Monday, 31 August 2009

You need Brains

Continued Fr Chris' education in things Cardiffian - and took him to the Old Arcade. He tried a sip of Brains Bitter but went back to his lager! But the mixed grill went down very well. Walked around Cathays Park first and past the castle, he'd seen the Stadium so we went past St John's and along Queen Street to St David's Cathedral, where a lady glared at us when I was whispering to Chris the history of the place. Canon Peter came by and welcomed us. It was at that point Chris said he fancied a beer with lunch so we double-backed through the St David's Centre to Church Street. The Arcade doesn't seem to change, and resists temptations to go metro, Irish, themed or anything else. More power to its Caaardiffian elbow! Fish comes from that other Cardiff institution Ashton's next door in the market. Canon approves. Anyone care to suggest favourite spots in Cardiff or South Wales for Fr C to visit in his last fortnight?

Saturday, 29 August 2009

Jacob fair, Jasper good

Yesterday I went with Fr Christopher to visit Llandaff Cathedral. As it is the oldest centre of Christianity in the city, I usually try to make sure visitors go there. Also, it's always good to show newcomers places with which you're familiar, because you then see it through some new eyes. When we got there, a funeral was just ending, and a soprano soloist was singing a beautiful piece before the coffin was removed. The sweet sound was wafting out of the wide open main doors.
Fr Chris said he didn't care much for the famous Jacob Epstein "Majestas" statue of Christ, as it didn't look much like Jesus... That concrete arch and its statue still cause controversy 50 years later. They are installing a new organ in the cathedral, and looking for £1.5 million. I couldn't help wondering if this might be in response to our St Peter's in Roath, where Fr David is wont to proclaim that their new organ is the best in Wales! Ah, yes, long live ecumenism...
Cup of tea afterwards across the road at Jasper's. Presumably named after Jasper Tudor, builder of the north-west tower of the cathedral. Very busy, a bit squashed into a warren of rooms, patios and nooks - but nice tea, Welsh cake and atmosphere - the canon approves.

Tuesday, 25 August 2009


Wow, two postings in one day! I was having a cup of tea and surfin' around on the net when I came across this little video of cardinals talking about vocations, including their own. As I'm sure people tend to think of cardinals as some kind of distant beings in bright scarlet, it might be good to listen to these very human men talking about God in their lives. A particular favourite of mine on the video and in general is Cardinal Madariaga of Honduras - Fr M's tip for the top.


We celebrated Teresa Walsh's Requiem at St Paul's this morning. The church was packed and there was a wonderful atmosphere of shared faith in this Mass for a much loved mother and grandmother, sacristan and so much more at St Paul's. A huge proportion of the congregation received Holy Communion - sadly not too common an occurence. Everyone commented on how Teresa's family were all involved - from daughter Clare on the organ, and all three daughters singing a Mendelssohn piece at Communion, to others reading, singing, intercessions, offertory etc. It was so beautiful to witness in her family Teresa's legacy of faith and love. Five priests joined me in concelebrating, and I know that our own Fr James will be sad to have missed a very, very special Requiem Mass. People may forget how inspiring all this is for us priests. So much of our time can be involved with those rather on the margins of the Church community. That is only right - Jesus himself spent a lot of his time "on the edge", but it's good also to celebrate a person of faith and love - and to do it with gusto!!

Saturday, 22 August 2009

Shall not prevail

Sometimes a clash of styles wakes us up, by confusing our expectations. I found this rap video on Fr Tim Finigan's blog. It's based on the words "The Gates of Hell shall not prevail" as preached by the late Archbishop Fulton Sheen. It's sung by a Catholic singer, new to me, called Akalyte, and the video shows very Catholic scenes, mainly of the Pope, and people receiving Communion. What d'you think?

Thursday, 20 August 2009


Watched "The Shawshank Redemption" for about the fifth time with Fr Christopher this evening on Film4. Great 1994 film set in an American jail with Tim Robbins and the great Morgan Freeman - I hope all you out there have seen it. There aren't many I can watch again and again, but Shawshank is so uplifting, it speaks of many things, about hope and despair, friendship and callousness, the human spirit and so on. I have a little insight into prison life as I was chaplain to Cardiff prison in the early 80's. The utter boredom and the institutionalization that can some with extended or repeated sentences... One of my favourite parts of the movie is when our hero plays a duet from "The Marriage of Figaro" through the PA system of the jail, and all the men drop what they are doing, to be whisked away for a moment by the sheer beauty of the music. The reconciliation at the end is all the more moving by being filmed quickly and with a quickly receding camera. It's a feel-good film set in one of humanity's most dehumanising environments - and all the more hope-inspring for that. If you haven't seen it, do so!

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Curonian Whaaaat?

The Curonian Spit is an amazing finger of land almost 100 Km, or 60 miles, long that almost totally encloses a lagoon partly in Lithuania and partly in the Kaliningrad area of Russia. It's nowhere more than 4 kilometres wide and at places is less than 500 metres. It consists of sanddunes, many of which are now planted with trees. But a lot of it is still moving and shifting a little each year. On the Baltic Sea side of the spit there are 60 miles of beaches with fine beautiful sand. I spent a day in the area on my holiday, with fine sunny weather and a really relaxing atmosphere. The whole Spit is a UNESCO site and protected by all kinds of regulations, so as not to damage its fragile environment. I climbed the highest dune, which turned out to be THE highest moving dune in Europe. The photo shows the view south from the top of the dune. Halfway in the distance is the Russian border, with several hundred metres of "Nature Reserve" either side of the border, i.e security zone. So, on my holiday I visited Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, and saw Russia.

Sunday, 16 August 2009


Happy feast day to everybody! The Assumption is the principal feast day of Our Lady in the Church's calendar. So my holiday snap today is of the principal shrine of Our Lady in Lithuania - the so-called "Gate or Gates of Dawn" in the capital, Vilnius. This is the last remaining gate of the old city, and is crowned by a little chapel containing an image of Mary under the title "Mother of Mercy" - you can see the Latin Mater Misericordiae in the picture. People come here from all over, both Catholic and Orthodox, Lithuanians, Poles, Byelorussians and Russians, some climbing the steps up to the chapel on their knees. Pope John Paul prayed the Rosary here, and the Patriarch of Moscow prayed with the Cardinal Archbishop of Vilnius. People make the sign of the cross as they go in and out of the city gate. All very appropriate for today's Gospel, the Magnificat, when Our Lady proclaims the mercy of God, the very heart of the Christian message. But more of Divine Mercy later this week...

Friday, 14 August 2009


You may be wondering what my new picture at the heading of this blog is. In Lithuania I visited the famous Hill of Crosses, north of the city of Siauliai. Here hundreds of thousands of crosses and rosaries represent the religion and national sentiment of Lithuania, which is overwhelmingly Catholic. During the Soviet period the authorities routinely came to remove them or even bulldoze them on several occasions. They even threatened to flood the little valley where it is located. But the crosses returned - and when independence was retrieved in 1991 the number just exploded. Pope John Paul celebrated Mass here, and they have left the altar canopy in place, slowly aging - rather different to Pontcanna Fields where I don't think there is anything to remember 2nd June 1982... The Pope gave to the Hill a big Crucifix which is in my second photo. A new Francisan monastery has been built nearby, with a plate glass window behind the altar opening onto the Hill. The Hill of Crosses is a beautiful place, something extraordinary, right in the middle of nowhere. I noticed that everyone, believer and non-believer alike, as they walked over the hill, spoke in hushed tones...
p.s. Don't forget that if you want to see any of my photos in my blog, such as the first one today, in much more detail, just click on it.

Wednesday, 12 August 2009


Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania were incorporated by the Russians into the Soviet Union - in effect, they disappeared off the map, unlike, for example, Hungary or Poland. But this was only the last (hopefully) in a long history of incorporations, invasions, crusades, annexations etc of the three countries stretching back many hundreds of years. Only Lithuania had a spell, in the Middle Ages, of independence and influence as a Grand Duchy which at one time spread as far as the Black Sea. I found that the present peace of independence since 1991, and membership now of both NATO and the EU does not hide a degree of unease in the air there still. Russia seems not to have admitted the horrors of the past in the twentieth century, and events in Georgia and elsewhere do not help. The three young republics are vulnerable and know it, yet historically they are very much part of Europe. I took this photo of a picture in a window in Riga, capital of Latvia showing the Baltic Chain or Way, an event on August 23rd 1989, before the fall of the Berlin Wall. Approximately 2 million people formed a human chain across the three countries 373 miles long. It was to draw the world's attention to what had been happening there, and marked the 60th anniversary of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, when Russia and Germany agreed to carve up Europe between them.

On a lighter note, my other photo shows the "Kissing Students" a new and charming fountain in the Estonian second city, and university town, of Tartu.

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Safe and sound

Hi folks! I got back yesterday after a relaxing 4 days at my brother's, and fascinating 10 days in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. What amazing places, hidden away there across the Baltic Sea. I'm sure I'll have various things to say about my trip over coming postings. I managed to get to Klaipeda in Lithuania, the "Land of my Fathers" - or at least of my great grandfather. So perhaps my first pic should be of me in Theatre Square there. In the background is the theatre itself. From its balcony Hitler gave one of his most nasty speeches in 1939 after he had invaded the city, but before the outbreak of the War in September. The memorial is to a local author Simon Dach, who penned a song beloved in those parts about little Annie - or Annchen. The monument looks as if it's falling over in the photo, but actually it's perfectly upright! The other photo is of Tallinn, capital of Estonia, to show that the sun does shine there, unlike the pic I posted a while ago of the same view of Tallinn under snow (at the bottom of the page). Great holiday, but good to be back too...