Thursday, 27 February 2014

Saving Grace

The following animation is a truly great way to spend four minutes of your time:
Please share with your friends!
Saving Grace: Are You In?

Friday, 10 January 2014

Zikomo Yesu*

Portrait of Dr David Livingstone at St Simon's RC Church, Partick

He was taught Latin by Daniel Gallagher, above, who later became parish priest of St Simon's
Thanks be to God - Thank You Jesus - on Christmas Eve i arrived in Blantyre, Malawi. Apologies that it is only now possible for me to write this short update, when i'm back in Berwick-on-the-Scottish-side-of-the-Tweed; from Mauritania onwards, i couldn't access the blog. It has been the most challenging, but hopefully not the least interesting journey i've ever made. In Blantyre (Malawi) i came across these words, in an otherwise very good temporary exhibition about Livingstone:

 "He was taught to read and write by his father, attended evening classes provided by the mill and taught himself Latin"

   This is not quite true in one important respect. He learnt Latin (without which he would not have been allowed to study medicine, therefore casting his entire subsequent career into doubt) from Northern Irishman Daniel Gallagher, who later became a Catholic priest.

   The pilgrimage, about which God-willing i now hope to write in detail, was dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Among so many other privileges, i was able to return home via Paris, and visit the Sacre-Coeur (Sacred Heart) Basilica. After a Mass there on the 3rd of January to mark the feast of St Genevieve, patron saint of Paris, i went up to the top of the dome, affording tremendous views of the city. An English fellow happened to point out the Stade de France to his partner:

"It's not far - you could walk that."  

   In reply, i was tempted to interject (though i didn't): 

"You'd be amazed how much you can walk."  

   To which i might have added:

"...and how much cheating you can get away with!"

*Thank You Jesus.  

Sunday, 6 October 2013

North Africa's answer to South Africa

At least two caveats should accompany the title to this post. Firstly, i've never been to South Africa. Secondly, the only country i've been to in North Africa is Morocco. And in fact i haven't been here for very long. However, among the countless Barcelona shirts (most of them #10 - Messi), there are occasional South African Springbok rugby shirts, which gave me the idea. I have a mental picture of South Africa as a place with western levels of affluence in some places, though the wealth is not evenly spread, and this is my (albeit limited) impression of Morocco. Walking south from fascinating Fès the other day, there was a restaurant called Titanic which, i kid you not, would have looked upmarket in Knightsbridge, London. However, i've also seen poverty of a kind that is extremely rare in the developed world.

But there's an awful lot of Morocco that is completely unknown to me.
“The best laid schemes o' Mice an' Men, / Gang aft agley,”*
Without troubling you with details, for bureaucratic and other reasons, most of my time since disembarking near Tanger on Tuesday 17th September, St Robert Bellarmine's day, has been spent in the capital, Rabat; a nice enough place, especially the Casbah, and with the impressive St Peter's RC cathedral, but not usually at the top of visitors' lists of priorities. And this means actual walking has been at a premium, but one way or another i've made it as far as a town called Midelt, amid the commanding heights of the legendary Atlas mountains. This is a great country, reminding me of the Middle East in the summer of 2010 when i was there, during the South Africa World Cup; not least as people flock to cafés, as they did then, to see football (i won't forget Messi's hat-trick for Barcelona against Ajax on my first evening in Rabat). And i've picked up that Morocco has a genuinely strong footballing tradition. At Mexico '86, not only did they hold England to a 0:0 draw - they finished top of the group which included Portugal and Poland! There is mounting controversy over one or two of FIFA's more recent decisions, as to who should host the world's greatest tournament, but for what it's worth, if there was a desire to allow a predominantly Muslim country to host the World Cup, i believe Morocco and Turkey would have to be the frontrunners. 

Excitement to report the other day, when i saw a living preying mantis for the first time (the one i saw near Jericho in 2010 was dead). Then last night, given that it was after dark, i got a relatively excellent view of what seems most likely to have been a Little Owl. And i've had some great food, mostly at very affordable prices. Mind you, i probably wouldn't be the first to note that Morocco is a place where it is deceptively easy to spend money, but as Dr David Livingstone might point out, given the emphasis he put on 'Christianity, Commerce and Civilisation', the economy has to keep ticking over one way or another.

Oh, and i've never seen so many cats. 

*“the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry”; from To A Mouse, On Turning Her Up In Her Nest With The Plough by Robert Burns.

Saturday, 14 September 2013

Não tenhais medo!

Do not be afraid!

These words, said to appear 365 times in the Bible, are emblazoned (in Portuguese) across the front of the Basilica of Our Lady of the Rosary in Fátima, where Mary is understood to have appeared to three shepherd children from May to October 1917, announcing her 'Peace Plan from Heaven' to end the war then raging, and avert future catastrophes. To many Catholics, Do not be afraid revives memories of Blessed John Paul II, and the unstinting encouragement he gave to Christians and people of good will wherever he went, though especially perhaps to the people of Poland in 1979, when he set in train the events that led to the collapse of communism and dismantling of the Berlin Wall ten years later. A section of this once-reviled edifice is displayed near the Basilica, in remembrance of Our Lady's role; not least, JPII credited her with diverting the bullet that was fired at him from point blank range, on the feast of Our Lady of Fátima, May 13th 1981.

I can't make this a very long post, but i can report that, while i did quite a lot of walking in Portugal, i also had to go back and forth to the second city, Porto, to complete a course of injections which i will need, God-willing, if i am to continue to sub-Saharan Africa. Besides some great Portuguese hospitality, the final account will also need to touch on football (the other religion in Portugal), and the local flora and fauna. Specifically, there were a few rabbits, and it was genuinely exciting to see an actual pine marten for the first time in my life, but ornithologically-speaking, there wasn't all that much to write home about... until the morning of Thursday 12th September. I went to the Chapel of the Apparitions in Fátima to find that Mass would be in English, the chief celebrant a priest from Sydney, Australia. Shortly after the homily, a beautiful pure-white dove flew into the covered space around our Lady's statue, and perched itself on the roof of the original little chapel, which Our Lady had asked to be constructed in August 1917. It happens that this was the morning of President Putin of Russia's appeal, in the New York Times, for the USA to pursue a more peaceful approach to the appalling tragedy that has been unfolding in Syria.
"We are all different, but when we ask for the Lord’s blessings, we must not forget that God created us equal."

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Octopus with Roger Moura

At the very friendly and efficient municipal Albergue in Najero, near Pamplona on the Camino Real Francés, high-spirited pilgrims had made up a song, in English, whose chorus was:
"You have to make your way peregrino,
Because there is no perfect Camino..."
It occurred to me that a more useful formulation might be:
"You have to make your way along the Camino,
Because there is no perfect peregrino..."
...even though it doesn't scan quite as well. I say this partly because obviously, we are all sinners, but also because, by God's grace, the Camino as i experienced it was quite near to perfection. Just past the halfway stage, at a place called Bercianos del Real Camino, after a rather paltry 10km walk, an English lady (a few years my senior) persuaded me to stay at the parish Albergue, as there would be a meal, prayers and music as well as an affordable bed. It turned out to be a memorable experience, but later on, when it seemed that i'd been left behind by all my original cohort of pilgrims, i questioned the wisdom of having stayed at a place like that, rather than doing more walking. On the evening of Saturday the 10th of August however, St Lawrence's Day, i came to a place called La Faba, and exchanged pleasantries with Roger, a pilgrim i'd previously enjoyed walking with, who reckoned he could reach Santiago de Compostela by 15th August - the Feast of the Assumption of Our Lady into heaven. Realising that if he could do it, there was no reason why i couldn't, we agreed in principle to meet up for a meal in Santiago. I visited St Andrew's church in that village (and shall never forget how beautifully a young woman was singing Schubert's Ave Maria), and resolved to pull out all the stops to try to reach Santiago by the 15th. Thanks God, we were both there on the Thursday evening, and Roger treated me to a delicious meal. He ordered octopus, a local Galician speciality, and invited me to try some. It was only later from the email address he gave me, that i could see that his name was almost Roger Moore (though i've changed the spelling slightly for this blog entry, to protect his anonymity). And in case you think i've made this up, the English lady i'd met in Bercianos del Real Camino passed the restaurant just after we'd ordered - i waved to her, and she came inside to say hello. Roger very kindly invited her to join us. So although she didn't know that his surname was (almost) 'Moore', she can testify to the fact that on the Feast of the Assumption, i enjoyed octopus in the company of a person called Roger, in Santiago de Compostela. You couldn't make it up.

   Fairly typical English arrogance, i'm afraid, led me in a previous post to make such a sweeping statement about Blessed John Henry Newman, that he was...
"...certainly the greatest theologian the British Isles ever produced."
The Franciscan church in Santiago de Compostela has a fine statue of Blessed John Duns Scotus (d.1308); a theologian of at least equal distinction. It's almost as if i'd intoned,
"...Fred Perry was certainly the greatest tennis player the British Isles ever produced..."
The following 'Prayer for Mary’s Meals' appears on the back of some excellent little cards that i was able to distribute to people along the Camino:
Our Father
give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us for the times when we take more than our share of the bread that belongs to all. Let us help You fill the starving with good things not with scraps from our table. Teach us how to share what is not ours to keep. Clothe us with Your love that we may complete each good work you created us to do. Place in our hearts Your compassion for each starving child and use our little acts of love so that they starve no more. Amen
The culture of waste in most developed countries is absolutely grotesque. As an illustration (and this also shows how pilgrimage is intrinsically tied to divine providence), i walked virtually the entire way from Tours in central France, to Santiago de Compostela, in a pair of trainers that i found in a bin in Le Mans. They had been discarded, like so much other merchandise, and not least food, that has basically nothing wrong with it whatsoever. Here is Lydia's story, from another Mary's Meals publication that i happen to have with me:
Lydia is four and owes her life to Mary's Meals. Orphaned at 6 months old her grandmother brought her to the centre begging for help. The volunteers took some of the feeding money and bought some milk from a local farmer. As soon as Lydia was two, she came to the centre to eat and learn. She comes every day without fail and is very bright. As I watched her, she finished her own plate and the leftovers from two of her friends. What an appetite!
It is right to emphasise the appetite, but also the fact that Lydia can't afford to be fussy about eating other children's leftovers. Please think about that, and the Mary's Meals prayer above, the next time you are about to shovel perfectly edible food into your wheelie bin. And i confess, i say this as someone who used to be scarcely able to remain in the same room as, say, a piece of fruit that had the least kind of microscopic blemish.

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Getting Told Off

Twice since Tours i've been ticked off, but i'm not convinced that the ticker-offers were entirely justified in either case. The first time was on the medium-sized country road leading south from Aulnay, in the Charente-Maritime region of southern France. I was upbraided (mildly, i should say) for being on the road, when the official Camino-Way was through fields some way off. To be honest though, the Camino in France is sometimes absurdly windy, not always very well marked, and on one occasion led to my being knee-deep in water, where the river Charente had burst its banks. Not only that however - a frequently seen 17th century map of the Camino actually shows that the road i was using was the authentic ancient pilgrimage route! Then last weekend i took an excursion to Valladolid, since my parents had sent a package to the Post Office in Leon, but it was closed when i arrived on Saturday lunch-time - i had nearly two days until Monday morning, when it would open. One of several very impressive churches in Valladolid (not least interesting also; they have storks everywhere, in the same way that we have seagulls) is dedicated to St James the Apostle. The altarpiece however depicts him in the frankly offensive incarnation of 'Matamores'- the Moor slayer - on a horse, with a sword in his hand, and two or three saracens prone beneath him. A sacristan told me off for taking a photograph, but in fact there was no sign anywhere to say that one couldn't take photos. Moreover, i was merely talking a picture of the Apostle to whose tomb i am still making my way, God-willing, as a pilgrim. Sometimes one can see that such depictions of St James have been doctored, so as to accord more closely with the Gospel. It seems reasonable to suppose that Spaniards would never need to be touchy about depictions of their patron saint, if such depictions were never actually in direct opposition to the basic tenets of Christianity. Mind you, on one occasion i took a photograph of a deeply impressive crucifix with the flash (since i hadn`t checked to turn it off), during the reading of the epistle, at Mass in a chapel which had a very clear 'No Photos' sign outside (i'd missed it when i went in). So on that occasion at least, i deserved to be told off but wasn`t.
   In the last few weeks it has been a privilege to meet lots of very nice, kind and interesting people, about whom i hope to write more in future, please God. The 'Peaceable Kingdom' in Moratinos deserves a special mention however!

Thursday, 1 August 2013

What's in a Name?

Quite a lot actually, especially when it's for a child who is set to become the constitutional monarch of a realm comprised of several ancient kingdoms and principalities, one of which is due to vote in a referendum on independence in September next year. For the benefit of anyone who hadn't noticed, 'George' is the name of the patron saint of England. Not of Scotland, nor of Wales, nor Ireland for that matter. It's a great name, of course, and Georges V and VI, at least, appear to have put barely a foot wrong, not unlike our own much-loved and respected Queen Elizabeth II. However, in the current political context of the referendum on Scottish independence next year, alongside all the many and various things to recommend it, it has one or two niggling difficulties, shall we say.

Still, it could have been worse. 'Edward Longshanks' or 'Jimmy Savile' are two examples that come to mind, and there are probably others.