Monday, 31 October 2011

Episcopal shoes, no shoes and new shoes

Our new Archbishop, George Stack, is getting his episcopal feet under the table as it were. (picture shows, apparently, John Paul II's shoes...). We clergy had been invited to suggest nominations for the deans in our eight deaneries, and the new men were announced last week. Four are reappointees and four are new, like the scriptural "things old and new". Next, Archbishop George reconvened the Council of Priests on Friday, and asked me to chair it. Following clergy recommendation, he has opened membership to all priests, and so most of us were there on Friday. He shared with us his thoughts on a large number of issues ranging across life in our diocese. We got through the agenda in about two and a quarter hours, not bad going I thought, and our next meeting will be in February.
Meanwhile, another update on past postings here. A fortnight ago I posted about very distant relations of mine who lived in Halket Street, Canton, here in Cardiff, later renamed Avon Street. Halket Street seems to have been a tough place to live, and someone in Mass this morning recalls that its second incarnation as Avon Street was little better, as she was forbidden to walk there as a child! Another lady could remember one part of that related family who lived in Ely - and they did go to Mass, so that's something.
Tomorrow evening Fr T and I are attending the Baptism, Confirmation and First Eucharist of Ruby, a young Chinese lady, at the University Chaplaincy. Ruby has been lodging with a family in our parish and we have got to know here recently. She is very charming , and it should be a lovely occasion...

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Behind the scenes in vocations

During a spare gap today I caught up with a few other people's blogs, and found a couple of interesting videos on vocations.
First - what's it like inside a seminary? The BBC took photographs inside Allen Hall, the diocesan seminary of Westminster, situated off the Kings Road in Chelsea. Allen Hall has experienced a very encouraging increase of seminarians each year for the last five years. Rector Mgr Mark O'Toole and two seminarians talk over the slides. Come on Wales - catch up! 
You'll find the video here; (acknowledgements to Fr Stephen Wang, who teaches at Allen Hall). The picture below shows Adoration in the seminary chapel
My second video is, er, different. It is of the profession of two enclosed Dominican nuns in the convent of St Catherine of Siena in Cusco, Peru. If you can take the soundtrack (if not, turn it down) this is a fascinating little insight into an age old and solemn ceremony, with a profuse - very profuse - use of flowers. The convent was founded in 1610 on the site of a kind of Inca religious house for women. The chapel itself looks beautiful and Baroque. In this one, click on the image below. (Acknowledgements to the Dominican novices of the English province at Godzdogz)

Monday, 24 October 2011

A hymn for Fr Bob

A few weeks ago (7th October) I posted about the death of a priest friend whom I have admired tremendously since I worked with him in the 80s, Fr Bob Bedard of Ottawa in Canada. I was delighted to find that the religious congregation that he founded, the Companions of the Cross, have put a video of the whole of his Requiem on the internet. The principal celebrant was Archbishop Prendergast of Ottawa and there were hundreds of priests. Particularly indicative of Fr Bob's influence was the presence also of the Papal Nuncio to Canada. 
If I'm not mistaken, the leader of the music ministry playing and singing up in the gallery is Marcel, who was a young newly-married when I was there. I must confess to a lump in my throat when they went into the final hymn as Bob's coffin was led out of the Cathedral. "The Victory" by Bob Filorama was one of my favourite hymns that I heard over in Canada. It's a simple but moving melody with strong words, full of a Pauline hope. Dare I say it is also in some way a man's hymn - and not just because it speaks of a man's arrival at heaven. On the Requiem video it does not come out too clearly, but I found it also as the soundtrack to a lovely short video tribute to Blessed Pope John Paul II.
Catch the Requiem here and the John Paul video here

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

A Tintern autumn

Just got in from our fortnightly Fraternity of Priests meeting which was held at Chepstow this time with Fr Barry English (a very, very distant relation of mine) hosting. As we left, I asked Fr T if he fancied a diversion to see Tintern Abbey, so off we went up the Wye Valley.
It was about 3.30 when we got there on this, a coldish crisp October afternoon. There were very few visitors as I whisked us past the pay-desk with my lifetime Cadw card (ahem). The abbey was all the more beautiful for the autumnal colours and light, and the stillness. As we wandered over to the remains of the infirmary there was, in fact, nobody else in sight.
What a blessing to have such a place within easy reach of Cardiff. As I explained to Fr T that, no, the ruins were the result not of a fire but of the even more fiery Dissolution of the Monasteries, the pity of it all rose up once more in my mind. The loss of the religious houses was a great scar on our history, and although the wound is certainly softened by the beauty of sites like Tintern, somewhere. deep down, a Catholic heart must mourn.

Monday, 17 October 2011

Life in Halket Street

While I was waiting for an appointment to turn up this morning, I was doodling around an obscure corner of my family tree when I came across a new connection. My great-uncle Patrick O'Brian had a sister-in-law, Margaret, with an, er, interesting history. In 1888 she was had up for selling beer illegally, and two years later charged again with selling beer illegally - this time on a Sunday! Finally a few years later she was "done" for not sending her children to school...
Fascinated by these lively details i looked for where she was living, which turned out to be Halket Street in Canton. You won't find it on a modern map, as it was later renamed Avon Street, which has in turn been reincarnated as the car-park behind the north side of Cowbridge Road East between Wyndham Crescent and Severn Road. Poor old Halket Street has well and truly been wiped off the map.
Along with parts of adjoining Wyndham Crescent, where Margaret and her sister's family had a grocer's, it was completely settled by Irish immigrants in the mid-nineteenth century, a kind of Canton Newtown.  But I still wondered why Halket Street had been so thoroughly suppressed - until I found a photo from the Cardiff Library archives on the internet.
This was taken in 1892, exactly when Margaret was selling her beer and maybe trying her best with her children. Take a look at the pitiful little boy and girl on the left. Now I think I can begin to understand what life was like for that distant part of my family, and thousands like them...
p.s. (The next day) I see that a small street in the new development on the site of Lansdowne Hospital is called "Clos Halket" - a delayed resurrection?  Meanwhile, things it seems got worse for Margaret, as by the 1911 census she is in Merthyr Tydfil Workhouse. However by the time she died in 1944 she was back living more comfortably in Cardiff

Friday, 14 October 2011

Rose-gardens and stethoscopes

I've written this piece for this week's parish newsletter ( When Fr Tomy and I were driving Archbishop George around our 3 Churches area on his recent visit, from Cefn Onn to Colchester Avenue, he was of course delighted to see Roath Park, which was looking at its best that afternoon. Unfortunately, as we were only driving past, he did not have a chance to see one of the park’s highlights – the Rose Garden. Of course the roses have their season, but I was able to tell him about this beautiful feature, even though it was hidden from view.
There is another Rose Garden that seems to be hidden from many of us. We have heard about it, we know it’s there, we hear good things about it. But perhaps we don’t visit it ourselves. The word “Rosary” means “rose-garden” or “rose-garland”. Perhaps for many of us it’s an unknown feature of the landscape of our faith. We know about it, perhaps remember it from our childhood, but... but...
October is the month to pay a visit to Our Lady’s rose-garden, especially if you haven’t been there for a while. Take your time and relax. Don’t expect sudden or exciting things to happen – the attraction of a rose-garden is cumulative. Don’t worry about all the prayers or about distractions. Just join Our Blessed Mother as she takes you around, showing you the joys and sorrows, the lights and glories of her Garden – let her be your guide. Ask her to help you with the prayer. Pray a decade for somebody, such as the Annunciation for a sick person who needs good news to be announced to them. Ask the Divine Gardener to draw you into his garden, as He shows you the beauty of salvation.
As the TV advert used to say “Roses grow on you” – and so does the Rosary. 
Meanwhile another video - you may have seen it already as Tomy had - very well made, and don't forget to watch until the end...

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

A moonlit night in October 1962

When Fr M was a little lad in St Peter's Junior School here in Cardiff, we used to pray every day for something called the Second Vatican Council. We didn't know what it was, but we used to ask God to renew the Church "as by a new Pentecost" - because Pope John XXIII had asked us to.
Yesterday was the 49th anniversary of the opening of the first session of the Council (big year in 2012!) and 10th October was nominated by John Paul II as the feast of the now Blessed John XXIII. I'm grateful for blogger Rocco Palmo's drawing my attention to a totally impromptu little address that Pope John gave from his balcony on that night to a huge crowd with thousands of young people carrying lighted torches - flaming torches that is. I don't remember ever reading or hearing it before, although apparently it has become famous, especially in Italy, as "Il Discorso della Luna" - "The Moonlight Speech."
So here it is with a translation of some parts. It's not of the best, but you'll get the idea. It's hard to imagine the impact of a pope speaking this way almost fifty years ago. What a pope, what a saint...

"Dear children, I hear your voices. My voice is just one voice, but it represents the entire world. Please look at the moon in the sky! It rose earlier tonight to be with us
so that it might watch from above this spectacle that not even St Peter's Basilica, in its four centuries of history, has ever been seen before. This is a natural wonder...
With this speech you and I are going to conclude this day of peace - yes, a day of peace : "Glory to God and on earth peace to men of good will"...
I am not important. I am just your brother who has become a father, through the will of God...
And so, let us continue to love each other, to look out for each other along the way: to welcome whoever comes by, and set aside whatever difficulty might come along.
When you get home, find your children. Hug and kiss them, stroke their cheek and tell them:"This is the Pope's caress". Maybe at times you have to dry their tears. Please help and support them, tell them: "The Pope is with us, especially in times of sadness and bitterness."
And then, together, may we all become fully alive - to sing, to breathe, to cry - but always full of trust in Christ, who helps us and hears us. Let us then continue along our path."

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Ah, Senanque...

It seems an age ago that we visited the Cistercian Abbey of Senanque on our September Pilgrimage, but it is only just over a month. For many of our pilgrims this was their favourite location for Mass this year. The Abbey Church is open to visitors during the day outside the times of services, so we were invited to celebrate Mass in the private oratory of the 10 monks who live there, which is actually the former refectory of this beautiful twelfth century monastery.
What is it that makes places like Senanque so powerful in their presence? The Romanesque architecture, the Provencal sun, the changing colours of the stone, the surrounding hills and lavender fields. Or is it something much more intangible, something that has soaked into those stones and inspired that architecture... And might we call that vital ingredient holiness?
We were only there a few hours, but those hours will stay with me. Luckily I have  a tangible reminder, as the gift I received from the pilgrims this year - a figure of the crucified Christ - was bought there. Here for your pleasure is one of many videos on Youtube showing Senanque - so turn on your speakers, relax, enjoy. Fr M approves mightily.

Friday, 7 October 2011

Fr Bob Bedard R.I.P.

I write today's posting with a tear in my eye. I just received an email telling me that one of the best priests I have had the privilege to know died last night - Fr Bob Bedard, former parish priest of St Mary's Ottawa in Canada, and founder of the Companions of the Cross.
Although I only knew him closely for the two years I was studying in Ottawa, when I helped at St Mary's every weekend, his influence on me was enormous. He was Ottawa born and ordained for the diocese there. He taught in a local Catholic high school, becoming its principal, but then spent five years or so as a full-time evangelist, giving talks and retreats across Canada and beyond. When I met him he was two years into an appointment as parish priest in what had been a rather run-down city parish, St Mary's on Bayswater Avenue (very smart website here, where you can also hear some of Fr Bob's homilies). The attendance had rocketed, especially among the 20s and 30s, and the main Mass now attracted about 700 people.
When I was in Ottawa there were the very beginnings of a new community gathering around him, and through the 1990s this evolved into what is now a priests' Society of Apostolic Life (a type of order) called the Companions of the Cross. You can visit their website here where you will also find information about Fr Bob. Take a look at the young age of most of the 39 priest members! If you are on Facebook visit a group that has been praying for him called "Praying for Fr Bob Bedard" where you get a sense of the affection there has been for him.
I have stayed in touch with parishioners in Ottawa, and more loosely with Bob himself. He was a truly holy and inspirational pastor and human being and I am proud to put myself among the thousands he must have inspired. I am particularly proud to be able to say that I played a small part in the beginnings of the Companions when I was priest-in-residence at their first house of formation. Those who hear me speak and sometimes say nice things about what they hear - well, often you are really hearing Fr Bob Bedard...
His Requiem Mass will be celebrated next Wednesday at the Cathedral Basilica of Notre Dame in Ottawa.
Eternal rest grant to him, Lord.

Monday, 3 October 2011

Be graciously patient, Lord

September 29th was the feast of the Archangels Michael, Gabriel and Raphael, so in Mass I used the Preface of the Holy Angels. Reading through it, I struck a roadblock. The preface uses the word "redounds", and while it stirred something way back in my memory, possibly back to literary studies in university, I had to admit I didn't know what it meant. The internet Oxford dictionary says "(formal) contributes greatly to (a person's credit or honour)". Fine, I have no problem with the accuracy and appropriateness of the word in its reference to God, but I'm just wondering about its use in the liturgy.
I have mixed feelings about the new translation. I'm getting used to the longer sentences, especially in the Eucharistic Prayers, and the greater expression that is therefore needed in praying them out loud. There are many fine turns of phrase - I love "from the rising of the sun to its setting" and "the supper of the Lamb", for example. But praying that the deceased be experiencing "the light of your face" sounds clumsy to me, "coheirs" is not a natural phrase. I have yet myself to experience the supposed benefits of "And with your spirit" or "consubstantial". And yes I know it's not all about feelings, and I know the arguments for these changes, but language is a living dynamic reality which needs a little more than justifying arguments for it to "work".
And now that I'm getting more familiar with the translation, I agree with one commentator I read, who observed that the word "graciously" occurs a lot... So I'll just say that I'm asking the Lord to graciously hear our prayers and graciously bear with us while we try our best - graciously, of course.