Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Adios 2013

And so 2013 saunters out of view...
A good year, on the whole. Two important events on the personal and family side - my 60th birthday, and my sister and brother-in-law's 40th wedding anniversary. Both were very, very happy days. Two foreign trips - to Amsterdam for my solo and to Croatia, Medjugorje and Montenegro for our September pilgrimage. Again, both were very enjoyable indeed.  On the parish and spiritual side, interesting that in the middle of May's uncertainty regarding Fr T's position, our parish prayer group suddenly had  a boost through the "Celebrate" Conference. I've also discovered a whole lot of good modern Christian music as a result.  Since September we have been starting to crank up the parish engines for a serious look at evangelisation in the 3 Churches.  Not sure where that is going at the moment! Parish priests to east and west have changed - but I seem to still be here, and I'm happy about that. Some sad and/or difficult funerals in the parishes, but plenty of happy, happy occasions in the 3 Churches too...  The arrival of Pope Francis must be The Big Event on the worldwide church level. I think he is wonderful, though some of the media are getting him wrong, it seems to me. 
So, a busy and happy year - as it should be, I guess. Many thanks to all who support this blog. God bless you in 2014. Maybe I'll try to post a little more often - hmmm a possible resolution!

Monday, 23 December 2013

Pre-Christmas pauses and Panasonics

Every year about 4 or 5 days before Christmas, people say to us "Oooh, your busiest time, Father..."  Well, in fact the previous weeks get really full of pre-Christmas liturgical and social stuff, and, of course, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day are indeed jam-packed. But this day or two before The Day are strangely quiet, except for kind people dropping in presents and the odd phone-call. People are scurrying around doing their Christmas stuff - and they leave us alone for a day or two! Added to this of course, in terms of the liturgy, Holy Week and Easter are more spread out. So we get a brief pause to prepare homilies, ask ourselves what we have forgotten, and do postings on blogs.
However, we will have eight Masses in the 24 hours from 6pm tomorrow, with help for one of them. Like many places, the Christmas Eve Masses have rather swept the board in attendance, so we need three of 'em, all at the same time, 6.00pm... I'm on Christ the King for the two Eve Masses and St Paul and St Brigid in the Morning. 6pm at Christ the King is probably the most popular of our eight, indeed the biggest Mass of the year. It's big, child-filled, family-oriented, a bit chaotic... and beautiful. I love it!
The last part of Advent this year has been tinged with sadness, as we have had several deaths, including two involving families with teenage children. At the funeral that I celebrated, I tried to tie it in with Advent, talking about the Lord coming to meet us at Bethlehem, but that we also, like the Shepherds and Kings, have to journey in order to meet Him.
Meanwhile, I eventually got round to buying a new TV with the money I received for my 60th birthday way back in June. My last one was for my 50th, so there's a kind of symmetry about it - well, that's my excuse anyway. There are so many to choose from!  I eventually plumped for a Panasonic Viera Smart TV with sound bar and sub-woofer - 'coz I like a good bass sound. So now I'm all set up to blast the neighbourhood, well Fr Tomy anyway!
I'm still amazed that this blog gets a good number of views, so to all who visit, thank you and have a very, very happy Christmas!!
ps My telly isn't quite as big as the one in the pic...

Saturday, 14 December 2013

A very Christian Christmas mob

I haven't posted a flash mob for a while. I came across this today. The US Air Force Band are at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington DC. What's interesting is that they don't choose secular stuff for Christmas, but two explicitly Christian pieces. What would happen over here?...
Thanks to Mgr Charles Pope's blog "Archdiocese of Washington" 

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

A vocation

Popular speaker Fr Robert Barron talks about his calling. Simple, direct, challenging. Good stuff. Thanks, Cardiff Vocations.

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Casualty case

Talk about signs of the times... Local priests have been hearing Confessions at our local Corpus Christi High School over the last days. So, one girl came to me was doing fine until she came to the Act of Contrition. She looked up from the words printed on laminated paper, hesitating to start. When I asked what the problem was, she asked whether she was supposed to say "O, My God..." or "OMG" or what?   Containing my annoyance/laughter/frustration I reminded her that on this occasion she really WAS talking to God, and so it was right to use the phrase. It was on other occasions that it was inappropriate. She looked bemused/surprised/amused and pressed on...
OMG/O my God has entered ordinary speech and especially email/Facebook speech and completely lost its literal meaning.  I saw in the newspaper not long ago that some pupils questioned a teacher about the use of "Jesus" in a hymn, as they were under the impression that it was a bad word to use.
Oh dear... I suppose I'm sounding like an elderly canon - Oh, I forgot I am indeed not-such-a-young canon - but where have we come to? Some have drifted so far from their faith roots that they don't even recognise God-language being used in the correct way. On the way out of the school I overheard a member of staff telling a pupil not to use blasphemous language in her presence.  Perhaps we should all be tightening up on this language business. Maybe it would be a good way of celebrating Advent. Let the Word that becomes flesh be a Word of beauty and of special respect, not one tossed so casually from lips that are uncaring or unknowing.

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

TARDIS moments

Yesterday morning I was leaving Christ the King Church for the cemetery after celebrating a Requiem Mass. As I made my way through the groups of people chatting outside the church, and as I passed two men in conversation, one of them was mentioning the name "Lynn Jones". I stopped in my tracks, as that was my father's name, and a rare name at that. I hovered for a moment a few feet from them, and established that they were, indeed talking about a teacher from their past. I presumed that they were mentioning him because they knew that I am his son, but instead they looked round at me quizzically, clearly wondering what on earth I wanted. "Excuse me", I explained, "I heard you talking about
Lynn Jones." "Oh yes", one said, "you wouldn't know him though, he was a teacher in Roath Park School years ago." I revealed who I was, and realised that in fact it was a complete coincidence that they were mentioning my dad at that exact moment. They were reminiscing about "the good old days" as we often do after funerals, don't we? Luckily they remembered him fondly, as a good teacher, very funny - but very free with the cane, too.
Moving on rapidly from that last detail, I was instantly filled with memories of my dad who died in 1992. It was so nice to discover that the men were - on the whole - speaking well of him. Strange how we can be taken back instantly, even by an extraordinary coincidence such as that one at a funeral.
Music can also do that. Here is a video of Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven" being performed by Anne and Nancy Wilson from the band Heart with backing group, orchestra and choir. The three surviving members, Robert Plant, Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones were receiving some award in the Kennedy Arts Center in Washington DC, and the son of John Bonham plays the drums. I'm not a fan usually of tribute performances, but this one is done very well. When the choir comes in, Plant fills up and Page quivers too...   Apparently the video went viral when it was released a year ago, but I never caught it. So enjoy - and turn it up!  Take a trip back in time to the 70s, and look out too for those time capsule moments in everyday life, that sometimes would be better called not coincidences but God-incidences.

Thursday, 21 November 2013

Farewell to Fr Frederick

So our friend Father Frederick called in today to say goodbye. Frederick is a Franciscan from Bangla Desh who has spent two years studying at the Franciscan Study Centre in Canterbury. He spent the two last summers and last Christmas helping out, and was a great hit with everybody, including myself. His constant refrains when faced with anything he couldn't handle "I am a Franciscan!" for once did actually fit the reality. His loving gentleness did reflect, it seemed, the nature of the great founder of his congregation.
Frederick now returns to Bangla Desh, to a position of great responsibility in the formation of young seminarians. As such he will have influence over not just the individuals, but also over they people whom they will, in turn pastor. From what I have seen of him, he will do a great job. Say a prayer for Father Suzon Frederick Rozario, of the Third Order Regular Franciscans. 

Thursday, 14 November 2013

A Road to Emmaus


Another good video from Inside Da Box - simple, short and well-made. This one is on the Eucharist.

Saturday, 9 November 2013

Marriage and the Family II

My last posting has been viewed 107 times so far, which is pretty good going for an obscure li'l blog like mine. It seems to have touched the spot for a few people...  
Much like the new questionnaire issued in preparation for the Synod of Bishops next year - except for the opposite reason. One person who read my post said that it showed I grasped something of marriage. I take that as a compliment, as not being married of course myself, I do like to think I'm pretty observant, I listen a lot, and have been around for a while now. Hopefully what I put made some connection with people's real experience. 
Now I'm glad that the Bishops have made sure that the questionnaire is available to all in the Church, but I'm a bit worried about its style. You would think that a body like the Vatican that also listens a lot, observes a lot, and has been around for much, much longer, would know how to speak in language people could grasp. And it is no excuse really to say that the questions are intended really for the Bishops. That's just saying that they too are living on a different planet. The part that irks me about these kind of documents and exercises is that if I, as a parish priest, put out something like this to our parishioners, I'd get either laughter - or tears. So why is it OK in the upper, or inner, areas of the Church?
To lighten the tone, and for no reason other than it's eye-catching, funny and clever, here's a roadside Church ad from the USA

Saturday, 2 November 2013

Sacrament moment

I make no apology for re-posting Rembrandt's "The Jewish Bride" from the Rijksmuseum. Something very special happened on Wednesday. Well, if I tell you that nine of my family flew by private plane to Paris to celebrate the Ruby wedding of my sister and brother-in-law in a restaurant facing Notre-Dame Cathedral, then something wonderful clearly did happen. But what I mean is something happened on a deeper level than this extravagant celebration of life. And not just forty years of married life, but, given the fact that both of them have suffered from cancer over the last few years, this was a celebration of life itself. The very extravagance of the moment seemed to point to something about love, and its dynamic energy that will not be contained. Such was the desire to celebrate that nothing ordinary would do.
As we relaxed back at my sister's house in the evening, I found myself wondering if it had all really happened. Had I really eaten beef tartare facing Notre Dame just a few hours before? For the trip contained that other ingredient that speaks of love - mystery. It was as if we were suddenly parachuted into Paris, ate, drank, enjoyed one another's company, toasted the couple - in a different world, lifted, for a moment, out of the ordinary.
I guess what I am trying to say is that this was for me - and maybe for others - really a spiritual event as well as an utterly enjoyable and very worldly one. It connected with sign and meaning, with love and mystery, with hope and thanksgiving, and a whole list of other deeply human realities. In the language of my world, it took on the garb of a liturgy of life and of love. It quite simply worked, and on so many levels.
So thank you to my family, and especially to Ju and Graham, for making this sacrament - the marriage and the day - work.

Monday, 28 October 2013

Leaving Croatia

During our September Pilgrimage we also spent a day going out to two of the many islands that dot the coast of Croatia. We set sail from the port of Dubrovnik and headed for the Elaphiti Islands, firstly that of Sipan, about 5 miles by two in size. We landed at a tiny port (left) and took a walk to a fortress-church dedicated to the Holy Spirit. 
The weather was excellent, and we were looking forward to our fish lunch that was to be served as we sailed on to Lopud. Well, the fish was excellent, with some white wine to help it down. Only problem was we were due to celebrate Mass in the afternoon on Lopud, so not too much wine, Father, in this sunshine!
Lopud I thought was very beautiful (right). The island itself was bigger than Sipan, as was the main town, of the same name as the island. It spread around a lovely bay with our church on a promontory at the end (below). The priest had good English and was most helpful and informative. We were reluctant to sail back after a wonderful and restful day.
On the Sunday we visited a village near to the hotel called Cilipi, where there is a display of folk-dancing after Mass each week. We joined the crowd, and enjoyed it a lot. On another day, the rainy last one, as it was too wet to visit the planned arboretum, we took a trip up the river estuary immediately to the west of the city of Dubrovnik.
All in all, we had a brilliant time. Although these postings may give the impression of being on the go all the time, it was actually one of our more relaxing pilgrimages. I'd certainly recommend the area it for its combination of town and coast, bustle and calm, weather and food, body and spirit. Fr M approves seriously.

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

3 Steps to sharing the Gospel

Making for Medjugorje

One of our aims in visiting Croatia was to visit Medjugorje, which is actually situated not far into neighbouring Bosnia and Herzegovina.  We allowed plenty of time to make the journey, but what with having to go back for someone's passport and a long delay at the border, we arrived at St James Church coach park at 9.57am for the English language daily Mass which is at 10 o'clock. Having shot across the car park and pushed open the nearest door, I found myself in the church where Mass was, of course, about to begin. Well, that was the first miracle - as I found my place among the 40 or so priests concelebrating, Mass started...
It was a very uplifting celebration, with up to 2,000 present. We felt a great wave of worship and prayer rising up. After a pause for refreshment, our group dispersed, some going to the Mount of Apparitions, some staying to explore the church area itself. I had been warned that the going was a bit rough on the Mount, and the only significant lasting effect of when I broke my ankle badly in 2000 is advice to avoid very uneven ground or pebble beaches (sorry Cold Knap!). I visited the various places of devotion around the church, including the very modern Risen Christ,which some claim is exuding a liquid akin to human tears (pic of me there left). 
So, what did I think about Medjugorje? Firstly, we weren't there for the evening Rosary/Mass/Adoration, which priests told me is the high point there. Having said that, I found it different to, for example, Lourdes, Fatima or Knock, particularly because it lacks a central grotto or chapel of apparitions. At Medjugorje it seemed to be more the whole place that has an aura. This is undoubtedly due first to the large number of pilgrims, the enormous amount of prayer and the depth of conversion and reconciliation. Regarding the alleged apparitions, I have to say I am not sure. I found myself wondering if, in fact what I was witnessing is a great concentration of what could happen anywhere. 
I didn't feel or experience anything out of the ordinary, not, that is, until two days later when I seemed to feel a greater closeness of Our Lady. Maybe, for me anyway, it is her shrine because she attracts people there and leaves it to the life of the Church - Mass, sacraments, devotions etc - to do its job and work the Lord's grace in a most effective way. On the other hand, Medjugorje is a work in progress. The Church will not pronounce on it until the apparitions end - and Our Lady probably has more work to do on me!

Thursday, 17 October 2013

Making for Montenegro

Montenegro is a small country south of Croatia, with an area of about 5,000 square miles and a population of just over 600,000. As Dubrovnik is situated right at the bottom end of Croatia, it was only a short hop for us to visit Montenegro for a day.
One of its claims to fame is the Bay of Kotor. This is sometimes described as the Mediterranean's best fjord, and indeed it's characterised by steep mountain slopes dropping into inlets that go deep into the land. We wound our way around the beautiful scenery until we reached the small town of Perast, looking back at the entrance to the bay. From here you can gaze at two lovely islands in the middle of the bay. We had a trip booked on a boat out to one of them, called Our Lady of the Rocks (on the right in photo above).What a gorgeous spot! Tradition says that the island was built up over years by sailors bringing stones from their travels. There is a delightful small church and tiny museum of local life.
Back on the mainland we were soon at the furthest point into the bay, the town of Kotor itself (above). Like Dubrovnik, this has preserved its walls. I was a bit put off by a big cruise liner parked right outside the gate, but once inside the walls, we were all swallowed up in this old city. After lunch we were to celebrate Mass at a small church dedicated to Blessed Osanna, a local anchorite or hermit, rather similar to Dame Julian of Norwich. As we emerged the rains came. Some made a dash for the cathedral, others for the cafe. Having read a book about the cathedral... I dashed for the cafe!
We continued round the bay, through a tunnel and across the narrow entrance on a ferry, and we were soon back at the hotel.   My brother tells me that the former miniature capital of Cetinje is fascinating, if rather inaccessible. The modern capital is Podgorica. So we only had a taste of Montenegro - but it was a very tasty taste too.

Monday, 14 October 2013

Must-see Dubrovnik

Dubrovnik turned out to be a beautiful old city, encircled by its massive walls. These have served it proud, not least in the war of the 1990s, when it seemed that the Serbian/Montenegrin forces thought the city might be a push-over. The modern city spreads out alongside and behind the Old Town. An earthquake in the 1690s, a disaster for the people of the time, of course, meant that the rebuilding brought about a uniform feel to the old town, especially along the main street, Stradun, also known as Placa. The entrance through the Pile Gate leads you along this fine urban street towards its landmark tower, marking the Stradun's opening out into a fine square marked by St Blaise's Church. Here you can continue to the eastern gate of the city, but the feel of the town sweeps you round to the right, where another square opens out, marked by the twin centres of power - the Cathedral and the Rector's Palace
Above is the beautiful Paolo Veneziano Crucifixion under which we celebrated Mass at the Dominican Monastery at the eastern end of the town, which is balanced by the Franciscan Monastery at the western end. The Jesuits are in there too, with a big place on one of the highest spots, reached by a mini Spanish Steps. It's all a superb example of a compact old city that has evolved over the centuries from two communities, Roman and Slavic, separated by water along the course of present-day Stradun. The whole place is pedestrianised, and even in late September was thronged with visitors.
My only reservation about places like Dubrovnik is that if you look closely you will not find many locals in these historic areas. The famous bit becomes almost a living museum while the centre of the living city is elsewhere, in Dubrovnik's case further west. I've seen this in places as varied as Vilnius in Lithuania and some towns in Italy and Spain. While visitors admire beautiful old buildings and throng cafes and restaurants in one part, the real life of a town goes on elsewhere. There isn't an easy solution to this, but it is noticeable when a town or city is both a visitor attraction and a living centre. We saw several examples of this last year - Lucca being one and Florence being an outstanding example. Many of our own old towns in the UK also pull this off, like York or Salisbury.
But that's just being fussy. Don't let the tourists put you off - there's always room for one more!  Dubrovnik is beautiful. If you haven't been there, go - Fr M approves big-time.  

Thursday, 10 October 2013

Set satnavs for Cavtat

So just over two weeks ago, 47 of us jetted off from Birmingham Airport to Dubrovnik, for this year's September Pilgrimage, or, as one pilgrim put it "holiday with a spiritual dimension". Frequent visitors will know that this group - whose membership changes every year - has been visiting places now since 1990. Recent destinations include Rome, the Holy Land, Krakow, Provence and Assisi/Tuscany.
We were based for our week at the Hotel Albatros in Cavtat, between Dubrovnik and the airport. It's pronounced "tsav-tat", but quickly became "satnav" for some of the group! The hotel is the two large buildings just left and below the centre of the photo above. Cavtat turned out to be a beautiful spot in its own right, situated on the neck of a headland between two bays, on one of which was situated our hotel. We were to celebrate the last two of our daily Masses - the heart of our pilgrimage - in its parish church, St Nicholas, and a smaller church Our Lady of the Snow.
I was really impressed by the local area - blue sea, striking cliffs, scattered islands. Croatia was of course a part of the former Yugoslavia until the fall of Communism/Socialism in 1989, which led to the violence of the wars in the early and mid-1990s.  It is mainly Catholic, and Dubrovnik is at the far bottom end of Croatia's strange boomerang shape. For much of its history the city was an independent republic, rather like Venice, under which it spent another large part of its history. I'll share some of what happened during the week over the next few postings...watch this space. Meanwhile here is a dramatic aerial view of the walled Old City of Dubrovnik, heavily damaged in the 1990s but now restored.

Sunday, 6 October 2013

Thursday, 3 October 2013

The full Vincent, and yikes, it's the Rijks

I'm back from our September Pilgrimage to Croatia and Medjugorje - but more of that later as I haven't finished Amsterdam yet! Blimey, you must be thinking, what a life!
Anyway...
On my last full day in A'dam I had a timed e-ticket to the Van Gogh Museum, so I decided to OD on culture and hit the Rijksmuseum in the afternoon too. So I got on one of the city's excellent trams and headed across the centre. All of Amsterdam's public transport functions only on an Oystercard type payment system, with no money changing hands at all - very impressive.
As at the Anne Frank, I was glad I had my e-ticket so I could walk past the ever-lengthening queue. To mark 150 years since his birth, the collection has been hung in one long continuous display through the floors, with excellent commentary on the audio guide including links to all the info you could possibly want on the great painter. I spent about 2 hours and found it fascinating to watch his development unfold in front of your eyes. The collection is based on the paintings owned by Theo, Vincent's brother. The last paintings I found very moving, including the famous "Wheatfield with Crows" (above) with its disappearing lane, and the disturbing "Treeroots"(below).
After a snack out on the leafy park between the two galleries, I made for the newly revamped Rijksmuseum. It's very impressive indeed. They have cleared away the galleries that had filled up two internal courtyards, glassed them over and formed a wonderful entrance area. Very thoughtfully they have put many of their "Greatest Hits" all in one place, the very grand central gallery. This is dominated by Rembrandt's "Night Watch" at the far end, like a kind of High Altar. But the "side chapels" had already caused me to sit several times, with a scattering of Frans Hals, no fewer than four wonderful Vermeers (right), and a very select group of other Rembrandts, including one of my all-time favourites, the so-called "Jewish Bride" (below). "The Night Watch" itself just sort of stuns you with its scale and skill and general brilliance, but this portrait of a couple drew me in. It was far better than even the best of reproductions. After this genius overload, I wandered around several other galleries, not even attempting to do the whole place, before staggering out into the Dutch sunlight, and a last evening dinner at the hotel.

Monday, 23 September 2013

Daft about Delft

Having had my fill of Vermeer, I moved on to the Old Church - the one with the leaning tower. Like the one in Pisa, it's been leaning for centuries, so I had no anxiety in going in! Like many others in the Netherlands, the interior was denuded after the Reformation, but it is a calm and venerable building. I paid my respects at the grave of Vermeer, and repaired outside to the charming cafe in the square adjoining the church, the Cafe de Oude Jan (above). It was great - sun shining, lovely salad, loads of people from all over. I chatted a little with not one but two families from Spain, and could have stayed all day relaxing. However, I had to return to the other church where I had been unable to get in earlier.
The New Church is more grand than the Old, and it has a special place for Dutch people because the Royal Family have been buried there for centuries. This started when William the Silent, William of Orange, made Delft his centre and became the father of the whole dynasty and indeed "Father of the Fatherland." As a Protestant he fell foul of the Spanish Catholic king, who had him assassinated at the Prinsenhof (Court of the Prince) in Delft, his headquarters, in 1584. You can see the bulletholes on the stairs to this day (left).
Once again the church has been reoriented for the Calvinist emphasis on the pulpit against a righthand pillar. Where the altar would have been is the splendid monument to William (right), and the Royal Vaults lie underneath. Almost all the family are there, one notable exception being of course the one who became our King William III in 1689, and who is buried in Westminster Abbey.
Eventually it was time to leave the lovely old town of Delft. I would recommend it to anyone visiting the Netherlands or looking for a day out of Amsterdam. Fr M definitely approves.

Friday, 20 September 2013

Delighted in Delft

I have a new name to add to my list of favourite places. Delft is a small town sandwiched between the much larger cities of Rotterdam and The Hague. It's known for delftware, which is blue and white glazed pottery, for being the burial place of the Dutch royal family for many generations, and for being the birthplace, home and burial place of Johannes, or Jan, Vermeer, one of my all time top painters. When I was deciding which places outside Amsterdam I was going to visit, it had to be top of the list.
Delft is further away from A'dam than Haarlem, but a good train service got me there in no time. I was soon strolling out of the station, which is being rebuilt underground, causing a lot of roadworks and diversions. However, signs to the "Centrum" soon directed me down an old and narrow alley and I was suddenly immersed in the delights of old Delft. In fact, Old Delft or Oude Delft, is the name of the lovely canal along which you walk to get to the centre, and which won me over. The canal is narrower than most in A'dam, the houses seemed rather smaller, and the whole thing more intimate. I felt drawn into this quiet Dutch town whose history stretched back centuries to a time when it was walled, and one of the most important towns in the country.
Oude Delft led me towards the central Market Square, but not before it had tempted you with glimpses of the leaning tower of the Old Church, further down the canal. I resisted the urge to go and explore that, as my by now traditional coffee and croissant was beckoning in the cafes surrounding the square.  The square, again, seemed more intimate than the one at Haarlem, the buildings less grandiose except for the beautiful Town Hall. Like Haarlem, however, there was a church, this time known as the New Church - new as in only 14th century as opposed to 12th and 13th century Old Church.
Refreshed, I made for the entrance. One 3 euro ticket gets you into both churches, but the nice lady wouldn't change my 50 euro note! So I slid back out of the New, heading for the Old to try my luck there...but along the way I saw "The Vermeer Centre" (left).
This is a sort of resource place for everything to do with Delft's great painter son, including reproductions of all his paintings. Sadly Delft does not hold any of the originals, but it was great to see 'em all together, and have lots about his style etc explained...
(to be continued as I am off to see "Les Mis" at our regular St Brigid's film show")

Monday, 16 September 2013

Globetrotting in Haarlem

It was time for a trip outside Amsterdam. I'd set aside two days to visit places outside the city and had chosen Haarlem and Delft. So the third morning I caught a train from the nearby Centraal Station to this old city which is only twelve miles west.
Haarlem is actually the provincial capital of North Holland, which includes Amsterdam, and historically was more important. It's still the seat of the local Catholic bishop, whose title was only recently changed from Bishop of Haarlem to Bishop of Haarlem-Amsterdam. At its
heart is a huge square, the Great Market, which is dominated by an equally huge church - the Great Church. I'd seen artists' depictions of this square before, and as I walked down from the station to the town centre, it was a bit like walking into a painting. The square was slowly filling up with people. The weather was the only grey day of my A'dam trip, and cafe-frequenters were a bit slow to step out maybe... but I took my place with croissant and cappucino. Soon the scene was lively with mainly locals, but some visitors. I have to admit Dutch does not seem to be the most attractive language, and as I don't understand it there was little chance to eavesdrop on local chat!
The Great Church - St Bavo, the same as Ghent Cathedral - is Dutch Reformed. It's big but rather bare, like other churches I visited in the Netherlands. This throws into relief the beautiful metalwork in the screens and also the carved stalls. Having absorbed the Square and its parts, I wandered down the main shopping street towards perhaps Haarlem's main artistic treasure - the Frans Hals Museum
Along the way I spotted an old door open and hinting at very interesting stuff inside. I checked and found it is a hofje, the equivalent really of our almshouses, and they are usually built around a courtyard, as this one is. It's called the Proveniershuis (right), and is an oasis of quiet and greenery in a busy street. Its history goes back to the Middle Ages when it was a convent, but it has housed old folk since 1707. Beautiful.
I pressed on to the Museum, which is located in another, but former, hofje. Hals was a Haarlem local and the Museum has 12 of his paintings, plus others by different artists. The displays are first-class, and it's all on one floor. I've always been keen on Frans Hals, with his free style, less constrained than many of his contemporaries. He seems to be able to achieve so much with few strokes. There are several of his large group portraits, mainly of boards of trustees of the hofjes and the suchlike, plus several single portraits, and one pair of a husband and wife. I particularly liked "The Regentesses of the Home for Old Men" (below), a rather honest portrayal of what looks like some tough ladies.
It was time for a bite, and so I relaxed in the cafe, part of a modern wing added on. I returned to the square via a canal-side walk, which are everywhere in much of the Netherlands. By now it was getting a little darker overhead, so I didn't dawdle in the Square again, but made my way back to teh Station, Holland's oldest apparently, and so back to the huge, busy - and not too attractive Amsterdam Centraal Station.

Thursday, 12 September 2013

A'dam New Side

I bought tickets for the Rijkmuseum, the Van Gogh Museum and Anne Frank's House on the internet before I went to Amsterdam. Boy, was I glad I did for Anne Frank's House, even if it meant I had to be there for opening time at 9am on the Saturday. By the time I came out the queue was down the street, round the corner and around the neighbouring Church.
Over a million people a year visit the house where the Frank family and four others hid for two years during World War II, and where Anne wrote her diary (left). I was surprised how small the conditions were. The rooms have been left bare at the request of Anne's father, the only one of the eight to survive the camps. The windows are covered as they were during the day. I was glad to have visited this famous spot, but equally glad to get out of there. It connected in my mind back to a harrowing visit to Auschwitz a few years ago... There is an excellent virtual tour on the website I've linked to in the first paragraph. Back out in the fresh air, the air that Anne longed to breathe, a canal-side cappucino and croissant was just what the doctor ordered.
Obviously the canals are one of A'dam's top attractions, and some are indeed very beautiful.
For the rest of the morning I wandered around the famous "Girdle" - three concentric canals built around the original medieval centre. Many of the houses are very dignified, but I think I preferred the smaller, usually older ones. In no time, and after a few pauses at benches to watch canal life go by, several hours had passed, and I arrived at Rembrandtsplein (it's that man again) -  a large square filled with visitors and cafes. I parked myself at one and settled down for some light lunch and people-watching. My guidebook suggested visiting during the day and at night - but I resisted that second temptation.
My return stroll took me along Rokin, one of the main streets and into the principal square, which rejoices in the name Dam. The aerial view (right) is better than the reality, I think. I found this wide expanse a bit deadening and formless, with a rather ugly National Monument. A rather tired magician was trying to hold the crowd. I poked my head inside the New Church, which, with the Royal Palace, dominates the square, but was not particularly grabbed, and made my way back to base. 
Yes, I'm very glad I visited the Anne Frank House, as they call it, and I certainly gave the canals a good going over - essential Amsterdam...

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Going Dutch

So, welcome back to me after my summer break. School Masses are being booked, meetings arranged etc etc for the coming months... so definitely time to think back to summer travels.
My now annual time-on-my-own took me this year to Dutch capital Amsterdam. After last year's fun trip on Eurostar, I decided to repeat the experience. So, like last year, it was St Pancras direct to Brussels through the Tunnel, but then north to Amsterdam via Antwerp and Rotterdam, rather than west to Bruges, on the also superfast Thalys train.
Before going I chose a hotel in A'dam close to the station as I wanted to make a few trips out of the city. I looked first at one on the internet which I thought would be out of my league, only to find one hotels site offering a fantastic deal - so my accommodation was great, excellent staff, breakfast was included and the restaurant was good enough to have an evening meal there on a few days.
Weather was great on the whole, so it was in sunshine that I set out on my first morning's exploration of the Old (or east) Side of the city centre. Now, yes, I know, A'dam is (in)famous for its red light district, but if I say I plunged into its narrow streets at 9.30am, you must take my word that it was in order to reach two of the sights that are located right in the middle of it!
"Our Lord in the Attic" is a Catholic chapel (left) hidden away in the attics of three adjacent houses. The Reformation forced the Church underground (or up in the roof) in the Netherlands, like here in Britain. Several of these chapels were constructed, but only one survives. So, rather bizarrely, you climb up through a house only to find a Baroque church three floors up, with adjacent lodging for the priest.
Moving on, and trying to ignore the, er, street life, I then visited the Old Church, the original church of the city, now Protestant of course, and denuded of its Catholic finery. Lastly, before lunch, I paid a visit to the Rembrandt House (below). Here he lived most of his adult life, though he overreached himself financially, and ended up having to sell up. It has been refurnished to look as it did in his day. As a great admirer of Rembrandt I was fascinated.
 
By now it was time for baguette and drink in the lovely street cafe outside, watching the world go by. In the afternoon I strolled slowly back through one of the main shopping areas, Kalverstraat, but found it heaving with people, and on the edge of seedy in a way. I was relieved to turn into the great oasis of peace that is the Begijnhof (below). These were great institutions, Catholic communities of women who were not nuns but often widows or single ladies living in community around  a chapel. You find them dotted over the Netherlands and Belgium. Amazing to find it right in the middle of the bustling city. A wedding was going on in the church, and I sat a while before heading back to my hotel and a traditional Dutch hotpot. Tomorrow... Anne Frank and the New (or west) Side.

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Remembering Joseph

Back in May Pope Francis decreed that the name of St Joseph be inserted into Eucharistic Prayers ll, lll and lV, as it in EP l.  With all that was going on that month, I completely forgot about it (sorry St Joseph and Pope Francis!).  So we eventually got around to it this weekend, and I took the opportunity to speak about Joseph at the Sunday Masses.
There was a good response from people - many were grateful because they said we don't hear much about St Joseph. One chap said he didn't even realise we had a statue of him at St Brigid's. He is indeed a little hidden away in Our Lady's Chapel, where he is turned towards his wife. 
So, a renewed effort to remember that he is very much part of the Family - of Nazareth and of the Church, of which he is Guardian. He is also patron of workers as a carpenter, and of the dying, as we assume that Our Lord and Our Lady were both present at his death.
So... "Blessed Joseph, her spouse" it is!

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Tulips in...

Good news in the last few days, as Fr Frederick from Bangla Desh confirmed that he can come to spend some time with us in the next month or so. Talking purely selfishly, this means that I can have some time off, not having had a Sunday free since last September (bless!).
So Father comes next Tuesday, and the following day I'm off on the next of my get-to-places-I-always-meant-to-visit jaunts, this year to Amsterdam. So I fixed it all up yesterday over the internet, including tickets for the newly-refurbished Rijksmuseum, Van Gogh Museum and Anne Frank House. The wonders of the internet never cease to amaze. The same room at same hotel was quoted at hugely different rates. Going for the cheapest (by far), however, I paid the penalty because Barclays then stoppd my debit card. Apparently the hotel site was based in France, and as I then proceeded to book an Eurostar ticket in UK, their computers suspected fraud, and stopped it. Anyway, Barclays were very good and all was sorted in five minutes. Later I did remember noticing a little statement on the website saying "This bill will be paid in Euros" Caveat emptor!
After that I'm attending a charismatic weekend in Carmarthen and then having some family time. So, plenty to post about coming up...

Saturday, 10 August 2013

Vallely on Francis

I read Paul Vallely's new biography of Pope Francis this week - very good and Fr M approves. Glad to see the Tablet agrees with me!  Moving around some of the Catholic blogosphere over the last months since he was elected, I can't help noticing that while many folks are very approving, some are critical of some aspects. But the ones who fascinate me are those who seem particularly quiet. I don't know if it's because they have reservations but their self-professed loyalty to Rome is being stretched, or whether they have little or nothing to say... I don't know. 
Paul Vallely is a respected journalist and has done his homework, especially on the period in Pope Francis's life when he was Provincial of the Jesuits. With some of the media sniffing problems, I was glad to be able to get a clearer picture of that time, and in the end a clearer picture of where he is now.
I was also glad to see comments about teh Pope's evident connection with so-called popular piety - pilgrimages, images etc. As a devoted pilgrim myself, I found much to identify with here. 
Most people I speak to in the parishes speak very highly of their first impressions of the Holy Father. Indeed so do people not of our faith too! And most end their comments with something like - "Hope he keeps it up... We shall see!"  Indeed we shall. Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor has said, apparently, to give him four years and we'll never be the same.

Sunday, 4 August 2013

Silence at Copacabana

I watched a lot of World Youth Day on TV. The Saturday evening Prayer Vigil was particularly creative. Its style was obviously Latin American, but included other music too. Here is Matt Maher singing during the Adoration part of the evening, with a couple of million in silence...

Saturday, 3 August 2013

3 Churches Mass Video

Our parish website master, Simon, has put together a video from this year's 3 Churches Mass. The soundtrack is the last two hymns from the Mass. Enjoy!

Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Francis and a young man's Cross


A young Brazilian Felipe Passos moved the hearts of three million World Youth Day participants, including Pope Francis himself, when he told the story of how he became bound to a wheelchair and discovered “the Cross.”  Felipe, 23, spoke at the World Youth Day prayer vigil July 27 at Copacabana Beach.  He told how at the end of the last World Youth Day, in Madrid in 2011, he made two spiritual promises. He promised to stay chaste until marriage and to work hard so his prayer group at Ponta Grossa, in Brazil’s southern state of ParanĂ¡, could participate in this year’s World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro. With few resources, Felipe and his friends began saving money by taking on several hard jobs, at the same time that they prepared themselves spiritually: praying, adoring the Blessed Sacrament, fasting and doing charitable works.

Then a terrible thing happened.  “In January of this year, two days before turning 23, two youths came into my home, armed, to steal the money we had saved with so much sacrifice,” said Felipe.  “I thought of the months of great effort, of my family’s sacrifices, of my friends and colleagues… in what was about to be snatched from us, and I decided I would not hand it over,” he added July 27.  Felipe saved the money of the group, but received a gunshot wound i the neck that almost ended his life.  “I was clinically dead, I had several cardiac arrests, and the doctor told my parents in the hospital ‘this boy has no hope,’ but I’m here and my community is here because of God’s mercy,” remarked Felipe.
In front of a shocked crowd and in front of Pope Francis, who looked at him attentively, the Brazilian told how he was in a coma, breathing through a tube, while his community offered prayers and sacrifices for his healing. Finally, when he regained consciousness, the first thing he did was to ask for the Eucharist, and after receiving it, he improved rapidly. But Felipe, who has since then been wheelchair-bound, said “this is my cross, the cross the Lord sent me, to come closer to him, to live more openly his grace and love.”  

When the three million youths started to applaud, Felipe interrupted them. “Silence!” he said. “Let’s listen to the Holy Spirit!”  The 23-year-old then asked each of the youths present to take the cross they had hung around their neck, to hold it and look at it.  Felipe invited them to meditate in silence on the questions: “What is the cross that the Lord has given me? What is the cross that he wants me to carry for his love?”  Everyone present, including bishops and cardinals, contemplated their own cross around their neck. The wheelchair-bound young man’s words created a unique moment of profound silence along the entire Copacabana beach. Felipe finished his testimony asking for prayers as well as for Pope Francis’ blessing.

Saturday, 20 July 2013

3 Churches Mass

Pictures from this year's 3 Churches Mass "People of Faith" can now be seen on our Facebook page "3 Churches in Cardiff". I thought I'd put a few of them on here. The first one shows the general scene during Mass. At the altar you can see myself, Fr Tomy and Deacon Rob, chaplain at Corpus Christi, where the Mass is celebrated. The second picture shows some of the music group and choir that made a huge contribution to the Mass, making a very beautiful sound. Then lastly, a nice picture taken during the Sign of Peace. This annual Mass is the main occasion for people from our 3 Churches to come together.