Saturday, 31 May 2014

To Calvary and beyond

Our Jerusalem hotel was located right opposite the city walls, so in order to follow the Via Dolorosa, the Stations of the Cross, we just crossed the road, went in through Herod's Gate and strolled through the Arab quarter to Mass at the Ecce Homo Convent (left). Here the sisters look after the remains of the palace of Pilate, possibly where the trial of Jesus took place. Underneath is the famous pavement marked with the games that the Roman soldiers played.
Here, we remembered how Pilate presented the people with the choice - Jesus or Barabbas? Here the voice of Jesus is largely silent, we look, reflect - and choose. Barabbas, the world, the easy life, or Jesus, the Way, the Truth and the Life?
After Mass we set off on the Way of the Cross through the streets of the Old City. Half way along we managed to obtain a cross for the group to carry - 3 people for each Station. By now my toe problem was playing up after a few days of punishment - but it all seemed tiny compared to his condition...  Soon we arrived at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the goal of countless pilgrims down through the centuries... The surprise, some might say shock, of this crowded noisy complex building is long past for me on this my fifth visit. I left the long queue of people waiting to enter the Tomb, and as I came round to the front of it (below, on a quieter day!), a man got up from one of the few seats, smiled, and disappeared into the crowd. And so I sat there, right in front of the Tomb's entrance, for about half an hour. The noise and bustle slowly melted away in my mind, and I was left face to face with the simple truth of an empty tomb. Looking back, these moments were the heart of the pilgrimage for me this time round.

After this visit we went for lunch and then on to the area known as Mount Zion with its Dormition Abbey. We gathered around the statue of the deceased Mary in the crypt, remembering our loved ones, and I asked Clare to sing a verse of the Magnificat ("My soul is filled with joy..."). It was a beautiful end to the day.

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

God who cries

The second day of our p8lgrimage was centred on the Mount of Olives. We started admiring the beautiful panorama of the Old City from the top (above), then made our way down the steep path that marks the way that Jesus followed on Palm Sunday. At its bottom lies the Garden of Gethsemane, a place of tremendous spiritual power, while back at the top we visited the small Chapel of the Ascension and the church that marks the teaching by Jesus of the Our Father, where we find the prayer in so many different languages written out on ceramic tiles.
However, on the way down to Gethsemane we stopped for Mass at the famous chapel of Dominus Flevit - the Lord Wept (Luke 19). Whereas in Bethlehem we listened to the voice of Jesus as a helpless babe, now we listened again, and heard his man's tears. He weeps for his beloved Jerusalem - and maybe for us too. He weeps for our sins, the damage we do to others and to ourselves. He weeps for the wounds and scars in our lives - the damage done to us by others. But he does not stop at tears, he goes on to offer us forgiveness, healing and peace. And so here, where the Lord wept, we asked him to come to each of us and make us whole. The wall behind the altar here (right) is a window looking out, as Jesus did, over the city of Jerusalem. As we quietly reflected on where we are in our lives, a few of our tears were added to those of the Lord.

Sunday, 25 May 2014

To Jerusalem

Long gap, because I have spent a wonderful week or so in the Holy Land, where Pope Francis has now decided to follow me!  I thought I might try and give a hint of what we get up to o these pilgrimages, and what kind of thing I share with the pilgrims during our daily Mass, the heart of our pilgrimage.
We flew out on Monday 12th May and spent the first five nights at the Golden Walls Hotel, facing the ancient city walls. We stayed there on our last visit in 2009, and its location is perfect. We  set out on our first day for Bethlehem, but to reach it you have to pass through the oppressive security wall that separates much of the Palestinian Territory from Israel. 
A brief walk in the city brought us to the little church of the Milk Grotto (left), where the Holy Family traditionally stopped on their journey to Egypt, either to hide from Herod or to feed the baby - or both! We celebrated Mass in one of the newer chapels added in more recent years, dedicated to Mary, Mother of God. 
Here I introduced a theme of the pilgrimage - listening to the voice of Jesus. Here, of course, it was the voice of a baby - God calling out to us through the gurgles and cries of a helpless little one. Bring a baby into a room full of adult strife and everything changes. An innocent bay radiates love and hope for the future, and draws love from those around. So the voice of Jesus, God-made-man, first calls out to us through the most dependent and trusting of human beings - a baby.
We then visited the Church of the Nativity (right), the 6th century building that protects the Grotto marking the traditional spot of Our Lord's birth. The queue to go down was very long... so after a brief visit to St Catherine's, the Catholic church on the site, we returned to the coach and headed off to lunch. This was near the Shepherds' Field, which we visited in the afternoon before returning to the Golden Walls to reflect on our first day.

Monday, 5 May 2014


Great weekend at Celebrate Wales 2014 up at our local Corpus Christi High School. I particularly noticed a beautiful atmosphere - exciting yet calm. Speakers were excellent and
included Pastor Clyde Thomas (left) from the Victory Church in Cwmbran. He must have been good, because I'm going to get the CDs - which is very rare for me now, to want to listen to a talk again. I was a proud parish priest to see so many of our parishioners taking an active part in every aspect of the weekend, from making the tea to playing the cello to running the PA system to praying with people... Must be doing something right, folks!
I was asked to be main celebrant at the final Mass on Sunday afternoon, which is a great privilege. There were so many children and young people involved, it was wonderful. One of the most distinctive things about Celebrate is that it is very geared to families, with "streams" of activities for all age groups. It really shows up so many Church events where families are excluded because of time of day, lack of facilities etc. Fantastic. Loads of credit to all the organizers especially Mary and Simon on the local level, and Charles, Sue and Jenny on the national level. I nabbed Charles Whitehead - Mr Big in the charismatic world - to come and lead a Day of Renewal here at St Brigid's in November.
Well, today is Bank Holiday, and I've had a quiet day, though the phone rang all morning it
seemed, with little regard for it being a holiday. I was looking forward to a production of "Under Milk Wood" on BBC Wales this evening. This is part of the centenary celebrations of Dylan Thomas's birth in 1914. It was a radio play, so it's not easy to translate to TV. I thought they did well, with its "star-studded cast", but felt that some of the non-actors lacked a certain quality. Tom Jones can belt it out, but Captain Cat's poignant reminiscences are something different. Still, it's a great play. I visited Laugharne last year - and almost froze to death - and, rather like listening to "Myfanwy" sung by a male voice choir, if your heart isn't stirred by "Under Milk Wood" then you're not quite Welsh in my opinion.

Thursday, 1 May 2014

Easter life

It's been a bit longer than usual since my last post. Which is actually a good sign - that I'm back to normal energy levels after my brush with the demon bacteria of cellulitis, and catching up with stuff that I just couldn't face during that period.
We had great Triduum services at our 3 Churches. People seemed to get a lot particularly from Good Friday at St Brigid's. What great wisdom the Church has in making sure we revisit these sacred events each year. It's much deeper than simply reminding us in case we forget...
Since Easter we have had several funerals into which to bring some of the light of the Resurrection. Also I have done some dashing around to give talks here and there - something I wouldn't have been able to do a month or two ago. This past Friday and Saturday I was at the High Leigh Christian Conference Centre in Hoddesdon, Hertfordshire, where people involved in leading the various Celebrate weeks and weekends were gathered to mark 20 years since the first Celebrate Conference in Ilfracombe. I was very honoured to be asked to give one of the three addresses. Then this Tuesday evening I shot up to Abergavenny to lead the first of the series of Life in the Spirit Seminars that are happening there.
On the subject of Celebrate and the seminars, we are all prepared now for the Celebrate Wales this coming weekend at our very own Corpus Christi High School. I'm celebrating the final Mass on Sunday afternoon and shall be popping in and out during Saturday and Sunday to fit in with parish duties. Then the following Sunday we start the Life in the Spirit seminars at our own prayer group in St Brigid's (Sundays 7.30pm May 11th). There's lots happening, and I'll try to give some flavour as we go along.
Since I have been feeling better, lots of parishioners have said how am looking better too, some adding, "Oh you looked terrible". I know what they mean, but somehow it doesn't help to know that I looked as bad as I felt!