Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Pink feet, green shoots, red fish

Someone asked me today how my foot was doing. Answer - very well thanks. Treatment is winding down - no more nice cream for the red bits around the ulcery things coz' they've now faded to pink. Nurses reassure me that all is going to plan, and I'm doing well... It all takes time, apparently.
Have you noticed that most important things take time. That's certainly true in the Church, where we think in terms of decades, and even centuries. Part of our clergy meeting last week was enabling us to reflect on our own spiritual journeys in order to help others. It was certainly a busy week, with no time for any golfers to make use of the surrounding course. One of several main focuses was on this role as spiritual leaders, which Fr Knott distinguished from pastoral leaders, and it's a role for which so many priests feel ill-prepared. Certainly in my experience, helping folks with their spirituality is something I'm spending more and more time doing. God is very patient with us all, as we try to become the people he wants us to be. The sessions on this alone, delivered to 45-50 of us will, I'm sure, have an effect on many hundreds, maybe thousands of people over years to come, that made the four days worth it. Then the emphasis during the latter part of the gathering on understanding the presbyterate as a team and making changes for that to happen, will also, we were all sure, bear much fruit for a long time into the future.
Fr Steven Wang continues to offer fascinating little glimpses into our world in his blog (see the panel right for a link). Recently he told readers about a wonderful children's site called "Poisson Rouge" (Red Fish). The main page is a large picture, every single object in which takes you to a game or puzzle. Although it's for kids, it's beautifully put together, and strangely addictive - you have been warned. 
PS Look out for the dive-bombing eagle on the film-screen section!

Sunday, 27 June 2010

Happy birthday - to me!

A bit of fun for Fr M's birthday today... 57, since you asked.  Remember Ottawan from the early 80s?? Here they are not too long ago miming (I think) to their two biggest hits "Hands Up" and "D.I.S.C.O." Ah, yes, days of Abba, Boney M etc etc....  Now I'm off to St Paul's wonderful annual Garden Party.

Friday, 25 June 2010

Me and my brothers (OK my brothers and I)

Hi folks! Well, I'm very glad - very very glad - to report that our priests' Away Four Days were a great success. Where can I start? Venue was wonderful - quiet but not dead, surrounded by beautiful grounds. Weather was glorious.  Speaker, Fr Ronnie Todd (left), was in my opinion brilliant. And, best of all, the company was magnificent. What a joy to be with my brother priests, and I think the phrase that came to most of the men's lips at some point in the gathering was "good will".  
The content of the talks and their implications will take some time for me (and us) to digest, so more of that in later postings. I feel I need to tell you that this spirit (or should that be Spirit?) of good will just flowed right through the whole thing. Within the first twenty four hours there were priests I spoke with more than I have in the past ten or more years. Each talk was followed by a sharing group around each of our tables. I will not quickly forget the one on Thursday afternoon when Ronnie had urged us to share areas where we felt we should change in ourselves to create greater unity in our "presbyterate" - that's jargon for the priests of a diocese. I was close to tears as guys in my group reached inwards and brought out some of the stuff that gets between us, determined to, in the words of Ronnie, "get a grip".
The last session, this morning, we turned to what we should be doing as a group to increase that unity. That's where some things will be visibly different - and, again I'll share more of that later too. Meanwhile - Alleluia! After many many years the priests of Cardiff archdiocese came together. And together, I hope, I pray - I know - we started to get a grip...

Monday, 21 June 2010

Father's off on a course...

Sun is shining - a good day to go off with all the other priests of Cardiff diocese on our "Year of the Priest" renewal course. The title of our four day session is a bit daunting, "The Powerful Spiritual Leadership of a Unified Presbyterate: Preparing Ourselves for Our New Archbishop   21st - 25th June". Bit of a mouthful, eh? Well, it may be made a little easier by the fact that it's taking place at the St Pierre Hotel outside Chepstow, famous for its golf course. Apparently we got a "good deal", so don't get feeling all guilty about these clergy going off at vast expense. My picture shows the old part of the hotel, and the church where we will celebrate Mass each day. 
Actually, this could be something very significant, not only for us, but also, of course, for our diocese as a whole. We will be facilitated, as they say, by an American priest Fr Ronnie Knott, who comes highly recommended for his work with priests.
So say a prayer for us all. There will be a gap in postings now until the weekend. It was suggested that I could Twitter from the sessions, especially if spicy stuff comes up - but I'll spare you that, and in any case I don't know how to tweet! 

Sunday, 20 June 2010

Fr James is leaving...

So we heard this week that after five years with us, Fr James is leaving. Here is my message from this week's newsletter...
News came this week that our Fr James has been asked to move. He will leave on 9th August, returning to India, although he does not yet know the details of his next appointment.
James has been here exactly five years this week, and I’m sure we will all agree that he has been a very special blessing for us all. He had never been outside India before, and back then in 2005, he received less than two weeks’ notice of his transfer here from India. He was thrown in the deep end, as they say, joining what is one of the largest cluster of Catholic congregations in Wales.

Next, he is a religious priest, belonging to an Order, the Carmelites of Mary Immaculate, and looking to his provincial as his superior, whereas I am a diocesan priest, coming directly under our archbishop (when we have one). Then, he – and we all – faced differences not only of culture, but of Church culture too. To top it all, he comes from a different rite of the Catholic Church, the Syro-Malabar Rite. So, the phrase “steep learning curve” comes to mind... for him, for myself, and perhaps for all of us.

James took all of this on board, and centring on the sacramental ministry that lies at the heart of our priesthood, he settled down. He joined, of course, in Cardiff and South Wales, many fellow countrymen from the state of Kerala, and he has developed a ministry to them during his time here, again centred on the Mass, especially the monthly Syro-Malabar celebration at St Joseph’s.

For myself – can I say, a veteran of sharing a presbytery with at least half a dozen assistants of all sorts – James has been one of the easiest to live with. I would like to think that we have moved on from being just colleagues to being friends. I’m not sure that I would have been able to handle the changes that he did in coming here back in 2005. I am sure, however, that our 3 Churches could not have made the journey that we have over these years without him.

Thursday, 17 June 2010


After a long gap, I went back to see if there was anything new around on the internet to help me with my family tree, which I worked on a lot over a period of about five or six years from 2001. Up until now, the furthest I have been able to get back definitely was to the early eighteenth century with the Williams line, the ancestors of my father's mother. They had come to Cardiff from the area north of Bridgend via Pontypridd during the industrialization of the nineteenth century.
Beyond Thomas Williams, who died in 1780, things get a bit hazy. I think he was born in the ancient parish of Llangynwyd (left), and if I have the right Thomas Williams, his father was Morgan and his grandfather Jenkin Williams. That would take me inside the end of the seventeenth century.
Well this week I splashed out on the church records of Llangynwyd, including the gravestone records that were researched in 2003, after I did the original work on that branch. I now have traces of more siblings from Jenkin's relations, and they all bear names that were used later on in my "definites" era, like Morgan, Thomas and William. So it's looking more and more likely that the Jenkin Williams hunch was right. 
The great surprise is that the gravestone of Jenkin and his wife Elizabeth survives, apparently on the inside wall of the tower at Llangynwyd. And it seems he was born in 1650 - over 350 years ago, which takes me back even further into the seventeenth century than I had suspected. In 1650 we are in the thick of the Civil War here, though Cromwell is not yet in charge; Nell Gwynne and the Duke of Marlborough are born, Descartes dies; "Paradise Lost" is yet to be published. Jenkin died in 1728, and this also puts him at the same period as the people involved in the famous Llangynwyd story of "The Maid of Cefn Ydfa", one of Wales' great love stories, and familiar to many from the beautiful song "Bugeilio'r Gwenith Gwyn" (Tending the White Wheat). Ann Maddocks (nee Thomas) and Wil Hopcyn, the ill-fated lovers, are both buried at Llangynwyd (pic shows her grave), and Ann died in 1727, aged just 23, only a year before my Jenkin. They must have known each other, the beautiful but sad young wife and the old farmer... 
Here's Dafydd Hafod singing it unaccompanied.

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Turkey - tragedy and beauty

Not getting much space in the newspapers over the last week or two was the murder of the Bishop of Anatolia in Turkey, Luigi Padovese. Bishop Padovese was chairman of the Bishops Conference of Turkey, and the Church has big problems in that country. He was killed by his driver. Anatolia is actually most of Turkey, a country where there are very few Catholics. They brought his body back to Italy, his native country, and the funeral took place in Milan Cathedral (right). 27 bishops concelebrated, with 350 priests, and a congregation of some 5,000. As with the last few popes, his coffin was laid humbly, directly on the floor.
I visited Turkey back in the 1990s when I did a coach tour of many of the places of interest, starting and ending at Istanbul. We went down the west coast calling at Gallipoli, Troy, Pergamum, Smyrna and Kusadasi. Then we headed inland via Ephesus and others of the "Seven Churches of Asia" and the amazing geological formations of Pamukkale, to Konya. This large city was the Iconium of St Paul's travels, but is better known now as the home and resting place of Rumi or Mevlana, the founder of the Whirling Dervishes. The colour of the tiles on the dome over his grave is one of the lasting memories of that trip (left).
Then further eastwards, to Cappadocia with its amazing rock pillars formed by the elements, and its beautiful churches carved out of the rock. We headed back westwards via the capital Ankara, Gordion, burial place of King Midas, and Bursa, early cradle of the Ottomans (where someone took a memorable photo of me with one of the skirt things on that they give you if you're wearing shorts!) Then it was back to wonderful Istanbul, a trip up the Bosphorus, my favourite Byzantine image at St Saviour in Chora, and an evening at the belly-dancing... but that's for another blog posting!
Please remember Bishop Padovese in your prayers, and the Catholics of Turkey.

Saturday, 12 June 2010

A sort of beginning, a lovely ending

Mgr Bob Reardon was elected Diocesan Administrator yesterday by the Cardiff college of consultors. No real surprise there. I think most priests would feel it's an unenviable position - a sort of caretaker government. As it's now June, and the going rate for speed of appointment of new bishops seems to be about five months, a lot of that will span the quieter summer months. I really wish Bob all the best over this next period. Meanwhile, the Nuncio, who more or less "manages" the selection process, at least in its earlier phases, is sick, and so nobody seems to be sure whether this effects the length of that process. However, the Vatican is well experienced in these things, including sickness, so I'm sure that the Nuncio's number 2 will keep things going.    
Last night we celebrated our annual Mass for the Feast of the Sacred Heart, for people from various parishes where there is Eucharistic Adoration. Once again we welcomed a good number, and just as we marked the beginning of the Year of the Priest last June, so we marked its end this June. During the period of adoration I read out the names of all the priests - diocesan and religious - attached to our diocese. Then I invited the congregation to mention out loud priests who had played a part in their lives. Well, I was very inspired by the number called out, which went on for the whole length of the piece of music I played meanwhile.  It was a great tribute to the good that so many priests have done, and a fitting end to the Year.
PS I couldn't find a single picture of Mgr Reardon on the net, so I got one of the Nuncio instead. Come on, Bob!

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Southwark beckons

So tomorrow Archbishop Peter will be installed as Archbishop of Southwark, at his new cathedral, St George's (right). Like our own St David's it was damaged in the War, but it is a somewhat grander affair altogether, as you can see. Not very difficult, some might say! We priests were all invited, but it seems not many are going... I'm not. I'm no great lover of London, especially a dash up, a long liturgy, a bite to eat and a dash back.
Friday, our consultors (basically the eight deans plus Mgr Bob Reardon the former VG and, I think Canon Peter Collins from the cathedral) will elect one of our priests to be the Administrator, whose job is to keep the diocese ticking over until a new archbishop is appointed, which I personally think will be September-October.
Best money for administrator would be on Bob Reardon, but in a secret ballot you never know... there could be a surprise. Some priests claim not to be interested in these matters, but you can bet that they are. It's only human, as from the viewpoint of the clergy, whether it's an administrator or archbishop, that's our boss you're talking about! 

Monday, 7 June 2010

The Lord and the children, the Doctor and the artist

Beautiful First Holy Communions at St Brigid's this morning. The expected rain didn't turn up, and everything went well. We had 21 children, easily the largest group we've had at St B/St P since I've been here. The church was packed, which was lovely to see, and there was a nice atmosphere. I had a strong awareness of the importance of family life, and of the role of love there in particular. God is love, and so He dwells wherever there is love, and that includes in our families.
The children were excellent, and quite a few tears in parents' eyes when they all came up to sing the Our Father with me, hands joined around the altar. Great to be able to hold kids' hands without all the child protection stuff getting in the way. They all belong to their families, but they belong to God's family too, and somehow coming up close to the altar inside the rails gives a loud message to us all.
Zillions of people then came over to the Hall for refreshments and loads of sweaty little hands on mine helped me to cut the cake. So sweet.
I haven't been watching the new Doctor Who, as I somehow can't get into the new Doctor. However, as I saw some interesting trailers about Vincent van Gogh, I looked up the latest episode on iPlayer while I was having a cup of tea this afternoon, and I ended up watching the whole programme. The Doctor comes across a despairing van Gogh a short while before what we now know was to be his suicide. As is well known, he only ever sold one painting in his life. The Doctor and Amy try to give him confidence, by taking him in the Tardis forward to the present day to an exhibition of his work. I found what could have been rather cheesy quite moving as van Gogh was enabled to realise how he came to be understood and appreciated.  After they deposit him back in his own time, they hope perhaps they have changed history and avoided his death - but it was't to be...
Doctor Who is yet another  programme, like the recent last episodes of "Ashes to Ashes" and "Lost" which have a religious/spiritual slant. Fascinating that such TV is quite at home with themes of redemption and afterlife...

Friday, 4 June 2010

Questions - big and small

Everyone is shocked and mystified by the killings in Cumbria. How could it happen? The Chief Rabbi, Jonathan Sacks, was excellent on this vexed question on the "Today" programme this morning on Radio 4. Catch it here, and go to 1 hour 44 minutes into the programme. He manages to bring in both science and Christian, especially Catholic theology, with its concept of original sin, as a way to understand what happens when someone "snaps".
I'm getting used to Archbishop Peter now being off the map. I had asked him to suspend the current consultation on the future of the Church in Cardiff, but he felt it should continue. Then I learnt this week that one parish priest in Cardiff had presumed it was suspended anyway! More immediately, I'm caught up in trying to arrange a supply priest for the summer - so say a prayer that we're successful...
And the medical bulletin? Well, good news and not so good. Weather has hotted up again, and so, unfortunately has the bit of infection in the old foot - so I'm back on anti-biotics. Ho hum. Good news though is that the damaged area of tissue continues to shrink.
Fr James comes back tomorrow from his holiday, so we're back to normal for Sunday, when I've got First Holy Communions here at St B's. In the bigger picture, with uncertainty about the future of the 3 Churches, no resident bishop, the Nuncio off sick - what's "normal" ? Luckily that's all in the background. As my mum would say - and say that her grandmother would say - "God is good." So, thank Him that summer is a-coming, hopefully, and bringing with it that lightness that puts a smile on everyone's face.

Tuesday, 1 June 2010


Bank Holiday yesterday, sun in the sky - and a day-trip to somewhere I've been meaning to visit for ages, Buckfast Abbey. It looks a long way on the map, South Devon, but with the wonders of motorway driving we got there in exactly two hours. Nice approach through leafy countryside, and joined a large Bank Holiday crowd of visitors, but the site can absorb us all. It was indeed the whole site that I particularly liked, gently sloping down to what is clearly the centre of it all, the Abbey Church. Everyone relaxed, lovely surroundings, and no wonder it's such a popular spot.
We hit the Grange Restaurant first for lunch. Excellent helpings, and I had a tasty lamb hotpot. Restaurant recently refurbished, so nice clean lines and good condition. Next, a spot of religion as we caught Midday Prayer with the monks in the Church. It was sung in English, yet was still timeless. These Benedictines have been gathering for prayer for one and a half thousand years, and they know a thing or two about it.  I take in the architecture of the church, a mixture of Romanesque and Gothic, by Frederick Walters, the same architect who built St Joseph's, Penarth, and St Mary's, Canton. Next, on to the Monastic Shop, selling stuff from abbeys across Europe, the book shop and the gift shop. Well - the monks have to make a living somehow! Then, back to the restaurant for a cup of tea (well, OK, a Cream Tea in fact), before setting off.
We decided to make a detour across Dartmoor, for the beautiful views and a close encounter - but not too close - with the prison. Then onwards to Exeter via winding lanes up hill and down dale. Britain has absolutely stunning landscapes, which change so quickly from area to area. Devon quite beautiful. We pulled into Exeter too late to catch the Cathedral open, so, yes, we had to settle for another cup of tea, with a view of the Cathedral instead. The old foot was now giving me a bit of hassle, so glad to get into car for journey home.
Buckfast? Very good - better than I expected. Fr M approves. Special spot? The Blessed Sacrament Chapel in the Church. I'd heard of the amazing stained glass windows, but nothing prepared me for the feeling of being immersed in a sea of colour, that although composed of bright shades, managed to be completely calming. Picture shows the main east window, but north and south are similar. Stunning.