Monday, 30 August 2010

Ravishing Radnorshire

Something must be wrong - the weather's been great on a Bank Holiday! Definitely time for a day-trip, and the Welsh countryside beckoned. So we took the A470 and zipped up to Brecon in no time. Then we slowed down and took the hill road over to Builth Wells via Upper Chapel, a favourite road with many people, I know. Then time for a coffee stop, and lo and behold "Cosy Corner Tea Rooms" appeared across the road from where we parked. Very nice, too.
Now it was time to venture into uncharted territory for me. We headed east then south, making for a tiny church called Rhulen or Rhiwlen. I found a reference to this in Simon Jenkins' guide to churches, houses and castles in Wales. He didn't let us down, as one lane led to another, and eventually we found ourselves in an idyllic hidden corner of silence in deepest Radnorshire. The church is medieval - humble  and whitewashed in and out. Churches don't come any simpler than this. Vases of flowers stood in the sunlight on the window-sills, and a deep quietness enveloped us. Outside a cow was mooing somewhere, and hundreds of sheep were on the hillsides, doing what sheep do. And the combination of whitewashed walls, bright blue summer sky and astonishingly green grass was stunning. My photo captures some of it I hope.
Simon Jenkins describes the road over the hill from Rhulen to Painscastle as "one of the loveliest in Wales", and again he was 100% right. We parked to look back on the hidden village and its church from high up on the sheep pastures, then a few moments later we had to stop again to take in a jaw-dropping view southwards. It took in the whole stunning panorama from Black Mountains in the east, through the Beacons in the centre, to Mynydd Epynt and beyond to Black Mountain in the west. Definitely into my Top Ten Views.
We were now in need of sustenance, and the Roast Ox at Painscastle soon appeared in our sights. A very pleasant Ploughman's with an enormous hunk of tasty Cheddar was washed down with a pint of Thatchers draught dry cider. Fr M approves. In fact Fr M approves of the whole day - cafe, church, views, pub, good company - what more would you want on a sunny Bank Holiday in Wales?...

Thursday, 26 August 2010

Of Pavia, Chartreuse, the Sunday Telegraph and Radio 2

Just looking back over a few postings, and I never got round to putting up any pics from the beautiful Certosa, or Charterhouse, of Pavia, south of Milan. This stunning building was erected by the two big ruling families of Milan, the Viscontis and the Sforzas, for monks of the Carthusian order (and also as a family burial spot!). High point is the dazzling main facade of the church, but there are loads of other beautiful features.
My second pic shows the Great Cloister. You'll notice lots of little houses behind the cloisters. The Carthusians are perhaps the strictest order in the Church. They are so-called "hermits in community", living in those little places, and only coming together for Mass, for one meal a week (vegetarian I think)and an hour or two of recreation together. The rest of the time they are alone. They were founded by St Bruno at La Grande Chartreuse in France, hence their name. Charterhouse is a corruption of the French. They were very popular in Britain - Henry VIII's hatchet men went for them first. They have one house now in England, at Parkminster in Sussex. See their excellent website here (complete with chant).
They also hit the film headlines a few years ago when an amazing film was made about their life at La Grande Chartreuse called "Into Great Silence". Visit the film's own website to find out more here. If you want to borrow the film - ask me!
While I'm giving plugs... here are two more. I've just come back from a lovely family get-together at my sister's, where I discovered that one of my brainy nephews has compiled a puzzle supplement in this coming issue of the "Sunday Telegraph". Look out for Dr Gareth Moore.  Another plug... I've been asked to do a 2 minute "God slot" called "Pause for Thought" on Radio 2 during the Pope's visit - at 1.30am (!) repeated at 3.30am (!) on Friday 17th September. Thank the Lord, it's a recorded broadcast unlike my Radio Wales ones, and I'm going in to Llandaff to do it next Tuesday. 

Monday, 23 August 2010

Of Hungary, Kerala and Florida

I'd like you to meet Fr Zoltan Lendavi, a fellow Catholic priest. Fr Zoltan is from Hungary, and, as you will see, has brought some of the skills he learned as a teenager into his ministry.
I was wondering what some of his moves reminded me of, and then I realised it was the twists and turns we make in life to wriggle out of things...
Meanwhile more twists and turns in personnel here at the 3 Churches. Fr Dennis remains with us for a few weeks, and our new resident priest Fr Tomy Augustine arrives from Kerala on 2nd September. Over in India our dear friend Fr James has discovered that his next appointment is to Florida USA! As we say round 'ere "Poor dab!" I'm wondering whether there are any shrines the September Pilgrims could visit in that area of the world...
Back to Hungary - enjoy Fr Zoltan!

p.s  Apologies to anyone offended by the original soundtrack when I posted this - I didn't listen to the words!  This version has the original voices - in Hungarian...

Saturday, 21 August 2010

Only too real

August - that strange month of holidays and what is supposed to be summer. Parish life quietens down a bit, and each year I tend to use it to catch up on things I've been meaning to do for, er, a long time. Very often that includes my canon law work. My learned colleague,  the Administrator of the National Tribunal ( I used his first name in this blog a while ago and got told off!) feeds me a steady supply of juicy morsels for my attention. Chief among them are cases ready for judgement. 
When someone asks us to investigate the validity of their marriage in canon law, we have a procedure which begins and makes its way until we end up with a file that may be between, say 40 and 120 pages. This contains the original statement and evidence of the applicant, of the other party (if they have taken part), witnesses, the Defender of the Bond (whose job is to say why they shouldn't have an annulment), and any other bits and pieces deemed necessary for that particular case.
The application will be on one or more ground, and the judge or judges has to make the decision based on what is in the file, and has to address each ground. If we say "yes" it is checked over by our appeal tribunal in Birmingham; if we say "no" the applicant can appeal it to them. 
As you can imagine, this is the hardest part of my canon law work - you are making a decision that affects the very centre of people's lives. The one I wrote this week was a difficult one, and I remembered one of the lecturers saying in class in Ottawa, "If any of you are going to be the sort of person that loses sleep over these, then best to get out now." Well, I don't think that I lost sleep over this week's case, but I really meant the prayer with which we begin each sentence (decision) "In the name of the Blessed Trinity. Amen." Bring the Lord into absolutely everything, I say - even Canon Law!
Picture shows Fr Frank Morrisey OMI, boss canonist at Ottawa in my day...

Monday, 16 August 2010

Flash fun

Time for a bit of summer fun..
And if you're not familiar with "flash mobs" then hold on. A large number of people have maybe one practice then perform a dance, a chorus or something in a very public place without warning. I love the way ordinary life is going on, and suddenly something completely unexpected interrupts. Then at the end, ordinary life takes over again, and the performers melt back into the crowd.
If your tastes are of a more classical kind, try the Philadelphia opera singing the great "Brindisi" from "Traviata" here

Here's my personal favourite "Doh, a Deer" for 200 dancers at Antwerp station here...

Not quite the same, but several thousand dancing to Black Eyed Peas at Chicago, organized by the Oprah Winfrey show

For more.... put "flash mob" into the YouTube search box.

Friday, 13 August 2010

Popes and Poles

I've just been reading this week's "Tablet" and its report on how tickets for the big events during the Pope's visit next month are going. It seems that in the home dioceses of Westminster and Birmingham where they are being held, demand for tickets is high, but elsewhere not so good... Cardiff archdiocese is mentioned, with an uptake of about one third for its allocation of tickets. Talking to priests, demand in our 3 Churches appears higher than in some other places - we have 29 going to Hyde Park and 12 to Birmingham.
So what's going on with the apparently small numbers? Well there's all sorts of speculation, but I think a lot of it is fairly simple, and not to do with shrinking congregation numbers or the relative charisma of Popes Benedict and John Paul. In 1982, with a much longer visit, nobody was too far from an event, including the Mass and Youth Event here in Cardiff. A few hours to get to London or Brum and a few hours back makes quite a difference, I think. There is a kind of invisible threshold beyond which people perceive a trip as "too much", a kind of glass barrier. We always consider this when planning our September Pilgrimages. On the whole, young people have a more distant glass barrier, but the not-so-young...
Closer to home, Fr Dennis has settled in nicely and his quiet manner is endearing him to the folks. James phoned on Wednesday. He arrived back in Kerala, safe and sound, but the docs there are a little concerned about the cough that was plaguing him, particularly in the last days here. No firm news yet about the arrival of Fr Tomy from Kerala.
As for myself, mention of our September Pilgrimages earlier, reminds me that we are off to Krakow in Poland in just a few weeks (main square right). I better get down to some preparation. After all, we're celebrating Mass at the Divine Mercy Shrine on the first full day, and later in a chapel in a salt mine and other varying churches.  We are visiting Pope John Paul's birthplace and Auschwitz among many other places. The Lord may have plenty to say to us...

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

A three car send-off

Tuesday - and it seems ages since Fr James left, but it was only yesterday.  In fact it was at 4.30 - in the morning! Always the last minute operator, James was still fussing around doing last minute stuff, so there was no chance of me getting to bed and then getting up to see him off. So I shut myself in my living room and watched a bit of telly off and on until he was due to leave. From 3am various Keralites began to arrive. They were taking him off to Heathrow in a convoy of three cars! Apparently in Kerala when you move from one parish to another, the number of cars that accompany your arrival is a sign of your popularity! So eventually, James' car pulled out of the car park here at St Brigid's, and he was gone.
But three hours  later I was up again to greet a new day - and a new priest, because Fr Dennis, our summer "relief" was arriving later that same morning. He's settled in very well, and we've already had some great chats.
Someone has combined several people's photos of James' Farewell Mass into a slideshow on a DVD, and I just played it for the first time. It brought back vividly that wonderful celebration last Thursday, that moved so many people. The end of five years - strange to think that it's quite likely I'll never meet James again - but, there again, who knows? I think we are moving into very interesting times, when anything could happen.
Meanwhile - here's another of my holiday snaps, this time the view from my hotel room. It's right in central Milan, but as so often in Italy behind the city facades are beautiful courtyards and small gardens. Unlike the clergy at our 3 Churches, most of the view from my room probably hadn't changed in 200 years...

Friday, 6 August 2010

A loving farewell

What a wonderful evening we all had yesterday at St Brigid's. Hundreds gathered to bid farewell to Fr James in the best way that we Catholics can - around the altar, and then socially in St Brigid's Hall afterwards. Everything went beautifully, and it was a real coming together of our 3 Churches - how easily the people mix together nowadays. A little group of us planned the liturgy in our normal 3 Churches way, and the Music Group played at their very best under the leadership of Clare Jackson. We even had a piece, an "Alleluia", written specially for the occasion by Dennis Mahoney.
Fr James presided and I preached then he spoke at the end of Mass, with a standing ovation at the end! Like so many, James is at his best when he speaks from the heart, and yesterday was no exception. We were joined by Fr Joseph, a friend of James who was visiting from Bangalore.
Then we all piled into the Hall where everyone had brought something for a Bring 'n' share buffet. We only just all fitted in - and that was at a time when so many are away, especially familes. The people had made a collection for James, and presented him with a very generous cheque. And he deserves it. So now James is chasing his tail getting ready to leave us on Monday.
For myself I am sad. Five years is the longest period I've had an assistant priest with me. I suppose we make an unlikely pair, but it's been a real joy and I will miss him. Pray for him as he goes home and looks forward to hearing where the Lord is sending him next. And pray for our 3 Churches as we too journey on (see the front page of this weekend's newsletter!). 
And so it will all start over again in September, when Fr Tomy, hopefully, comes to join us.

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

The work of His hands, and ours

One of the reasons I chose Milan for my holiday this year is its nearness to the Italian lakes. So while I was there I took an organized day trip up to Lake Como. What a beautiful spot! The coach took us to the town of Como where we embarked on one of the ferry boats that criss-crosses it way up the long narrow lake. All along the shores, especially on the west side, is a procession of beautiful villas, many of them owned by celebs. Some of the visitors got, er, quite excited as we approached the village of Laglio, where a certain Mr Clooney has his little place.
Our lunch stop was the famous village of Bellagio, where I took the pic. Sometimes described as the most beautiful village in Italy, it was magic, with the warm summer sun, blue sky, shimmering lake, lovely pasta... ah, yes...
It's great to be able to get away, and be reminded by places like Como of the incredible natural beauty in our world, and then back in Milan to see works of art like Leonardo's "Last Supper", and be reminded of the incredible beauty of which the human race too is capable.