Friday, 29 May 2020
Saturday, 2 May 2020
Monday, 13 April 2020
Like most people on the planet, I never imagined what would befall our world in December 2019, and the early months of 2020. News of a respiratory illness, a variation of coronavirus, was quickly spreading among people in Wuhan, China. Further news came through of the authorities in Wuhan mass-cleaning and disinfecting the city and closing off ground zero. Soon after, the area was on lock down and movement was restricted. Within weeks people were getting sick in northern Italy around the ski resorts. The Italian government began to close down the major cities of the northern provinces, but this still didn’t stem the level of the outbreak.
The World Health Organisation were monitoring the developing situation and as the outbreak started to cross borders, national health authorities were advising Governments that this illness was serious and immediate action needed to be taken. The problem had worsened in Italy and it was spreading quickly.
The WHO named this new coronavirus, Covid-19. The virus that causes it is SARS-CoV-2. It is a highly contagious illness that affects the lungs; and whose symptoms include high temperature, fever, and a dry cough. It was a type of coronavirus that had not been seen before in the population. For most of the population, people would suffer flu-like symptoms and could over it quite well with over the counter medications, fluids, and rest. Young people might even be asymptomatic and might not even know they have it. However, for people with underlying illness and for older people, this illness could be very serious with hospitalization and intensive care treatment. Unfortunately, some people will die as a result of this illness.
In Ireland, the outgoing Government in the interregnum following the February General Election, formed a task force to quickly study the spread of this disease which was now becoming a global pandemic. The annual six nations rugby tournament was underway and the minister for health on the advice of the chief medical officer and his team advised the cancelling of the game between Ireland and Italy due to be played in early March. This was a big decision in that huge revenue was expected in the arrival of many thousands of Azzuri fans. As the problem of Covid 19 continued to grow, the Italian government closed more-or-less the whole of northern Italy. Soon, the whole of Italy was on lockdown.
Here in Ireland, it was decided to cancel the St. Patrick’s Day celebrations and people were asked to stay away from the cities. As the spread of the virus continued, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, himself a medical doctor, visiting Washington DC for the traditional St. Patrick’s Day greeting with the U.S. President, made a big announcement. He said that the Government was to close all schools, colleges, and childcare facilities, until March 29th, where it will be reviewed. Over the St. Patrick’s Day weekend, footage emerged of revellers in close contact in pubs and bars in Dublin city centre. It caused widespread annoyance especially as people were asked to ‘social distance’ themselves from each other as the virus spreads by close human contact. Some pubs took the initiative to close first but the government decided to order all the pubs and bars closed on the St. Patrick’s weekend. Thousands of punters travelled to the U.K. for the Cheltenham festival and the pictures were shared all over the media and social media of stands full of people which also provoked a lot of anger.
From the word go, when the risk of this virus spreading into Ireland was very likely, we were advised to wash our hands very regularly, cough or sneeze into our elbows or into a tissue and dispose of it, and to avoid touching our face. We were asked not to shake hands or embrace people. The prevailing advice was to keep at least 2 metres apart from each other and to maintain a physical distance from one another. Going shopping has been an experience during this time as shoppers are required to stand apart on markings clearly displayed on shop floors and walls. Staggered numbers of people are only allowed into the supermarkets and screens have been erected between the staff at checkouts and desks. Many people are wearing facemasks and latex gloves while out and about and remaining a physical distance from the next person. The advice is to presume that other people are carriers of CV-19.
In the last two weeks (late March) the Government announced a further set of measures which saw everyone being advised to stay at home with the exception of those who were ‘essential workers’ Gardaí are on checkpoint duty at many points all over the city to make sure that only essential workers are going to and from their place of work and no one is just out for a drive. People are allowed to take daily exercise so long as it remains within two kilometres from our homes and we can go out for essential shopping outlined in Government guidelines. All citizens over 70 years of age and all those with underlying illnesses must not go outside their homes and must remain ‘cocooned.’ Again, this is because it is too risky for any of these citizens to be infected with the coronavirus.
With the very high rate of contagion and thus the massive strain on our health service, larger numbers are falling sick and needing hospitalisation. The Health Service Executive (HSE) the Department of Health, and the Government put out the call, Ireland’s Call, in early March for ‘all hands on deck’ such was the projections for this illness. They invited all Irish medical professionals to come back from abroad to work in the Irish health service. The call was responded to generously. The hope is to ‘Flatten the Curve’ by controlling the level of contagion by insisting all people remain at home and apart from one another. We are all being encouraged to “Stay together, by staying apart.” By trying to control the amount of people getting infected by Covid 19 and requiring hospitalization or intensive care treatment, our health care services don’t therefore become overwhelmed.
Today, at the time of writing (Easter Weekend) at a press conference the Taoiseach, the Chief Medical Officer, and the Minister for Health, and the Minister for Education announced a further period of three weeks where we must all stay at home, to stay in lock down. The Dept of Education and the state examinations commission have put back the Leaving Certificate Exams until the autumn and hope to allow the students to sit these exams by the end of August. The central applications office and colleges and third level institutes are put on alert to make provision for this when they accept graduates for college places.
From early March, anyone who had been exposed to a person tested positive for coronavirus, was advised to go into self-isolation for a period of two weeks. In effect, they were to avoid any contact with other members of the household and to keep to their own space, their own room and their own bathroom. If they became symptomatic, the advice was to call the GP and await a call back for an appointment at a time when no one else would be in the surgery. Alternatively, staff would come to your home dressed in full hazmat suits reminding one of astronauts preparing to enter the launch pad for countdown. They would take a sample from the back of the throat and the nasal cavity. Some days later the results would show that a person was either negative or positive. As has been said, given how contagious this Covid 19 is, a positive result meant continuing strict self-isolation and channels of communication set up with the GP. Fluids and over the counter medication and plenty of rest will make the difference if a person already has good health, However, older people, those with underlying health problems, and for example respiratory issues could be in serious trouble.
I am writing these thoughts and I stop to think after every few sentences. Obviously, when writing, I’m checking a spelling or looking at the construction of a sentence. I also look over a few lines to see if what I’ve written makes sense. Before it comes out from inside me, it tends to make sense, and it tends to be a good idea. When its down on the screen, sometimes it’s a different matter and what before would be torn up and binned, is nowadays deleted. However, I am looking at what I’m writing and I’m also remembering recent conversations I’ve had, while observing a physical distance with people. Most of the world is in the same situation. Nations, cities, societies, communities, neighbourhoods, and families are all asked to stay indoors to handicap this novel corona virus. Is it a dream we will wake up from? Who would have ever thought that something like this would happen in our lifetime and bring the world to a standstill? And yet, it is not a dream, the nightmare is very real and surreal that I’m writing these lines. All sorts of people are using their social media to urge us to stay at home and stay indoors. A-List Actors are taking to Twitter to rally people to adhere to the guidelines. Some are using their social media platforms to report that they’ve been tested and found Covid 19 positive. Then, they are checking in to update us as to their progress. The British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson has had a rough ride with Covid 19, including hospitalization and even a stay in intensive care. Thankfully, he has been discharged and is on the mend in the country residence of the PM at Chequers. Closer to home, some prominent radio and TV personalities have contracted Covid 19 and were publicly off the air and self-isolated for a period. Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar re-registered with the medical council as a doctor and has decided to give some time each week to the medical response to CV-19.
Covid 19 it is a cheeky little blighter who we hadn’t met before winter 2019. A tiny thing, a fraction the size of a full stop (.) at the end of a page, it can pack a punch and it has spread itself with lightning speed across all five continents. Covid 19 has infected more than a million, made many thousands very sick, and many people have died. In the midst of our isolation, we have communicated with each other on various social media platforms. Up to this, some had become worried at the level of use we have made of our smart phones, tablets, and screens, and their effect on our psychological wellbeing. Yet for now, our virtual presence has been a life saver and a source of sanity for us. We are not encouraged to go and visit our families, and so occasions like St. Patrick’s Day, Mother’s Day, and Easter, all passed with no gatherings except on WhatsApp, Zoom, Skype, and Facebook Live etc. Perhaps hardest of all to see and experience, watching older parents of adult children greet their relatives from the hall door while the grand children speak to them from the garden gate or outside the living room window. It’s like were in a dream – or a nightmare.
As church, early on, we were curtailed in having groups gathered for Mass and religious services. Again, we were required to observe physical distancing from each other and have no close contact in the church. Initially, we were restricted to not more than 100 people in the church. As the virus escalated around Europe, and especially in Italy, Spain, and France, seeing their experience, we knew this this was coming here. Communities, provinces, and whole regions closed. People were told to stay at home and only allowed to go out for groceries and medicines. Soon, entire countries shut down. Our church has been closed since the second week of March and in a sense, we have spent the weeks of Lent confined and the last few weeks in a kind of lockdown. Pope Francis was seen walking alone through deserted streets of Rome to call to some churches, including the Church of San Marcello, to venerate a cross which was paraded in Rome during the Black Plague of 1552. He asked that this same cross be brought to the Vatican for an extraordinary ‘Urbi et Orbi’ Blessing on March 27th before an empty and wet St. Peter’s Square. Here the Holy Father prayed that this storm would pass with Jesus in the boat with us. “Like the disciples, we will experience that with him on board there will be no shipwreck. Because this is God’s strength: turning to the good everything that happens to us, even the bad things. He brings serenity into our storms, because with God life never dies.” ( Pope Francis – Extraordinary moment of prayer. St. Peter’s Square. 27th of March 2020)
Many of us have celebrated Mass online via webcam and on social media. We have heavily used our online outreach in a very successful way. I believe that many people have been consoled and strengthened in their fear, confusion, and isolation. Here, in Priorswood Parish, we have had an average of 200 people logging on to our daily Mass on Facebook live. It has been a powerful illustration for me of our solidarity and support together via a small smartphone camera leaning on a shelf aimed towards the little altar in our empty day chapel. Here, thanks to our smartphones and tablets, no virus can hurt us because while we are physically apart as we are told to be and rightly so, we are all together. We all have a powerful need to connect and to not feel alone. But in this time, we really need to reach out to see who is out there, and we need to do the same and be connected so as to not feel so isolated.
In the past, before 24-hour news channels, we would wake up to bad news or we would have the television on and there would be a newsflash. The editorial dept in newspapers would hold the front page and wait until very late into the evening based on the headline they would want to carry. The natural disasters, the wars, and the famine seemed to be happening far away. We certainly had sympathy for communities perpetually stricken by poverty. Over the years there would be appeals for aid for huge populations in developing countries on the brink of starvation. NGO’s and aid agencies here and in other western countries were on the ground trying to bring relief to the suffering despite huge difficulties. When we were growing up, during Lent each year, all schoolchildren got our Trocaire box to put money into to support the Irish Bishops aid agency.
As teens in the 1980’s, my generation will remember BBC journalist Michael Buerk’s reporting of the Ethiopian Famine and the harrowing television pictures coming through in October 1984. We were all were shocked and horrified by the sheer size of the disaster that was unfolding. This time it was coming into our living rooms during each news bulletin. Boomtown Rats front man Bob Geldof, and Ultravox lead singer Midge Ure outraged by what they saw, met up and wrote a song. They imagined how most of us would be celebrating Christmas in the west. They called their song ‘Do they know it’s Christmas? The song powerfully asked the question, do the starving millions know its Christmastime at all? Quickly, they set about rallying many recording artists in the U.K. to come on board and share the vocals and the instrumental arrangements. Pretty much all of rock and pop royalty came on board. In late November 1984, the song was recorded and filmed and was released under the name Band Aid made it number one in the music charts for Christmas. It inspired many recording artists across the world to do the same for famine relief in Africa. Notably, Michael Jackson, Lionel Ritchie, and producer Quincey Jones wrote “We are the World” and many recording artists in the United States and Canada came together under the umbrella of USA for Africa. This too went to number one. In the summer of 1985, Bob Geldof still reeling from seeing the suffering of millions in Ethiopia began to arrange a huge concert for famine relief. On July 13th, Live Aid, the ‘Global Jukebox’, would be a concert featuring the biggest music artists in the world, all performing for free. It was broadcast via satellite with the first gig in Wembley Stadium, London, from 12.00 noon to 6.00 p.m. and then from J.F.K. Stadium in Philadelphia kicking off when the London broadcast was over. Millions of pounds and dollars was pledged by ordinary people all over the world.
We all remember where we were on 11th of September 2001 when the United States was attacked on its own soil in New York, Washington, and Pennsylvania. Thousands of people lost their lives almost before our eyes as news corporations blanket reported the horror live on our television screens. It was just before smartphone technology and yet we all received SMS text messages from family and friends to turn on our televisions to see the eerie footage of the iconic twin towers of the World Trade Centre burning and collapsing following two aircraft crashing into them. As the years passed, terrorist attacks, wars, large scale violence, and dictatorships being ended would be seen live on 24-hour news channels as reported by embedded journalists wearing flack jackets and helmets. In the 1990’s when Iraq was still insisting it was prevailing against the allied attack, the bombs were exploding and raining down on Baghdad live on our television screens. We have since seen the dramatic still-photos released of the moments surrounding the capture Saddam Hussein, and Osama Bin Laden.
Our world has become smaller and the ability to travel easily from one place to another has meant that thousands cross frontiers every day and travel into different countries. Travel has been revolutionised by the low fares and no-frills airlines which has dispensed with in-flight cooked meals, compulsory overnight stays in cities, and larger airports, all to save money. What we have now is cheaper and even free flights (if you book very early) to smaller airports on the outskirts of cities, and even some forty or fifty kilometres from the city you want to fly in to.
The easier it is to travel, the more people want to fly all around the world and therefore the bugs and viruses will come along for the trip. In the space of two months, Covid 19 crossed continents with relative ease and by the time the host arrived at the destination, he or she had infected much more people than if it was influenza and as we now know, the fall-out was and is huge.
We are seeing some easing of the lockdown restrictions in Spain these days (Easter Week) and other countries are continuing to enforce lockdowns, there is a danger that a second wave of coronavirus could come about if countries become complacent.
In Ireland, nationally, our movements are restricted until May 5th and the Government will monitor the coronavirus based on the guidance of the Chief Medical Officer. I imagine there will be a staged and staggered easing of the restrictions as the summer goes on. This is very difficult for people as businesses have closed, jobs have been lost, and in a short space of time, a recession has taken a stranglehold of our economy and indeed the world economy. There’s no way the Government would tolerate this kind of economic recklessness where overnight pretty much everything has closed, and people are staying at home and applying for emergency social welfare unless we are in real danger. And we know thousands have got sick and many have become critically ill and sadly, a large number have died. Again, I stop and look at the words I’ve written and I’m shocked and yet we’ve been in this situation for several weeks.
We have gorged ourselves on more and more news of Covid 19 and then got tired of it. Broken hearted people on our timelines have implored us to stay at home as they have reported a loved one’s sickness and even death from Covid 19 and now they are unable to go to them to say their good-bye’s. I have said prayers in crematoria for small groups of family members laying to rest a loved one because they are all not permitted to go due to the restrictions on group gatherings.
But we will get through this. We are getting through this. We are making the most of it and encouraging each other as we go along. We have seen it in other countries. People standing on balconies and singing to each other during lockdown. Police singing and dancing for people in neighbourhoods. I’ve seen posts on social media, people doing videos for their friends, and celebrities recording videos and singing from their own homes.
We see children singing to their nana and grandad from the bottom of the garden. I’ve watched friend’s dad’s drive their kids in convoy past a friend’s garden to wish them a happy birthday because they can’t get together and have a party. We’ve downloaded Zoom and Tik Tok to contact family members so we can all see each other in real time and at the one time. We have seen Aer Lingus flying their Airbus A330 aircraft from Dublin to Beijing and back laden with medical cargo and pilots offering to fly the jets for free in response to a great national effort. We have lit candles and also applauded front line staff on our streets.
There has been community bingo games in flats complexes in Dublin city. On Twitter, the Minister for Health promised a small boy that the tooth fairy will be able to visit him, despite the restrictions, to leave him money for the tooth that fell out. He also promised that the Easter Bunny had Garda clearance to deliver Easter eggs to kids all over the country. An anonymous donor left €500.00 in a shop in Baile An Fheirtéraigh, west Kerry to buy every child an Easter egg. I’m sure there are similar examples of kindness across the country and the world.
This too will pass. We will all be together again soon. In the meantime, we must do what we’re told and trust the medical and expert advice and they will guide us through this period. As we have been doing all along, we salute and respect our nursing, medical, and care staff putting their health and their lives on the line. We are grateful for our front-line workers who will keep the machinery moving while we are asked to stay at home. Our Emergency workers, Ambulance, Fire Brigade, Gardaí, and others are people we owe a debt to as even in normal times, they work when we are off. I am consoled that the best minds in the world, medical, scientific, and research professionals and students, are working day and night to find an answer to Covid 19 and to find a vaccine and they will.
We have journeyed together through Lent in the darkness of this pandemic and we have arrived at Easter time. I recall the encounter of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus and how Jesus comes up and walks with them although they don’t recognise him. Eventually, their eyes were opened when he recalls to them why the Christ should suffer. They finally realise who he is at table in Emmaus. As it hits them, they can’t contain their joy and even though they said they were tired, they find a new energy and they hurry back to Jerusalem to share their good news. The disciples there also have encountered Jesus themselves. “Then they told their story of what had happened and how they had recognised Jesus at the breaking of bread.” (Luke 24:35)
Good news can’t be contained, it needs to be spread, and it has to lift us. We pray that with the help of the risen Jesus, we pray that this will pass, and that we will continue to find ways to connect with each other from our isolation until we can soon be together again.
Wednesday, 8 April 2020
Sunday, 5 April 2020
Tuesday, 17 March 2020
St. Patrick’s Day, the world over and in Ireland is marked by a huge and international energetic sense of Irishness. Many well-known landmarks in the world’s biggest cities turns green to celebrate the contribution of the Irish diaspora to society for generations. The colour of the parades, the sights and sounds of floats, and bands, and cultural displays on a big scale is beamed all over the planet on March 17th. Everyone is Irish on St. Patrick’s Day.
This year we have been thrown into a completely new and scary situation. St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland and all over the world is going to be held quietly indoors and privately for the safety of everyone. No parades, no pubs, no gatherings. We have new words in the vocabulary; we are all told to practice ‘social distancing’ and self-isolation.’ Small children who would normally be sitting up on their dad’s shoulders to get a look at the floats in the parade, are playing in their homes, and playing in the parks and green areas away from their friends. There are no playgrounds open. The streets are empty, and the bars are closed. We need to be mindful of the wisdom of the medical advice to us.
We are hungry for more information and news about this new Corona Virus pandemic called Covid-19. We are seeing countries closing their borders and locking down their streets. People are to stay indoors in many European countries and only go out for essential shopping. Children are Skyping their grandparents, virtually hugging them from behind the glass. It is eerie and frightening out there.
We can’t offer Mass in Churches with a congregation. It is not permitted to have more than 100 people together indoors. I imagine that there will be further restrictions coming soon. Many of us are broadcasting on Facebook Live or via Webcam. Last weekend, I don’t know how many calls came to the parish house asking was there Mass?
I looked at a picture of Jesus in the desert. I find comfort in this when we are told to practice social distancing and self-isolation. Jesus spent forty days and forty nights in the desert after he was baptized by John. In a sense he prepared for his public ministry by prayer, fasting, and in isolation. In the desert, a place of foreboding, he was tempted and tormented. Yet, we are told the Angels came to minister to him (Matthew 4:11) He was also terrified in the Garden of Gethsemane before his trial and crucifixion but again, the Angels came to minister to him (Luke 22:43) Jesus understands our fears and he will not leave us alone. He walks with us through this.
St. Patrick spent part of his young life in slavery and isolation and he knew what being apart from his family was like. Later, he was called to come and minister in Ireland, sent by the Pope as Apostle of Ireland. With great tenacity, he lit a flame which became a great fire of faith which lasts to this day. Our parents passed on this faith to us. Faith helps us to see in the dark. Patrick used the Shamrock, the three-leafed clover, to explain the mystery of the Holy Trinity; God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. God in relationship with you and me, like a family, a family of love.
In these times, we draw strength from family. If we can’t be together now, if we can’t hold each other, or if we must stay apart for the sake of our health, we can still be connected. We join with family at a distance, or who feel lonesome. At this time of Corona Virus, we may not be able to be physically present together, but we can unite in faith, prayer, and love. Soon, please God, we will walk through this, and we will enjoy a coffee together, or a pint, and we will have our family gatherings again, and make new memories. Night is darkest just before the dawn. There is good weather coming.
St. Patrick, pray for us! Our Lady of Knock Pray for us!
Do not be afraid! Amen.
Saturday, 7 March 2020
Sending Positive Vibes. Talk given to the Religion Teachers Association of Ireland. Athlone. March 7th 2020.
I ask myself what can I say to a group of religion teachers? What do you need to hear from me? I remember Marketa Irglova and Glen Hansard winning the Oscar for ‘Falling Slowly’ a few years ago and they got the chance to speak to the great and the good of Hollywood. For a few moments they had the ears, the attention of just about every movie star in the business. I remember thinking, what a platform. Here today, I have a chance to speak to you. Each of you daily invite and challenge scores of young people to become conscious of something above and beyond themselves and this is something I share too in my life as a capuchin friar and as a priest.
A little about me. I was born in the Coombe Hospital in 1969, the eldest of seven, and I went to school in Dublin in the 1970’s and 1980’s. I joined the Capuchin Order in 1987 after a mediocre Leaving Cert and in the ten years of formation, I studied philosophy in Millltown Park, and Theology in All Hallows College. I graduated with a BA in Theology and a Grad. Dip. In Holistic Development. I was ordained a priest in 1997 and my first appointment was a school chaplain. I had 5 hours RE teaching per week and I quickly realised I knew very little about chaplaincy and so I began a two-year MA in school chaplaincy in Mater Dei/ DCU (this began as a Grad Dip and finished as a MA in 2004)
I spent 10 years in school chaplaincy altogether between Dublin and Cork. I was into a groove in Dublin and was gaining confidence in front of a class of 30 teenagers. Now, I acknowledge that it was perhaps easier for me, even more than other priest-chaplains or religion teachers, because dressed like this, I am pretty hi-visibility. When the pupils first get over the shock, and the giggles, and the “Hey-hey, we’re the Monkees…” then it’s obvious to them what exactly I am. For other chaplain and RE teachers, there may be some explaining. Maybe there’s no explaining in that sense for an English, or a Maths or Science, or a French teacher.
You know the way the first year or two can be a nightmare and then you get into it. Well, at least I think I did. They I was sent to Cork, to our own Capuchin School, and I had to start all over again. Eventually, I walked in like a cross between Roy Keane and Liam Gallagher and there wasn’t a sound. I knew I had developed the craft. I had made it as a teacher. I was like “Yeah, don’t mess with me.” But it was hard fought. I remember going back to visit Coolmine after I was transferred. I was in the staff room for a coffee and one of the teachers from the maths/science dept asked me how I was getting on. I remember I said, I think I have got tougher. She said, we knew you would break! It was like she said, yeah, no more mister nice guy.
In 2007, I was asked to go as Chaplain to Beaumont Hospital. If you had asked me to choose a ministry, any ministry, the last one I would have picked was hospital. I spent three years there and it was tough for lots of reasons but honestly, hospital ministry is great work. It can be a cliché but teaching the young is a privilege, perhaps we are supposed to say this. But hospital ministry, where one can sit with someone who is dying or trying to come to terms with a new reality in their lives is an amazing privilege too. Working alongside nursing, medical, surgical, and care staff and seeing them make no distinction at all about who comes into the emergency dept was and is a great lesson to me.
From Beaumont in 2010, I was asked to go as parish priest to St. Michan’s, Halston St and Church St. In parish ministry, I had fairly regular visits to the two parish primary schools, but this was also somewhat of a challenge because in the real world it can be more tricky to get the time in parish ministry to engage with the schools. For example, there were a lot of funerals in the last parish I was in and these take up the whole morning and some of the afternoon and since the kids are gone home by 2.30 p.m. that’s the day gone. When I was in secondary school in the 1980’s, a priest used to literally walk into the class and promote devotion to some saint or other. No one stopped him. Who would after all? Today, thank God, this shouldn’t happen now for loads of reasons not least as all visitors need to report to reception at least.
For the last 10 years, I have been in parish ministry with all that entails; Baptisms, Funerals, First Communions, Confirmations, RCIA, First Friday visitation of the sick, emergency calls by the Gardaí, Fundraising, Restoration. And this has given me much of the material for the two books I have written in the intervening years. I’ve been very lucky and very blessed.
I seem to have a reputation out there for spreading positivity. No doubt because I published my second book before Christmas. My first one was called ‘Tired of all the Bad News’ which came out in 2016. The second one is called ‘Sending Positive Vibes’ and that was published in November. Basically, they are some reflections and homilies I have written and blogged over the years. They are interspersed with some memories of growing up in Dublin in the and the genesis of my vocation and my decision to join the Capuchin Order in 1987.
Tongue-in-cheek, I say that the first book was an exercise in vanity. I had been approached by Columba Books in early 2016. They asked me to write a foreword to a book they were publishing on Padre Pio. When I submitted it, they said they would like to return the favour. “Maybe you can” I said. I told them of my idea for the book. “You writing a book?” “It’s kind of written” I replied. “Send it in” they said. So, I did. And following a conversation with the provincial minister because I had to get permission, I sent it in.
So, I stand before you this morning to encourage perhaps. I also want to express my gratitude to those who teach the young religion. While there is a debate today about the passing on of the faith – primarily the work of the Holy Spirit through parents and grandparents, you are also stakeholders in this by providing a platform for students and others to gain wisdom and understanding about a loving and personal God as revealed by Jesus Christ.
My brother Kevin graduated from Mater Dei in 1996 and taught English and RE in Tallaght all his professional life. Two years ago, he became Deputy in Old Bawn Community School. I told him I was going to be speaking to you today. He offered some advice for me.
He said today religion not something that needs to be defended anymore – nor apologised for – or embarrassed about. It is something that needs to be rediscovered. While it has to be acknowledged that some (clergy) and in leadership roles have made a spectacular success of profoundly damaging the church institution not least in how child sexual abuse and the criminal cover-up was handled, I still see a cohort of young people responding to the invitation to get involved in church. We are in a post outrage society. For example, you need look no further than what is going on in St. Paul’s Church, Arran Quay in terms of youth ministry. We are not alone in trying to reach out to young people and offer them something under the umbrella of religious education which I believe goes deeper than just an academic subject.
Young people engage with Church today because they want to, not because it’s what their mammy and daddy want. The days of obligation are over. We are more adult now and when we go to church and when we practice our faith, it is because we desire to. No one is forced anymore. The question “what did the priest say at Mass?” to test kids did they go is gone, thank God. The Millennials are not upset by the Church – they are intrigued by it. Prominent and welcoming people help in this regard, whether in school, or at diocesan level or parish level. For example, seeing church people on social media spreading the good news is critical today. I believe Twitter is an ingenious way to spread the good news today just as the pulpit was in the past. The Holy Father, many bishops, priests, and religious as well as dioceses do the same all over the word and on cyberspace. I believe it is critical to use these forums to upbuild and affirm rather than sow seeds of judgement. Church people should never be trolls.
I am impressed by Pope Francis in that in his ministry he uses the example of Saint Francis of Assisi praying before the cross of San Damiano. In the story, Francis of Assisi is searching for some answers as to what God is asking him to do. He hears the voice; “Francis, go repair my church, which, as you can see is falling completely into ruin.” At first Francis rebuilds the walls of the church with bricks and mortar. However, later, the other brothers, and Clare and her sisters come to join him. Fundamentally, Francis learns the building programme is about people. Pope Francis is doing the same in our time I would argue; repairing the church person by person or as he has said, “one heart at a time.” This is what you are doing each day in class with your students when you teach religion, you are repairing the church, you are proclaiming the gospel, you are forming the young and this is vital. It is great work.
People need hope. We crave good news and while at the moment we seem to see nothing but bad news; Climate change, Covid 19 Corona Virus, Brexit, Republican or Democrat, you name it, it is all consuming because we have it 24/7 on our televisions, tablets, and smartphones. So, while we see this bad news, if we look, we can see the helpers too. Those who are working hard to make a difference, to find an anti-dote and a vaccine, and we need to hear this because its like a shot in the arm.
The vital work you go is a powerful example of making an investment in the future of our young people. Teaching RE is good news and it marries the academic with faith formation and this will inevitably help the building up of the Kingdom of God. Thank you all.