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Welcome to another episode of Cathedral Square featuring your host, Fr. Christopher Smith.

Deacon Modesto Cordero is the Diocese of Orange’s New Director of The Office of Worship. Fr. Christopher will ask about his fascinating background of life in Puerto Rico, and then on to Hawaii and time serving our country in the U.S. Army. He will also share the story of how he and his wife decided to make the trek from their longtime home in Hawaii to mainland California.

Listen in to this lively conversation and be sure to share this podcast!





Original broadcast date 9/25/21


HONOLULU (CNS) — In addition to offering prayers, the Catholic Church is stepping into action on behalf of hundreds of residents displaced from a fierce and unpredictable volcanic eruption.

Members of Sacred Heart Parish in the town of Pahoa in the Puna District of the island of Hawaii — known colloquially as the Big Island — are opening their hearts, their homes and their parish hall to those forced to flee the lava flowing from cracks in the ground in their neighborhood.

Bishop Larry Silva of Honolulu has visited and offered his assistance.

Local Catholic service agencies are working with victims, coordinating aid efforts, and collecting and distributing funds.

About 1,700 people reside in Leilani Estates, a rural subdivision of acre-sized lots on a grid of about 22 miles of roads, where at least 15 fissures have opened up since May 3 spewing molten rock and poisonous sulfur dioxide gas. A Hawaii County evacuation order sent subdivision residents packing shortly after the eruption began.

According to Hawaii County Civil Defense, 36 structures, including 26 homes, already have been destroyed by lava from the 2.5-mile-long fissure system, the newest outflow from Kilauea Volcano, which has been erupting since 1983. Lava so far has covered more than 115 acres.

During pauses in the volcanic activity, residents have been allowed to return to their homes to retrieve belongings.

Some are staying at two county evacuation centers. Sacred Heart parishioners are being taken in by fellow parish members, according to parish administrator Father Ernesto Juarez.

“Parishioners are opening up their homes,” he told the Hawaii Catholic Herald, Honolulu’s diocesan newspaper.

Bishop Silva was at the parish May 5-6, the weekend the eruption started, for a previously arranged episcopal visitation and to administer the sacrament of confirmation.

With hundreds of small earthquakes predicting volcanic activity, the bishop had offered to reschedule his visit, but Father Juarez, after consulting with some of his parishioners, decided to proceed as planned.

“I was happy to be there with them during that time,” the bishop said.

“I was actually surprised how normal life seemed in Pahoa, despite the eruption that was taking place in the parish boundaries,” the bishop said. “I did not detect any panic or great anxiety.”

He said he could see from the church the plume of smoke from the eruption site.

Several people told him that evacuees who were parish members did not have to use the county-run emergency shelters “because they were offered hospitality by fellow parishioners.”

Bishop Silva said that the diocese’s three social service agencies — Office of Social Ministries, HOPE Services Hawaii and Catholic Charities Hawaii — “have all been involved in the situation.”

“I asked them to keep me informed to see if there was anything I could do or if there were any services of the diocese that needed to be mobilized,” he said.

The bishop was told that immediate needs for shelter, food and clothing were being addressed locally, but that “long-term needs may require help from outside the community.”

“We will continue to monitor the situation and will let people in the diocese know if there are any specific ways they can help,” he said.

Father Juarez volunteered the parish hall as a crisis information center.

At the center, which is open weekday, evacuees from the Leilani Estates and the smaller Lanipuna Gardens subdivision connect with personnel from Hawaii County and social service agencies for information or to apply for assistance. Participating organizations include Child and Family Services, The Food Basket, Catholic Charities Hawaii and HOPE Services Hawaii.

HOPE Services Hawaii, which deals primarily with homelessness on the Big Island, has deployed several staff members who, with others, are collecting data on evacuated households to determine their needs. As of May 10, the agency had gathered information on nearly 300 households.

“Quite a bit of people need everything,” said Brandee Menino, HOPE Services Hawaii chief executive officer, who is coordinating the data collection. “They are checking all the boxes — food, shelter, permanent housing, transportation.”

Other families have temporarily settled in with family and friends, but will have needs down the road, she said. Some hope to eventually go back home.

“We’re still only days in and it looks like this is going to be a long one,” Menino said.

She added some of the agencies involved cover financial assistance, food, shelter, counseling, case management, physical and mental health, clothing, legal assistance and animal care.

HOPE Services has already given out some rent assistance.

In a message to Big Island parishes, Catholic Charities Hawaii’s Hawaii Island Community Director Elizabeth Murph said housing needs are a looming concern, in particular for those with mortgages to pay on houses they no longer have access to.

She said besides stable housing, other immediate needs include counseling, clothing, and gift cards for groceries, household items and gas.

Catholic Charities Hawaii has asked the public for monetary donations to be used for direct housing assistance for the victims of both the Kilauea eruption and April’s historic flooding on Kauai.

Donations will go toward temporary housing subsidies, emergency home repairs and other related needs.

“Funds will be immediately available” to victims, Murph said, compared to money from other organizations distributed through a lengthy grant process.

Father Juarez, who has been at the parish for less than a year, visited the main evacuation shelter in Pahoa May 7. Several hundred people are being temporarily housed there.

He was joined by former pastor Jesuit Father Mike Scully, parish religious education director Maila Naiga and parishioners Liz Morgan and Roberta Vangoethem.

“We talked to them, shared stories, offering comfort, letting them know that there are people who have great concern about their plight,” Father Juarez said.

The parish is bringing back into action its Disaster Assistance Relief Team, which was mobilized when Tropical Storm Iselle ravaged the east side of the Big Island in 2014, and later that same year when a lava flow threatened Pahoa.

At an East Hawaii vicariate meeting May 8, Father Juarez said, some of his fellow Big Island priests offered their parishes for “refuge.” At the meeting the priest gathered rosaries, Bibles and holy water to be distributed at the evacuation center.

Father Juarez said his church, which is three-and-a-half miles from the eruption, is not in any immediate danger.

“We are safe in Pahoa as of now but we are always reminded to be vigilant,” he said.

“We still need prayers,” he added. “The eruption is unpredictable.”



HONOLULU (CNS) — Honolulu Bishop Larry Silva gave general absolution to about 45 people in a deacon formation program in response to the alert of an imminent ballistic missile attack that put Hawaii in a state of panic shortly after 8 a.m. Jan. 13.

It was the first time he had ever performed the rite. The absolution of sins given to a group of people at one time is allowed only in grave circumstances, such as situations of great danger or imminent death, or for soldiers going into battle, when private confessions are logistically impossible.

“I am not in favor of general absolution in general, but that was an appropriate use,” he said in a Jan. 16 interview with the Hawaii Catholic Herald, Honolulu’s diocesan newspaper.

“If there ever was an occasion that was it,” he said. “It was scary.”

Bishop Silva was in his residence at St. Stephen Diocesan Center in Kaneohe at 8:07 a.m. when the Hawaii Emergency Management Center sent this message to cellphones across the state: “BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.”

Time was of the essence. A ballistic missile from North Korea would take 15 to 20 minutes to hit Hawaii.

The first thing the bishop did was attempt to alert a visiting monsignor, but the priest did not answer his knock.

So, he walked the 50 or so yards to the center’s chapel where nine deacon candidates and their wives, there for the weekend with their formation team, were attending Mass.

“I thought, ‘How can I make myself useful?'” the bishop said.

By then the celebrant, diocesan judicial vicar Father Mark Gantley, was halfway through the distribution of Communion.

The group already knew something was up because Deacon John Coughlin, director of the diaconate formation program, had showed a cellphone displaying the threat message to Father Gantley while he was giving Communion.

Some thought that perhaps the bishop had died and were relieved when he walked in the back door.

Father Gantley continued the Mass to the end without a mention of the alert.

“The first thought that came to me was that I am going to finish Mass,” he said. “I am not going to interrupt it.”

He did skip the leave-taking song, however.

That’s when Bishop Silva, who was wearing a T-shirt, stepped forward to say he would give everyone general absolution.

He decided to forgo the stole and skip the liturgy that accompanies the rite.

“I just thought, ‘Let’s get this thing done,'” Bishop Silva said.

After giving a brief introduction about what he was doing, he said the words of absolution over the group.

“Some people were visibly upset,” Father Gantley said. “I remember one woman crying.”

Deacon Coughlin said the absolution was followed by a feeling of peace.

“It was incredible calming for everyone,” he said.

Eva Andrade, one of the deacon formation staff, called the absolution “the most powerful reconciliation ever,” adding that she has received quite a few.

“It was deeper, richer,” she said. “In that moment when you really don’t know (if you are going to die), your heart reaches out for that forgiveness.”

“In that moment everything changed and was made right,” she said. “You could feel the presence of God in that room.”

Following the sacrament, Bishop Silva told the group that they might as well have breakfast which was being served in the dining room in the safest building on campus, a former mansion with 3-foot-thick concrete walls.

Thirty-eight minutes after the initial warning, the emergency management center sent an all-clear — the warning had been a “false alarm.”

That evening the deacon formation class had an unscheduled two-hour “critical incident stress debriefing” led by Father John Keenan, who is a Blessed Sacrament priest and a psychologist who specializes in such events.

“It became a very emotional,” said Deacon Coughlin. One of the couples’ biggest concerns was that they “were away from their children” during the incident.

“There was a cathartic release,” he said.

Deacon Coughlin also observed that, through the trauma, the deacon candidates “learned a little bit about ministering to others.”

“I thank the Lord for that,” he said.


Honolulu, Hawaii, Jan 16, 2018 / 05:00 am (CNA/EWTN News) – It started out as a regular Saturday morning for most Hawaiians, including Dallas and Monica Carter and their five children.

Monica was getting breakfast ready for the kids before a busy day when the warning blared across smartphone screens throughout the island:


It was the same kind of warnings Hawaiians are used to receiving for tsunamis and hurricanes – the kind of warning they’re used to heeding.

“That was quite terrifying, of course,” Dallas Carter, a theology lecturer for the Diocese of Honolulu, told CNA. Immediately, Dallas and Monica sprang into action, albeit in different ways.

Looking back, “it was a great dynamic to see how we reacted together but in different ways to the same crisis,” he said.

Dallas said he had four thoughts once he had processed the alert. The first was: “Oh (no) I haven’t gone to confession yet!” It was Saturday, and the family often goes on Sundays before Mass.

“Number two was, ok, how do I do this perfect contrition thing? Number three was we have to get the kids praying rosary, and number four was ‘where’s my whiskey,’” he recalled.

Soon after the initial warning, Dallas ran to the neighbors to see if they had gotten the same alert, and checked on some elderly neighbors while formulating a possible plan to get his family to the shelter of his concrete classroom.

When he ran back inside the house, he found that his wife had placed the family’s Our Lady of Guadalupe statue in the middle of the breakfast table, and all of the kids were praying the rosary. She had not long ago read a story about Jesuits in Hiroshima who were spared during the atomic bomb, and was inspired to start praying the rosary in part because of their story.

“My wife did probably the more important thing and she prayed,” he said.

“She said we can try to get to the classroom, but if the bomb hits, we’re goners, but what we can do is pray,” Dallas recalled. “The best possibility (of surviving) isn’t my concrete classroom, the best possibility is that the Blessed Mother provide us a miracle.”

Mariah, 11, the eldest of the Carter siblings, was awakened by her nine-year-old brother who ran into her room telling her there about the bomb threat.

“I remember thinking what’s going on? I literally just wanted to pray, I wanted to pray,” Mariah told CNA.

“I concentrated so hard on the rosary, I was like ‘come on Mary I know you can do this,’” she said.

Dallas said his 9 year-old son kept asking if they were going to die, and he wasn’t sure how to answer, objectively.

“That’s the first time in our lives that my kid asked me that, and I didn’t know what to say,” he said. Dallas and Monica tried to comfort their son by telling him it was an adventure that the whole family was on together.

After a few minutes, the family caught a glimmer of hope amidst the initial terror when Dallas called to check in on his parents, who were skeptical of the alert in the first place. Because they don’t have smartphones, they weren’t used to receiving alerts in that way, and thought it somehow must have been a fluke.

Furthermore, the missile sirens, which were tested on a monthly basis on the island, had not gone off at all, another sign that perhaps not all was as dire as it seemed.

Desperate for news, Dallas ran to his truck to turn on the radio. Instead of hearing static, or more warnings, he heard a football game and talk radio – nothing out of the ordinary.

The family started to breath a little easier, but they would wait – along with the rest of the island – for another 30 minutes before they got the official all-clear. They would later learn that the false message was an error on the part of an employee at the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency.

After that, most of the rest of their plans for the day fell through – its hard to go about your business after thinking your obliteration imminent.

The next day was Sunday, and his family’s parish was packed, a phenomenon he has personally dubbed the #MissileConversions. The pews were filled, and the line for confession was out the door. Friends from throughout the island said their parishes were the same.

Even though the crisis was a false alarm, Dallas said he and his family joined the confession line anyway, as a way of giving thanks for being able to go to confession again.

In his homily, the priest tried to bring a little levity to the grave situation that had caused so many to fill the pews out of a strange mix of subsequent fear and gratitude, Dallas said.

“He said you know that bible verse where it says Jesus will come again like a thief in the night? Well it looks like he almost came like a thief in the morning,” Dallas recalled.

Afterward Mass, the whole parish community had a barbeque at the beach.

“Yesterday’s beach session with friends and family was just the right amount of post-missile scare therapy,” he said.

The harrowing experience also taught Dallas a few things in terms of material, and more importantly, spiritual, preparation.

Materially, he said, he found his hand-held radio and placed it in a prominent place on his desk, so that he wouldn’t have to run out to his truck in an emergency situation.

Spiritually, he said he learned: “Don’t play around with grace. Be in the state of grace, be prepared,” he said.

“And it doesn’t mean to get on your knees and don’t take shelter, but have the spiritual part ready. Don’t forget to recourse to the greatest resource we have in situations like that, which is prayer, especially to the Blessed Mother who isn’t going to let her children suffer and go through something that isn’t the will of God,” he said.

On a lighter note, he said he also learned: “Have the whiskey more readily available. I’d have the rosary in one hand and my favorite whiskey in the other.”


HONOLULU (CNS) — The House Health Committee of the Hawaii Legislature March 23 unanimously voted to defer a bill that would have legalized physician-assisted suicide for terminally ill patients.

The move by the seven-member committee, which took place after hours of what new reports described as “intense debate,” essentially means no further action will be taken on the measure this session.

On March 7, the Hawaii Senate passed the measure, called the “Medical Aid in Dying” bill, or S.B. 1129, with 22 votes in favor, three against. Two of the affirmative votes were cast “with reservations.”

During their consideration of the bill, House Health Committee members, led by Rep. Della Au Bellati, the chair, said they were concerned about a lack of specifics, enough safeguards to protect vulnerable people, and what training physicians would receive about prescribing lethal drugs to terminal patients who would request them.

The proposed bill, based on a law, in Oregon would have allowed an adult Hawaii resident diagnosed with a terminal illness and determined to have six or fewer months to live, to request a prescription for a lethal dose of medication to be self-administered to end his or her life.

The Catholic Church in Hawaii actively opposed the bill.

In testimony Feb. 24, the Hawaii Catholic Conference, the public policy voice for the Catholic Church in Hawaii, stated that legal assisted suicide “can undermine the physician’s role as healer, forever alter the doctor‐patient relationship, and lessen the quality of care provided to patients at the end of life.”

The Catholic conference pointed out the incongruity of the state promoting and facilitating suicide for one group of persons, calling it “dignified and humane,” while “recognizing suicide as a serious statewide public health concern in all other circumstances.”

The conference organized a statewide petition against the measure that collected thousands of signatures.

Honolulu Bishop Larry Silva, in a letter to Catholics in the statewide diocese, called the effort to legalize physician-assisted suicide as a “wolf in sheep’s clothing” and “another manifestation … of the ‘culture of death.'”

The bishop countered the argument that terminal illness “diminishes” a person’s dignity or “true humanity.”

“It costs a tremendous amount of time and money to care for someone who is very sick,” he said. “Yet true compassion means ‘suffering with’ someone — or allowing others to suffer with us — and while it is very humbling, the most intimate bonds of human caring can be nurtured in just such circumstances.”

Bishop Silva expressed concern that legalizing assisted suicide would open the door to a “culture of euthanasia” and abuse of the elderly.

“Mass legalization of assisted suicide is not inevitable,” said bioethicist Wesley J. Smith, writing March 24 in National Review. “Now, after losing recently in New Mexico, add Hawaii to the ‘not inevitable’ list.”

He was referring to an assisted suicide measure defeated March 15 in a 22-20 vote by the New Mexico Senate. The bill had easily passed the Senate Public Affairs Committee March 3.

A Seattle-based nonprofit human rights organization called “Choice” Is an Illusion, which opposes assisted suicide, said the now-deferred bill was “sold as providing a voluntary patient choice,” but did not “even have a requirement of voluntariness, capability or consent when the lethal dose is administered.

“The claim that self-administration is required is not true,” the group said. “The act says that a patient ‘may” self-administer the lethal dose. There is no language that administration ‘must” be by self-administration.

“Administration of the lethal dose is allowed to occur in private without a doctor or witness present,” it added. “If the patient objected or even struggled, who would know?”

“Although this may seem like the battle is over, we must stay vigilant! ” Eva Andrade said in a statement posted on the website of the Hawaii Catholic Conference.

In testimony in February, Andrade said that assisted suicide invites exploitation of vulnerable people.

“It puts the poor, elderly, sick and disabled at risk for abuse,” she said, “no matter what the proposed safeguards. With elder abuse already a major problem in Hawaii, turning the right to die into a duty to die — creating subtle pressure on the elderly to end their lives early so as not to be a burden to their families — may very well be a consequence of this law.”