Sunday, 17 August 2014

"After walking 1,411 miles, I'm still a sinner"

A big reason that Harry Bucknall walked the pilgrimage to Rome down the ancient Via Francigena was because of the age-old promise that you make up for your past sins by doing it.  ‘I’ve led a wild existence. There isn’t much that I haven’t experienced in life!’ Bucknall exclaims in his vivacious way. 

But the pilgrimage is not for wimps. The 1,411 mile journey traditionally begins in Canterbury. From the Kent countryside, you make your way through France, Switzerland, and then through Italy, until reaching St Peter’s Basilica in Rome.  

I am deeply curious as to why anyone would want to do such a pilgrimage. Shedding some light on the peccadilloes that he hoped to atone for, Bucknall says, ‘I’ve been a party animal. I’ve had a past with lots of drinking and lots of hedonism.’ 

 The Via Francigena is one of the most physically demanding pilgrimages on earth. Did he know what he was getting himself into?  ‘I started out from a point of naivety. I thought this would be a jolly jape, that it would be a nice outing through the Kent countryside and then onto France.’ When did he realise how hard it was going to be? ‘It wasn’t until I was nearly 300 miles into the pilgrimage. It was at Laon, that I broke down, and wondered if I could go on. But I persevered.’ 

He documented his travels in his riveting book, Like a Tramp, Like a Pilgrim. Bucknall recounts his many adventures, the friends that he makes along the way, and the many times where he feels the helping hand of an angel or saint. 

 But merely thinking about grueling pilgrimages make me squeamish - I had a beloved uncle who died shortly after walking the Way of St James. That said, the Via Francigena is twice as long as the Way of St James.  Not to mention that it entails relying on the kindness of strangers to give you a bed for the night or a free meal.

When I talk to Bucknall, a dapper man in his 40s, who is the quintessential English gent, I want to go further into his reasons for doing the pilgrimage.  So, I ask Bucknall as to the unique personal benefit the pilgrimage held for him.  ‘The truth is that I did the pilgrimage to expunge a very low period in my life.’

‘Before starting the Via Francigena, I had just come out of a very bad, verbally violent and at times physically abusive relationship.  It was a most foolish time when I elected stupidly and irrationally to go out with another man twenty years my junior. It was full of jealousies, and one felt unworthy because one couldn’t compete,’ Bucknall discloses with admirable honesty.

Not content to blame his ex-boyfriend, Bucknall concedes, ‘an abusive relationship takes two.  It’s not that he was a bad man, but we were bad to each other.’

This need for a cleansing pilgrimage caused him to leave his job, his flat and his family and friends behind in England, in order to trek through  Europe with a rosary and crucifix around his neck.  It was a time of making peace with his past, ‘that relationship was a disaster, and I was largely atoning for my behaviour during that time. I have to take responsibility for my part in the relationship,’ he says humbly. 

The relationship had been over by six months before he started the Via Francigena. That said, Bucknall dealt with some unfinished business on the way. ‘When I started the pilgrimage, my ex-boyfriend would send me text messages.  He wanted to get back together with me.  When I would not agree, he sent extremely abusive texts.’

There was also lingering regret, ‘When I was in the abusive relationship, I felt I had let my family down and upset them. It was a very public relationship, and I had been relying too much on some of my friends for emotional support.’ 

Bucknall had been walking for hundreds of miles ‘before I really got the relationship with the much younger man out of my system’.
It was at the St Bernard Pass in Switzerland that a change came over Bucknall,  ‘when I was staying in the monastery of St Bernard, there is a certain joy that I had arrived at the high point of a journey.  And I aligned my will to forgive my ex-boyfriend and to forgive myself. I came to terms with my past.’

Great suffering in Bucknall’s life was changed to great happiness. He also saw how his troubles had inspired him to do the pilgrimage, ‘had I not been in such a difficult relationship, then I would never have gone on the pilgrimage. And this book would never have been written.’

But the book is not about being gay. Bucknall is frank that, ‘my sexuality does not define my life or my writing. Some people use their sexuality as a weapon of leverage. I don’t. I just happen to be Christian, gay and a writer.’

Like a Pilgrim, Like a Tramp is about a genuine quest to find holiness.  It’s not spiritual fluff either, Bucknall contextualises it, ‘admittedly there are an abundance of sickening articles in the mainstream press about being ‘spiritual’,’ he snorts a laugh, ‘but my book is about actual encounters with the angels and saints, as well as meeting wonderful people who put their trust in God.’

Bucknall has gained an appreciation for the mighty St Michael.  But the book starts with a thank you to a lesser known saint, St Spyridon of Corfu. Bucknall says that he is a firm believer in the intercession of St Spyridon. Some years before walking the Via Francigena, Bucknall fell off a cliff in Paxos, but called on St Spyridon and escaped certain death.

On the Via Francigena, Bucknall  met a fascinating cast of characters, who have rock-solid faith. One of them, a young woman, Sylviane is confined to a wheelchair, and told him that she may have lost the use of her legs, but that God was her guide. She even crossed the Alps before Bucknall did.

Bucknall’s book is largely a very timely celebration of Europe’s Catholic riches.  Yet, Bucknall is not Roman Catholic.  He says unabashedly, ‘I love Catholics!  All my closest friends are Catholic.  Half of my nine God-children are Catholic.’

So, is he about to swim the Tiber? ‘Well, I am a proud Anglican!’ he exclaims.  ‘I got very close to becoming Catholic during 2001. But then I was confronted with the paedophilia scandals and I couldn’t face coming in.’  In his book Bucknall hints that paedophile priests must get more public punishment.  Brief reference is made to this in Like a Pilgrim, Like a Tramp. When he reaches the cathedral of Piacenza, Bucknall saw a cage mounted on the side of the cathedral bell tower.  In the old days, errant priests were put there for up to a year, and fed on bread and water. In his book, Bucknall suggests that he thinks the cage would be useful in these times!

It seems a shame to be so scandalised by the sexual abuse crisis that he misses out on full Communion.  I mean, if he has such admiration for the true Church, then why has he not joined us?  ‘I toy a lot with becoming a Catholic,’ he admits. 

Many people think that the Church has a problem with gay people.  Is that an issue for him?  ‘No, it’s not an issue. The fact that I’m gay has nothing to do with the reason that I’ve not become Catholic. I think Pope Francis has got the balance right in being so open to gay people, but in opposing gay marriage.’

But he is unyielding that, ‘my roots are everything to me.  I would never betray my Anglican background.’  Roots?  I remind him that we were all Catholic once upon a time. He agrees, ‘oh, yes, we were all Catholic, before us Protestants left the Catholic fold and set up on our own.’ 

This leads us to having a spirited debate about his use of the word, ‘Christianity’ in the following sentence: ‘Such was the fervour for Christianity in France during the Middle Ages that there were roughly 200 people to every church built.’

I raise a quibble here, asking Bucknall, if instead of crediting ‘Christianity’ with this flourishing of church building, he should have attributed it to Catholicism?  He relents, ‘alright, Christianity was Catholicism.  There was no difference. Protestantism did not exist at that time.  In my book, when I describe the amazing Catholic churches, I mean to tell people that everyone can worship in them, even a Protestant like me.’

Talking about amazing churches, the aim of the pilgrimage is to reach St Peter’s Basilica in one piece.  Harry Bucknall succeeded in doing so, and is the better for it.  The pilgrimage meant a lot of penance, and does he think that he is still free from sin for having done it? ‘No one stays free from sin for long.  Some people might think that they are free from sin for life after doing the Via Francigena. But I know that in the eyes of God, I’m a miserable sinner.’ 

I did this interview with Harry Bucknall for the  8th of August print edition of The Catholic Herald. 

You may buy Harry's immensely entertaining and life-affirming book on Amazon.

Keep up to date with Harry's travels on the Facebook page.  

Sunday, 10 August 2014

104 years ago today, Francesco Forgione became PADRE PIO

The first Catholic priest to receive the stigmata was born on the 25th
of May, 1887 and named ‘Francesco’.  He was the son of Grazio and Giuseppa Forgione. Pietrelcina, a remote village in Southern Italy was his homeland. 

Francesco grew up on a winding street, in a one-roomed house with a
relentlessly hot, golden sun overhead. His parents were simple, farming people, who were tireless workers, and made their living from tilling a few acres which were located a thirty-minute walk from their village. On their plot of land, they had a stone house, in which crops were stored, and where they also slept during harvest time.

The house where Padre Pio grew up

They led a balanced life, where hard labour and religious observance
went hand in hand. After a hard day of planting crops, the Forgione family
recited the Rosary every evening, without fail. They fasted from meat three days a week, in honour of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. Francesco’s parents and grandparents could not read, but they memorised Sacred Scripture and as part of everyday life, they told their children stories from the Bible. His mother, known as Mamma Peppa, was always described as being very gentle, and there was great warmth and tenderness between her and her little boy whom she had named after St Francis.

When he was a young child, his family and fellow villagers did not
earmark him as being very different. But decades later in his life, St Pio,
would recall how he had visions of Our Lady when he was merely five years old.

At the time, he didn’t mention these sightings of Our Lady, nor did he write about them.  The pensive, alert, beady-eyed five-year-old Francesco
believed that visions of the Mother of God were normal occurrences in childhood, and he did not think himself extraordinary because she visited him in person.

Some have suggested that he thought of becoming a Franciscan because he was named after St Francis.  In actual fact, when he was around
ten-years-old, he was drawn to the Capuchins, after seeing a young friar, Br. Camillo, who strolled around Pietrelcina begging for alms. Fr Camillo had a special rapport with the village children, and he always gave them little gifts of medals, holy cards and chestnuts. Young Francesco would follow the friar like the other children, but it was Br Camillo’s long, flowing bear that riveted his attention.  Pio later declared, ‘no one could take away my desire to be a bearded friar.’

His parents greeted the news of his vocation with joy, but also with a
resolute determination that they were committed to making the many sacrifices necessary to get young Francesco into the seminary.  At that time in Italy, the government provided only three years of primary school education. 

The Forgione family would have to find a way to pay for Francesco’s
private tuition, so that he was sufficiently educated, as to be accepted for
priestly formation. But the family had no spare lire. Grazio, St Pio’s father
said he would have to ‘emigrate or steal’. 

In 1899, Grazio travelled on a ship bound for Brazil, but when he
arrived he found that the employment opportunities were few, and that he would have to borrow money to return to Italy. This surely was an exasperating disappointment, but undaunted, Grazio made plans to emigrate again, and this time he crossed the ocean to the United States where he found work on a farm in Pennsylvania. His employer noticed Grazio’s wide experience in farming, and appointed him a supervisor of other farmhands. While Grazio sent money home for his son’s education, there was a growing concern that young Francesco was spending so many hours on end praying in the chapel, that he was neglecting his
school lessons. 

His parents did not disapprove of his piety, but they told him
off because he was not concentrating hard enough on passing school tests. They reminded him that his father had left the family homestead and was doing gruelling farm work in America with the intention of financing his education.

But in time, Francesco got the balance right, and focussed on the three aspects of his life, prayer, farm labour and studying.

In January 1903, Francesco was about to start his novitiate, in the Morcone Capuchin friary.  He was only fifteen, and found the experience of
leaving his mother so hard that it was like an, ‘interior martyrdom’, and he later said that he felt his bones were being crushed. His mother was in anguish too, she said, ‘my heart is bleeding, but St Francis has called you.’ 

On arriving at the friary, the first person that he met was Br Camillo who called out ‘bravo!’ on seeing him. After he was there two weeks, he took the Habit of the Order of Friars Minor and had a white cord tied around his waist.

He was no longer known as ‘Francesco’, but was given the name Pio. For
the rest of his life, St Pio would celebrate May 5th, the feast of
St Pius V as his ‘name day’, a celebratory occasion on a par with a
birthday.  As a novice, St Pio, embraced the strict lifestyle of a friar,
and was an exemplary novice by the humble but faultless way he performed penances, fasts and the imposed silences. During the autumn of his novitiate, his father came home from America for a visit, and together with his mother, they visited Morcone. They were in for a shock when they beheld a gaunt, worryingly thin Pio, who had got into the habit of passing his rations of bread  to the other friars. Their son kept silent and stared at the floor.  The Father Guardian had to encourage him to speak, and only then did he chat freely to his parents. 

On another occasion, the Superior of the Friary announced to his mother; “your son is too good; we can find no fault in him”.

Two mystical phenomenons were associated with Padre Pio during his
novitiate. One day, his Novice Master told him not to receive Holy Communion. 

Pio, reportedly, nearly died because he was not permitted to receive the
Eucharist, and when the Novice Master relented and gave him permission, Pio was revived.  The second was that key witnesses observed that he had ‘the gift of tears’.  They would find Pio in the chapel, before a crucifix, and weeping so profusely that one witness said, ‘the floor would be stained’. 

Finally, the long year of his novitiate ended, and in January 1904 he
made his temporary vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, which would last for three years. It is accurate to say that he spent the next six years studying for the priesthood.  But like the street where he was reared, St Pio’s journey to the priesthood would be a rough path with many twists and turns.

At that time, the government had suppressed religious orders in Italy and as a direct result; there was no designated monastery that provided a full seminary education. Instead, Pio travelled to and from five different communities.

After three years of roaming between friaries, and at the age of nineteen, Pio made his Solemn Profession in January 1907, when he vowed to live his entire life, imitating the example of St Francis.

The first three years of studying for the priesthood were successfully
completed. But the latter three years were a time of severe health-problems and painful uncertainty as the shadow of the grim reaper loomed. It was not long after he had taken his permanent vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, that he increasingly endured high fevers and bronchitis.  

He was frequently sent home to Pietrelcina for  convalescence, and would return to religious life when he showed signs of improvement. But in 1908, he was given a diagnosis of tuberculosis, and informed that he only had a few months to live.  Two other doctors dismissed the diagnosis of TB, but they did confirm chronic bronchitis, which was worsened because of Pio’s extreme fasts from food.

But Pio was also struck with stabbing stomach pains and debilitating
bouts of vomiting that took a great toll on his strength.  He had received
permission to study for the priesthood in Pietrelcina. But during this period of severe infirmity, Pio was often so convinced that his death was imminent, that he began to doubt if he would be ordained. 

The rule was that a seminarian had to be twenty-four before being consecrated to the priesthood.  An exception was made, and at the age of twenty-three, on the 10th of August 1910, he was ordained by Archbishop Paulo Schinosi at the Cathedral of Benevento, and became ‘Padre Pio’.  

Nearly 92 years later, on the 16th of June 2002, John Paul II
canonised ‘the simple friar who prays’, but to this day, he is still known
affectionately as ‘Padre Pio’. 

This post was originally published in September 2012.  I re-post it here because of the 104th anniversary of Padre Pio being ordained to the priesthood. 

Friday, 8 August 2014

Forget gargling hot brandy for a sore throat - keep Lourdes water at home

Some weeks ago, I picked up a viral infection that brought on a lung packed with fluid, a constantly runny nose and a terribly sore throat.

Owing to the fact that it was ‘viral’, it could not be treated with anti-biotics. So, I got hold of ground-up grapefruit seed tonic that tasted like floor polish, but only made my throat ache more. A friend playing Florence Nightingale gave me a hot brandy and lemon toddy that I gargled to ‘bump off’ the virus. Let’s just say that hot brandy is not meant for gargling!

The idea of taking some Lourdes water popped into my mind. It’s that time of year, when pilgrims are flooding into the French village, and a few of my friends have already been there on pilgrimage. I remembered the five litre flask of Lourdes water that I schlepped back from my last pilgrimage to Lourdes in 2010. The Lourdes water is stationed at the entrance to my flat to bless my humble abode. And it’s kosher to drink it – Our Lady instructed us to ‘drink at the spring and wash in it’.

Lourdes Pilgrimage 2010
I poured the water into a cup and gingerly took some sips. I forgot about it for an hour, and suddenly realised that my sore throat had vanished. It was not an abrupt cure, the healing came on in a gentle way, and the pain melted and was gone. Shortly, the hideous signs of my infection faded away.

There are 69 miraculous Lourdes cures that are officially recognised by the Church. Not forgetting the myriad anecdotal cures that people attribute to drinking the water or bathing in it.

But many of us can’t go to Lourdes where we would pray at the shrine or immerse ourselves in the water. That’s not to say that we are excluded from all the blessings from Our Lady of Lourdes.

For those of us who long to go to Lourdes, but can’t get the time off work or can’t afford to travel, it can be a source of healing grace to keep a cache of Lourdes water at home.

I wrote this post for The Catholic Herald Website, do visit the site and see the full range of bright blogs,  great comment pieces and the latest news from the Vatican.

Monday, 30 June 2014

Padre Pio on the Mass: "each Holy Mass heard with devotion produces marvelous effects in our souls..."

Pray for Eccles!

I have been asking many priests and bishops to read Eccles Is Saved, the blog run by the Catholic Church's resident satirist.  I send them links to his blog posts.  I keep meaning to ask Eccles how many hits he gets from Rome each day... 

One of the shepherds asked me if Eccles was 'a contender' for my affections. Ha, ha! The simple answer is no.  But it's time to 'fess up and blush 'till my cheeks go postbox red. When I first started reading Eccles' blog - I thought he was a witty (and single) young man. So, that explains the time that I joked on Twitter about throwing pebbles at his window.

Now, I realise that Eccles ain't available, and even if he was, his hands are full with Anti-Moly and Bosco.

Yesterday, courtesy of Twitter, I learned that Eccles is poorly and suffering a bout of ill health!  We must fly to his aid!

It's time to give back. We've enjoyed many a good laugh reading Eccles' blog, and now we can return the favour by praying for him in his hour of need.

I'm already sending lots of requests to Padre Pio, so I think I had better annoy, I mean, petition another saint.

Here's what I suggest. Everyone reading this post - say the prayer below to St Raphael.  It would be nice to have some tally, so please consider leaving a comment if you are praying to St Raphael for Eccles.  We are asking St Raphael's intervention on a health matter - which is perhaps the BEST reason to pray to the Archangel.  

St Raphael is 'the saint of happy meetings', and obviously is called on by singletons to help them source other singletons. I think, however, that we would be better to pray to St Raphael for our health and well-being.  St Raphael's name means 'medicine of God', and he's also one of the patron saints of doctors and medicine.   In the Book of Tobit, St Raphael saved the young Tobias's life, and later he healed Tobit of his blindness, and having had his sight restored, Tobit had the use of his eyes again. 

Prayer to St Raphael for Healing
Glorious Archangel St Raphael, great prince of the heavenly court, you are illustrious for your gifts of wisdom and grace. You are a guide of those who journey by land or sea or air, consoler of the afflecited and refuge of sinners. 

I beg you, assist me in all my needs and in all the sufferings of this life, as once you helped the young Tobias on his travels. Because you are the "medicine of God", I humbly pray you to heal the many infirmities of my soul and the ills that afflict my body.  I especially ask of you the favour (for Eccles) and the great grace of purity to prepare me to be the temple of the Holy Spirit.  AMEN

Visiting the statue of St Raphael at San Juan Capistrano, California, USA.

Sunday, 29 June 2014

Bishop-Elect Kevin Doran: “Vocation is not about achievement or personal advancement.”

The truism that “the past is a foreign country, they do things differently there” is very apt when you compare Ireland of the 1950s to the present-day.  
Bishop-elect Kevin Doran was born in June 1953 in a Dublin that was poles apart from modern Ireland. In the 1950s, the majority of Dubliners attended Sunday Mass. A 2011 poll showed a mere 14 per cent observed the Sabbath in the Dublin area. 
In the Ireland of Fr Doran’s youth, people were more likely to accept the authority of bishops. Fr Doran, who will be ordained a bishop on July 13, will exercise his ministry in a Church in which bishops have to earn respect and trust, and in a society in which, for many, his ministry will not be regarded as particularly relevant. Pope Francis has appointed him to the rural Diocese of Elphin, which has 37 parishes, 90 churches and a population of 70,000. 
Fr Doran was raised in the seaside area of Dún Laoghaire. The eldest child of middle-class Dubliners Joseph and Marie Doran, he has two younger sisters. 

His father was a maths teacher, but also prepared young children for First Holy Communion. He must have done a decent job, because Fr Doran has received letters in recent weeks from past pupils of his father, praising his dedication and his care.
But while his parents were devout, Fr Doran says, “they didn’t push us, they led us by their own example. They showed the importance of service, hard work and care of others.”

They were expected to go to Sunday Mass and every so often said a family rosary. His family nudged them in the direction of doing more than their obligations. He recalls: “During the summer holidays, when we were sleeping in, my dad would walk up and down outside our rooms, asking us if we would not think of going to morning Mass, instead of staying in bed. But it was left up to us. No one forced us.” 
Fr Doran’s family is dotted with relatives who were priests and nuns. There is a London link in that his uncle, Fr Hilary Doran, was the prior of the Kensington Carmel on Notting Hill during the Blitz and had to brush incendiary devices off the priory roof in wartime. 
Years later Fr Doran was at his uncle’s side when he was dying. He says: “He never lost the original purpose of his vocation. He grew into it more and more. That’s something so important for us to learn. A vocation is not something that happens in an instant – a spark that lasts a minute or a day – but is a lifelong relationship.” 
Fr Doran was inspired to become a priest in part by the example of a teacher who was a religious Brother. Brother Finbarr, a chemistry teacher, was 25 years older, but it was his simple faith, his way of living out the Gospel by his life of generous service that inspired the young Kevin to become a priest. 
When he told his parents, at the age of 17, that he wanted to enter seminary they were a bit wary. At that time in 1970s, when priests were still held in high esteem by Irish society, it would have been easy for his parents to keep their qualms to themselves. But they reminded their son of his young age and asked him if he was sure that he didn’t want to do a degree first. 
Fr Doran explains why they were hesitant. “My father had been a novice in De la Salle Brothers for a number of years. My parents understood the challenge and thought that it might be better to wait until I had more life experience.” But once he decided to persevere with a priestly vocation they gave their wholehearted support. 
He entered seminary after finishing secondary school. It turned out that shortly after he was ordained a priest his mentor, Brother Finbarr, entered the seminary. 
Fr Kevin Doran, Archbishop Martin and Pope Benedict

Fr Doran has now served for 37 years as a priest. He has spent the past 18 months in Donnybrook, Dublin 4, one of the most affluent parts of Ireland. His appointment to the Diocese of Elphin will be a dramatic change, from the quarters of well-heeled Dubliners to the rustic confines of the counties of Roscommon, Sligo, Westmeath and Galway. When I mention this, he is completely undaunted. "Sure, I’ll miss Dublin because most of my friends and family are in Dublin. But in Elphin, I’m going to have a lot of new friends and responsibilities. I’ve always felt that wherever the Church asks me to go, the spirit was guiding it.”  
I’m impressed by his willingness to venture into the depths of the Irish countryside, but he did after all spend four years as parish priest in Glendalough, one of the most rural parts of Dublin diocese. “That’s my street cred for a rural diocese,” he jokes.
When I ask about his new responsibilities he explains that, in addition to his own diocese, each bishop is assigned one or more portfolios for which he has a particular responsibility at national level. “I won’t know what they are until after I’m ordained in July,” he says. 
He seems remarkably down to earth about his new appointment, reflecting the type of shepherd that Francis expects. The Pope has underlined that becoming a member of the hierarchy is not a promotion, and Fr Doran echoes this, saying: “Vocation is not about achievement or personal advancement.” 
He seems to have a very steady character, so quietly certain of his own vocation, and I ask him if he ever has drops in his faith. “There’s times, like most people, that I get up in the morning and ask myself: ‘What’s the point?’ If I wake up and think to myself, ‘Oh no, I wish I didn’t have to get up for the 7.30 Mass’, that doesn’t mean I don’t want to be a priest anymore, but it may mean  that I should have gone to bed earlier. We can’t let our lives be ruled by transient feelings like that.” 
Have there been any experiences that have strengthened his vocation? “I had been a priest for many years,” he says, “before I realised that God loved me as I was. I didn’t have to prove myself worthy in order for God to love me. God’s love is never taken back. We can become what God wants us to be because of His love.”
One of the tenets of his priestly life so far has been a tireless dedication to marriage preparation. He thinks his awareness of the love of God has made him better able to help couples. “I try to get couples to take on-board that their love for each other comes from God,” he says. “I love working with couples who are preparing for marriage. There’s so much joy, and hope. I like to remind them that is they who will make the love of God real for their children.”
While insisting that “an essential element of the mission of the Church is to reach out to people who do not share our faith”, he says: “It is equally important is to nourish ourselves with relationships with people who do share our faith… St Paul warns against harnessing ourselves in an uneven team with unbelievers. This is the metaphors of horses pulling a plough in different directions, leading only to chaos.” 
But is the Church doing enough for young singletons? He points out that the Church does have organisations such as Youth 2000 which run prayer groups and festivals where young Catholics can meet a huge variety of other Catholics. There are the World Youth Days, too. But he concedes that young Catholics in Ireland feel they are in a minority. This is a sharp swing from the Ireland of Fr Doran’s youth, when practising Catholics were the mainstream. 
What does he think is the inhibitor, stopping this generation of Irish people from practising the faith as a normal way of life? “In my generation people reacted against a situation in which priests and nuns were authority figures in school, who were sometimes perceived to exert too much control,” he says. 
I mention that most young people, my age, did not know priests or nuns as schoolteachers. “They may have inherited baggage from their parents,” he suggests.
“More importantly, however, our culture is far more materialistic than it was and an excessive focus on what we have and what we want inevitably conflicts with a lived faith. Parents of faith experience themselves as ‘battling against the tide’  Many just don’t bother any more. From an early age, a disproportionate emphasis is placed on the material and social success of children at the expense of their spiritual growth. 

We, as the Church, need to support parents, but they also need to support one another. There are some great examples of generous commitment in our parishes; young parents running family friendly liturgies.” 

Fr Doran pauses and concedes: "But somehow it doesn’t carry over into the teen years. That’s a challenge for us all."

This interview originally appeared in the print edition of THE CATHOLIC HERALD.

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Pope Pius XII made life much easier for Padre Pio. During his life Pope Pius XII confided in a journalist that Padre Pio was ‘a great saint’

The early 1930s had been a time of great suffering for St Pio. In June 1931, an order had come from the Vatican that forbade him from saying Mass in public and from hearing confessions.  Owing to the fact that the heart of Padre Pio’s ministry was spending as much as 14 hours in the confessional, it meant that Pio’s ministry was utterly restricted. He was like a child who was grounded for two years. From 1931 to 1933 is known as Pio’s 'first persecution’, or drawing on incarceration metaphors, ‘the imprisonment’. 

That said, May 2nd 1939 was an extremely important day in the life of Padre Pio – this summer day started a stage in his life that lasted over nine years. 

Why was May 2nd 1939 such a critical day?  For the precise reason that a new Pope was elected – Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli became Pope Pius XII – and his papacy lasted until 1959.  Pope Pius XII’s time in the Chair of Peter is the exact same time frame that allowed Padre Pio’s good reputation to flourish. Instead of being distrusted by the Catholic hierarchy, they put enough confidence in him that he was allowed to go about his priestly duties in peace. 

The key is that ‘the new Pope’,  Pope Pius XII thought very highly of Padre Pio. Soon after he became the number one leader in the Church, he had commanded the Roman Cuia, “leave Padre Pio in peace.”

According to Renzo Allegri’s concise biography, Padre Pio: Man of Hope, Pope Pius XII once confided in a member of the press that ‘Padre Pio is a great saint, and it displeases us that we are not able to say so publicly.’ 

It is possible that Pope Pius XII passed on his affection for Padre Pio to his sister. The guest book at San Giovanni Rotondo was signed by Pope Pius XII’s sister, Maria Teresa Gerini. 

IF Pius XII had said that Padre Pio was a saint while he was alive – Padre Pio said that Pius XII was a saint after his death. On October 9th, 1959, Pope Pius XII passed away. Padre Pio was very upset at his passing. 

After Pope Pius XII left this world, a nun, Sr Pascalina Lehnert wrote to San Giovanni Rotondo, wanting to know Padre Pio’s opinion of Pius XII. In response, Padre Pio’s face was transfigured into joy, and he and he answered, ‘he is in Paradise.’ 

When Padre Pio was asked to give more detail he said; ‘yes, I have seen him in Paradise.’    Pio was saying that his own eyes had told him that Pius XII was a saint.  The strict definition of a saint is a soul that has earned eternal reward in heaven.

In response to this entire chain of events, Father Agostino wrote in his Diary on  November 18 th 1958: "Padre Pio was very sad for the death of Pope Pio XII. But Our Lord let him see the Pope in the glory of Paradise." 

If it takes one to know one, then in his lifetime Pius XII confided in a journalist that Pio was a saint. And after the death of Piux XII, Pio said that Pius XII had been admitted to paradise: the picture of the life of a saint.