Tired of all the bad news

While we can't deny the difficulites for so many people at home and overseas, it's important to take account of the positives, and to spread the Good News. I don't know who said this but; "No-one ever injured their eyesight by looking on the bright side." Blessings..

Friday, 15 February 2019


Padre Pio – A saint for our time


Padre Pio is a saint for our time. He has been recorded on tape, filmed, and photographed by many people. I’ve known and spoken to people who have met him, talked to him, and been to confession to him. I lived with a friar who, while a theology student in Rome, spent the summer months during World War II sitting beside him at table in the friary of San Giovanni Rotondo. He has enormous appeal and while he was alive, over the years, people flocked in their droves to meet him, to be blessed by him, and to listen to what he had to say.

Part of his mystique was the supernatural dimension to his everyday life and these examples are well known. Among them was his ability to be in more than one place at once, his power to read souls, his gift of healing, and of course the stigmata.

The stigmata, the visible wounds of Christ crucified on his body caused him great physical pain and more than that, great emotional pain. It meant that he was an object of curiosity, and ridicule by some. He prayed for the physical marks to leave him but for the pain to remain. Each day friars used to bind the wounds with fresh bandages and cover them with a mitten, a fingerless brown or black glove which he removed for Mass.  The visible wounds appeared on his body in 1918 and for 50 years they were a daily source of pain and embarrassment for him. Medical experts were at a loss as to why the wounds continued to bleed over the years. They began to disappear in the months prior to his death in September 1968.


Today, people find great consolation in the mitten of Padre Pio. We get a lot of calls enquiring about the mitten or relics of Padre Pio and asking for them to be brought to hospitals or to those sick and in need. While the friars do their best despite their other work to help those who ask for the mitten, we need point out there are important protocols for visiting a patient in hospital. I say this from some years’ experience as a hospital chaplain.

Sometimes the only power the sick person has is the desire to be left alone. I remember a patient in hospital say to me; “Nice to see you visit me, but even nicer to see you go.” They were simply too ill for visitors.  Does the patient or their next-of-kin know or have they agreed to be blessed by a relic? Is the ward manager or nurse-in-charge aware that someone from outside is calling to see the patient? Is the visit within the visiting hours of the hospital? Are there other restrictions in the hospital which should prevent visitors like MRSA or norovirus etc.? It may be that the patient is in an isolation ward or restricted for visiting.

The main pastoral outreach in hospitals today is the Chaplains. These are appointed by the diocesan bishop/ church authority to the hospital authority, are trained and police vetted, and thus lawfully provide for the spiritual and the sacramental need of the patient.  Be aware that there will be further protocols in the care of sick children.  It is necessary and courteous for the hospital chaplain on call, day or night, to be asked if it’s okay for an outsider to come on to administer pastoral care to a patient, especially with relics of saints. 

There is no doubt that the power of prayer can add to the healing and recovery of patients at home or in hospital. Though there are many stories of help through the intercession of saints by praying with their relics, it is the Lord alone who heals. God heals the sick through the great skills of the medical doctors, surgeons, nursing, and other care staff.

When he was alive, St. Padre Pio spearheaded the building of the Casa Sollievo della Sofferenza (Home for the Relief of Suffering) in San Giovanni Rotondo. Today, it is one of the finest hospitals in South Eastern Italy. He knew the hardships of the sick and also what their families go through. Padre Pio would say that while he will always pray for the sick, he would offer every support to the great work of those whose skills are put at the service of patients.

Padre Pio as a Capuchin Friar.

Padre Pio was asked once who are you? He replied; ‘I’m just a poor friar who prays.’ I’ve no doubt that he would prefer to be remembered for this rather than all his supernatural gifts. Many years ago, one of our Irish Capuchins who ran the Padre Pio Prayer Group in Church Street often said of Padre Pio that he will not be canonized because of the stigmata, or the bi-location, or the ability to read souls, or the supernatural gifts he had. Padre Pio will be canonized because of how he lived the Franciscan life.

We know that Padre Pio was born Francesco Forgione into a farming family in 1887 in Pietrelcina in south eastern Italy. Interestingly, this man who would become a Capuchin Franciscan and eventually bear the stigmata was given the same name as the great saint of Italy, Francis of Assisi who also bore the stigmata in his time. While Francesco Forgione didn’t have great health as a boy and as a young man, he did like to play the odd game of football with his friends in the locality. Religion and the Church had a big part to play in everyone’s life then and Francesco was no exception. It was felt by many people who knew the Forgione’s that Francesco would probably end up as a priest and as a religious. He was drawn to the Capuchins because he was inspired by a talk he heard from a young Capuchin brother who was questing in the area. Capuchin Friars often travelled between friaries preaching and promoting vocations and questing – or begging for alms for the friary and the poor.

When he joined the Capuchins in his late teens in Morcone, 20 kilometres to the north of Pietrelcina at the turn of the 20th century, as a novice friar he was given the name Br. Pio. In those days the Capuchin Friars were more identified by the place they came from rather than their surname. (Padre Pio of Pietrelcina rather than Padre Pio Forgione) As a student friar in simple (or temporary) vows he was in studies for the priesthood. He was perpetually professed, and then ordained to the priesthood in the Cathedral of Benevento on 10th August 1910 at the age of 23. Four days later he offered his first Mass. Interestingly, for six years he was permitted to remain with his family living at home as a Capuchin due to continued bad health. It was after this, on September 4th 1916, that he was sent by his superiors to be stationed in the friary of Our Lady of Graces, San Giovanni Rotondo, in the province of Foggia. Apart from a period of military service in the Medical Corps in Naples in 1915, Padre Pio was to remain in San Giovanni Rotondo until his death in 1968.

All Capuchin Franciscans take the vows of obedience, poverty and chastity. We take them for a probationary period of time first. Later after discernment by the student friar, those responsible for formation, and the Holy Spirit, we take that life-long commitment. In the first chapter of the rule of St. Francis of Assisi which he wrote and which was approved by the Holy See in 1223 we read; “This is the rule and life of the Friars Minor, namely to observe the Holy Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ, living in obedience, without anything of one’s own, and in chastity. Brother Francis promises obedience and reverence to our lord Pope Honorius and all his successors canonically elected, and to the Roman Church. And all the friars are bound to obey Brother Francis and his successors.” Here we see the beginning of the rule of life that Brother (later Fr.Pio) professed and he did so living in community with the other brothers.

Day in and day out, and sometimes rising at midnight, Padre Pio lived the rule of the friars. They had meditation in common and prayed the liturgical hours during the day. The friar’s day is interspersed with prayer, work, and meals and recreation. There are five Franciscan charisms which we try to live by; the first is Fraternity. Fraternity means we live as a family, as a brotherhood, and all the other things stem from this. The second is Prayer and Contemplation. Day and night, alone and in common we pray as brothers. The third is Poverty and Minority. We are Friars Minor, we try to seek the lowest place after the example of the ‘Poverello,’ St Francis of Assisi. Again, when Padre Pio was asked who he was he often said; “I’m just a poor friar who prays.” The fourth charism is Ministry and Apostolate; We are engaged in many different ministries at the service of the Jesus Christ and the Church and especially the poor. And the fifth charism is Justice, Peace, and Respect for the Integrity of Creation. This was something that was very dear to the heart of Francis of Assisi. To love all the environment, the plants, the animals, and humankind as being created by God.

Today the life of a Capuchin friar is not as difficult as it was a long time ago. The daily life of the friars as I pointed out was taken up with prayer, Mass, work, recreation, and meals. On Fridays to this day, the friars renew their vows together in the refectory. In the past, there were also certain penances the friars practiced in the choir and in the refectory on Fridays and days of penance. In the friary of San Giovanni Rotondo, Padre Pio would have participated in meditation and prayer in common, and in the common penances, and in the partaking of meals in common with the other friars. He would have shared in the housework, and in the refectory and around the house when his health permitted and he would have been at the disposal of the guardian (superior) of the friary and of the Provincial Minister.


Naturally, there were times in his life when he was asked not to say Mass in public and hear confessions while these spiritual phenomena associated with him were being investigated by the Order and by Church authorities. This was very hard on him but he accepted it all as a penance and in obedience to the Order and to the Church he loved. He was seldom alone in that over the day, he was with the friars at Mass, at prayer, at meals, and at work and recreation. He had some friars who were close by to assist him and especially when his health was bad and when he suffered. All his life, he was regularly called upon to meet people for confessions and prayers.

I mentioned that the friars used to rise at midnight for the Midnight Office. Padre Pio was often awake during the early hours anticipating his early morning Mass which he offered before an increasing amount of people over the years. Eventually because of the crowds, the friars had to build a bigger church such was the size of the pilgrims coming to his Mass. He heard men’s confessions in the sacristy after his thanksgiving after Mass, and later in the morning he would hear women’s confessions in the public church. As the years went on, people had to book a ticket to go to confession to Padre Pio. Here, he would enter the realm of the supernatural as he heard each confession. His compassion for those who were suffering because of a physical or a moral problem would come through. There were also moments when someone went to confession to Padre Pio for the wrong reasons or just out of curiosity. On these occasions he would have very little patience and would have even refused absolution knowing that then was not the right time.



In the refectory, Padre Pio would join other friars for the midday meal. The dining room in the friary is set up differently in many places these days but in Padre Pio’s time the superiors would sit at the top of the refectory and the other members of the community would sit at tables on each side of the refectory in order of seniority. Padre Pio was never guardian in the friary but was sometimes elected one of the house counsellors. On days of penance meals would be taken in silence and they would often be frugal and without meat. On these days of penance, like in Lent for example, a friar would read a passage of scripture, or a chapter from the life of St. Francis of Assisi, or a part of the constitutions of the Capuchin Order. On other days and feast days, the friars would be allowed to talk and take a little wine with their meal.


One of our Irish Capuchin Friars, the late Fr. Peter Dempsey studied during the war years in Rome. While all the students were unable to travel home that time, they were sent to different friaries in Italy. Fr. Peter found himself in the friary of San Giovanni Rotondo and often sat beside Padre Pio for the main meal and he regularly spoke to Padre Pio in Italian. Fr. Peter told me that he found him very interesting to talk to and one didn’t get the impression of someone who had all these spiritual gifts from God. While he always noticed he wore the brown fingerless mittens, he came across as an ordinary friar among the community. Padre Pio told Fr. Peter he prayed very much for the church in Ireland and for the Irish Capuchin missionaries.


There’s a short movie that has surfaced in the last few years; ‘Padre Pio – Rare Footage’ and its available on YouTube. I believe it was filmed on Cine Camera in black and white and it’s from around the middle of the 1950’s. In it you can see what looks like an excellent account of a day in the life of the friars in San Giovanni Rotondo and how Padre Pio is simply a friar among them. There are also some scenes of people queueing to meet Padre Pio and also queueing to go to confession to him. There is a scene from Padre Pio saying Mass and at the altar. There are also scenes of him interacting with the other friars, even in humour and in good form as he swishes his cord as if to say with a quip ‘get that camera away from me!’ You can see himself and the friars entering the refectory for the midday meal and how they all kneel down and some kissing the floor before they take their seats. Padre Pio makes his way in and kneels too before he takes his seat as the guardian who is not in shot says the grace before meals. We then see the friars tucking in to bowls of spaghetti and the wine bottles on the table in front of them.  (https://youtu.be/sQRxYCepS3Q )


Padre Pio was an ordinary friar who did extraordinary things. He seamlessly connected from our world to the next world in prayer and while he suffered greatly, he offered it all up and believed that his sufferings were not a waste of time and could perhaps do some good. He spent many years helping to build the ‘Home for the Relief of the Suffering’ the great hospital in San Giovanni Rotondo which stands today as his legacy of care for those who suffer. All in all, he continued to live his life, day and night, as a ‘poor friar who prays.’





Tuesday, 25 December 2018

A Christmas Carol


Growing up, my dad took myself and my brother to the Library over in Dolphin’s Barn. I borrowed books there by Enid Blyton (the Famous Five) and I read some of Charles Dickens books. My mother was and still is an avid reader and she has always a novel or two on the go. I enjoyed some of Dickens books as a kid but now that I’m a bit older, I see the genius he was and how well he described the times he lived in. In many of his books for example like David Copperfield, Great Expectations, A Tale of Two Cities, and Hard Times, Dickens describes a bleak, dark, and harsh world of the mid-Victorian era. His more famous book Oliver Twist is very descriptive of the huge deprivation and the difference between the rich and the poor.

At this time of year, we become familiar with one of Charles Dickens best known characters; Ebenezer Scrooge. Everyone knows who Scrooge is and his name is synonymous with meanness and grumpiness. He is the original grinch.

Scrooge is the main character in Dicken’s book; A Christmas Carol. We meet him on a cold and miserable Christmas eve in London, seven years after the death of Scrooge’s business partner Jacob Marley. Scrooge, an aging miser hates Christmas and doesn’t see any point in it. He refuses an invitation to dinner by his nephew Fred, who seems to succeed in seeing the good in everyone. His clerk, Bob Cratchit manages to get the day off from Scrooge to celebrate Christmas with his family. Scrooge thinks its all ‘Humbug.’

That night, Scrooge is visited by the ghost of Jacob Marley who in his misery entwined in heavy chains and money boxes, who tells him to expect a visit from three other spirits.

The first ghost, the Ghost of Christmas Past takes Scrooge on a visit to his lonely boyhood at boarding school where we also see how much he missed his beloved sister, Fan. Later we see how he walks away from his relationship with his fiancée Belle because he loves money more than her. He sees her happy with her new family which upsets him

The second spirit, the Ghost of Christmas Present takes Scrooge to encounters with happy people buying the makings of Christmas dinner at the market. He also sees his nephew Fred’s happy family Christmas party where he is absent. He then sees Bob Cratchit and his family eating their frugal Christmas dinner and we are introduced to Tiny Tim, Cratchit’s youngest son, who is happy even though he is dangerously ill. The Ghost informs Scrooge that Tim will die unless the course of events changes.

The third Ghost, the Ghost of Christmas yet to come shows Scrooge a Christmas Day in the future. It describes the death of a disliked business man whose funeral is attended by people so long as dinner is laid on. His charwoman, the laundress, and the local undertaker, steal his possessions to sell to a fence, a robber. It seems no one likes him except a couple who are grateful he is dead so as to put their finances in order.  Is there any tenderness connected with death? The spirit then shows Scrooge the Cratchit family mourning the death of Tiny Tim. The ghost then allows Scrooge to see a neglected grave, and the tombstone bearing Scrooge’s name. Scrooge promises to change his ways.

Eventually, we see Scrooge wake up on Christmas morning a new man. He makes a large cash donation to a charity he snubbed the day before. He sends the biggest turkey in the butcher’s shop to the Cratchit family and goes to dinner and ends up dancing with his nephew Fred’s family. He gives Bob Cratchit an increase in pay and becomes a father figure to Tiny Tim. In the end Tim utters the immortal words; “God bless us, everyone!”

At the end of Dicken’s novel; A Christmas Carol, Ebenezer Scrooge embodies the spirit of Christmas and as a changed man, he enjoys the freedom that kindness and charity brings and it is the beginning of a new and happy life. He was locked into misery with every pound and shilling he counted and thus locked out everyone in the process. He was in a prison of his own making.

Christmas time is all about generosity and reaching out and most people make great efforts to make a difference to the lives of their friends and families. It begins earlier each year and perhaps that means that earlier people think of what they might begin to get for a loved one. Can we not but be constantly inspired by the goodness of others all year round but especially at this time of year when we hear of the amount of people, especially people wanting to help others? The local conference of the SVP were delighted with the response to their church collections in December. I the Capuchin Day Centre have been once again inundated with generous gifts and support there means the life line can continue on. Pope Francis referred to this when he made his historic visit there in August.

Jesus is born in Bethlehem. With no place available to stay, he comes into the world in a shed at the back of an Inn with animals and swaddling clothes to keep him warm. He is laid in manger where Shepherds are the first to come and worship. Christmas is meant for all but especially for those who feel there is no room for them. The beauty of the Christmas spirit is how people try to make room for others so that there is a place at the table, and where no one will be left out.

The place at the front of the crib is meant for me and you. Everyone can be confident of a welcome at there and the baby Jesus waits for us with no agenda except to open his arms to us all. Jesus counts on us to open our arms to one another, even when this may seem difficult and even if it takes us a few attempts. Pope Francis invites us to be ‘infected with the joy of Christ’s birth’ This true joy of Christmas which spills over into the whole year and for our whole lives is a spirit of kindness and that which asks us to see what we have in common first. In the words of Saint Francis of Assisi; Let us begin again…




Friday, 31 August 2018

Pope Francis - Repair my Church

No doubt the historic but intensive Apostolic Visit of Pope Francis to the World Meeting of Families 2018 in Ireland was a success. But a perusal of the media reporting and social media coverage since Pope Francis has returned to Rome highlights criticism by Archbishop Vigano as well as a sharp focus on how effective the universal Church is in its management of child safeguarding.

While it is an imperative that the truth comes out on these important matters, specifically in relation to Archbishop Vigano, I cannot help but believe that the Holy Father is being subjected to a tactical attack by some in clerical leadership roles in the Church. I feel that they simply don’t like him, and indeed have been critical of him since his first day as pope.

In the Gospel according to Matthew, at the Last Supper, Jesus turns to the disciples and prophesies that the “Shepherd will be struck, and the sheep will be scattered.” (Matt 26:31) In the second chapter of Matthew’s gospel, Herod learned of the birth of Jesus and wanted to kill him (Matt 2:13). Almost from the beginning of his public ministry, the established faith leaders didn’t like what Jesus stood for. They didn’t like Him eating with sinners, and they were critical of His association with lepers and tax collectors. They resented that He met people on the periphery and that He crossed borders to reach out to the poor. They watched for every opportunity to condemn Him when He ministered on the sabbath. It made them angry when Jesus called them out for their hypocrisy. In a word, Jesus was brave.

When Jesus was condemned to death, Pilate didn’t know Him. The Romans in charge of the scourging and the execution didn’t know Him. The soldiers who drove the nails into His hands and feet didn’t know Him. The Pharisees and the Scribes who were supposed know the scriptures should have known Him. Jesus’ disciples who abandoned him, and they certainly should have known Him. At least they came back, and they repented because of the prayer of Christ. “Simon, Simon, Satan has got his wish that he sift you all like wheat, but I have prayed for you, Simon, and after you have recovered, you in turn must strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22: 31-32).

The very ones who are criticising Pope Francis are supposed to be shepherds, wouldn’t you think they should know him? Instead of showing a leadership of service, it seems to me that some ministers in the Church would prefer to see the back of Pope Francis and this is very sad.

There are some in ministry who feel Pope Francis is too liberal, dispensing with many of the exterior trappings of the papacy like living modestly, wearing a simpler cassock and sash, and wearing simpler vestments. Others feel he is still too conservative and should speak up in support of the prevailing culture of the world more, especially in the west.

While it is critical that the truth fully comes out, because the truth will set us free, it is very sad that some attack the Holy Father in public and chip away at his mission of service to the Church.

I get consolation from remembering the vast multitudes of ‘God’s holy and faithful people’ (as Francis likes to call them) gathering at the faith enriching Festival of Families in Croke Park last Saturday evening, and at the wonderful Papal Mass last Sunday. The people came to see the Holy Father from the four corners of the world – and our country - in the wind and rain, to hear in his words and see in his example, his desire, to bring people closer to Jesus Christ. In the words of the gospel for the Mass, “Lord, to whom shall we go, you have the message of eternal life, and we have come to know that you are the Holy One of God” (John 6:68).

The vision of Pope Francis comes from the life Saint Francis of Assisi when he kneels in prayer before the cross in the little ruined chapel of San Damiano. Francis hears the voice of Jesus which says “Francis, go repair my Church which as you can see is falling completely into ruin.” At first, Francis begs for bricks and mortar to literally build up that ruined chapel. Later, with the help of the poor and marginalised, and with the help of the other brothers who came to join him, he discovers that Jesus means upbuilding the Church not with bricks and mortar but person by person and by embracing the best parts.

Franciscans don’t destroy, they repair. This is the vision of Pope Francis too, and his vision contains time, and care, and prayer. Let us act on his request to us on that special day in August when he visited the Capuchin Day Centre in Dublin city centre. Before giving his Apostolic blessing to all present has said: “Thank you for trusting us. Pray for the Capuchins, pray for priests, pray for bishops and pray for the Church.”

Friday, 20 July 2018

Follow the Camino


I walk around most of the day. Like nearly all people, I’ve been walking since I learned to walk as a toddler. I have become better at walking in the last few years in a bid to lose weight and by and large, it has paid dividends. To help in this regard, my family made me a present of a Fitbit to count my steps each day. The goal is 10,000. The idea of walking the Camino of St. James was somewhat intimidating to me in that it meant that I would have to walk from point a to point b and what would I encounter in between?  While I know it’s walking and not running, one has to be fit and relatively healthy because the average distance of 20 kilometres are covered each day and this can be in all weathers and over road, field, and mountain track, as well as some climbs and descents. 

I first heard of the Camino de Santiago de Compostella in 1999, when two teachers I knew went out there at the start of their retirement. Rather than wake up in late August wondering about not returning to school for the first time in many years, they walked the way of saint James into September and October.

Our decision to walk the Camino de Santiago de Compostella was my bright idea. Carmel Keogh, a parishioner, had walked the Camino in Autumn 2016 and decided to raise money for the Parish Church restoration fund. While I was thanking her at Mass, I said maybe we should look at doing the Camino as a Parish for the Bi-Centenary in 2017? And there, it was out. Paddy Pender, our Parish Secretary asked me later on was I serious about this?

We began to look at what was involved and we got in touch with ‘Follow the Camino’ a group in Suffolk St who would help us to organise and plan the pilgrimage. From that far back, it never looks dangerous and while the group came and did an information night with us, it still seemed so far down the road. Then time passes and we were walking together each Wednesday and Thursday training and raising awareness of the 200th anniversary of the opening of the Church and the Camino we were going to do. People began to come on board and express interest in doing the walk with us. It still seemed unreal because all of us have our own lives and commitments and the Camino was still ‘out there.’

We would walk on Wednesdays from the Four Courts Luas stop along the tracks up to Infirmary Road and return via Montpellier Hill and Arbour Hill or back along the tracks at Benburb Street and Smithfield. A nice walk which wasn’t terribly challenging but steadily we built up the miles over the winter and spring. Our team of walkers were myself, Pauline, Paddy, Linda, and Carmel and not forgetting Jasper. We didn’t tell Jasper that he probably wouldn’t be able to travel to Spain with us. All the while there were other enquiries and eventually the number committed to the Camino settled at ten and Follow the Camino made the necessary bookings for us in terms of transfers and hotels. I believe we did the sensible thing and made sure we had a place to rest and recover each evening.

The trip suddenly got very real for me when Paddy and I went over to Suffolk Street to the ‘Follow the Camino’ office to pay the balance of the bill and then received our Camino kits. It hadn’t fully sunk in for me perhaps because I was distracted with so many other day-to-day things but there was an excitement building at the same time. I tried to imagine what the walks would be like and the food along the way. I wondered would there be a place to say Mass for the group each evening and a what the photo opportunities would be like along the routes. I was a total Camino newbie so I really only imagined what would be in store.

In preparation for our Parish Bi Centenary Mass on August 25th, we visited each area of the parish for house and family blessings. As we went around the areas on those fine summer evenings, we got to meet most of the neighbours and families. Many of the neighbours set up small altars and put out statues and holy pictures. And there was also hospitality and a cuppa at the end of the prayers. We were also reminded that some of the older parishioners who were housebound would like to see us and so It was a blessing to celebrate the Sacrament of the Sick with them. People were texting each other on the balconies of the flats to tell them that we were around and I was called up to visit different homes and even to bless cars and pets!

We celebrated the Mass of thanksgiving on August 25th with invited clergy, friars, religious, parishioners and friends. It was a lovely occasion lead by the Archbishop of Dublin and we continued the celebrations in George’s Hill with hospitality, chat, and the cutting of a 200-anniversary cake. Everyone was so kind and supportive along the way, especially all during the painting and the decorating the ceremonies were a lovely backdrop to preparing to travel out to Spain to walk the Camino.

The final preparation days leading to our departure for Spain were spent getting advice and help from Dominic and Ruth from Army Bargains on Little Mary Street. This place has been there for years and Dominic couldn’t have been more helpful in terms of boots, socks, leggings, t-shirts, rain gear, back packs, and walking poles. As we were being looked after by Follow the Camino; we didn’t need overnight camping gear but Dominic was keeping an eye on all we needed for the long walks. In truth, he didn’t travel to Santiago with us this time in person but he came in spirit and never let us down.

And so, September 7th arrived and we all met in Dublin airport for a morning flight to Vigo on a Ryanair 738. We were delayed pushing back and delayed leaving Dublin but a good tailwind aloft meant that we made nice time en-route down to Vigo. The approach into the small airport in Vigo is very mountainous and you could feel the drop every so often as we descended. It took us no time to park at the stand and disembark the plane but as there was only one officer checking our passports, we passed the passport control very slowly indeed. We were met by the representative of Follow the Camino and soon we were onto the coach and driven to Tui to the Hotel Colon where we settled in and unpacked.

Most of us took a walk around the old town of Tui and got our pilgrim passports stamped in the stunning cathedral there and myself and Br Jeremy went to Mass that evening in the Dorothean Nun’s convent chapel. We freshened up and all met for our evening meal outside as the evening was fine and warm. Amazing how a one hour and forty-minute flight south can mean the difference between eating in and eating al fresco in September. It was an opportunity for us all to gather and meet since some of us hadn’t met before. After a nice meal and a beer, we all headed in different directions for bed and made preparations to begin our walk in the morning. What to leave in the suitcase for transportation to the next hotel? What essentials to take in the back pack which may be needed for the journey along the way? And so off to sleep.

The next morning, Friday September 8th the feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary we met for breakfast at 7.30 am and tried to eat well in preparation for a walk of around 20 kilometres. I was able to eat as I’m usually not good at breakfast especially if I’m a little nervous. Jeremy set off an hour earlier as he had threatened and took some supplies with him to eat ‘on the hoof.’ After breakfast it was time to go and I must say after we posed for a photo and posted it on our parish Facebook we said a prayer to the Guardian Angels and Saint James and headed off on the first morning of our Camino adventure. I felt emotional as I began to walk and up the street and towards the sunrise. The streets were only waking up as we left the periphery of the town and as we walked the morning got brighter and brighter. It was a lovely feeling to be walking together and we all settled into a good pace as we headed out of Tui and made for O Porrino.

Along the way we made pit stops to drink water or eat something. Essentially, what we learned early on was to look out for stamps so we could mark our pilgrim passports. This is important to show the Pilgrim Office in Santiago de Compostella that we had passed by all these places along the Camino and really did walk all that way. In many cases stopping to rest is very important too as eating and hydration is very necessary to keep up the energy. From the early kilometres on the walk we began to meet other pilgrims with the salutation; “Bon Camino!” We found ourselves sharing bread with Dutch, German, American, British, Australian, and fellow Irish pilgrims along the way. The last leg of the walk on the first day seemed endless as the route took us through an industrial estate and along a very long road. We were very relieved to arrive at the hotel in O Porrino and settle into our hotel rooms. They were very nice actually and gave us a room to have Mass together later in the evening. We freshened up and went out in the early afternoon for Tapas before returning to the hotel to rest and for Mass and the evening meal.

The second morning we were pleasantly surprised to sit down to a fine breakfast and also doggy-bags to take on our walk. For some, there was an added surprise as Barry’s Tea was available for the Irish connoisseur away from home. We headed off on our second full day north out of O Porrino and this leg was going to take us 22 kilometres up to Arcade.

We again encountered many other walkers along the way and also when we stopped for a rest. Even when the language was a barrier, the fact that we were all walking, tired, and sore, the Camino is a great meeting point; we all have something in common. We met Grace from the Netherlands who told us she was attacked by a dog on the previous day and was bitten quite badly. The owner of the dog took her into the house and afterwards brought her to a hospital for the wound to be dressed. A dreadful experience for anyone at any time but no doubt compounded by walking the Camino.

We all chatted together I began to hum the famous song ‘Grace’ based on the tragic relationship of 1916 Rising leader, Joseph Mary Plunkett with Grace Gifford. I told the story and the group insisted I sing it for her which I did and as we walked we sang the song. She got me to sign my name on her back pack and since then she has blogged the meeting with the ‘singing priest’ and the Irish group! The next day we stopped in the woods where in a clearing there were two lads selling leather bracelets and Camino trinkets. One of them had a guitar and as soon as he realised we were Irish, he gave us a fine rendition of the Wild Rover. We also met Kirsten from Germany who walked with us for a while as we all shared our stories. Though we were only away for a week, it was still comfort food to meet other Irish pilgrims as we walked along and it was good to meet pilgrims from Blanchardstown and Ballinteer, as well as Roscommon and Cavan. The scallop shell of the Camino illustrates the myriad roads all going towards Santiago de Compostella, and it also shows me the many different people one can meet along the way.

Leaving Arcade was one of the nicest parts of the walk as it was a beautiful morning and we all gathered before the old Roman bridge crossing over the wide Verdugo river. I took out my camera to take some pictures. An old woman was selling Camino shells from the door of her house and I bought one as I passed along the way. Traditionally the scallop shell tells a story; it is used as a food utensil; a spoon, a soup bowl, and something to cut food with. We climbed up through the old town along pretty streets and hanging baskets. All along the way we saw ripe grapes hanging on vines and some people harvesting them and we also saw large pumpkins growing in fields. People would say Galicia is like Ireland in its countryside but with the vines and pumpkins outdoors everywhere you go, you would soon realise that we are a little further south.

Given the time of the year and the location, the walks were manageable and while the days were fine, the sun wasn’t too hot. We were glad to stop and rest in different places and have some water or iced tea and something to eat. We were surprised to find some places very busy with walkers and pilgrims and it was at times like this that we were glad to have travelled with a group like ‘Follow the Camino’ where we knew that we had a place to stay each night. Meeting together in the evenings after a rest, to gather for Mass, and then for a meal was a blessing where we could give thanks for a good day. At Mass we held our parishioners in prayer as well as all who asked us to remember them along the way. It was also good to pray with other people we met as we walked. We had seen a group of women from the United States on our first night and over the days we encountered them on the roads and tracks. One morning we met them over breakfast in Pontevedra and they called me over to their table. One of the women must have heard I was a priest so she asked me to pray with them as it was her birthday. So there and then, across the breakfast table we joined hands and prayed together. Obviously, the day was significant and poignant for her on the Camino away from home, but also because it was September 11th. We prayed for all who died as a result of the terrible attacks on New York, Washington, and Pennsylvania in 2001. We all realised that we were going on to Caldas De Reis that day and we arranged that they join us for Mass in the evening as we would be staying in the same hotel. So similar to each evening, we gathered in one of the hotel rooms and celebrated Mass at the end of our day to give thanks and pray.

Sharing our stories as we walked along the way with the group we travelled with and also meeting others and walking with them was very special. There were moments which were charged with emotion; like the times we saw way points covered with prayer intentions written in different languages. At each way point, each of us would place a stone or a shell to either offer a prayer for someone, or to let go of painful memory and leave it behind. We also came across a place where someone had left behind walking shoes and walking stick. One of our group said that this can often be a sign that a person just couldn’t go on. This was less than 25 kms from Santiago de Compostella.

When we reached Santiago, tired, emotional and sore feet, we made our way first to the Cathedral where we were directed to the Pilgrimage Centre. We met a fussy attendant who was annoyed we were late. With a bit of Irish coaxing, he agreed to process our passports and told us to come back later for collection. All I wanted was to get to the hotel and shower. Then, I looked forward to changing into my Franciscan habit and going to the cathedral for evening Mass.

As we left the pilgrim centre, we saw Grace in the distance walking towards us on the road. We all spotted her almost at the same time. Spontaneously, I started to sing the chorus of Joseph Mary Plunkett’s Grace which we had introduced to her some days before early on in our Camino. She looked around for the sound and when she saw us coming towards her she dropped to her knees. Such was the emotion and the joyful tension, the relief, and the tears of reaching our goal. We all hugged and chatted and wiped the tears from our eyes. We got to the hotel and freshened up and almost immediately headed for the cathedral for evening Mass.

I checked in the office of the magnificent cathedral showing my Celebret (valid credentials of ordination) to the sister at the entrance to this beautiful sacristy. Straight away, I met fellow priests; pilgrims all who had reached Santiago de Compostella in the days before. While the Mass was in Spanish, I was asked to say part of the Eucharistic Prayer of the Mass in English. At the end of the Mass, I was moved by Robert and Anne, Yvonne (an Irish Girl who travelled on her own) and Carmel coming over to me delighted to see me on the altar. They were saying how much of a privilege it was to be part of the group. I didn’t tend to notice it during the Mass that this would have an emotional effect on others too.

The following day, September 14th, the Feast of the Exaltation of Holy Cross, our last day, we came to the Pilgrims Mass and again it was very powerful. This time the place was packed to capacity. Pilgrims were standing along the aisles and all around the back and sides. At the end of the Mass, again which I concelebrated, they lit and swung the giant thurible to honour the feast day. This amused me as I had seen television footage from many years ago of the famous thurible being swung when Pope John Paul II had visited the cathedral. I was also amused when many of the priests concelebrating jumped to the front of the sanctuary to take photos and movies on their cell phones of the thurible going back and forth being swung by uniformed acolytes and assistants. Many of the pilgrims were doing the same from the body of the church, filming as the smoking thurible went left to right and right to left.  Afterwards we went to pay a visit to the church of the Franciscan Friars and spent some time there. Off then for a small bit of souvenir shopping.

And that was the end of the Camino. Leaving the cathedral and leaving the city I was genuinely sorry that it was all over. I’m a home-bird. For me, the nicest journey is the journey home but I can’t put my finger on what it is, but this time it was like I was happy to be a pilgrim among other pilgrims. Many people can say categorically that if they didn’t like a place, they would be reluctant to return. There are one or two places I wouldn’t be that keen to return to. But the moment we landed back in Dublin, when asked would I do the Camino again, I was saying; ‘absolutely’. God willing some of us are going off again, this time to Viterbo later in the year in Italy to walk down to Rome.

The Beatitudes of the Pilgrim
Blessed are you pilgrim, if you discover that the “Camino” opens your eyes to what is not seen.
Blessed are you pilgrim, if what concerns you most is not to arrive, as to arrive with others.
Blessed are you pilgrim, when you contemplate the “Camino” and you discover it is full of names and dawns.
Blessed are you pilgrim, because you have discovered that the authentic “Camino” begins when it is completed.
Blessed are you pilgrim, if your knapsack is emptying of things and your heart does not know where to hang up so many feelings and emotions.
Blessed are you pilgrim, if you discover that one step back to help another is more valuable than a hundred forward without seeing what is at your side.
Blessed are you pilgrim, when you don’t have words to give thanks for everything that surprises you at every twist and turn of the way.
Blessed are you pilgrim, if you search for the truth and make of the “Camino” a life, and of your life a “way”, in search of the one who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
Blessed are you pilgrim, if on the way you meet yourself and gift yourself with time, without rushing, so as not to disregard the image in your heart.
Blessed are you pilgrim, if you discover that the “Camino” holds a lot of silence; and the silence of prayer; and the prayer of meeting with God who is waiting for you.















Tuesday, 26 June 2018

Almost forty years...

When groups like U2 or Coldplay announce they are gigging there is notice given in the media of when the tickets go on sale and the tickets sell out pretty quickly. Generally, performers like Elton John, Billy Joel, Ed Sheeran, Robbie Williams, Michael Bublé, and Adele etc. sell out arenas and stadiums in most parts of the world.

I imagine if Oasis reform there will be a date in Slane or The Phoenix Park. Even though ABBA have recorded some new original material to be released in winter 2018, there is no plans to perform, but if they were to announce a show, there would be massive interest. We loved ABBA as kids – even though a lot of us didn’t admit it.

Over the years, I’ve been to a few live gigs; U2, Plant and Page, The Communards, Duran Duran, Spandau Ballet, Andy Williams (brilliant) Robbie Williams, The Verve, and Oasis and the Coronas. Like most people, there are artists I wouldn’t be that interested in and wouldn’t necessarily go to see them. Some might not be too bothered if Oasis reformed and announced a new album and a tour, but I’d go.

Not all bands and artists fill stadiums or places like Knebworth or Slane. Bands dream of making it big and to be fair most of them work very hard to get the single or album on the radio or downloaded. We all heard stories of the managers, once upon a time, filling the car boot with the band’s 45 rpm singles to increase the climb in the charts. To get on Top of the Pops was the objective of every band.  The dream gig for all artists would be to headline big venues and festivals like Glastonbury, the Isle of Wight, Knebworth, Slane, Oxygen, and the Electric Picnic etc. 22 years ago Oasis played two gigs in Knebworth to a quarter of a million people. That’s some going, smaller bands can only dream of that success.

The biggest crowds of all come to see the Pope. Pope John Paul II travelled to more than 100 countries between 1979 and 2005. When John Paul came to town, people wanted to see him and they came to see him in their millions – even in very secular countries. The first pope to travel outside of Italy was Pope Paul VI (1963-1978) and since then, these ‘apostolic voyages’ have cris-crossed all five continents. Imitating the missionary spirit of the first apostles of Jesus Christ, popes want to “Go out and make disciples of all nations…” (Matthew 28) On his first apostolic voyage outside of Italy, Pope Francis offered Mass in the presence of two million young people in Rio de Janiero on Copacabana beach and he opened is homily with that theme.

Pope Francis is coming to Ireland in August. He will be here for the final ceremonies for the World Meeting of the Families. This has been in the planning since September 2015 when the pope announced in Philadelphia that the next World Meeting would be held in Dublin. It has been well reported in the mainstream media that the Ireland that Pope John Paul II came to in September 1979 is not the Ireland that Pope Francis will come to. As a 10-year old, I was among the 1.25 million people at the papal Mass in the Phoenix Park on Sept 29th. Today, according to some commentary, anything less will be a failure. It is estimated the three main papal events will host around 700 thousand people in Croke Park stadium, Knock Shrine, and the Phoenix Park. The only tickets remaining are for the final Mass in the Phoenix Park on Sunday afternoon, August 26th. Like the biggest bands and artists, the tickets were released and have been snapped up for the events over the two days and three locations. The tickets are entirely free. (There are other WMOF events in the RDS, and a seven church pilgrim walk around Dublin city in the days before the pope arrives)

It is a different Ireland than the Ireland of 1979. I’ve heard it said when Pope John Paul flew out from Shannon to Boston on October 2nd the church in Ireland began a slow decline culminating in all the scandals since the resignation of Bishop Eamonn Casey in 1992. The child sexual abuse scandals and the cover-up, and the dreadful treatment of unmarried mothers in the ‘Magdalen Laundries.’, Also the finding of significant quantities of human remains buried in the site of the former mother and baby home in Tuam. The remains belonged to unborn children aged 35 foetal weeks up to two to three years.

A lot of people in Ireland don’t want anything to do with the Church anymore and people in public and private life are saying it loud and clear. In the aftermath of the two referendums, they are also calling for the total separation of church and state. Perhaps this will eventually mean policies to support no more religious (catholic) influence in schools and hospitals/ healthcare.  Take all references to God, the Holy Trinity, etc. out of the Constitution and the ending of the Angelus being played on RTE Radio and Television. When the tickets for the papal events were released to be ordered on line, it was reported that people and groups were intending to book tickets and not go to them thus hoping to leave a sizable gap or gaps. Protest pages on social media are generating some traction in trying to get people to deliberately not go to the events.

Many people want to go. Many people remember the carnival atmosphere of those autumn days in 1979. We were all young then and while it’s a different Ireland and we know a lot of bad things happened since then, a lot of good things happened too. Don’t forget that thousands of international pilgrims are coming to the World Meeting of Families from overseas. Diocesan and parish pilgrims will arrive in Ireland in the week from the 21st to the 26th of August. While these events will cost the taxpayer money even though there has been money raised in church collections, the Holy See will be funding the papal trip too. And with all the international pilgrim groups coming, the exchequer should do very well indeed.

Its been nearly forty years since Pope John Paul II, the 264th successor of St Peter, set foot on Irish soil. We look forward to welcoming Pope Francis, the 266th on Saturday morning, August 25th.

Sunday, 20 May 2018

Pentecost - The Birthday of the Church


In some ways, Pentecost Sunday, the Birthday of the Church, a major Church occasion, is disadvantaged out there. We all understand Christmas Day more in terms of Christmas presents, Christmas cards, Christmas Dinner, Christmas cake etc. We also get Easter too because of Easter Eggs, the Easter bunny, Easter parades for example.

In the lead in to the Ascension, which we celebrated in the Church ten days ago, we see Jesus reminding his disciples and followers that it is necessary for him to go. They were frightened and confused perhaps because they didn’t want it all to end. They witnessed so many wonderful things that Jesus did in his public ministry; they literally saw people lifted out of paralysis, out of fear, out of poverty, out of death, and out of sin. And now it was all over. Jesus reminded them that it was necessary that the Christ should suffer. This was something that they were afraid of too.

Before he ascended into heaven he told them some things about the future.
From Matthew’s Gospel we read “Jesus said to his disciples, all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me; go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and teach them to observe all the commandments I have given to you. And know that I am with you always, yes, to the end of time. “ (Matt 28:19)

In the gospel according to John, Jesus also said; “I have told you all these things that you may find peace in me. In the world you will have trouble, but have courage, I have conquered the world…” (John 16:33)

Jesus had to go in order for the Holy Spirit to come down upon the Church. He said so again in John’s gospel; “I tell you solemnly, it is for your benefit that I go because unless I go, the Advocate cannot come…” (John 16:7)

We believe that Pentecost is the birthday of the Church. While the disciples were for many days hidden in fear after the Resurrection of Jesus, they needed the power of the Holy Spirit to fortify them for this great mission. This power came upon them in the form of tongues of fire and it fuelled them for the mission ahead.

Our young people who are confirmed probably don’t fully realise what this means and in fairness while they learn about it in school and at home, I wonder if it sinks in beyond the nice clothes and the money. But it does work away there in the background. The seven gifts of the Holy Spirit work away in those confirmed each day.

In these days we are preparing for a constitutional referendum in Ireland. We are all encouraged to study all the facts and to be as informed as possible before we vote. On both sides of the debate; passionate and sincere people have highlighted honestly felt beliefs. For me, my belief is the unborn child is made in God’s image and likeness and has a right to life, therefore, I am going to vote No. We are all talking about the sermon Bishop Michael Curry preached at the royal wedding yesterday. He powerfully spoke of when 'love is the way.' He said “We were made by a power of love.” He concluded his sermon by praying; “And may God hold us all in those almighty hands of Love.”

Pentecost Sunday is the birthday of the Church and we all love to celebrate birthdays, they are important – especially to our younger people. We celebrate these special days because we have been born. We pray for the powerful love of the Holy Spirit to be with us all in these days and always. Amen.

Come, Holy Spirit, from heaven shine forth with your glorious light.

Come, Father of the poor, come, generous Spirit, come,
light of our hearts.

Come from the four winds, O Spirit, come breath of God;
disperse the shadows over us, renew and
strengthen your people.

You are only comforter, Peace of the soul.
In the heat you shade us; in our labour you refresh us,
and in trouble you are our strength.

(Taize / Jacques Berthier)