Monday, 26 November 2012

Pope appoints Kerryman Fr Billy as Magee's successor in the Cloyne Diocese

Is the structure of the Church in Ireland being re-built for the better?  Pope Benedict XVI has appointed Canon William Crean as the new bishop of Cloyne, a seemingly rock-solid appointment which could help steady the foundation of the brittle Irish Church. Just days ago, on Saturday, November 24th, the feast of St Colman, the declaration that the County Kerry priest, will be the first of a new generation of Irish bishops was made in Cobh Cathedral.  ‘Cobh’ or ‘Queenstown’ as it was known in colonial times is a County Cork town, where the waves of the Atlantic lap at the town’s edges.  The streets clamber up a steep hill, until they reach St Colman’s cathedral that crowns Cobh.  St Colman is the patron saint of Cloyne, and it was a thoughtful, as well as pious gesture to appoint the new bishop on the feast day of the saint. 

It is expected that Bishop-Elect Crean will be consecrated a bishop in January – this will be the first Episcopal appointment in Ireland for over two and a half years.
Bishop-Elect Crean will celebrate his 61st birthday on the 16th of next month. Ordained in 1976, in the reign of Paul VI, we might take note of the fact that he trained to be a priest in the wake of Humanae Vitae.  He has been a priest for 36 years, and has had a wide variety of posts where he has had to prove himself among ordinary Irish Catholics and during times of upheaval and great social change in Ireland. After his ordination, he was a curate in Killorglin, another town in County Kerry for three years, and then went onto work in a comprehensive school in the 80s. Also, for three years during the 80s, he was on the national executive of the National Conference of Priests of Ireland. An interesting item on his CV is that he was the founder of Radio Kerry and has been the station’s director for over 22 years.
He has been in Cahirciveen since 2006, a town which is also noted for its links to Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty.  The Bishop-Elect’s brother is also a priest, and is resident in Kenmare, a popular tourist destination in Kerry. 
The first thing that strikes you about Bishop-Elect Crean (or ‘Fr Billy’ to his parishioners) is his disarming smile.  And he’s known to his parishioners for his off-beat cheerfulness and humility, but he’s also not so reserved that he avoids tackling a difficult situation. On the very day that he was appointed, Bishop-Elect Crean stood in Cobh Cathedral and did not mince his words, he said, “I am deeply conscious of the trauma of these years past - so much suffering endured by young people at the hands of a few - sufferings compounded by the failure of those who didn’t believe them and those who didn’t hear their cry for help.” This is both a concise and gritty appraisal of the failings of the Irish Church – it doesn’t shirk from acknowledging that young victims were ignored. But nor does he embellish histrionically. Bishop-Elect Crean is being fair to his fellow priests when he says ‘at the hands of a few’, because it was a minority of priests who abused.
His modesty is evident in his request to the Catholics of Cloyne, “one thing I ask, however, is your patience to allow me time to grasp the full measure of this deep hurt”.
 His new role as shepherd is no small undertaking, not least because the diverse diocese has a Catholic population of 150,000 in 46 parishes with 107 churches and covers most of Cork, Ireland’s largest county.
But more excruciatingly because: The diocese of Cloyne has been without a bishop since the disgraced Dr John Magee fled the scene.  Bishop-Elect Crean is the successor of John Magee who resigned for good in 2010 amid revelations in The Cloyne Report that, to put it mildly, he mishandled abuse allegations and did not follow child protection guidelines.
The shadow of Magee may well haunt Bishop-Elect Crean’s early days, and his first challenge is not to be darkened by his predecessor’s murky silhouette. To ease matters, it might be better if the general public (and even journalists like myself) will desist from putting the two men side-by-side. Inevitably, the people of Cloyne may hold him in comparison or contrast to Magee.  But already, there are hopeful signs that he will be a marked change to Magee.

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Dorothy Day (who used protest, "Don't call me a saint") was born 115 years ago today

Today is November 8th, and 115 years ago on this day, Dorothy Day was born in Brooklyn Heights, Brooklyn, New York. Journalist turned social-activist, she also worked as a novelist (selling the film rights to her novel The Eleventh Virgin), and dabbled in screen-writing. In her youth she worked on a variety of Left-wing newspapers, never quite becoming a Communist. Her circle of colourful friends included Eugene O’Neill and leading anarchist Emma Goldman, who encouraged her to experiment with free love.
Day’s biggest sacrifice came in 1928. Immediately after she baptised her daughter Tamar, the baby’s father, Forster Batterham, left her. She refused to renounce the faith, which had given her solace during psychological problems caused by an abortion.
In 1932 Day met the charismatic Frenchman Peter Maurin. Together they founded the Catholic Workers’ Movement when the Great Depression raged. Day and Maurin set up urban houses of hospitality for the homeless and communal farms to grow food. Soup kitchens were founded where the hungry were addressed as “Sir”.
Day knew financial hardship, but put unpaid bills under the statue of St Joseph, and somehow she always pulled through.
Day divided her time between writing for their newspaper, the Catholic Worker, publishing books, protesting against injustices and ministering to the poor.
Since Day’s death in 1980 the movement has had no leader, but there are now over 200 communities.

The 1996 film of her life, Entertaining Angels, is an ambitious theatrical portrait of Dorothy Day, and gives a historical account of Day's determination to feed the hungry and clothe the naked during the Great Depression following the financial collapse of 1929. At the time, Day only had 97 cents to her name! Moira Kelly plays the lead, and truly embodies Day's irrepressible ideals of helping the poorest and loneliest, no matter how desperate the circumstances. But it has irritated Day followers that Kelly performs as though she is imitating Dorothy Day, using too much emotion for such a resilient figure as Day (and in a voice a few octaves too high). Also, Kelly has a very soft, oval face - while Day had a strong jaw an a defiantly angular chin, that pointed the way forward.  But then, let's not be too hard on Kelly. Who really could have acted the part of Dorothy Day?  No one. She was a one-off.

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

The priest who converted thousands...

On the morning of August 21 England lost one of its most inspiring priests. Hugh Simon-Thwaites was born on July 21 1917. He was brought up an Anglican and he converted to Catholicism on board a troop ship during World War II, when he was travelling, “somewhere between Cape Town and Bombay”.

Shortly after his conversion, the Japanese captured him and he spent three and a half years as a prisoner of war, when he did such gruelling tasks as clearing dynamited rubble with wicker baskets. Refusing to let his spirit be crushed by these punishing conditions, he later said that he never hated the Japanese. After his release, he wrote to his parents, telling them  that he had become a Catholics and that “in spite of everything I’d had the happiest three and a half years of my life”. He reflected: “I expect my family thought I had gone off my head.” After settling back in England, he entered the Society of Jesus.

Over the last 50 years Fr Thwaites became known for his insatiable desire to bring as many people into the Church as possible. People who worked closely with him say that it’s no exaggeration that he made thousands of converts to the Catholic faith.

Fr Eamonn Whelan knew Fr Thwaites for more than 40 years. Fr Whelan was ordained in 1983, but prior to this, during the late 1960s and 70s he helped Fr Thwaites found and run a hostel and chaplaincy for overseas students in Upper Tooting Park, south London. The first week they opened the chaplaincy, they slept on the floor, because they had no beds. Fr Thwaites spread the word about the chaplaincy by arranging for groups to greet students at the airport and to let them know about the Catholic chaplaincies in London. At that time, over 70,000 foreign students arrived into London during late summer.

Fr Whelan recalls Fr Thwaites buying thousands of plastic rosaries. Fr Whelan says he wants to correct the notion, suggested on some blogs, that “Fr Thwaites just gave the students a rosary and let that be the extent of instruction”.
“He also gave them the Penny Catechism and at times John Hardon’s long catechism,” he explains. “And made himself available at all times to chat about the faith or their problems.”
Furthermore, spiritual nourishment was not the only priority, and Fr Thwaites kept the chaplaincy very warm, which was really appreciated by the African students who found the English climate chilly. He also put big meals on the tables for the students. If they were ever broke, he helped them out by paying bills. If a student felt down, Fr Thwaites would suggest a type of therapy. On one occasion he encouraged a student to paint a mural in the chaplaincy sitting room of Moses leading the people towards the Promised Land. As a result of the art project the student’s spirits were lifted.

 Fr Whelan remembers that Fr Thwaites always woke at 5am to do an hour’s meditation, and that he could be found asleep in the chapel at midnight. He always said 15 decades of the rosary each day. In the early 1970s Fr Whelan remembers that Fr Thwaites had a health scare when he was diagnosed with lung cancer. But when surgeons operated, they found no cancer. While Fr Whelan calls Fr Thwaites, “a truly saintly person” and says that “he didn’t have an uncharitable bone in his body”, he describes a time when Fr Thwaites found it challenging to forgive someone. A doctor had asked him to take in a mental patient for the weekend. One night, the patient overdosed on his prescription drugs and Fr Thwaites found a dead man in the guest room. Fr Thwaites felt upset that the doctor had not mentioned that he had given the patient a large prescription. Had he known about it, Fr Thwaites said he would have kept a better eye on the patient and prevented him from taking his own life. But he resolved with all his strength to forgive the doctor, and did so.
Fr Thwaites never considered that he was immune to temptation. One night in Rome he looked down from his window and saw a young couple beneath, who were very much in love. At that moment, he felt “a pang” that because he was a priest he would never enjoy romantic love. Later he said that he felt the Devil was tempting him to think less of his own vocation. Instead of falling into despair, he poured his creative energies into writing a song that celebrated romantic love and would sing the song at parties.  

The chaplaincy in Upper Tooting Park eventually closed, but Fr Thwaites’s influence on university students has not ceased. Adam Coates, a 20-year-old university student in Dundee, says that the Jesuit priest “showed me the value of putting the mystery of the Mass above earthly things”. He was brought up with no particular religion. At 18, he was introduced to Fr Thwaites’s audio recordings. A few weeks later, he decided to convert to Catholicism. He credits Fr Thwaites’s tapes as having been “a hugely important catalyst” in his conversion. He says that the spiritual advice prepared him “to meet Our Lord in Confession and to receive Our Lord in the Holy Eucharist”. Coates says that the metaphors that Fr Thwaites used were especially stirring. One example is that Fr Thwaites asked people if would they would go to Mass if £20 notes were being given out. He then invited them to think that Our Lord is worth more than £20, so why not go to daily Mass? But for Coates, the most enduring aspect of Fr Thwaites’s teaching is found in his “Catechism of Christian Doctrine” recording, in which Fr Thwaites says that suffering in this life is like walking through the rain. You are cold, wet and hungry. But the thought that, despite all this, you have a home to go to with food on the table and a loving family makes it worth the walk in the rain. The road that the you walk is a symbol for the way of the Cross, and the home is heaven. Coates says he would not recite a daily rosary “were it not for Fr Thwaites, who compares it to sitting on Our Mother’s knee looking at the family photo album”.

Francis Phillips, a reviewer and blogger for this newspaper, knew Fr Thwaites over several years, and like Coates says that the priest made her see that the rosary mattered. “Not just because it is ‘a pious Catholic practice which the faithful should say’, but because Our Lady, our heavenly mother, has asked us to say it,” she says. “I learnt from Fr Thwaites that heaven, the saints, Our Lord and Our Lady are real – not just ‘necessary Catholic tenets of faith that we must believe’.
“When he talked about them they were in the room, real, flesh and blood; as visible as it is possible for invisible persons to be. You can only talk about God, the angels, the saints in this way if you yourself are in intimate and familiar conversation with them – as Fr Thwaites was.”
Fr Whelan echoes the point that the spiritual realms were entirely real for Fr Thwaites. But he never lost his sense of humour and once, when he was teaching the young Fr Whelan how to drive, he said: “People who say God is dead or that guardian angels don’t exist should come for a drive with you!”
Francis Phillips recalls a time when she was in the presbytery and reading a poem about St Paul in Fr Thwaites’s parish bulletin. She asked the priest: “Who wrote that poem?
I like it.”
He replied, rather embarrassed: “I did.”
Phillips exclaimed: “What! Are you are a poet, Father?”
He smiled disarmingly and replied: “Well, it’s the nearest a man can get to having a baby!”
Thank you to Ann and Savio DeCruz for this photo of Fr Thwaites when he baptised their son

Ann and Savio DeCruz both knew Fr Thwaites separately before they were married. Savio met him on a trip to Lourdes, where he spent seven to eight days in his company. Reflecting on those days, Savio says: “I learned more about my Faith than ever before and came back energised to do more and encourage more friends back to the Church. I joined the Rosary Crusade of Reparation shortly afterwards.”
Savio says that, while Fr Thwaites did not directly introduce him to his future wife,  he did show him the importance of the Marian devotions that led to him meeting Ann at the Rosary Crusade. Fr Thwaites celebrated their sung nuptial Mass at Chesham Bois in Buckinghamshire, where he repeated six times during his sermon that children were fundamental to marriage. Between 1997 and 2006, the couple had six children.
In talking to people whose faith was moulded by Fr Thwaites there are some recurring themes. He continually drew in people of all ages. Another is that he helped Catholics become confident in their faith, despite societal and cultural pressure to either abandon the faith or scorn it. At a time when reciting the rosary or going to “the Old Rite Mass”, as he called it, were seen as obsolete practices, he became all the more vociferous in encouraging them. 

I wrote this article for The Catholic Herald, 2nd November edition.

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Happy All Saints' Day... Did you know that All Saints' Day used to be celebrated on May 13th?

This video comes from New Jersey's Pat and Mary, a married couple who 'love history'. The dancing brain at the start of their videos shows that they do not take themselves so seriously as to be insufferable. And there is quite a lot of details - and humour - in such a tiny video.

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