Monday, October 19, 2015

The Kerson Fruit (Muntingia Calabura)

Muntingia Calabura plant grows abundantly in all parts of the Philippines. It also grows in the Caribbean and Jamaica, Malaysia, Indonesia, India, China, Cuba, Mexico and other places where there is tropical climate. In the Philippines it is called aratelis in Luzon and mansanitas in Visayas and Mindanao. Kerson fruit is also known as Panama berry, Jamaica cherry, Singapore cherry and other names.

Mansanitas tree or muntingia reminds me of my childhood days when neighborhood kids used to play by climbing into the tree and picking up its tiny fruits which were eaten just for the sake of having fun. Although Kerson fruit tastes sweet, adults completely ignore it, and unlike other fruits it never finds its way on the table as part of a meal.

Muntingia is a small sized tree with small serrated leaves. It is a fast growing tree that fruits in two to three years. The small flower is white, and the fruit that is developed turned to red when ripe. Inside the soft skin is the juicy flesh with plenty of edible, soft tiny seeds all over it. Although the wood is not soft, it is not hard enough for use in furniture. Because of it, the woods are mainly use for fuel.   


A fruit bearing tree becomes magnet to birds, bats and insects. In a tree one can see the plants reproductive cycle at work. Bees and butterfly visit the flowers to start the pollination process. By day, birds feast on the ripe berries. And at night it is the turn of the fruit bats to have their fill. Birds and bats scatter the seeds to farther areas that result to growths of new seedlings. Even the element such as rain is also an agent in the tree’s reproduction process. Flood water can wash away fallen berries to distant areas that may cause the propagation of young plants.

Muntingia grows rapidly in any kind of soil. With just little sunlight and water, It can survive in poor soil that has acidic and alkaline conditions. The negative side of it is that muntingia is an invasive tree. If left unchecked, the trees can multiply rapidly in an area in just a short period. Its seedlings can emerge almost anywhere so that at times they become nuisance in one’s yard or garden. Unwanted seedlings have to be uprooted so that it would not compete for space or outgrow preferred plants. Since the tree is small, it can be grown at the house for decorative purpose or as shade against harsh sunlight because of its wide spreading branches and lush leaves.

The fruit contains vitamin b, vitamin c, fiber, water, carbohydrate, protein, calcium, phosphorus, and iron. Fruits and leaves are packed with anti-oxidants and have more than 24 flavanoid and phenolic substances that are also found in green tea.

Muntingia has virtually no economic value because in most places its fruits have no consumer demand in the market. However, the fruits and the leaves can be used most specially in herbal medicine. Aside from their anti-oxidants, they also contain substances that have anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. The fruits can be used to treat gout. Eating 9 to 12 berries for three times a day can ease pain in the affected areas of the body. The leaves are dried and crushed for consumption as tea. They contain nitric oxide which can lower blood pressure and improve blood flow. They can also treat diabetes by reducing blood sugar level in the body. The antioxidant substance of the leaves can prevent a type of inflammation that can cause heart disease. The leaves can also relieve pain by blocking the ability of the pain receptor cells in the body to receive pain stimuli. Researches that are made have shown that the leaves can reduce cancerous tumor growth. However, further researches need to be done to validate such claim. The flowers too have their use. A decoction of them is a remedy for abdominal cramps.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Columbus, the Man Who Opened America's Door to European Settlement and Christian Evangelization

Photo credit: Sebastiano Piombo (from Wikipedia)
Alexander the Great’s conquest of the Persian Empire paved the way for the cultural and religious exchange between Europe and Asia. In addition, trade and commerce between the two continents were opened and enhanced with the flourishing of lands along the Silk Route. The Roman Empire supplanted Alexander’s Greek Empire and extended its influence into Northern Africa and Western Europe. The conversion of Roman Emperor Constantine spread Christianity all over the Roman Empire. The birth of Islam around 610 A.D. eroded Christianity’s influence over much of Asia and North Africa. In just a few years after Prophet Muhammad’s death, his followers conquered much of territories that were once parts of Persian and Roman Empires.

The fall of the Christian City of Constantinople to the Muslim Ottoman Turks in 1453 had a profound implication to Europe and the world. The Ottoman's conquest was significant in the sense that the city was the seat of the Eastern Roman Empire or the Byzantine Empire. The city’s location was also very strategic considering that it geographically links Europe and Asia, and it was a gateway for the transport of goods and people between the two continents.

The control of trade routes by hostile powers made it difficult for Europe to avail of commodities such as silk and spices from Asia. particularly those that came from India, China and Southeast Asia. It also made their cost became prohibitive. Christian maritime powers of Europe such as Spain and Portugal had to find an alternative way to Asia without passing through perilous land routes. The best option was through the sea. The competition of European powers to cross the seas to reach the spice islands in Asia ushered in the Age of Exploration.  

Christopher Columbus (30 Oct. 1451-20 May 1506) a Genoese navigator, proposed to King John II of Portugal an expedition to the East Indies via western sea route. But the monarch was not convinced and turned down his proposal. In 1488, Bartolomeu Dias, sailing southeast reached Cape of Good Hope which was a spring board toward the East Indies.  The success of Dias doused any hope of Columbus to have the king agree with his proposition.

Failing in his bid, Columbus presented his idea to King Henry VII of England who also turned it down. He later went to King Ferdinand II and Queen Isabella of Castile, Spain. At first, the monarchs were skeptical of Columbus’ proposal. However, it occurred to them that the eastern sea route was already taken and controlled by rival Portugal, and Columbus’ proposal if successful would give Spain an edge in the lucrative spice trade.

Photo credit: John Vanderlyn (from Wikipedia)
Photo credit: E. Benjamin Andrews (from Wikipedia)
In 1492, Columbus was granted authority by Queen Isabella to sail to Asia. He was given three ships- the Pinta, the NiƱa and the Santa Maria which was his flagship. For claims on new lands to the crown Columbus was entitled to the following privileges: a rank of “the Admiral of the Ocean”; a designation of viceroy or governor of new found lands; a 10% perpetual share of profits earned as a result of his explorations, and the option to buy 1/8 interest in commercial venture in the new lands and to receive 1/8 of the profits.

On August 3, 1492, Columbus with his fleet of three ships departed from Palos de la Frontera, and sailed to his destination. After travelling considerable distances, he saw an island and landed on it. He named it San Salvador. He then passed through groups of islands that is now called the Bahamas and explored the northern coast of Cuba and Hispaniola. At that time Columbus believed that he had reached India, and even called the native inhabitants “Indios”or Indians. The Spanish crown was pleased with Columbus’ discovery, and was prepared to grant the condition set by Columbus in return for the successful voyage.

After meeting the monarchs, Columbus left port of Cadiz, Spain on September 24, 1493, for a second voyage. With a fleet of 17 ships and 1,200 men composed of soldiers, farmers and priests, he aimed to establish permanent colonies in new found lands. In his third voyages in 1498 Columbus with a fleet of six ships made further explorations to the islands and reached as far as the western coasts of South America. He returned to Hispaniola only to find that the Spanish settlers of the new colony were rebellious to his role. He made peace with them, but the news of his gross mismanagement and tyranny had already reached the Spanish monarchs who ordered that Columbus and his brothers be arrested and returned to Spain. Columbus was replaced as governor by Francisco de Bobadilla, a member of the Order of Calatrava. In Spain Columbus and his brothers were imprisoned, and he was divested of his privileges and properties. 
King Ferdinand II listened to Columbus’ plea and released him and his brothers after six weeks of confinement. They were also restored of their wealth and privileges. Columbus was also allowed to lead another voyage to the new found lands. But this time he would no longer serve as governor. He left Cadiz on 11 May 1502 with a fleet of three ships. He explored several islands and landed in Hispaniola. He explored the west coasts of Central America and east coasts of Cuba. A fierce storm stranded his fleet in Jamaica where he remained for almost a year. Columbus and his men then returned to Spain. They arrived in San Lucar on June 29, 1504. In Spain, Columbus' long years of travels took a toll on his health. He was severely stricken with diseases. Columbus died on May 20, 1506, probably at age 54 in Valladolid, Spain.

Critics of Columbus cited the negative effects of his explorations. They claimed that the arrival of the European settlers caused the depopulation of the indigenous Taino and Arawak Indians. The Indians were being exploited for forced labor such as having them worked in gold mines. Spanish soldiers committed with impunity grave abuses such as massacres and rapes. Indigenous people were seized, captured and sent to Spain as slaves with about half of them dying en route. The pandemic of small pox in 1519 which was brought by the European settlers into the islands almost brought to extinction the indigenous inhabitants.

Map from Wikipedia
Columbus’ erroneous view that the lands that he found were part of Asia denied him the honor of having the continent named after him. Amerigo Vespucci, a Florentine navigator, who came to the new lands a year after Columbus, correctly speculated that the land Columbus discovered was not Asia. Amerigo's travel journals also convinced German cartographer Martin Wadseemuller to reach the same conclusion. Wadseemuller published a world map in 1507 referring to the big new found continent as “America”, which is the Latinized version of Amerigo. With that map, people at that time also followed suit to refer to the continent as “America”. For it, Vespucci was unintentionally and undeservedly accorded an honor that should have rightfully belonged to Columbus.

It is claimed that Vikings came to America before Columbus did, and therefore he was not the first European to discover it. But there is no doubt that Columbus’ explorations were the ones which certainly opened the door of the American continent for European settlement. After Columbus had claimed lands for Spain, other European powers such as Portugal, England, France and Netherlands followed to explore the hitherto huge unknown continent. This resulted to the influx of immigrants who brought along with them their languages and cultures, and created new Independent nations with predominantly European cultures and demographics. The predominantly Christian roots of the immigrant people have also brought about the Christian evangelization of the American continent, thus making Christianity the largest religion of the world.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

The Knights of Columbus in the Philippines

The Knight of Columbus is a Roman Catholic, family, fraternal and service organization which is a member of International Alliance of Catholic Knights. It is the world’s largest fraternal service organization. The order operates with blessings of the church, and helps it in its endeavor to reach out to the faithful and to serve the community. Recognizing the effort of the order, Pope John Paul II said that the Knight of Columbus is the “strong arm of the church”. The order involves itself in charitable and humanitarian activities such as helping victims of calamities like typhoon, giving donations and paying visits to the sick and needy in such institutions as hospitals and orphanages. Knights, as what the members of the order are called, also provide free and voluntary service to the community on endeavors that can help the people and the local government. With sense of fraternity, knights foster strong bond of relationship with each other and help each other in their time of needs.  

Father Michael J. Mcgivney (August 12, 1852-August 14, 1890), an Irish-American Catholic priest from New Haven, Connecticut founded the Knight of Columbus on March 29, 1882. The son of Irish immigrant parents, Father Mcgivney saw the hardships of Catholic families in the search of livelihood in a Protestant Anglo-Saxon dominated society. Their situation was exacerbated during a loss of a breadwinner in the family. Surviving members had to cope with the lack of income and finding job. To deal with the problem affecting the Catholic families, Fr. Mcgivney established a mutual benefit society that could provide a sort of insurance system to the families. Fr. Mcgivney also noticed that Catholics were barred from joining labor unions. And by policy of the Catholic Church, a catholic could not join fraternal organization such as the Free Masonry. On that background, a new catholic organization was conceived.

The explorer Christopher Columbus, a catholic who served under Queen Isabella I of Catholic Spain, was the person who opened the door of the American continent for European settlement and Christian evangelization. He was considered a hero during Father Mcgivney’s time. But the young priest was some sort of disappointed to observe that catholic immigrants were marginalized in the predominantly protestant society. He originally thought of a name “The Sons of Columbus” for his organization.  The word “Columbus” was some sort of a mild rebuke to the “Anglo-Saxon” leaders to stress that Catholicism had a role in the founding of the United States.  The word “sons” was replaced with the word “knights” after James T. Mullen who would later become Supreme Knight successfully suggested that “knights” would better describe the ritualistic nature of the organization. Thus the name “Knights of Columbus” was adopted for the new organization.

In the Philippines, the first members of Knights of Columbus were American army and navy soldiers who established the first council which was Council 1000 on April 23, 1905, in Intramurus, Manila. Its first Grand Knight was Richard Campbell. Atty. Gabriel LaO was elected as the first Filipino Grand Knight. In 1947, Fr. George J. Willmann was granted by the Supreme Council in the expand the number of council in the Philippines. In 1948 the first Knights of Columbus district was established composed of Manila Council 1000, and the newly constituted councils: Cebu Council 3106, and Cagayan de Oro Council 3108. Father Willmann was the first District Deputy who served until 1953. In March 1, 1954, Supreme Knight Luke Hart appointed Fr. Willmann to the title of Territorial Deputy which he held until 1961. By 1962, he was made the first Philippine State Deputy as a result of the emergence of more than 100 councils in the Philippines. Father Willmann served in that capacity until his death at age 89. According to past Supreme Knight Virgil Dechant he was the Father Michael J. Mcgivney of the Philippines. Former Senator and Ambassador Oscar Ledesma succeeded Fr. Willmann as the Philippine State Deputy from 1977 to 1983. He was instrumental in the creation of three Assistant State Deputy positions of Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao. Mardonio Santos succeeded Ledesma in 1983. During his term, the order saw enormous growth of membership. On July 1989, the Philippine Jurisdiction was divided into three states of Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao. And the Assistant Philippine Deputies were then automatically appointed to be the first State Deputies of their respective areas.

A knight is dedicated to the principles of charity, unity, fraternity and patriotism.  Charity is the first principle of a knight which calls for generosity in sharing his material resources and services especially to the poor and less fortunate people. Unity is the solidarity or the spirit of teamwork among knights in the attainment of the order’s goals and activities. Fraternity is the spirit of brotherhood and camaraderie that bind a knight with another. Patriotism is the unselfish love and duty for the country. A knight’s adherence to the constitution and service to the government are in line with this principle.

Hierarchy in knights’ ranks is categorized in four degrees. The first degree is the lowest and the fourth degree is the highest. Each degree, in ascending order, embodies the core principles of charity, unity, fraternity and patriotism. To qualify as a knight, a gentleman must be 18 years old and above, and that he must be a practical Roman Catholic. He undergoes a closed ritualistic initiation called exemplification to become a first degree knight. In that level he embodies the principle of charity. He climbs into the ladder of hierarchy by following the rules set by the Knight of Columbus. He should also recruit a new member to reach the second degree. A third degree exemplification brings a knight closer to full knighthood. The fourth degree which embodies the principle of patriotism brings the knight to the apex of the knights’ hierarchy and bestows on him the title as a “sir knight”.  An elaborate rite participated in by the color corps, top officials of the assembly and clergy and attended by family members and guests characterized the exemplification to the fourth degree.  In that degree a knight can qualify as an elected officer of a council or an assembly. A fourth degree knight can have the regalia consisting of chapeau, baldric, cape, tuxedo or white dinner jacket, a bow tie, a glove and a sword upon purchase. On his option he can join the color corps which is the most visible group of the order. Priests who desire to become knight do not participate directly in degree exemplification as laymen do, but rather take the degree by observation.

The council is the lowest and the basic unit of the order. It comprised of knights of all degree. Only 4th degree knights are eligible to become an officer of the council. Officers are elected by knights of the council except the Financial Secretary who is appointed by the Supreme Knight who is based in USA. The highest officer of the council is the Grand Knight. The council holds a meeting every first Sunday of the month. The assembly is composed of fourth degree knights of member councils who hold meeting every fourth Sunday of the month. It also elects its own officers. The highest officer of the assembly is called the navigator. Councils and assemblies usually establish their headquarters at the parish or church they are connected with. The assemblies and councils are overseen by a district whose head is the District Deputy. The Philippines is divided into four states of the Knight of Columbus which are the North Luzon, the South Luzon, the Visayas and Mindanao. Each state is a jurisdiction of an officer who is called the Deputy. The highest authority of Knight of Columbus units the world over is the Supreme Council in 1 Columbus Plaza, New Haven, Connecticut, USA which is headed by the Supreme Knight who at present is Carl A. Anderson.  
                                              Council                                     Assembly             
                                        Grand Knight                                   Navigator 
                                           Chaplain                                             Friar
                                  Deputy Grand Knight                            Captain
                                           Chancellor                                     Admiral
                                             Recorder                                        Scribe
                                    Financial Secretary                               Comptroller
                                           Treasurer                                            Purser
                                            Lecturer                                         Non Existent
                                            Advocate                                       Non Existent
                                             Warden                                             Pilot
                                        Inside Guard                                    Inner Sentinel
                                       Outside Guard                                 Outer Sentinel
                                  Trustee (Three Year)                       Trustee (Three Year)
                                    Trustee (Two Year)                         Trustee (Two Year)
                                    Trustee (One Year)                          Trustee (One Year)
                                        Non Existent                            Color Corps Commander
                                        (Above is list of officers of council and assembly)

Knights follow a military like protocol and parliamentary procedures during their meetings. In the council level the title of officers is prefixed with “worthy”.  A Grand Knight is thus addressed “worthy Grand Knight”. In the assembly the title of the officers is prefixed with “faithful” and in a meeting a knight should say “faithful navigator”. Utmost respect is rendered to the Grand Knight, Navigator, top officers of the district and state and the clergy during official meetings and other gatherings.

The original purpose on which Knight of Columbus was founded which is to provide financial assistance to members during times of needs and misfortune has lived on. Relative to it, the Knight of Columbus has in its system the provision of voluntary insurance which is exclusive to the members of the order. The U.S. Knight of Columbus is an organization with over a billion of US dollar in assets. Its financial program has generated 2 million insurance contracts totaling US 90 billion dollars in life insurance that is in force and backed up by US $21 billion in assets as of 2014. In 2013, its insurance program has a surplus of US $1.8 billion. Knight of Columbus ranked 900 in total revenue in 2011 according to Fortune’s 1,000 list. The financial benefits however cannot be extended to the Philippines because of restriction on laws between the country and the U.S.

In the Philippines, in 1958, Fr. George J. Willmann founded the Knight of Columbus Fraternal Association of the Philippines, Inc., or KCFAPI. It was incorporated as a non-stock corporation. On September 9, 1958, KCFAPI was registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission, and was duly licensed to operate an insurance system that would cater exclusively to the members of Knights of Columbus.  With its insurance programs, the association provides knights following advantages: one is that they become a co-owner of the association when they apply for insurance: another benefit for them is that the insurance transaction is tax free and exclusive to the members of the Knight of Columbus. KCFAPI has subsidiary companies that could enhance its financial status. Income of the association is used to pay for the proceeds due to the members, to spend on charitable and humanitarian activities and to fund the scholarship of seminarians.

Some world famous figures who are members of the Knight of Columbus include the late President John F. Kennedy of USA, his brother Ted, the legendary baseball legend Babe Ruth, former World Heavyweight boxing champion Floyd Patterson, Jeb Bush and two-time Medal of Honor recipient Daniel Day. In the Philippines, some of famous Knights of Columbus members include the late former Senator Oscar Ledesma, former Supreme Court justice Hilario Davide, Justice Jose Reyes, and Jaime Cardinal Sin. The list of famous knights is not limited to the names that are mentioned in this paragraph.