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..

Thursday, 8 June 2017

'It was twenty years ago today...'

‘It was twenty years ago today…’ These are the iconic opening lines to an iconic song and album by the Fab Four which celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of release on June 1st 1967. On this day, June 8th in 1997, I was ordained to the priesthood in St. Kevin’s Church, Kilnamanagh, in south west Dublin, the parish I grew up in having left there in September 1987 as an eighteen-year-old.

Dublin Auxiliary Bishop, Jim Moriarty who ordained me said in his homily that I was becoming ‘a priest for the third millennium…’ I was nervous and excited at the same time. It was a surreal experience on the morning of the ordination as it was something I had dreamed of and imagined from a long way back. To become a priest in my home parish with friends and neighbours who knew me was something I had longed for and prayed for.

I remember wondering would the day ever come? I was afraid something would go wrong or that the alarm would go off and I would wake up to disappointment like waking up in the morning from a dream. Ten years before when I returned from novitiate, green and naïve, following my first profession of vows, I wore the Capuchin Franciscan habit for the first time in public and my old friends saw me dressed like a ‘monk.’ Then in 1994, I took my solemn vows for life as a Capuchin brother and while this was the end of my initial training, for me it was always about the continuation of a journey which I am still on.

I didn’t get there on my own. So many people, family, friars, teachers, and friends, have been part of the journey. I have always felt great good will from so many people when they speak to me about the choice I’ve made. People have commented to my family; ‘you must be very proud…’ And the truth is yes, they are; but for who I am and not what I’ve become. All families love us for who we are, and we love our families because they are part of our family.

In a world where the majority of people find a life-partner and start a family, most of us are accustomed to seeing relationships in terms of marriage, partnership, children, etc. The whole idea of lifelong celibacy is very unusual when we’re geared to finding that soul mate. I mean what do I tell Facebook? ‘Bryan is in a relationship? I’m not. And yet I am. Bryan is in a relationship and it’s complicated? Sometimes. Bryan is single? Depends what you mean by single; I’ve perpetual vows in religious life so I’m not exactly single, and I’m an ordained priest; ‘In persona Christi.’ Mind you, I don’t lie awake at night worrying about my status, yet I know people do but perhaps that’s for another blog.

Over the years I’ve experienced the highs and lows of being a priest-friar in religious life. I’ve worked in school ministry, hospital ministry, and now at the moment parish ministry.  It hasn’t been easy in terms of the revelations of clerical sexual abuse and the cover up by some in leadership. Our struggles as clergy and religious are nothing to the hurt of those who are still living with the abuse. While we all remember tough nuns and brothers in our past (I certainly do) it’s hard when media and social media attempt to airbrush out the great good many religious orders have done, for example in education and healthcare in Ireland when no one else would. In my life, I’ve known men and women in religious life who were the personification of kindness to me personally and today I know religious women and men who are at the vanguard of the outreach to the homeless and addiction services.

So, what about the future? I’ve no idea. At some point in the future, I know I’ll be changed and be asked to move to something else somewhere else and I’ll have to say good-bye and so will the people. I’ve done it before, and I’ll do it again. This is hard and the older one gets the more difficult change gets. I was nearly twenty-eight years old on my ordination day when Bishop Jim reminded me that I was being ordained as priest for the third millennium. Twenty years later, and my prayer for the future is that when I die, whenever that is, I will have tried to be a holy Capuchin Friar, and a holy priest. Everything else is tied in to this hope. 









Sunday, 7 May 2017

You're having a laugh

Today is Vocations Sunday and therefore today we try to remind people of the need for vocations to the priesthood and religious life. This is not a new concept, it is fifty-four years old this year. This weekend, Priests will stand up at Masses all over the world and speak about the need for vocations to the priesthood and religious life and we are doing the same in churches in Ireland, in fact the need is even more great here.

In Ireland? This weekend? Are you having a laugh? If we are to pay any attention to the media over these last few weeks, and if we look at what is posted all across social media in the last while, preaching about the great need for vocations is not going to go down well, I would argue.

In the last weeks, we have once again seen the question of the appropriateness of the ringing of the Angelus at 12.00 noon and 6.00 p.m. on our national broadcaster. We are also hearing calls for the ending of the saying of the Dáil prayer at the beginning of each day’s Dáil session. There has been almost universal condemnation of the Irish Sisters of Charity and their healthcare services being awarded the running of the New National Maternity Hospital on their campus at St. Vincent’s University Hospital in Dublin 4. We are also hearing calls for the ending of some catholic national schools requiring a child’s Baptismal Certificate for entry. 

All across the media we are seeing calls for the complete separation of church and state in today’s Ireland. One commentator I read is calling for the total dismantling of the Catholic church in Ireland. Quite simply he feels that the church has been part of the problem in Irish society rather than part of the solution. While we are not naïve about what has come out into the light of day, only this week past once again, media were looking for comment from the Peter McVerry trust and from Br. Kevin about the latest homeless statistics – especially homeless families. So, some nuns and priests do the state some service in fairness.

What will this kind of Ireland look like? Will people be choosing to go to Mass on Sundays anymore? It’s only a matter of time before the Angelus goes from our national broadcaster and I’m sure certain T.D.’s will have another go at ending the saying of the Dáil prayer each day when the parliament is in session. Will the saint’s names be stripped from hospitals, schools, and sports clubs? We’ve already seen Christian images and statues removed from some of these places. Every Christmas we hear a debate about the placing of the crib in hospitals etc. I wonder are its days numbered in the GPO? And that brings me to another question, will Christian feast days cease to be here in Ireland? St. Patrick’s Day? Christmas Day? Easter Eggs? “At least from next year we can have a jar on Good Friday.” In Penal times, people from outside tried to take our Catholic faith and our church from us. Our ancestors were reduced to going to Mass at Mass rocks and going to school at hedge schools. Today, its not an outside force that is attempting to dismantle the Church, it is coming from within.

Yet we still need vocations. We still need priests, sisters, brothers, and lay people to minister in the Church.  Jesus Christ is the Good Shepherd. When we come to know Christ and his love for us, it was impossible to ignore it. When Jesus Christ gets into our hearts, we feel the power of his love. I’m reminded what Jesus said to the twelve apostles in John’s Gospel; “What about you, do you want to go away too?” Simon Peter answered; “Lord, who shall we go to? You have the message of eternal life, and we believe, we know that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:68)

Jesus also told his disciples that they would inevitably face difficulties as they went about the world preaching the gospel. It’s as if the main mission of a disciple, of a believing Christian, is to suffer. “I have told you all this so 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)


Saturday, 15 April 2017

Jesus Christ is Risen - A message of hope for all the world...

When the senior pupils of both schools come to Mass, I usually take some questions at the end of the session after Mass. They like to ask questions perhaps because it inevitably delays their having to go back to class. One of the pupils who recently made their confirmation in last month asked me a very difficult question; “why did the nuns kill all the babies in Tuam?”

Before I tell you how I answered this, let me tell you that in Ireland, the church has been really under the cosh these last few months. It’s been hard to be a minister of the gospel today. I’ve felt it, the other friars have felt it, and my colleagues in ministry - religious and laity have felt it. It’s as if once again, the institutional church is making a success of scoring spectacular own goals. I’m not looking for sympathy either because most people in the real world have – you people -  have their own struggles; family, relationships, financial, illness, and bereavement.

I saw a post on social media yesterday to do with the proposed relaxation of the licensing laws on Good Friday from next year. It read something like ‘the pointy hat brigade are slowly losing their grip’ accompanied by a picture of a pint of Guinness. I met a neighbour on Jervis Street who showed me a picture of himself drinking a pint in one of the train stations yesterday too. Do we seriously believe that the bishops are the reason why the pubs are closed on Good Friday? ‘Oh, I can’t have a jar on Good Friday because the Catholic Church won’t let me.’ That’s one less excuse now then. I await the fanfare next year on Good Friday when the media descends on pubs all over the city to celebrate the people’s liberation from the Pioneers and Father Theobald Mathew so.  I further imagine we will shortly see the end of the Angelus on RTE at noon and 6.00 p.m. And I wonder will there eventually be a call to ban Christmas and Easter since they are Christian feasts. After all, there are non-Christians and non-believers in Ireland now. Bye-Bye St. Patrick’s Day. Is there a minority out there shouting above the silent majority? Is the tail wagging the dog? For fear I am beginning to sound cynical I better move on.

There are intelligent secular commentators in the media today calling for a total separation of church and state in Ireland. They resent the policies of some schools in asking for baptismal certificates as a means of entry into primary schools. There is a call by the many of our legislators to stop this practice as it is discriminatory. Mind you, it doesn’t happen in our schools in this parish. There are children from Catholic families, Muslim families, Orthodox families, and Christian families attending and we call on families of prospective pupils to contact the schools ahead of the September enrolments. And I have baptized children from the schools in order to fulfil a parent’s desire for their child to make their First Holy Communion. We don’t refuse anyone.

Across the world, we are seeing the dreadful scenes of children gassed in Syria and in Sept 2015, we gazed in horror at the lifeless body of little Aylan Kurdi washed up on the beaches of Bodram, Turkey. Last week, many Coptic Christians were killed in an attack in Egypt by IS and we remember the lines of Christian martyrs being killed on beaches by militant Islam. We also hear that the cause for the Beatification Fr. Jacques Hamel, martyred last year in Rouen, will soon begin in France. All over the place, in great and small ways, ordinary people are suffering dreadfully and it’s impossible to make sense of it all. We are hearing of people suffering day after day because of their faith in Jesus Christ.

Still, its ordinary people who are making a difference all the time. Ordinary people’s kindness to us here in the parish. Ordinary good people who don’t take a blind bit of notice of what the minority in the papers say. People who still come to Mass here. People who will cross the world to bring their new baby living in a new country back to have it baptized. People who come in numbers to the Novena of Grace. People who always return to remember a loved one on their anniversary or their month’s mind. People who kindly invite me to bless a house or a Garden of Remembrance, or to say a prayer over the mortal remains of a deceased nana or mammy laid out in their home. This is how we know Jesus Christ is alive. This is how we know Good Friday gives way to Easter Sunday. And while I guess it is inevitable that we will probably lose the Angelus bells on RTE sooner or later. We will still ring our church bell here and many other church bells will ring out too. We will doubtless see the end of the prayer said at the start of the daily Dáil session.  I suppose the minority will get their way in secularizing the public square too because we are at the end of Christendom here in Ireland. Christendom is the political, economic, and social order of our nation inspired by the gospel ethic, and this is at an end. It is not the end of Christianity. Too many people have a deep faith in and love for Jesus Christ and this is thanks to the parents and grandparents we love who gave us the best years of their lives. We believe in Jesus Christ because of their faith.

Finally, I answered that lad’s question; - a powerful question by saying the nuns didn’t kill the babies in Tuam. There were indeed bad priests and brothers and nuns. But there were and are far more good and kind and generous ones. Sr. Consillio, Sr. Stan, Fr. Peter McVerry, Br. Kevin, Merchant’s Quay, and the list goes on. These people, members of religious congregations, have a track record of beginning what we now know as the homeless services, the social housing services, and addiction services today. And they are not the only ones. They are assisted by generous volunteers, many of them young people, who roll up their sleeves day and night to help those who are homeless. In forty years’ time, in a different Ireland, when another government calls the very few religious congregations to account then about how they tried to help homeless families in the second decade of the 21st century this will be our answer.


Jesus Christ is risen and the message of the gospel is and always will be a message of hope for all the world. Amen.

Friday, 14 October 2016

Little did we know...

Visiting an elderly parishioner…a life-long smoker. The smell of cigarettes all around the room. It was strangely comforting. It was like a time-machine. I was taken back to my childhood.

Government warning; “Smoking can damage your health" it said on the side of the cigarette pack. We’d stop at the late shop on the way home. “Ten number 6 please.”

The sights and sounds – and smells of Dublin in the late 1970’s. It was noisy in the city except on Sundays, most shops were closed on Sundays. More noise but less busy.

Petrol. The Honda 50 motorbike could be heard before it was seen and the smell of its exhaust lingered long after it disappeared around the corner and out of sight. The black and white Atlantean CIE Busses belching out diesel. Getting on the bus the Conductor with his leather satchel full of coins and his ticket machine would say “Seats on the top.” And smoking was allowed upstairs. Drawing finger pictures on the window in the cold and wet condensation and wiping it to see outside as we drove along on a rainy day. The sporadic ‘ding’ of the bell as people signalled to the driver they wanted to get off. ‘Do not cross the white line until the bus stops.’  The hissing of the doors as they opened at the bus stop.

The coal fire at home. My mother putting newspaper against it to try and light the fire. Smoke going up the chimney. And if the door opened the smoke would fill the sitting room. Pungent but homely. Doing the dishes in the sink.  Look up. The noise of the Aer Lingus BAC one-eleven overhead as its tail almost rips through the sky. Outside on a frosty evening the smog would hang like a blanket over the houses in the city and over the ‘chimbley’ pots and television aerials.

Nana’s Stew; unique and delicious. And her mashed potato, milky and buttery. Pork chops and baked beans. Grandpop sitting by the fire preparing his pipe. Condor plug. He cut the tobacco with his little knife, the flake dropping into the V he made with a page of the Evening Press.  Then when the pipe was filled and lit, he would do the cross-word reaching into his sideboard for the Collins Gem Dictionary. The pipe smoke rising like incense mixing with the smoke of the Mr. Dowling’s coal.

The pig man calls and Nana brings out a pale pink bucket of slop. Yesterday’s stew, potato peels, beans, and he spills it into one of his big steel bins. “Thanks missus”

The Ferguson television goes on – or was it Bush? RTE News. This was the second news bulletin I would have seen. Around in Auntie Chrissy’s she would have been watching Crossroads. Then the News at 5.45 with Alastair Burnett. Back to Nana’s and the Angelus would be ringing and then Maurice O’Doherty would read the News. Or Don Cockburn. “The Taoiseach Mister Cosgrave said today…”

Going to the shops. The shop keeper writes how much with a pencil on a brown paper bag. No cash register. Peggy’s Leg. Big Time bar. Dairy Milk. A tin of Coke. Cool pops. HB Loop the Loop for 6p. Iced Carmels. Clove rock. Sherbet dip and fizz. Snap gum. TK Red Lemonade and Ciderette. We used to return the empty glass bottles for three pence. Recycling isn’t a new concept.

Going to the Chemist. Unique Smell. Almost indescribable in words but you know what I mean; wood and ointment. Barley sugar. Radio emulsion.

The Hardware shop where Frank Russell sold Crown paints, or Valspar, or Berger. My dad had to open the tin with a flat head screw driver and stir it for ages. Ultra-Brilliant White it said on the tin. He had a Standard Lamp for sale. “See that Enda – It would look better in your sitting room than in my shop.” He’d say.  

I Loved the smell of the back of the Brennan’s Bread van. And Jacobs biscuit factory. We just knew when they were making Mikado. Jam in the air.

Running down to the gap at the end of our road. The JCB and the dumper were moving up by the pylon. The smell of brown topsoil and the yellow of the oil seed rape flower giving way to house foundations as Kilnamanagh estate expands and takes shape. Sliding down the hill in the snow on a Net Nitrate bag. The girls played Beds with a shoe polish ‘piggy’ and swung on lamp-posts. The lads played ‘three-and-in’ and we all played Relieve-io and Spin-the-bottle. “Eeenie, meanie, miny, mo…”

The Milkman coming around the neighbourhood in the dark of the early morning. The clink of Glass bottles dancing on the door steps. He takes away the empties. Battery powered milk float.

The smell of a wet day. Newspapers covering the shop floor. And saw dust. There was saw dust all over the butcher’s shop floor. And the smell of breadcrumbs. The days of the separate pork butcher and the beef butcher shops were coming to an end. “Give-us six nice slices of ham Mister Ceezer.” And Frawley’s on Thomas Street. The Frawley’s club dressed us all for Christmas. Never could people have imagined the Pope driving down past John’s Lane in his Pope Mobile - but he did.

The Bee-Baw of the white ambulance. The dark blue Garda cars. My Dad’s Mini Traveller.  JNI 69. Give her choke on a cold day. A mystery tour to the Old Boley Wood in the mountains in the summer. Flo Gas and boil the tea pot. Tayto crisps. Ham sandwiches, salad sandwiches. Cadet cola.

Tomato sandwiches with pepper in Granny Greta’s. Starving after our swim in Vincent’s pool. The Riordan’s would have been on. Benjy and Minnie. The light of the Geyser flickering at the far end of the kitchen. Turn on the taps in the bathroom, the whisper of the water flowing down the drain. We found a gas mask as we explored the attic. And old shoes.

The smell of school and the corridors and the blackboard and dusty chalk. Pale Blue desks in St. Kevin’s. Old wooden desks with ink wells in James’s St. Names scratched with set squares into the area underneath as well as chewing gum stuck under the desks. Bubble-gum. Super Bazooka and Bubblicious. New school books and even second hand ones too, covered in wallpaper or brown wrapper. Capital Exercise Book 88 pages. Guaranteed Irish. Milk bottles being delivered outside the door. Freezing corned beef sandwiches on Monday. Buns on Wednesday. Cheese on Friday. I couldn’t drink milk.  Snorkel Jackets and Duffel coats. Dozens of ET’s walking home after school.

What was on the Radio? Larry Gogan, Gaybo, Abba, The Nolan sisters, The Bee Gees, The King is Dead. Pirate Stations. On the telly? The Late Late, Going Strong, Quicksilver, Wanderly Wagon, Mart and Market, Charlie’s Angels, Quincy, The Professionals, Dallas, the Six Million Dollar Man, The Multi-Coloured Swap Shop, and then Closedown. In the Cinema? Jaws in the Adelphi and Saturday Night Fever in the Savoy. Little did we know then that a kid called Larry Mullen and three other young fellas over on the north side would become mega in ten years’ time.

Little did we know that the city would become busy on Sundays.
Little did we know that Jervis Street Hospital would become a Shopping Mall.
Little did we know that there would be a soccer game played in Croke park.
Little did we know smoking would become anti-social.
Little did we know the Quays would become one-way systems.
Little did we know that Dublin Docklands would be the place to live and work.
Little did we know that in the future we would laugh at the thoughts of the telephone on the hall table at the bottom of the stairs.
Little did we know one day we would access the world on a portable device the size of a calculator and immediately be able to tell everyone on our timeline about our day.
Little did we know about the revolution that was soon to happen in Irish air travel.
Little did we know about Google.
Little did we know…







Saturday, 20 August 2016

Batman Ben Farrell....

The saintly English King, Edward the Confessor, seeing how upset his friends were as he lay on his death-bed, consoled them all by saying; “Don’t be afraid, I’m going from the land of the dying into the land of the living.”

There was something other worldly about Ben.
From early on this lad was different – mature beyond his very young years. Alan and Val, you did so much and you and the family fought so hard. You and the wonderful medics and nurses and carers on both sides of the Atlantic. You can be confident that you did as much as you could for him. Yet, you said it seemed that it was Ben who was taking care of you.

In Michigan Valerie said “I wish I could take your pain for you.” Ben said; “No mammy, I wouldn’t want to give it to you – I can handle it.” There’s not a mother anywhere or a father who wouldn’t swap places in a heartbeat with a sick child. And every dad and mam, and nana and granddad, feels the pain of a child and walks it every step of the way. Ben could handle it because he comes from good stock. You made him what he is and was.

And in truth he was a superhero. He battled hard with the cancer, yet the small boy of five years old, had the power of Ali, or Brogan, or Ronaldo, or McGregor, and we feel his power now.

Whether it was singing “Show me the way to go home” out loud in the hospital and banging out the beat on the table, his favourite movie was Jaws. It was like Brody, Hooper and Quint singing on Quint’s boat the Orca after their tea.
Or singing an Oasis number with his dad Alan in the van. As he faced the sun he cast a shadow.

Or building another Lego empire, sometimes the trips to buy a sneaky box of Lego (hiding it behind his back with that cheeky smile)

Or whether it was Batman. You know, superheroes don’t hang around. They are always at the service of others. Just when we get to know Bruce Wayne the bat phone rings and Wayne dons the bat suit and he’s gone. They are too big for our world. And Perhaps Ben was too much of a force of nature for Planet Earth.

When the rest of us are struggling to stay young – Batman Ben lives forever young.

There’s no answer as to why this had to happen. But maybe we get a glimpse of the next world when we open our eyes, and not necessarily with our eyesight but with our insight. We see more clearly in here. And our faith, the faith what was given to us by our parents and their parents helps us to see in the dark. Faith lights up the dark. Ben is gone to heaven, there is no doubt about that, and we will see him again. You will see Ben again, Val, and Alan, and Jack. Down the road.

But you can connect with him anytime in Jesus Christ who loves us. And this connection point is more powerful than any superfast WIFI. And the signal never drops. But if I know Batman Ben, and you know him best, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if you feel his power first, because he’s praying for you now. In the words of Chief Brody, “We’re gonna need a bigger boat.”

(I asked Ben's parents, Valerie and Alan for permission to post this, the homily I gave  at his funeral Mass this morning)





Thursday, 11 August 2016

St. Clare of Assisi...

Chiara Offreduccio was born into a noble family in Assisi on July 16th 1194. Her father was Favarone Sciffi, Count of Sasso-Rosso and her mother was Ortolana. From a young age it was assumed that Clare was to marry in line with family tradition but at 18 years old she heard Francis of Assisi preaching and asked him could she follow him and live after the manner of the gospel. In March 1212 Francis received her into the order and placed her into the care of the Benedictine nuns of San Paolo. Her father made great efforts to get her out of the cloister and leave the order. Later she moved into a small church at San Damiano where she and her sisters stayed.  They soon became known as the Poor Ladies of San Damiano and they lived a life of poverty and enclosure according to a rule given them by St. Francis of Assisi. This vow of poverty was something that was for Clare non-negotiable. It was called the ‘Privilegium Pauperitatis’ which meant that for the Poor Ladies, they guarded this grace to live in absolute poverty and not having to take possessions.

As a way of guarding the life they had chosen, a Roman Cardinal, Hugolino, was appointed ‘protector’ of the order. He later became Pope Gregory IX. As pope, he visited the Poor Ladies and was concerned about living such a hard and austere life and suggested relaxing the vow to live this privilege of poverty. Clare was a tough lady and was having none of it. She told the pope “I wish to be absolved from my sins, but not from the obligation of following Christ.” For her and her sisters, poverty was just that, a privilege, which well lived, freed them from distractions in order to focus on following Jesus Christ.

Francis of Assisi guided the order until he died in 1226 and after his death, Clare became abbess of San Damiano. She took Francis’ spirit as a good benchmark for the living of the religious life with her sisters in poverty and enclosure and she fought off any attempt by church leaders to dispense her and the sisters from it. In 1224 the army of Frederick II came to plunder Assisi and the story goes that Clare came out of the enclosure and faced the Emperor down by holding the Monstrance with the Blessed Sacrament in her hands. The sight of this tenacious woman standing up to the emperor was enough to scare him so much that the army fled – terrified without harming anyone in the city.

On August 9th 1253, Pope Innocent IV, in a papal Bull, a document given to Clare called ‘Solet Annuere’ confirmed that her rule would serve as the governing rule for the Poor Ladies way of life. Never would anyone in the future be in danger of watering down the rule of the Poor Clares. Clare died two days later on August 11th, she was 59 years old. She was canonized Saint on September 26th 1255.


In 1958 Pope Pius XII named St. Clare patron saint of television. 


                               The San Damiano Cross in the Basilica of St. Clare in Assisi

Saturday, 30 July 2016

Light out of Darkness...

Over this weekend at our Masses, we will spiritually join over a million young people from all over the world gathered with Pope Francis in Krakow for the World Youth Day celebrations.  Since Pope St. John Paul II inaugurated the concept of special meetings between the pope and young people in the 1980’s, World Youth Day has visited all five continents and Pope’s John Paul, Benedict, and now Francis have met with millions of young people for prayer, catechesis, and reconciliation. 

This WYD is being celebrated in the midst of the Jubilee Year of Mercy, called by Pope Francis last year. It is taking place in Krakow near the home of Divine Mercy and in the heart of Pope John Paul’s home city. There have been very moving scenes of Pope Francis walking through the gates of Auschwitz where perhaps the worst kinds of evil were perpetrated upon men, women, and children during World War II. Francis is the third pope to come to Auschwitz and to simply pray in profound solidarity with survivors and their families today. Pope John Paul II had personal experiences of Auschwitz during the war as friends of his were taken there and murdered. Later as archbishop and then as pope he visited Auschwitz in 1979 and he wrote these words;

“I have come and I kneel on this Golgotha of the modern world, on these tombs, largely nameless like the great tomb of the Unknown Soldier. I kneel before all the inscriptions that come one after another bearing the memory of the victims of Birkenau in languages: Polish, English, Bulgarian, Romany, Czech, Danish, French, Greek, Hebrew, Yiddish, Spanish, Flemish, Serbo-Croat, German, Norwegian, Russian, Romanian, Hungarian, and Italian.

In particular I pause with you, dear participants in this encounter, before the inscription in Hebrew. This inscription awakens the memory of the People whose sons and daughters were intended for total extermination. This People draws its origin from Abraham, our father in faith (cf. Rom 4:12), as was expressed by Paul of Tarsus. The very people that received from God the commandment "Thou shalt not kill", itself experienced in a special measure what is meant by killing. It is not permissible for anyone to pass by this inscription with indifference.

And one inscription more, a chosen one, the plaque in the Russian language. I don’t add any comment. We know which nation the inscription is about. We know about their participation in the last terrible war for the freedom of peoples. Also this inscription we should not pass with indifference.

Finally, the last inscription: that in Polish. Six million Poles lost their lives during the second world war: a fifth of the nation. Yet another stage in the centuries-old fight of this nation, my nation, for its fundamental rights among the peoples of Europe. Yet another loud cry for the right to a place of its own on the map of Europe. Yet another painful reckoning with the conscience of mankind.”

Yesterday, Pope Francis silently sat in the cell of St. Maximilian Kolbe, a Franciscan priest who took the place of another and died as a martyr in the starvation bunker in Auschwitz. The scenes of the pope sitting in prayer in the darkness of Kolbe’s cell evokes for all of us the words of Jesus Christ from John’s Gospel “No greater love can anyone have than to lay down their lives for their friends.” (John 15:13)

I see Fr. Jacques Hamel’s face here too. An elderly priest who spent his whole life until the end in the service of the Gospel.  He was murdered and martyred as he broke open the Word and God for the people and celebrated the Eucharist. Truly he shared in Jesus Christ’s passion, death, and resurrection that morning last week.

In a world where we need to draw strength from the merciful heart of Jesus Christ, we pray that this same merciful heart will take away from those bent on evil and destruction their hearts of stone and give them hearts of flesh instead. We are fortified by the enthusiasm of so many young people who this night will pray in vigil with our Holy Father, Pope Francis and will celebrate the Eucharist -the Mass with him tomorrow in Krakow. We don’t forget the many people in the face of evil and bloodshed who try to assist and help to heal wounds and dry the tears. We pray for peace with justice for all, and especially for the most vulnerable. St. John Paul II, pray for us. St. Faustina, pray for us. St. Francis of Assisi, pray for us. Amen.