me! I guess, he calculated, what I could deal with, so that it would help me also along the road to holiness. No doubt my sinful nature needed purification. As St. Paul says: "Suffering produces patience and patience produces endurance, and endurance leads to hope" (Romans 5:3-4). There were times I wanted to leave, but for the sake of the students, under my responsibility, as their vocation director and formator, I stood firm until the foundation period was grounded sufficiently and felt it was time for me to move on. This actually had been my plan all along. I never intended to remain indefinitely as a missionary in India, but to train future Indian missionaries and then leave when the mission was established. There was enough need in my own part of the world after all, to do missionary work. This was a step further in building up the Reign of God.


Initially, in 1980, I had offered myself to our General Superior, Fr. Paul Bolye, CP, to go to India. However, my Provincial Superior back then, Fr. Mateo Perdia, CP, was against it, as he said that I wasn't old enough and needed more experience as a priest. I found out afterwards though, that he also didn't want to lose me, as I was one of the few that were on the missionary team, plus the fact that I was the only Passionist in the 30 age range, due to the priestly crisis at the time, which made me a bridge between generations. I was the only one actually to be ordained in the 1970's. I called myself the Our Father between the Hail Mary's!


The following year, when the General Superior was back in Argentina and Uruguay, he was looking particularly for Commonwealth passport holders, due to visa limitations to those who wished to reside in India. Commonwealth passport holders back then did not need a visa to enter

India. I told the general, that I was still willing to go to India and that I did have a British passport. He told me that he would make sure that the new provincial, Fr. Eugenio Delaney, CP, would let me go! Obviously the he didn't have many options under the circumstances.


Being in India no doubt was a very rich experience and helped broaden my perspective of life. It took an effort on my part to understand, from the Indian perspective, their rich but unique cultures. People we got to know were wonderful and engaging. Hospitality in homes was exceptional. There were many things that impressed me, like there artistic ability. I also got some good insights into a type of spirituality in a Christian/Indian/Asian context.


As I wrote elsewhere, "we were strict in insisting that the postulants struggle to speak English among themselves as it was the only way they would come to master it quickly. It must have been tough for them, but the sooner they mastered a common language with us and between themselves from different states, the better. Initially I was involved in teaching them English. The postulants though, weren’t the only ones trying to master a language. The professed Passionists tried to learn Malayalam. Of course older people find it harder to learn and Malayalam is a very difficult language. Fr. Lombardo, Fr. Carlos and I actually took classes at a convent close by to learn Malayalam before the seminary opened. One thing I did not want the postulants to think though, was that in making English the official language, we were discrediting their culture. To help convey the indirect message that we respected their languages, I had them recite the daily rosary together, using their respective languages for the different decades of the rosary." Adjustment to cultural differences among the staff from 5 different countries as well as for the students from different unique states with their own language, script, food, clothing, etc., was all a challenge for everyone. It was another way of sharing the Cross of Christ. It was also a Pentecost experience! What united us within our limitations was the language of Love.


As my 11 years with the Indian Mission was in progress, I started looking to the U.S., as my next goal to live in as a Passionist, after my time in India was up. The reasons were as follows:


Ø   I felt embarrassed travelling to Argentina, in order to visit my Province and then to Canada, so as to visit my family, which was costly for the Congregation. I had already experienced 'bad blood' over long distance travel, while I was living in Argentina, as my family gradually moved to Canada before and after my ordination. The provincial superior in Argentina back then had taken me on a guilt trip over expenses for travel between Argentina and Canada, but grudgingly allowed me to visit my family every three years. Bear in mind that our finances were not very strong so it was not easy for the Provincial to make this decision. Having lived 11 years away from my home province, it would be easier to make the transition to the US, so that I would be closer to my family.

Ø   I was also aware, that there was a great need for Spanish speaking priests in the U.S., due to the many Hispanic migrants who lived in the country. I would be able in this way, make use of both my English and Spanish in my ministry. So legal procedures got into movement between the provincial superiors of the Immaculate Conception and Holy Cross Provinces (one of the two provinces in the US, which was closest to my family).


So when my time was up in India, I left for Chicago in May 1993. This move, actually, produced in me, the greatest cultural shock I have had in life, more than any other move. Yes, cultural shocks are also an experience of sharing the Cross of Christ which can happen anywhere. Neither Uruguay, or India or Tanzania required such an adjustment as this, even though I had lived in the US for six years as a child. I was well received by my Passionist brothers; it wasn't that. It was a feeling of isolation. When I arrived at our monastery in Chicago, I was shown kindly to my new room, but then it was practically fending for myself. I never got to know whom our neighbors were during the years I would be in this place, in two different periods. I started to know some people, with time, in the neighborhood. If I had been part of our parish staff, I'm sure I might have had another story to tell. In fact, when I started to help out with Spanish masses on the south side of Chicago and then later on in Wheeling, IL, on the north side, I made some friends. There were a lot of things that I had to discover on my own, even dangerous things, no one alerted me to. How to deal with ice and snow in a car was one of them, like using a different fluid to clean the windows of the car in freezing temperatures or how to react if sleet froze on the windows of the car. I had some horrible and dangerous experiences because of the lack of knowledge about these issues. When I asked someone initially, how to get to downtown Chicago, I was told by a fellow Passionist, "Oh, just get the L down to the Loop!" I had no idea what he was talking about. What was the "L" and what was the "Loop"? There didn't seem to be much interest either in knowing about my history. I didn't consider this deliberately done, but it was a lack of awareness and interest beyond what seemed a much localized "world", even for people outside of Chicago. Obviously only those living in Chicago and a few others maybe, would know what the 'loop' or 'L' were. Also, not everyone in the U.S., has lived in snowy/icy conditions and needed to know what to be aware of when these conditions were present. I vowed from this time on, to be of assistance to any Passionist or other visitor unfamiliar with the place where we lived, especially foreigners. In regards to community living, I got on well with all the brethren. This was a real blessing.


After settling down at our monastery at Immaculate Conception for six months, I moved to our Vincent Strambi residence on the south side, where I did extra post-graduate studies at Catholic Theological Union (C.T.U.). It is a serious educational body and I enjoyed specially the cross-cultural studies. I took special interest in getting greater insights into the Popular Religiosity surrounding the mystique of Our Lady of Guadalupe, and wanted something practical that would help me minister to the Hispanics, especially of Mexican origin in the U.S. This idea came, when I saw a great crowd at a mass in Libertyville, IL, near Mundelein, the seminary of the Archdiocese of Chicago. I was preaching to raise funds for the retired religious. During the Spanish mass, which happened on the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the priest who presided, spoke very poor Spanish. I thought to myself, while this poor guy was doing his best to serve the people, the people deserved better than that, given how important this feast was for them. I was determined to prepare myself in order to be of service for this key spirituality of these people, and so, over several years, I finally wrote in Spanish and English, my "Guadalupan Novena in the Context of Advent" (1996) [9]as my final paper for my degree.  I have used this novena, on many occasions, including the special "Mañanitas", which is a celebration in the early hours of the morning to greet Mary, mostly in the form of song. I also included the celebration of the Eucharist on the feast day itself. Central to my message was "mestizaje" (hybridization; the same idea behind the idea of "melting pot").


It was Our Lady who helped integrate indigenous people with the Spaniards in Mexico, which led to a "mestizo" nation unlike any other country in the Americas. I consider this being the true creation of America, a new reality formed of diverse ethnic groups. In the same way, the presence of Hispanics in the U.S. is an invitation to help form a new "mestizaje".


After all, Our Lady of Guadalupe, as a loving mother of all ethnic groups, reflects it in her face. It shows Indigenous and Mediterranean characteristics, but also she has green eyes, reflecting those of us, who are Caucasian. This experience of "mestizaje" also was experienced on the east coast of the US, mainly in Saint Augustine, where Europeans, Africans and Native Americans bonded together, as the first melting pot experience in this country, long before the May Flower arrived, bringing British immigrants.


On one occasion, I gave this novena to Filipinos in Vancouver, BC, Canada, as they also have a devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe.


Moving to Chicago when I did in May 1993 was providential, as I was relatively close by, when Penelope, my oldest sister, died of cancer on 3rd November, that same year, and I was able to be with her at her death bed. Also my father would die the following year on 26 June, 1994, from a massive heart attack and I was also able to preside at the funeral for him, as I had done for my sister. I would also be present at my mother's death bed on 14 March, 1999 and preside at her funeral. Had I been in India or Tanzania at that time, it would have created complications to travel for these events, especially if they happened at a time that would endanger the very survival of our mission there had I departed.


Departure of loved ones is another way of sharing in the Cross of Christ, much as Mary at the foot of the Cross, when she lost her Son, though her loss was much more painful due to the circumstances of Him being her only son and one who was a perfect example to all.










[1] The Congregation of the Passion of Jesus Christ, commonly known as the Passionists are a religious order in the Catholic Church founded by St. Paul of the Cross in 1720.

[2] Note: check out  a good video of the property taken from a drone

[3] 'Culpa' consisted of kneeling down in the 'refrectory' (dining room in front of the superior and asking forgiveness for different things.

[4] A "monstrance" in the Catholic Church is an open or transparent receptacle in which the consecrated Host is exposed for veneration. Check out on Google images if you wish to get a visual

[5] For some reason many people confuse this legendary phoenix bird with a pelican but this is not correct. Those who know what a pelican looks like, would not be confused!

[6] To see the details on many video clips found on YouTube. Just type in "El Senor y la Virgen del Milagro" at least to see the visuals if you don't understand Spanish.


[7] different from the way this word is usually understood.

[8] Note: The underground water in this area has a high percentage of six minerals, which is not fit for human consumption. This upsets the intestines and it tastes awful. On one of my missionary trips there, as a water douser, like my paternal grandfather, I had located good underground water for the people. Unfortunately the military in their area took it over for themselves! Our Passionists there live in very poor conditions and healthy food, like vegetables and fruit, are hard to come by. One of the Passionist General Consulters, Fr. Harold Rausch, CP, stated that this was the poorest Passionist mission in the world. Certainly, having visited many mission areas as General Missionary Secretary, later on in life, I would confirm this comment from what I have witnessed myself.


[9] It can be found in English and Spanish on my website at along with an electronic copy of this book.