Friday, 21 December 2012

Pics n vids

Just flicking through Facebook and had a laugh at this.
Looked further and I found 2 Youtubes of our 3 Churches Carol Service on Wednesday. Done on a phone or camera, the quality is as expected, but I hope you can get a sense of the evening at St Paul's regarding the involvement of young people. This is one of our pastoral priorities at the moment, and more about it later. I will also post the meditation I wrote for the Service.
With thanks to Sara and Bernardine

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Little scenes

I popped in town this morning to do my (minimal) Christmas shopping. My brother and sister's Christmas just would not be the same without their Thorntons box. Well, so they tell me! Did a few other bits n pieces, including the CTS next to our Cathedral.Coffee time, and Debenhams seemed the closest, so I ascended to the 2nd floor. Cafe had had a facelift, and I joined the queue of busy busy shoppers. I was very very impressed by the lady who was doing the lattes, capuccinos etc etc at superfast speed and with consummate efficiency, taking the next order as she was completing the previous one. So when she handed me my mug I said "Thank you - you're doing very well!" Her face lit up as she broke into a lovely smile at an unexpected little compliment. It made my day, and maybe hers too! 
When I sat down, i was joined at the next table by a young mum, and her little boy in a buggy. Te little lad semed anxious to have a nap, but mum's schedule said it was tiem to feed him. So each time his little eyes drooped, he sensed a spoon at his lips and his mouth automatically opened. Eventually he lapsed into a blissful doze, mum finished her coffee and off they went, both contented.
Just a couple of human moments from the cafe at Debenhams - and reminders that Christmas is about God joining us, not just in our big dramas, but also in our little scenes too. How many lives did he light up with a smile or a word? And what an amazing thought that people must have watched another baby being fed by his mother - little realising that here was God being nourished by his own creation.
Many thanks to Marie for sending me this link to a brilliant adaptation of Queen's famous song :"Bethlehemian Rhapsody"   Fr M fully approves. (pics are from the video)

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Advent in 2 minutes

Last year folks seemed to like the very good little video "Advent in 2 Minutes", so to see it click here.

Sunday, 9 December 2012


I've been taking a bit of a break from the old blog. Lot of work on at the moment, run-up to Christmas etc. Anyway a few folks said nice things about my homilies these 2 Sundays of Advent, so I thought I'd try to put something about them on here.
Advent is a particularly Christian concept - the God-who-comes. At Christmas we are celebrating, looking back to the First Coming of Jesus, his first Advent. But the liturgy of the First Sunday of Advent also points us to His second coming - at the end of time, that mysterious point to which we are all headed. So we are caught between the "already" and the "not yet", suspended as it were on the tightrope of the present.
As we journey from the one to the other, God's graciousness enables us to experience many "mini-Advents" - to keep us going, as it were.  When the Word of God takes flesh in our hearts and lives - that is Advent. When we commune with the Lord in our quiet moments - if we can find them in this busy season - his coming to us is a mini-Advent. Of course, in the Eucharist we are particularly close to the One-who-comes. At the altar steps we reach out for the one Jesus, our Holy Communion is a sublime personal Adventing of the Lord to us.
But we can also experience Jesus coming to us through other people. That unexpected smile or good deed, that unsolicited phone call from a friend or love done. That apparently random caring gesture from a  complete stranger - these are surely often telling us of the presence of Jesus in and through other people.
This brings us to a question, or maybe a challenge for Advent. If others can bring Advent to me... to whom can I bring Advent this year? Advent, like Christmas, is really about giving as well as receiving. So, into whose life do I have the possibility of bringing the presence of Jesus? For whom can I be Advent?

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Decorating pt 2

So the decorating of St B's has reached its last week. I think that the plan to have four shades of green has produced something very special and interesting. The last and deepest of the four shades was put on today, to the main wall behind the altar.  Earlier in the week, after years of thought and uncertainty, I decided to remove the altar rails - and I think that it's going to be a great success. It has created a great feeling of space, and we intend to have a new lectern made to take up a position further forward in the sanctuary than the present one has been.
There has been some fall-out. Some are not keen on the colours, others object to the removal of the rails. It has not been an easy decision for me, and I decided not to do a whole parish taking of opinion. I would like to think that I am hardly the most authoritarian of parish priests, and so when some have accused me of steam rollering, it hurts a bit. However, when people see how much prominence the altar now gets at the top of its sweep of steps, and thrown into relief by the wall behind it, I hope they will be won over.

Meanwhile I gave the first of my projected monthly talks for the Year of Faith entitled "Meeting the Master".  I think it went well...

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Decorating St Brigid's

Several years ago, St Brigid's and St Paul's Parish submitted a plan for the upkeep and development of its buildings.  St Paul's Church had already been decorated in 2005, and following the acceptance by the Finance Committee and Trustees of the Archdiocese of the plan, work commenced. In the Presbytery the central heating system and the utility room were replaced, and the the interior of the house decorated. Next the exterior of both the Church and the Presbytery was tackled. That left the interior of the Church - and at last we have received permission to go ahead with that. In fact we are now two weeks into the job.
From the parish point of view, general support for the job was given by the Parish Council, while members of the Finance and Maintenance Group have been involved in a more hands-on way. First we had to put out to tender, then receive agreement from the diocese to spend the money.
Then comes the exciting - and potentially challenging - part, choosing colours and what other adjustments to make in the light of the condition of furnishings and developments in liturgy since the church was built almost 50 years ago. We decided to consult two architects living in the parish....    

Monday, 5 November 2012

A quiet night in Llandough

Several people commented on this piece that I wrote for our newsletter, so I thought I'd post it here too.
It’s exactly twenty years since my father died. He’d had an infection in his heart valve earlier in the year, but struggled on in his weakened state to celebrate with my mum their Golden Wedding in October. Then, quietly in his sleep one night in Llandough Hospital, he let go.
We’d been in to see him the previous afternoon. I remember turning to wave at him from the ward door, Somehow it felt what it turned out to be - the last goodbye. And so my family entered that dream-world that envelopes you when you are bereaved, especially in that gap, surely too long in Britain, between a death and the funeral.
Dad had become Catholic after 32 years of marriage back in the 70s, and so they enjoyed sharing religion as they shared everything else for his last 20 years. I came over to St Paul’s to celebrate his Requiem, as I did nine years later for Mum. Some priests ask the parish priest to carry out this role, but I felt that, well a priest is what I am, and it’s as priest and son that I can do this for him. Somehow the order of the Requiem Mass handles all we want to say, and as a priest it carried me along on that difficult day in 1992.
Nowadays, some people who remember my dad tell me that I am becoming more and more like him. I take that as a great compliment. Our loved ones live on in different ways, not least in us, whether as a family member or friend, or just somebody we met.
This month, I ask God to hold my parents in the palm of his hands, and enfold them in his love. I’m sure you will be doing something similar. As the second reading on All Saints reminded us: “what we are to be in the future is unknown; all we know is, that we shall be like Him and we shall see Him as he really is”.
November – month of the Holy Souls.
Eternal rest grant to them, Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them. May they rest in peace.

Friday, 26 October 2012

Scorpion alert

It's interesting to watch another large and respected organization - the BBC - struggle to come to terms with child abuse in its midst.  So much of what has emerged in recent weeks has echoes of the Catholic Church handling these matters - or not handling them...
 When I was faced with many of the issues back in 1997 and the following years, I came to realise how powerful denial is, for individuals, but even more for systems and organizations. To admit that you've been "had" is a mountain for directors, editors, governors, priests, bishops, and indeed most of us, a mountain that some seem unable to climb or get over. The revealing of shocking facts about your own Corporation - or Church - I felt was like coming to realise that the scorpion was crawling out from under your own stone. However, it must come out, the boils must be lanced, or as Jesus said "The truth will set you free" (John 8:32).
Things seem to have gone quieter nowadays in Britain on the question of abuse and the handling of it by the Church. It erupted of course in Ireland, and has had an enormous effect on the Church there by all accounts.
How strange that the BBC is now facing all this in its own backyard. Back in 1998 I sometimes upset people by thanking the media for bringing it all out - otherwise it could have gone on. I came to the conclusion that the Lord will have a humble Church. If we do not do it ourselves, he will allow others to do it. 

Friday, 19 October 2012

The seeker sought

So we've started the Year of Faith. I attended the talk in our Cathedral on the special day, 11th October, anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council, given by Fr Stephen Wang. I'm a fan of his blog, "Bridges and Tangents", and he didn't disappoint. Very clear, he developed themes from Pope Benedict's letter for the Year. It's the image of Christ crashing through the roof of the chapel at Allen Hall seminary, where he teaches, that stays in my mind. You can find the text of that part of his talk in his current posting for 19th October.
In our deanery we are compiling a list of events for the Year of Faith. Colleague Fr Garteh Leyshon at St John Lloyd's parish is giving a series of ten talks entitled "Catholic Roots : Why we believe what we believe". There will be one each month through to July. By some strange coincidence, just as the Year begins, our deanery has floundered in its efforts to plan for the future in the city parishes. The project "Facing the Future" has been going for several years, but seems to have reached something of an impasse.

Against this background I have been wondering how I can make some contribution to the Year of Faith. I have been homing in on a project that bears a distinct resemblance to that of Fr Gareth - but a different topic. I would like to lead a series of monthly reflections on Gospel passages. How can my faith make that journey from the head to the heart? Each talk will describe an encounter between Jesus and an individual, and the plan is to call it "Meeting the Master." I hope to start in November and run through as far as I can right until the end of the Year next autumn.
My idea is to try and join together our faith and our life by watching how Jesus did it in the lives of those he met. Meeting Jesus made a difference - it did then and it does now.  So, how and where might we meet him?  And what might happen if I do meet him?...  We would hold it in church, give a talk about the passage, a brief time maybe for sharing, then a time of prayer to absorb and reflect. Perhaps we could finish with a cup of tea in the hall.
Meanwhile, I picked up this short film on another good blog, "Da Mihi Animas" called "The Pursuit". It's based on the beautiful 19th century poem "The Hound of Heaven" by Francis Thompson, a favourite of my mother. The film seems to have been sponsored by the diocese of Wheeling-Charleston in West Virginia - very enterprising. Watch out for the dark figure on the stairs at the beginning...

You can get the text here, and hear Richard Burton reading it in the video below. To get both together you could open a second window.

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Pray for these...

A very distressing phone call yesterday... A young man claimed that his girlfriend was being forced to have an abortion - by her family and her church!  Quietly spoken, he told me that they had had to move away from their hometown, and were living in one room, found by Shelter. If they did not go ahead with the abortion, they would be cut off from the church and the family.
So, what kind of family is that.... and what kind of church? Well, I don't know about the family, but the church turned out to be the Scientologists. He claimed that the church itself was paying for the abortion, and that it was scheduled for today. They had spoken to LIFE, who had offered accommodation, clothing etc for mother and baby etc, and SPUC too, but he and his girlfriend could not face banishment, and so the help offered by the charities - and anything I could do - was in their eyes "too late".
Ironically, he claimed that if she were 24 weeks pregnant instead of 19, then the Council would have to offer them accommodation, but they have nothing.  He would not divulge his address as he didn't want anyone "knocking at the door". What he wanted was my prayers, but his own parting shot was that he and God were "finished".
As regards the Church of Scientology, I know little about them. All I will say is that their website claims that nothing of this sort ever happens. However, search for "Scientology" and "Abortion" and a different picture seems to emerge... 

Friday, 5 October 2012

Welcome, welcome, welcome

'Tis the season of school Welcome Masses. I've now celebrated three in a week - at our own primary school, at a primary school in our neighbiouring parish, and last night at Corpus Christi, our local High School. This is also in our parish area, although it serves many parishes in north Cardiff.
Some priests have problems with celebrating Mass with children and teenagers. I suppose the little ones are unpredictable and teenagers often have that laid back "couldn't care less" look about them. I have learned to just relax and be natural. Don't try to be one of them, but language is often the key. Kids will just look blank if you talk over their heads or in church-speak, in a way that most adults are too polite to do!
However, it's not easy, to adjust to 11 year olds ot whatever age it is, and quite demanding. 
Yesterday the school had many youngsters involved in the Mass - I counted over  a dozen just in the BIdding Prayer. It all went well, and great credit is due to the school chaplain Deacon Rob Coyne, who brought the whole thing together. Demanding or not, at the end of the day I just really enjoy celebrating Mass -  and especially with kids.  

Thursday, 27 September 2012

... and Tuscany

After the first part of our pilgrimage earlier this month, we moved on to northern Tuscany. We stayed at Montecatini Terme, a very pleasant spa town. At the same time, the Miss Italy pageant was being held - by coincidence... of course!

Each day we visited a different town. First was Lucca, which was new to me. Surrounded by its massive walls, it's a medieval city with very fine churches. We headed for St Martin's cathedral, which houses the Santo Volto or Holy Face, a very old crucifix, much venerated through the Middle Ages. After Mass we had a wander through the old streets then dispersed for a few hours. After lunch a few of us made our way to Puccini's birthplace, where there's a little museum. Before leaving I went into the church of San Michele in Foro in the main square, where I found a beautiful della Robbia terracotta of the Madonna and Child (left).
The next day we hit Florence, where I had been several times before. I was privileged to celebrate Mass in the grand surroundings of the Cathedral, where I found a new translation missal ready marked at all the right pages. Fr M approves! Then after a stroll to the Ponte Vechio and the Piazza della Signoria, we dispersed in the Santa Croce area. After another scrummy pavement Italian lunch we got back to the coach for a drive up to the famous viewpoint over Florence, the Piazzale Michelangelo (see pic).
Our last full day took us to Pisa, where a longish walk from the designated coach park brought us to the stunning cathedral grounds, or Campo dei Miracoli (Field of Miracles). The buildings are indeed stunning - baptistery, cemetery, cathedral and of course the campanile, the famous Leaning Tower. I found the cathedral a very beautiful surprise, inside as well as out.  Then we made our way via Torre del Lago, the home of Puccini, to the resort of Viareggio for lunch and a stroll. Unfortunately the weather had deteriorated over the morning, but it didn't take away from a lovely day, which we ended with Mass in the parish church of our hotel.
As is our custom the pilgrimage ended with a special supper and presentations. I was delighted to receive a very posh leather cabin-size and wheelable little suitcase, which the group bought because they felt sorry for me lugging my alb, missal and lectionary around in my shoulder bag!  Bless...

Sunday, 23 September 2012


So everything on our September Pilgrimage went well. In fact we've been back for over a week.  I enjoyed revisiting the various sites connected with St Francis and St Clare in the first part of our journey this year. When I first visited Assisi in my 20s I don't remember it being so hilly!  St Francis Basilica was mega-busy, and it was a relief to go to Greccio, where he made the first Crib, and the Hermitage to where he and his companions would retire for peace and prayer. Our Masses all went well, I feel, and we had a meaningful prayer service in the woods at the Hermitage, which people seem to have enjoyed.  One of my favourite moments was having the chapel of the Stigmata at Mt La Verna to myself for five minutes (pics show the chapel, with a candle marking the stone of the stigmata, and beautiful della Robbia altarpiece, plus another of the view outside) while the group were on the guided tour. St Francis seemed particularly close at that moment.
Spoleto, where we stayed, turned out to be a lovely place, too. The hotel was great, spacious and spotless. We all had nice rooms with views over the Umbrian hillsides. The cathedral was very impressive - as were the ice-creams in a little place along the street from our hotel! I can recommend the Hotel dei Duchi in Spoleto (ie "Dukes' Hotel") to anyone looking for a base in Umbria. Fr M approves. More about part 2of our pilgrimage next time...


Monday, 3 September 2012

Bye Bruges - buon giorno Assisi

So that's enough of Bruges! After my six days there I spent some time with my family, including a day with my brother and sister and families down in Farnborough. It was one of the few lovely sunny days of this wretched summer, and we had a great day. After a barbecue lunch we just relaxed in the back garden and ended up everyone playing boules on the lawn. I even managed to win a round!
So then it was back to the ranch and into parish routine. Fr T is in India and we are blessed with the presence of Fr Frederick TOR from Bangla Desh. There is still much talk about the proposed change on Mass times across the city. Then Fr Tomy emailed to say his flight back was cancelled and he can't get back for another week - the week I am going on our annual September pilgrimage. So I've been chasing my tail to get priests to cover three Masses for this coming weekend.
We're off to Assisi and Tuscany for eight nights - four staying in Spoleto, near Assisi, and four in Montecatini Terme, between Florence and Pisa. Regulars will know that I've been involved in these pilgrimages since 1990, so it's obvious that I love them! Sometimes it's somewhere new to me - like Krakow and Provence the last two years (that's why we go there!). Other times, it's to places that I now know, like Rome or the Holy Land. This time it's a mixture as I know Assisi very well, and I have been to Florence twice. But Lucca, Viareggio and Pisa are new to me - well you've got to do the Leaning Tower, haven't you?
So there will be a week's gap, folks, and normal service wil be resumed soon...

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Bruges V - well, actually Ghent

Ghent was a short train journey away. It's a bigger place with a university and more industry, but the centre is old and, like Bruges, has canals. As the station is a way from the centre I got a tram, then got off too early so had a morning stroll the last part. I'd come particularly to see a painting that many people regard as one of the greatest in the world.
Completed in 1452 "The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb" was painted by Jan van Eyck, and his otherwise unknown brother, Hubert. It's often just known as "The Ghent Altarpiece", and has had a complicated history. It's been pawned, captured by Germans - twice - divided up into parts, etc, etc. One of its panels is still missing. It sits in a side chapel of Ghent Cathedral, encased in security glass. There were zillions of people around the day I was there, all listening to their earset thingies which lasted 50 minutes. It was hot, crowded, and not the best environment to take a look at this great work. I stayed quite a while, then made my way out - a bit disappointed that it was a bit spoilt by teh setting. I suppose like many of the great masterpieces of the world, it's a victim of its own fame.

The whole town centre is pedestrianised in Ghent, so you can stroll everywhere. I made my way to the canal area, which was very beautiful (picture left). Not as many trees as Bruges, but a better sense of the busy comings and goings that must have gone on in past centuries. There's a castle of the Counts of Flanders, in a little square where I got a seat at a cafe for something to eat. (I was told this afternoon that this blog is all about churches and food, so I don't want to let you down!).
Afterwards I carried on walking and started to feel my right foot hurting a bit. When I got back to Bruges I realised the padding on teh front strap of my walking sandal had worn off and the plastic bit holding the end of the strap had rubbed some of the skin off.  Ow. I couldn't do much about it as it was at exactly the spot where shoes are tied or sandals fastened.
By now the Olympics were in full swing, so my last day or two were spent watching the huge TV in the hotel lounge,  where they had BBC 1 on permanently, chatting with other visitors. We Brits had great celebrations on the Saturday night when we won those 3 athletics golds in 46 minutes or however long it was. I surfaced to make sallies out for coffee or food... Hard life eh?

Saturday, 25 August 2012

Bruges IV - a morning in Hospital!

Over the next days I discovered lots more in this beautiful city of Bruges. There was the stirring practice for an organ recital going on in the Cathedral. There were the piles of mussels being consumed in whichever cafe or restaurant you visited or passed by. And chips, chips, chips - the Belgians love 'em!
I decided to devote a rainy day that came along to the two main museums. St John's Hospital looked after the poor and sick of Bruges for about 700 or 800 years. Now it houses a museum showing you all about that history with clothes, household items and medical implements from down the ages. But then there is the hospital Chapel.
Hans Memling was German by birth but came to live in Bruges in its heyday - the 15th century. He painted several works for the hospital Chapel, and here they still are, plus a few others, beautifully displayed. I spent a long time looking at these colourful, gentle scenes. especially the central one sometimes called "The Mystical Marriage of St Catherine", but really a Madonna and Child surrounded by various saints, including both St Johns, the Baptist and the Apostle, the patrons of the Hospital (picture below). The detail is astounding, as it is on the nearby "Reliquary of St Ursula", often seen as Memling's masterpiece. Every character is a real individual that bears looking at. These paintings may not have the power of Michelangelo, the skill with colour of Titian etc, but in their own ways are real masterpieces, and treated as such in St John's. And being seen in the place for which they were painted only adds to their attraction. Wonderful.
After a quick lunch, and with the sky still decidedly grey, I headed to the close-by Groenegen Museum, a general art gallery. It also had a few Memlings, van Eycks, van der Weydens etc but the modern galleries, painted a neutral but I thought depressing grey, were not the same as the fascinating St John's Hospital of the morning. Luckily it is not a very big place, so I did the rounds and then meandered back via another cafe, to plan my trip out of Bruges the next day - to the larger but also famous city of Ghent. 

Friday, 24 August 2012

Bruges III - canals and motherhood

When you step behind the grand buildings of Bruges you find yourself in a picturesque world of canals and leafy walks and parks. As I was there in peak season August there were loads of people around, but far from spoiling it, it brought the old stones and quiet waters to life. I strolled around some of the better known parts of the extensive canal system. They circle the old city and several run across it too. There are beautiful old stone bridges, wonderful brick buildings, and more green than I expected. And everywhere you spot the Belfry or the spires of one of the many churches.
Cafes and restaurants are also everywhere - not surprising in such a well-visited place. Prices are high, but you can pick up a good meal withut breaking the bank. After a light pasta lunch I carried on my wander to Our Lady's Church, close to the main canal. There was an entry fee as it is classed as part of the city Museums, but it's not every day that you visit a church that is the proud owner of a Michelangelo. His "Madonna and Child" sits above the altar in the righthand chapel, a gift to the church from a citizen who had bought it in Italy. I stood before it for some time.
We have seen so many images of this famous scene - Our Lady holding her precious Baby. It takes a Michelangelo to make you realise how shallow and everyday most of those images are. I found that this statue became more meaningful and indeed poweful the longer I looked at it. The baby is big, the Mother is calm, and even appeared stern at first, but as I watched she became more concerned than stern. She is truly watching over her Divine offspring, but her gaze is already slighly away from Him, perhaps pondering, as St Luke would put it.. The Child nestles between her knees, gingerly stepping out into the world. She knows that one day she will have to let Him go, but not yet. For now, he plays and giggles. The nails can wait.  

Monday, 20 August 2012

Bruges II - where shall I have breakfast?

Bruges is a beautiful city. At first it hides many of its charms. On my first morning, with the sun shining, I set off towards the town centre along the main shopping street. It was about 9.30 and the Cathedral wasn't open yet so I pressed on to the Markt, the main square. I'd decided to have breakfast out somewhere, and so, like a lamb to the slaughter, I found myself slouching into a chair at one of the very expensive cafes in the Markt for a looong breakfast cappucino, roll with ham and cheese and croissant... and watched the world go by. It was market day and there were stalls selling all kinds of food and everything else too. When I eventually stirred myself - breakfast had sort of morphed into morning coffee - I wandered around, glancing up every so often to the enormous belfrey which towers over the square and over the whole of Bruges.
At last I headed down the little street that leads to the next jewel in Bruges' crown, a smaller square called the Burg, named after the castle which used to be there. It's surrounded by beautiful buildings from different periods, and I found a bench to take it all in from. The horse-drawn carriages you see in the city were clip-clopping around in the sunshine. I soon spotted in the corner of the square the lovely facade of the Basilica of the Holy Blood (right).
Tradition says that after the Burial of Christ Joseph of Arimathea kept some cloth marked by the precious blood. It eventually found its way to Bruges via the Crusades and/or Byzantium.  The cloth is in a small glass phial inside another one sealed with a gold crown at either end. It's kept in a shrine in the treasury, but brought out for veneration. A notice said this was happening that day in a short while. So I visited the very atmospheric lower chapel first, then made my way up the stone stairs to the medieval upper chapel. After a while a lady brought the relic to a side altar up a flight of steps, and, after some prayers you could go up and venerate the relic and spend a few moments in private prayer, which I did. Most of those present were ordinary tourists, but I could tell that the place and the simple ritual had a deep effect on many of them. You can see this in the comments made on the relevant page of TripAdvisor... 
After staying on for a little time of reflexion in this centuries old place of pilgrimage, and possibly in the presence of one of the most holy relics in the world - who knows? - I eventually went back out into the bright sunshine, feeling spiritually refreshed, and ready for Bruges' next delights. I didn't have long to wait, as I turned down a little lane under an arch, and found myself at the centre of  the city's wonderful network of canals.

Sunday, 19 August 2012

Hols pt 1

So... back in harness after a good break. I went to Bruges for six nights first.  It meant passing through central London, which, considering it was the first week of the Olympics, I found strangely quieter than it is usually. The Euston Road is always jammed with traffic, but it was all flowing quite easily.  I head for the very flash Eurostar terminus at St Pancras (left). I've never been through the Tunnel before, and was very much looking forward to the journey. It felt strange to go through passport control and security in the middle of London, and the waiting areas are a bit characterless, but the wait was worth it.
When your train is ready, you travel up a moving pavement on to the platform, and my carriage was just there, so I found my seat and settled down. We slowly pulled out of the station and were soon on the new underground tracks built for the High Speed Train. We flew through Stratford Station where the Olympics were going on, back underground. Here the track has been built underneath the ordinary train tracks above. At around Tilbury we were back above ground again briefly before zooming down again under the Thames and into Ebbsfleet Station.
It was after that that we really started to fly through the countryside, and in no time were shooting past the Shuttle terminus at Folkestone and down into the Tunnel.  This took 19 minutes and then it was full speed again, and suddenly we were in Lille. This is where the trains for Paris turn right and those for Brussels turn left, as we did, once more flying across the flat countryside into Belgium, and on to Brussels, 2 hours and 10 minutes St Pancras to Gare du Midi.
I'd been warned that negotiating this station needs careful attention to the signs, but I soon found the way to the next train for Ghent and Bruges. Loads of bikes on the train, but it was clean and efficient and we arrived in just under an hour. To find it drizzling. However, the hotel publicity said it was only 10 minutes from the station so I set out walking. 10 minutes in teh rain carrying an old-fashioned suitcase without wheels can feel like for ever. Note to self - buy new suitcase in order not to be only idiot at Gare du Midi carrying a suitcase instead of wheeling it! (Done now, thanks to Debenhams sale...).
And so I arrived at my hotel (left), where I was assured I had a room overlooking the garden rather than the sometimes noisy square outside. So I found my room, settled in, made a cuppa and, with the Olympics on in the background on Flemish TV, started to plan my stay in what everybody had told me is one of the most beautiful cities in Europe. And so it turned out to be.

Sunday, 29 July 2012

Take a break...

Sunday afternoon, sun is shining, Fr Suzon Frederick Rosario installed for the summer. Fr Frederick is all of 34, younger than any priest in our diocese. and hails from Bangla Desh. Then I remember that by the time I was 34 I had been curate in two parishes and parish priest in two parishes also, and was now in further studies in Canada. How times change...
And so to my holidays. I'm off tomorrow for two weeks, so there will be no postings, as I'm not taking any computer gear with me. I'm hoping to visit Bruges, which everybody tells me is beautiful, then spend some time with my family. Be good.

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Summer praying

One minute we're in the wettest April to June, the next it's scorching. Beautiful weather the last few days, and it always seems to lift people's spirits. Well, not quite everybody's, as the proposed changes of Mass times upset some folks. I am very sory about that, and just try to do my best to explain the realities and the decisions.
Just watched the final of "Superstar", where I have been so impressed by the standard. I'm feeling a bit smug as my early prediction, Ben, won the contest this evening.
Meanwhile, something to ponder - how is the new translation of the Missal doing? As I have said here before, I have had mixed feelings. On the one hand, I fully agree that some of the previous translation was bland and even emptied of most of its meaning. Now, however, I have really had to struggle to give sense to some of the recent prayers of the Mass, such as this, the Collect for the Fifteenth Sunday.
O God, who show the light of your truth
to those who go astray,
so that they may return to the right path,
give all who for the faith they profess
are accounted Christians
the grace to reject whatever is contrary to the name of Christ
and to strive after all that does it honour.
The grammar here is quite complex, even to read to yourself, and so even harder to convey intelligently with a congregation. I suppose we can take consolation from the little boy who, when his prayers were criticised by his listening mother, reminded her that he wasn't talking to her!
A priest from Bangla Desh, Fr Suzon Rosario is joining us this summer, and I'm looking forward to meeting him this Friday. Then.... Monday - and I'm off for a fortnight's holiday, my first nights away since Christmas week. Yesss...

Friday, 20 July 2012


After Monday's brainstorming meeting about children and youth ministry in our 3 Churches, which went so well, I led another very good meeting last night on the reduction in the number of Masses that is taking place across Cardiff this year. It was a difficult task, but the members of our two Parish Councils and Pastoral Group who came did a fantastic job. It was a mature, reflective gathering, and I must admit it made me feel proud to be parish priest here. Superstars, all of them...
Talking of which, I'm enjoying the current reality/talent show on TV, "Superstar". What is amazing me is the talent of the men, and I fancy the standard is the highest of any of these shows that I have seen. I remember buying the original double LP in about 1971, before it was even a theatre show, so I feel I know the songs really well. The judges aren't as weird as usual either, with Mel C's strangely hypnotis stary eyes, Mr Nice Guy Jason Donovan, Dawn French fancying the black one, and Andrew L-W giving some very enlightening comments.  Catch it on ITV 9.00.
Today was the end of the school term, and we said goodbye to Mrs Bernadette Hancock, headteacher in our parish primary school, Christ the King. She has been  a great leader, a shepherdess with her love of the children and of God at the centre. At a difficult time in education, she took the school through a topnotch Inspection, but as I said at Mass, the real test is whether we are following Jesus. Another Superstar.     

Monday, 16 July 2012

People eating, people planning

Whoooa... Things normally start to quieten down in July, but...
Been out for meals a lot. First, the Fraternity of Priests met here on Wednesday; housekeeper Mary served up one of her humdinger soups as usual. Thursday the priests of the deanery also met here, and 6 or 7 of us had lunch at the Three Arches afterwards. Much talk of clergy moves, but I'm safe at the moment - I think! Thursday evening, out at the Gwaelod-y-Garth Inn celebrating 50th birthdays - had venison. Mmmm..
Friday was out at the Custom House in Penarth with staff and governors of our parish school, Christ the King. We were marking the retirement of Bernadette Hancock, the headteacher, and Les Collins, a long time teacher. Saturday out with Fr T for our regular lunchtime slot - went back to Ffynnon Wen after a while. Yes, well...
And then Sunday - nephew and wife (of last summer's highpoint wedding fame) came and we went out with her sister who is spending the summer working in the Pontypridd area. We hit Nando's in Nantgarw - a first for me. Hey, I really enjoyed the chicken, and we walked it off around Caerphilly Castle.
Workwise - the reduction in the number of Masses is a big issue at the moment. I'm meeting on Thursday with our two Parish Councils and Pastoral Group to try and arrive at what's best for our 3 Churches.
Then this evening we started the process to improve our ministry with children and young people. A brainstorming session attracted about 8 or 9 well motivated folks. It was very good, and arrived at some sound practical decisions which bode well. Watch this space...

Monday, 9 July 2012

A guide for September?

Yes, two postings in one evening! Well it is Monday, traditional clergy day off...
Checking Facebook after a while, I discovered this guy on a friend's posting. Brother Alessandro is a Franciscan friar, and guide at Assisi apparently. And he also has a fine voice. A very fine voice. He has a website here, and an album coming out, apparently in October. So here is a taster, filmed in several of the sites we will be visiting in September on this year's September Pilgrimage. He's singing "Panis Angelicus". I wonder if he'll be guiding us?  Thanks Piotr

3 Churches Mass

Thank God, our annual 3 Churches Mass turned out to be a great celebration. About 350+ folks came along, and we had a large number of people involved, from babies to the not-so-young. We honoured each sacrament at different points along the way. The Sacraments of Initiation came first of course - Baptism and Adult Converts at the Penitential Rite and readings, newly confirmed at the Creed and Intercessions, and First Holy Communion children at the Procession of the Gifts - a lot of gifts! Then I offered a brief meditation on the Sacraments of Healing - Reconciliation before the Sign of Peace, and Anointing before the "Behold the Lamb of God". After Holy Communion, a recently married couple gave a witness to Matrimony and Fr T spoke about Holy Orders - the two Sacraments of Vocation. The morning was rounded off with a bring-and-share lunch. Great celebration, wonderful people.
Glad to see that the BBC's "The Hollow Crown" continued well on Saturday with "Henry IV Part One" - though not quite as good as last week's "Richard II", I think. Also coming second was Andy Murray, who attracted a lot of attention with his emotional brief interview afterwards. Yes, we do like the underdog, and especially nowadays, one who sheds a tear. Was this a case of St Paul's "When  am weak I am strong"? And what is that gesture that AM does when he wins? Answers please...

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Richard II, BA and salvation

I'm liking the BBC's Shakespeare season a lot. I caught up with their "Richard II" on iPlayer. It was broadcast on Saturday, the first in the series of five history plays that they are calling "The Hollow Crown" - itself a quotation from "Richard II". It continues with Henry IV parts 1,2 and 3, plus Henry V. I thought it was excellent, fully meriting five stars that The Times review gave it.  First class acting, Ben Wishaw playing the extremely difficult role of the King, Rory Kinnear as Bolingbroke - watch him in the abdication scene, David Suchet etc etc; beautiful filming in settings like the nave of St David's Catheedral, various castles - I think I spotted Chepstow in there - and coves, some of which I am sure must be in Pembrokeshire or Cardiganshire. Again, it all goes to show how brilliant Shakespeare really is. I followed up with Trevor Nunn last night, talking about the astonishing "Tempest", and suggesting that this, his last play, is really all about Shakespeare himself, the artist, the human being, the fallible, the reflection of you and me. Find "Richard II" here. Fr M approves, mucho.
Next, a friend put up on Facebook a very clever advert for British Airways that is personalised to your postcode.  If you're on Facebook, find it here, and watch carefully about three quarters of the way through...
Lastly, a picture that someone else put up, which is also very clever and quite challenging in its way. I love Spider Man hanging upside down to find out from the expert how saving the world is really done!

Tuesday, 26 June 2012


Birthday tomorrow - 59... big one next year. So time maybe for a thoughful posting..... 
This evening I got home from a school governors' meeting. heated up my chorizo soup and flicked on the TV. I've caught a few programmes in the season the BBC is running called "Shakespeare Uncovered". This evening American actor Ethan Hawke was taking us through "Macbeth", illustrated by bits of various productions. It was really good, and somehow connected me to my birthday.
Why is Shakespeare so good? I did English Lit O Level and A Level. We did "The Tempest" and then "Hamlet" and "A Midsummer Night's Dream". I have to say that, like many people, I didn't really "get it" then, and I suspect that puts off many people for life. I know it's a bit of a cliche, but I realy think you don't "get" the greatness of Shakespeare until you've lived. As I watched Lady Macbeth disintegrate I recalled a prisoner doing exactly that in front of me when I was prison chaplain. As Hawke pointed out that Macbeth and his wife never meet on stage for the last part before her death, my mind went to the hundreds of family problems I've encountered, not least with my Marriage Tribunal work now. Time and again these plays poke a finger right into my life, and life in general.
And it's not just the great tragedies - although I think they are the pinnacle of Shakespeare. He puts life in all its aspects up there on the stage, in all its comedy and tragedy. It's simply all there, and as the programme said this evening, WS then turns round to us and says, "Look, that's you and me up there, too".
So, 59 tomorrow, 59 years into Shakespeare, 59 years into life.     

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

From Winefride to David

Lovely programme on the Beeb this evening - "Britain's Lost Routes", with Griff Rhys Jones. I caught part of an earlier episode, crossing Scotland on the drovers' road, and this one was even better. It followed the ancient pilgrims' route across Wales from the north-east to St David's in the southwest.
A climb up from the old port of Greenfield brings you to Holywell, where I visited in 2007. It's the only shrine in Britain (I think) continuously visited through from the Middle Ages. The freezing waters of St Winefride's Well bubble up in a beautiful two storey medieval shrine (left) marking where her head miraculously rejoined the rest of her body after an attempted murder... 
The route then heads over the Clwydian Range to Ruthin, and onwards along Lake Bala and over a stunning pass, Bwlch y Groes (Pass of the Cross) to the Dovey valley and Aberystwyth. Down the coast then to where the various pilgrim routes converged at Nevern, and on to the destination - St David's. Two pilgrimages there was worth one to Rome.
I love my homeland Wales, the hills, lakes, castles, churches, cliffs, sea, the green and the grey. And that includes the South, too, where I live - not that I'm biased, of course...  
The programme is excellent - beautiful photography, interesting group of "pilgrims" and Griff in his, I think, more mellow later style. Great stuff. Fr M approves. You can catch it here on iPlayer.

Saturday, 16 June 2012

Two days

Boy, am I relieved. Thursday saw the biggest ever meeting of our National Tribunal for Wales. Our main task is the processing of applications for the annulment of marriages, and we concluded seven cases and gave serious discussion to three more. Each case requires three judges, so it was all hands on deck.  This required the cooperation of all our canon law judges from across Wales, each involved in at least three cases. So we met in England! In Shrewsbury to be exact - becase it's easier by rail, OK?
I was out of the house 7.30am and got back 7.30pm, my head full of legal stuff and feeling a bit worse for wear. Fr David, our administrator, had done a great job in planning the day, getting all the right documents to the right people etc, and technically it all went off fine. However, as Judicial Vicar (ie boss), I carry the can, and so I'm always mightily relieved when the deed - or ten deeds in this case - are done. There just remains the, er, small task of translating into "sentences" ie written documents the arguments that we used to reach the decision we made in the four where I was presiding judge. However, having made and heard all the relevant points, that's not so hard.
Today, something completely different - a lovely five hours with 25 or so of our wonderful Eucharistic Ministers on their periodic day of recollection. We went off to the Ty Croeso Centre at Llantarnam Abbey outside Newport, and had a relaxing time. Only the weather spoilt it - the ground are beautiful but only a few brave souls ventured far... I did a talk in the morning before a period for quiet reflection, after lunch we had a "plenary" to share reflections and discuss issues of interest, then Fr T led an Holy Hour to finish. 
Two very different days, two days apart, one church, one priest.  

Sunday, 10 June 2012

The Commonweath sings

A massive p.s. to my last posting. I didn't mention one of the best things on TV over the Jubilee long weekend - "Gary Barlow:On Her Majesty's Service".  I only just caught up with it on iPlayer. What a lovely programme, the story of the making of "Sing", the Jubilee song that we heard at the Buckingham Palace concert on the Monday evening.
Gary Barlow turns out to be an excellent guide to the process of putting together the song with Andrew Lloyd-Webber, and then travelling the Commonwealth to add music from all sorts of different cultures. He is just so excited by music, and feels the raw attraction of people who play and sing because they simply want to.. Girls singing in Kenya, lads drumming on old rubbish in  a Nairobi slum, an aboriginal singer, Solomon Islanders... all sorts. I found myself really drawn in - even by Prince Harry allowed two bashes on a  tambourine.

If you want an enjoyable hour, well-produced, and guided so well by Gary B. "The Commonwealth is massive - I mean massive-massive" he muses. And how much better the song sounds when you learn its story. Catch it here on iPlayer.