Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Apologies ...

... for the inactivity. I've got a couple of articles to finish, a long trip to Manchester tomorrow, Freshers Week next week, a wedding to plan, and I'm not sleeping properly. All the more reason to be more incoherent than usual.

Still, my sense of humour hasn't gone. So, without further ado, let me present to you 'Bernard'. This is priceless.

Fare thee well

Sylvester passed away yesterday.

Very sorry, Mac.

Sunday, 26 September 2010

Get well soon, Sylvest

Mac's cat is poorly. She's been to the vet's twice now to get him checked out. The poor lad has done something to himself and Mac just doesn't know what. Currently he's had two pain-killing injections. It doesn't sound like a cat's idea of fun.

Anyway, I'm not sure one can send a cat one's prayers, but one can certainly hope to cheer the little chap up. So, here are the Wolftones to sing a little song!



I wonder if white chocolate mice would help. They've always helped me ;-)

Off their Barnet

In Barnet, London, another heroic entry has recently been added to the annals (or should that be anals?) of political correctness. The borough council has issued a twelve page booklet called Cultural awareness: General Problems which orders staff not to make mother-in-law jokes. According to The Daily Telegraph, the booklet states:

“Humour can be incredibly culture-specific, and is very open to misinterpretation or even offense [sic] by other cultures. And don’t forget when you don’t know what people are laughing at, it is very easy to imagine that they are laughing at you.”

Well, full marks to the copy writer if nothing else. I mean full marks for hoisting the council in its own petard. There is no doubt that whatever else this booklet does, it will make people laugh at Barnet Council!

As to Mother-in-Laws, since I'm a man just eight weeks away from getting wed, it is quite invidious of you to ask!

(She's a lovely lady incidentally!)

Papal ponderings I: Grubbing for roots

Before the papal visit, in the storm of controversy over arrangements at Cofton, etc., I underlined two simple facts which I thought were in danger of being overshadowed by the pre-visit jitters:

1) the vicar of Christ is coming to Britain

2) we ought to listen to what he has to say

The visit and its aftermath have indeed been fascinating, not only because of what the pope had to say - more of that anon - but also because his reception by the British was not what one might have feared when reading the slavering, angry opinion pieces of Polly Toynbee or Johann Hari. Nor, come to think of it, was that reception marked by the pope's apotheosis into celebrity status, in spite of the tabloid reaction in some quarters. Somehow, all the sterotypes of the pope crumbled in his presence, without at the same time new myths forming about him in the public eye.

Where new myths have arguably begun to form is in attempts to describe what exactly the impact of the visit has been. Talk of the visit as a moment of re-engagement between the Church and society in this country might be spinning things just a little too prematurely. Where, after all, is the evidence for that? I note with some interest that Archbishop Vincent Nichols has spoken only of the spiritual fruits of the visit in his pastoral letter this Sunday. That is all very true. Still, are our ears not still ringing with the words the pope spoke to the bishops before he left for Birmingham International:

As you proclaim the coming of the Kingdom, with its promise of hope for the poor and the needy, the sick and the elderly, the unborn and the neglected, be sure to present in its fulness the life-giving message of the Gospel, including those elements which call into question the widespread assumptions of today’s culture (my emphasis).


It is quite a commission when you think of it. I wonder what our Lords are preparing to do about it.

************

The addresses and homelies by the pope during his visit number nearly 20,000 words in total, so there should be no shortage of things to ponder in the weeks ahead. Looking at his first address - the one he gave at Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh - I suppose what strikes me now that I read it again is not so much the thumping implication that those who exclude God from the public square are like the Nazis. It is rather the pope's insistence on the 'deep Christian roots that are still present in every layer of British life.'

A certain kind of Englishman (I number myself among them) or English woman is these days so used to lamenting the decline of civilisation, so accustomed to being disappointed by our lack of resistance to the worst cultural innovations of the west, and so numbed by the spin of twenty-first century professional pressure and uncertainty, that he (or she!) no longer notices the depth of these roots. We live in a society which in so many ways is contra naturam. Still, we should take comfort. No matter how hard the loonies try, it is actually quite difficult to reconstruct human nature in some other way; and Catholicism is in a sense so natural. When we find in our current structures those instincts that made Christian civilisation distinct from Roman or Barbarian civilisation - charity, courtesy, forgiveness, fraternity - we are looking at the fruits of the gospel. The soil is poor, but the flora is unmistakable.

Neither is it possible to wipe out history! English separatism from the continent was always an aberration, and the elevation of J. H. Newman to the altars is a stark reminder that it is possible to be perfectly English and perfectly Roman. Newman, More, the line goes ever on and on.

In this historical perspective I think it would be a mistake to underestimate the impact of our reconnecting with the kind of liturgical silences we witnessed in the papal ceremonies. Even Archbishop Nichols was bowled over:

I will never forget the richness of the silence of 80,000 people at prayer before the Blessed Sacrament in Hyde Park. I hope every celebration of Mass contains times of shared silence in which we can draw close to the Lord

This too is a return to the historical roots of Christianity. Watch and pray. Watch and pray. The undoubted dislocation from this source of spirituality in contemporary liturgical practice is part of the tragedy of the reform. Silence was one of the ways our fathers prayed, and it should never have been lost. Never.

But, lo and behold, a modern discovery in Hyde Park: silence facilitates prayer. Are we merely watching men rediscovering the roundness of the wheel after a passing vogue for quadrangality? Even if that is so, let us rejoice!

Of course our futures require more than this reconnection with the political and religious past, whether remote or proximate. But I am wondering whether we take enough comfort in such a reconnection. Behold the roots! It is hard of course in the hubbub of modern life to hear the voices of the past and to feel those presences which bestride our religious history. But, how suggestive of our ressources they really are!. And how important it is that we take after them once more! Historia magister vitae ... aeternae?

I wonder if this is what informed the pope's sermon during the Mass at Cofton Park which seemed to focus almost exclusively on spiritual matters. I was underwhelmed initially by what seemed a rather timid reflection on Newman's spiritual life. But perhaps the papal subtext was simply this: any fool can bang a drum of public controversy (and usual does), but fruitfulness comes first from listening to God, like Newman, More, and all the rest. Behold the roots! The past is ours and the future with it. All we need do is dig:

There I saw one I knew, and stopped him, crying: ‘Stetson!
‘You who were with me in the ships at Mylae
‘That corpse you planted last year in your garden,
‘Has it begun to sprout? Will it bloom this year?
‘Or has the sudden frost disturbed its bed?
‘O keep the Dog far hence, that’s friend to men,
‘Or with his nails he’ll dig it up again!


If you want another explanation of the rage of the anti-pope protesters, you might find it in their awareness that the root-grubbing German Shepherd should, at all costs, have been kept out of the national flowerbeds.

Friday, 24 September 2010

De mortuis nil nisi bonum

More sad news reaches us this morning of the death of Geoffrey Burgon. You might not have heard the name but you will certainly have heard his music.

For Burgon it was who composed the wonderful score of Granada's dramatisation of Brideshead Revisited from the early 1980s.



The music is inseparable from the story. I can hardly read the book now without hearing Burgon's strings chugging away in the background and that bassoon skipping over its arpeggio like a gambolling spring lamb. (Did I actually just write that or did I only think it? [shudder]).

Still, that's not my favourite Burgon score. That accolade must be reserved for the BBC dramatisation of Martin Chuzzlewit in whichthe irreplaceable Paul Scofield played both old Martin and old Martin's brother Anthony. Let's see what Youtube can do for us:



True, Burgon also wrote the music to the egregious Life of Brian. Still, de mortuis nil nisi bonum, eh?

To the tender mercy of God then, Burgon.

Lonely Ches

I'm bereft. My lovely fiancée has gone and left me ... for a whole weekend! Can you believe it? I've been living next to Peckham Rye for the last month, two minutes around the corner from her house, so we've seen a lot of each other. I understand that is one of the required preparations for marriage, though our living under separate roofs has caused scandal!

There's only one thing for it, or, possibly, two. I shall have to listen to some Randy Newman:



Or else cheer myself up with old Lynyrd Skynyrd tracks.

If music be the food of love, and all that.

Roll on Monday.

On Taliban Catholics

An interesting discussion has begun over on Fr Ray Blake's blog. People of all stripes have waded into the conversation about why and whether 'Taliban' is an appropriate appellation for a fellow Catholic.

The most interesting intervention, however, comes from Austen Ivereigh whose remarks to John Allen started the discussion in the first place.

Austen Ivereigh said...

Fr Ray, The term was used by Allen himself a few months ago, and is worth reading how he understands it -- here: http://ncronline.org/blogs/all-things-catholic/dallas-experiment-orthodoxy-and-openness. I think he's onto something. In the interview I said we excluded those whom "you" (that is, Allen) would call "Taliban Catholics". 23/9/10 5:38 PM

Okay, I thought. That's interesting. Have I misjudged Ivereigh here? Is 'Taliban Catholic' acceptable neologistic nomenclature, rather than a mere 'boo word'? Let's go and check out Allen's use of the term.

Allen's discussion is long and interesting, and, with his customary fair-mindedness, he even provides evidence of reaction to his use of the term Taliban Catholicism. But there was this interesting nuance that I think is worth quoting:

When I talk about "Taliban Catholicism," I know I'm playing with fire -- but the point is to invite an examination of conscience across the board, myself very much included, not to slur one side or the other in Catholic debates.


Not a slur on one side of the other, eh? Now that is very interesting indeed. For when I go back to Ivereigh's interview with Allen, it is most definitely one side of the Church that Ivereigh intends to slur:

They’re very critical of the bishops for compromising too much with modernity and not promoting Catholic truth as they see it.

Still, have we fully understood Ivereigh? He took pains after all to explain his intention on Fr Ray's blog. He was merely referencing Allen's usage...

But when we go back to Allen's original article on the matter, it all becomes even more clear - with what my late grandfather used to call the inevitability of gradualness - that by 'Taliban Catholic' Allen is referring not just to wild critics from the right-wing of the Church but also to authoritarian liberals on the left. Here are Allen's words:

Similarly, there's a Taliban instinct on the Catholic left that can be just as noxious as its right-wing version. It generally includes paranoia about almost any exercise of authority in the church, coupled with derision of any attempt to defend traditional Catholic thought, speech or practice -- a liberal "hermeneutic of suspicion" that can easily shade off into rage. Try telling a certain kind of Catholic liberal that Benedict XVI isn't actually "rolling back the clock" on Vatican II, for example, and you'll want to duck and cover before the shooting starts.

Ah, now that IS a problem. Because Ivereigh very specifically applies 'Taliban Catholic' to the right. In fact, in his own interview with Allen, right after he defines what 'Taliban Catholics' do, he then adds:

We ALSO [my emphasis] had applications from people in favor of the ordination of women, and who in general believe that the reforms of Vatican II have been insufficiently implemented, and who are angry at the bishops for the opposite reasons.We had one application from a woman called Pat Brown, who made it to an interview because we didn’t quite understand where she was coming from. In the interview she said, I believe in the ordination of women and I want to use this, when the pope is here, as a vehicle for talking about that. We said that’s not really right for us, and we explained. She got very upset, which led to the formation of what’s called “Catholic Voices for Reform.” It’s slightly annoying they took our name!

Well, now, I admit that I'm troubled. Surely, what was slightly annoying about Brown was that, probably according to Allen's usage, she was a 'Taliban Catholic'; after all, how should we interpret her extraordinary annexation of the name 'Catholic Voices'?

Have I misunderstood Allen? Or has Ivereigh misunderstood Allen? Or,did he not read up to the end of the article he referenced as justification for his own usage?

Hmm, look, we're all adults here, so let's say it as it is. Dear Austen Ivereigh, surely you meant one thing alone by 'Taliban Catholic'. And, in that light, quoting John Allen as your justification appears very odd indeed.

Pax et bonum.

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Mr Leonard Skinner RIP

News reaches us this afternoon of the death of Mr Leonard Skinner. Skinner, a school teacher and, later, a property dealer, was the quasi-eponymous inspiration of American rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd.

Some of the band were pupils in Skinner's class when, one fine day, he incurred their ire by sending them to the school principal for having long hair. And the rest is history.

Let's pray Mr Skinner has gone to his sweet home or, at the very least, is on his way there.

The electric fence of boo-word ideology

James Preece has blogged on Austen Ivereigh's interview with John Allen about Catholic Voices. In it Ivereigh has these extraordinary words to say:

We didn’t get an application from a Lefebvrite. We did get a few from what you would call the “Taliban Catholics,” who of course have become very vociferous on the blogosphere in the last few years. They’re very critical of the bishops for compromising too much with modernity and not promoting Catholic truth as they see it.

Preece has quite rightly mocked this cap by wearing it. [The following is a correction] He, after all, was allowed to, and then blocked from, attending Catholic Voices media training before anyone realised what was happening.

But I find Ivereigh's words signficant for another reason. They are all too redolent of the methodology which is used to bring down Catholic positions in the public square.

'Taliban Catholic' is an example of what John Humphreys calls a 'boo word'. You know exactly what this means as soon as it is said: if you wish instantly to condemn your interlocutor or a third party, you associate them with a handy 'boo word' - bigot, Nazi, fascist, Taliban - and PUFF! in the 24/7 wall-to-wall disinformational age in which we live, you have marked out your territory as surely as any mongrel with a cocked leg.

Better still, you have thrown out a kind of electric fence line which buzzes instantly when pressed against by those you want to herd. What else can Ivereigh's words mean? No blog I know of promotes Taliban values, but what better way to try to maginalise your adversary than by associating them with an enemy who is beyond the pale?

For what defines a 'Taliban Catholic' according to Ivereigh?

They’re very critical of the bishops for compromising too much with modernity and not promoting Catholic truth as they see it.


Ah, so that's what it is? I like the expression 'as they see it', for it is surely a misrepresentation, at least in many instances. It nicely covers over the fact that the CES's collaboration with the last government was a sell out on the rights of Catholic parents and on explicit guidance from Rome about the teaching of sexuality to children. 'As they see it' sets aside criticism of Bishop Kieran Conry who, when Professor Tina Beattie, [redacted] said that the Anglican ordination of women was prophetic, told Radio 4 he 'couldn't comment' on the possible future abandonment of the definitive Catholic teaching on the exclusively male priesthood. He couldn't comment? A man with an apostolic mission to pass on the faith and an oath sworn to adhere to it?

But I'm even more irritated here by the idea that the best way to characterise critics of compromise with modernity is to call them 'Taliban'. There are in fact a huge number of things associated with modernity that the Church will never compromise on. Is the Church, thereby, Taliban?

Actually, yes! This is the kind of language which I know adversaries of Catholicism are now using against simple, orthodox Catholics, not only against those with an axe to grind about bishops and their conferences.

Yes, one man's Catholic is another man's Taliban. That's something Ivereigh might like to think about when he is hung out to dry, like Edmund Adamus, for saying what none of the English bishops appear to have the nerve or the will to say.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Am I bovered?

I went to a round table in London on Monday night. The point of the evening was to discuss the question: Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences: why should we care? The event was chaired by Peter Hennessy of QMUL and we were addressed by three academics and then by David "Two Brains" Willetts MP, the Minister of State for Higher Education and Science.

Obviously, the evening's discussion was guided by the question: why should we care? As another participant remarked to me, however, surely they were preaching to the converted. Not a single person there attended because they were unsure of the answer to the question.

So what was the point of the exercise? To impress the Minister with the importance of the arguments that stand in favour of funding arts and humanities research? I'm not sure about that either. After all, while the sciences, engineering and all applied subjects are in a better position than us, it is not as if the government is professing philistinism as a policy. As Sir Humphrey Appleby tells us somewhere, 'It could NEVER be government policy! Only government practice.'

My cynic's instincts tell me this was the kind of mock punch up which is supposed to give expression to stakeholder opinions without ever running the risk of taking them too seriously. The speakers pressed the minister with arguments in favour of funding. He took them all on board, even though he seemed to say at one point that it was easier to produce cutting edge research on an obscure French author than it was to produce cutting edge research in mathematics or science. You see the implications? There is the unfounded implication that foreign languages are a bit easy really; you only need to replace an English word with a foreign one, right? And then there is the well-founded implication that a lot of research in the arts is ephemeral. I think we might need to plead guilty to that on the grounds of diminished responsibility. But what do you expect in a culturally relativist age?

Still, Willets's comment really gave away one of the two veiled assumptions of the evening. The first veiled assumption - hmm, what else can assumptions be? - is that all this research funding is about productivity. A nod was made in the direction of scholarship, by which we mean the individual's command of his subject taken as a broad discipline. But clearly the generation of new research was the point that was at stake.

And that itself is a grave mistake. There is a lot of research out there, but without scholarship we are at a loss to decide what is important and what is not. We cannot build scholarship if we do not have the time. And we do not have enough time because we are expected, like demented followers of Carlyle's Teufelsdröck, to produce, produce, produce. Since when did leisure stop being the basis of culture? Since we were bound to produce research like battery academics.

And that leads us to the second veiled aspect of the evening: nobody dared answer the main question by saying that we should care because a lot of people are soon to lose their jobs. Since there are so many cuts to be made to the Higher Education budget, I do not see how else it can happen. There is going to be a massacre. Swansea University just announced only last month that they were reducing their Department of Modern Languages from twenty-two staff to just ten! Expect many others to follow in their wake.

Okay, maybe you feel that the best thing that could be done for education in this country is for there to be a culling of the academic classes. I understand the animus, even if I cannot share it. But seriously, any culling will only reinforce the message with those academics who survive - and Lord knows, they will be the ones who know how to dodge the bullets or push their colleagues into the hail of fire! - that productivity and battery fertility are the conditions under which research must be carried out.

We should, I hasten to add, be bothered about all this. First because scholarship is cheaper than research, so what exactly is the problem about funding it? Second, because in the culling, the priority will be given not to those things that are important for us to know as humans, but to those things which it is deemed useful for the State and for the University to keep alive. And, in the current conditions, that means utilitarian and commercial concerns will prevail, alongside some fashionable tosh. I'm not putting down utilitarian or commercial concerns per se; but is this what wonder and wisdom are all about? I very much doubt it. Once education was thought of as a privilege which was rightly extended to the masses; now it seems like it is another tawdry department store or, as Michael Burleigh said recently, a cash-and-carry.

As I say, these are matters about which we should all without exception care.

But, like Lauren Cooper, so many of us seem not even to be bovered.

Monday, 20 September 2010

Softy, softly, catchee monkey

The reaction among most people to the pope's visit has been one of surprise, quiet satisfaction and joy. It is, I confess, a mood in which I share. If there was something extraordinary in the way John Paul II could command a crowd and strut the stage of history with the other figures of his age, there is even something more extraordinary in the quiet, winsome, counter-cultural figure of the German Shepherd. As soon as he arrived on these shores last Thursday, he seemed to give some secret, silent shepherd's whistle that soon had the ravaging, slobbering dog of secular Britain lying on its back and waiting for a tummy tickle.

We were all fooled by the jolly mood. I very much doubt he was though. And that is another extraordinary thing about him. Instinctively, I wish he would knock some heads together. Prudentially, however, I know he is playing the long game.

What is the greatest danger to his papacy? It is the risk that by over managment he makes rope for his enemies at the next conclave to hang his reforms. He knows it. And if we stopped for a moment, we would see it too. Nobody knows better what the Church's management classes really think. He's seen all the dossiers after all. Likewise, few clerics are more attentive students of Church history; few know, as well as he, how battles can last for decades.

Christopher Dawson once said that secularisation began when we stopped treating life as a pilgrimage and turned it into a fine art. I wonder if the same is true of the Church. How many people on both wings of the Church are guilty of an ecclesiology that would turn liturgy, spirituality and all the rest into a fine art of unconciously self-regarding perfection? How difficult, on the other hand, is it to think in the long term, to prepare a sure if messy pilgrim's progress towards the conversion of even the most entrenched enemy?

When this pope dies, he knows his enemies - and, boy, does he have them - will wish to swing the Church towards another direction. What greater legacy for the gentle, German shepherd not for him to have cleaned up shop in such a way as to stoke their fires for revolution, but to have smothered their hopes with genuine charity, making fidelity to the apostolic faith so evidently and patently the right path for the future?

**********

A nice little touch: someone tells me that when the Pope attended Evensong at Westminster Abbey on Friday he was wearing a stole of Pope Leo XIII ... I think for that I'll forgive him embracing Druid Rowan!

Saturday, 18 September 2010

Seeing is relieving

Pussy cat, pussy, where off did you slope?

I sloped off to London to visit the pope.

And pussy cat, pussy cat, did you see Benny?

I did but quite far away, small as a penny.


I have to confess the the trip into the metropolis yesterday was a bit disappointing. The Rozzers, all in high-visibility vests, had cordoned off large sections of the capital such that our original plan of waiting on Lambeth Bridge was foiled.



We managed to sidle through the crowd on Parliament Square to the corner of Millbank and thought we were in a good place to see the popemobile sweep by to the front doors of Westminster Hall.

But, it was not to be. The popemobile stopped at the side entrance just past Richard, Coeur de Lion, and in the distance, through a forest of hands held high with mobile phones and digital cameras, we saw a glimpse of crimson red. I think it was the pope. It might conceivably have been a beefeater, or even a late postal delivery. Who can tell? If the pope needed an alibi for where he was on the afternoon of the 17 September at about 5.20pm, I'm not sure I could take the stand:

Counsel for the Prosecution: Why do you think you saw the accused, Pope Benedict, from Parliament Square at about 5.20pm?

Ches: Because he was in red.

Counsel for the Prosecution: But beefeaters wear red, postmen wear red, Father Christmas wears red. Even My Lord on the Bench today is wearing red! So, how do you know it wasn't him that you saw?

Ches: I don't know.

Counsel for the Prosecution: So you cannnot be sure you saw the pope?

Ches: No.

Counsel for the Prosecution: No further questions, m'Lud.



But there was photographic evidence, you say. Well, that that was another thing. Just about ten minutes before the pope arrived, I got caught out by the old digital-camera-battery-failure routine. I say battery failure. It was actually the failure of the operator, a.k.a. Ches, to recharge it that morning which caught me out. So, I have no pictures of the pope. The best shot I got was of some other ecclesiastical functionaries arriving. Somehow, it's just not the same thing.




I did, however, meet world-famous blogger Fr Tim Finigan who happened to know my companion and stood with us as we waited. I don't think he knew who I was, but he still showed us his press pass!



To the envy of all around, he also had the most interesting gadget for being able to see the screen of his camera when it was lifted up high. I, as a more diminutive man, looked on in envy. He was due to be a concelebrant of today's Mass but had come into town without his alb. I hope he managed to find one. I should think he would have had to have done some hard bargaining to get an alb in London last night.

So, there you have it. My cunning plan to salve my conscience of not attending a papal event was foiled. I could have waited for another hour possibly to see the pope go by, but my companion had booked us a table to eat at 6.45pm, and I'm not sure I could have stood the disappointment if the pope had emerged from the Palace of Westminster and took the shortcut to the Abbey.

This, my friends, is how kingdoms are lost.

Thursday, 16 September 2010

The pope is in the building

Well, that was quite a day with one thing and another. There was a bit of a rocket from the pope to kick things off at Holyrood:

As we reflect on the sobering lessons of the atheist extremism of the 20th century, let us never forget how the exclusion of God, religion and virtue from public life leads ultimately to a truncated vision of man and of society and thus to a 'reductive vision of the person and his destiny' (Caritas in Veritate, 29).

And, yes, that is diplomatic pope-speak warning us that if we exclude God, religion and virtue from public life, we too will end up with a truncated view of man and society (or, in other words, like the Nazis). Now, why do you think the pope said that? Ahem!

It must be fairly tiring for a man of 83 to be cavorting around Edinburgh meeting Scottish dignatories. No wonder he retired for a quiet lunch with the Cardinal of Saint Andrews (I'm reliably informed that neeps, tatties and haggis could have been on the menu ...).

Thence to Bellahouston, a park which sounds oddly like an American Motown singer. Not that Motown was on the agenda for the Mass. There was the odd, regrettable ditty to be heard, notably at the Responsorial Psalm, but it wasn't bad if you turned the sound down. The most solemn moments were in the Liturgy of the Eucharist when the BBC camera, panning across the standing dignatories, caught the Catholic ones amongst them dropping to their knees. The funniest moment was when Susan Boyle came on after Mass and sang to a rapidly emptying field. Was it something she said?

Or was it something the pope said? Neither probably, though he did have some things to say which were couched in papal code but stiff nonetheless. The heart of it was the living out of vocation as a means of evangelising culture. As he put it:

For this reason I appeal in particular to you, the lay faithful, in accordance with your baptismal calling and mission, not only to be examples of faith in public, but also to put the case for the promotion of faith’s wisdom and vision in the public forum. Society today needs clear voices which propose our right to live, not in a jungle of self-destructive and arbitrary freedoms, but in a society which works for the true welfare of its citizens and offers them guidance and protection in the face of their weakness and fragility.


Okay, I thought, but what about our leaders? We need good leadership if we're going to even make an attempt at fulfilling that agenda. And as if he was answering the thought, the pope spoke to the bishops:

As you know, one of your first pastoral duties is to your priests (cf. Presbyterorum Ordinis, 7) and to their sanctification. As they are alter Christus to the Catholic community, so you are to them. Live to the full the charity that flows from Christ, in your brotherly ministry towards your priests, collaborating with them all, and in particular with those who have little contact with their fellow priests. Pray with them for vocations, that the Lord of the harvest will send labourers to his harvest (cf. Lk 10:2). Just as the Eucharist makes the Church, so the priesthood is central to the life of the Church.


You know the subtext: if the priest is average, the people will be lost, if the priest is good, the people will be average, and if the priest is holy, the people will be good. How we need this message in an age of Fr Joe Wheats who think having fifty varieties of Catholicism among young folk is a good thing.

Indeed, that is a proposition Fr Wheat might want to address when trying to explain to young people what the pope meant when he addressed the young people of Scotland thus:

There are many temptations placed before you every day - drugs, money, sex, pornography, alcohol - which the world tells you will bring you happiness, yet these things are destructive and divisive. There is only one thing which lasts: the love of Jesus Christ personally for each one of you. Search for him, know him and love him, and he will set you free from slavery to the glittering but superficial existence frequently proposed by today’s society. Put aside what is worthless and learn of your own dignity as children of God.

Not much room for flexi-Catholicism there, but plenty of room for the children of God.

I confess my heart sank at the ecumenical opening to the sermon, but you can never underestimate the subtlety of this man (nor the potential for the Scots to slide back into bitter sectarianism). He spoke particularly about the 100th anniversary of the World Missionary Conference in Edinburgh which, for those in the know, - and I wasn't one of them until someone mentioned it - was one of the last examples of self-confident Anglo-Saxon Protestantism in the UK. Not a natural bedfellow for Catholics, but consider this: Pope Benedict knows who his political allies are in a context where democratic leverage could facilitate some defence of those principles of natural law which are directly under threat in these sorry islands. If the Anglican leadership continue to pickle their heads in liberal, anti-human fug, Pope Benedict will hope for support from others who will support his agenda of natural law in the public forum.

************

Eek, look at the time. I must away to my bed. I hope to wave at the pope from the corner of Lambeth Road and Millbank tomorrow between 4.30 and 5pm.

The pope's first message

If you exclude God and religion from the public domain, you are no better than the Nazis!

Come on, the Pope!

The pope cometh and that right soon

I am currently blogging from a small room off Peckham Rye. It's taken me nearly two weeks to get on the bloomin' wireless internet system here, but since I have managed to do so this evening, I shall do a little celebratory blog post looking forward to tomorrow...

Which, I note, is actually today.

First things first. The TOTB lecture which I attended last night was about everything except TOTB. Well, he - I mean, the lecturer Brian J Gail - mentioned it tangentially and said how great it was. Spin, but we'll let that pass. But the main thrust of his talk consisted in giving us a little pep talk about the faith.

I, for one, had no objections, though there were some who came out of the talk feeling that they had been talked at very loudly for an hour. I actually thought his talk was very engaging, and he said some things that I had not heard thus expressed before. Sexual sin appears victimless to modernity, he said, but there is always a victim and the victim is the one who is objectivised by another subject. I cannot say what the technical, philosophical merit of the argument is, but it sounded a good way of saying that all sexual sin begins in exploitation.

What grabbed me about this man, however, was that he spoke clearly, he was hard headed and he played a very straight orthodox bat. During the question and answer session, when Edmund Adamus read out my question asking whether there was any connection between Gail's views on the right understanding of manhood and liberal Catholic attempts to normalise homosexuality, he managed to be both charitable and affectionate about homosexuals, while being vociferously clear in his condemnation of homosexual acts. Brilliant, I thought. I dont think Gail realised how loud and resonant his clarity and vigour made him in the current climate.

*****************

Speaking of the current climate, there is nothing but nothing to talk about in the next few days apart from the visit to these shores of the Vicar of Christ. I'm not going to any of the big events, but I shall be waving at him when he passes on Friday through the streets of London, and following his every word and move until Cofton Park on Sunday.

Undoubtedly, the next few days will tell us many things. We might yet see the nastiness of atheist Britain turn red in tooth and claw. We could see yet more clerical gaffs like the one which has led Cardinal Kasper to stay at home to look after the sauerkraut. But how can these days pass without many blessings and graces for us and for our fellow countrymen? It makes one rightly proud. It makes one properly humble.

Who knows what lies ahead for us in this darkening land of secular Britain? What Pope Benedict tells us in the next few days could well prove a last chance for our ailing culture.

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

A burly defence of the pope

When you have a minute, whizz over to The Telegraph and read Michael Burleigh's scintillating article on Pope Benedict and intolerance towards him. My favourite passage is this one:

In choosing the name Benedict, the Pope linked himself with Benedict XV, the pope who tried to halt the carnage of the Great War, and, in a much longer frame of reference, St Benedict of Nursia, whose rule is the basis of the entire Western monastic tradition which preserved Europe's culture through the Dark Ages. The universities can no longer be trusted to perform this function since they have become both beacons of relativism and cash-and-carries.


Go have a look-see.

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Bodily functions

I am invited this evening to the Theology of the Body Lecture at Westminister Hall at 6.30pm and agreed to go before I realised tonight is the opening of Man U's Champions League campaign against Rangers [smacks forehead]. I know many readers of this blog might be somewhat sceptical about what is known by afficionados as 'TOTB'. I am going with an open mind to see what all the fuss is about.

So far I have heard differing views. Some friends of mine, who happen to have eight children, have come under attack from certain advocates of TOTB who appear to see it as a pretext to make NFP - that is Natural Family Planning, not No-Family Policy - into a whipping stick for those they call Providentialists. This seems to me to be a perfect example of the corruption of Precept through the absence of Counsel; if all you intend to do is to avoid evil (by using NFP and not contraception) that is praiseworthy, but it is hardly a realisation of Christian living which the Counsels call us to.

My bethrothed has another view about TOTB, seeing in it something far wider than a fertility issue. TOTB, she tells me, is a way of understanding the theological dynamic underpinning all relations between men and women. TOTB, it is argued, is a way of teasing out the divine intentions left behind by the Creator in the physical world of human relations. Revelation makes these clear.

Well, you know me. I try to follow Chesterton's counsel that the point of keeping an open mind is - like keeping an open mouth - to shut it again on something solid. That said, I strictly reject all cultural spin about TOTB's importance; it is for history, not us, to decide whether TOTB is a gift to the 21st century, as some TOTB advocates tell us. Its uses do not become clearer just because we are told how terribly important it is.

So, TOTB is in my mental dock. Let the case begin.

The nearly Vigil

As you may know, Peckham Rye was one of the potential venues for a papal event, but we lost out to Hyde Park for obvious reasons. Still, not to be bowed by the cruel cuts of history, we were planning to assemble early on Saturday afternoon on the Rye for a pre-Vigil jamboree - I understand the correct liturgiological term is 'gathering' - to be welcomed by performing groups and musical acts. Thereafter, at 8.45pm, we intended to tune in and follow the Hyde Park Vigil on huge screens.

Imagine my disappointment then as one by one all the acts have pulled out of the Peckham Rye Vigil, citing injury, poverty or better offers elsewhere. Well, we could hardly have competed with the diversity of groups who will be performing in Hyde Park - including the Larondina Dance Group, the Zywiec Folk Song and Dance Group, the Doherty Academy and the Romani Rad - but I like to think we had assembled a line-up which would have reflected a range of genuinely indiginous styles and traditions in the Catholic community of England and Wales.

A summary of the Peckham Rye acts and activities would have run as follows:


1. The Chorlton-cum-Meston English Morris Dancers Troup

2. Atherton Colliery Brass Band play hooked-on hymns

3. A display by the League of Abergavenny Shin Kickers

4. The Portsmouth All-Male Sea Shanty Choir

5. The Saddleworth and District Synchronised Whippet Pack

6. Hunting Horn Chorus of the Countryside Alliance

7. The Peckham Street Dancers Massive Innit


In the event, I think I'll simply have to go to Fr de Mallerey's Mass at Tyburn Convent at 2pm and withdraw to south London to watch the Hyde Park Vigil on the internet.

Oh, what might have been!

Monday, 13 September 2010

Going quietly among the noise and haste

Did anyone else hear that the pope is coming this Thursday? Just checking!

Frankly, you can hardly move on the blogosphere or the internet for what we must, out of deference to his German origins, call 'Benedicttalk'. There are still a few pot shots ringing out about organisational matters. Witness the latest own goal by the organisers with their jargon-busting Helpful Terms handout. I wonder, if they carry on like this, whether they will begin to benefit from Sargent's law which posits that British public sympathy for those in the public eye is inversely proportional to the excellence with which they execute any action.

Still, excitement abounds elsewhere. Fr Finigan has provided a helpful guide to the ticketless enthusiasts out there. Mac has sent us all into a jealous rage by waving her papal press pass! And The Catholic Herald is telling us grandiloquently that our moment has come to show the world that faith is still alive and well in Britain.

If this last piece is anything to go by, it tells us that the spin has started. It will only increase next week. In fact, we're going to hear a gaggle of interpretations of the papal visit, about what it shows and what it proves, what it highlights and what it misses. Where, I wonder, will the pope's voice be in all this?

The organisational blunders prior to this visit are well documented, but we need to draw a veil over those things for now. Ultimately, we cannot be too concerned about the detail. It's all so much flotsam and jetsam anyway. The key things are clear:

1) the vicar of Christ is coming to Britain

2) we ought to listen to what he has to say

The external critics of the Church will be so vigorous over the next week that we might be tempted to forget about the internal problems. Beware of spin on either side: by those who are so (rightly!) frustrated they cannot stop carping at the shocking catalogue of organisational screw ups, and by those who want to claim a victory for the Church before the visit is hardly begun.

The pope will not come to lash the backs of organisers and he will not come to tell us we're really all okay.

So what will he come to say and what will be its import? Let's just wait and see.

Friday, 10 September 2010

Is it me?

I just followed a link to the Catholic Voices post about Mark Dowd's programme on BBC Radio 4 yesterday. Here is a sample:

He speaks to young Catholics who think the best thing about being a Catholic is how you can "pick and mix what you believe", as well as objectors to a Mass for gay people in London, who think that the fact that the Mass is approved by both the Archbishop of Westminster and the Vatican proves that only a "very small remnant" will be saved at the end.


[...]


Dowd concludes the Church is more "polarised" now between "traditionalists" and "progressives" but at the same time "more Catholic" -- in the sense of "universal" -- than 28 years ago. Superb.


Help me out, somebody. What is superb here? Dowd's journalism? The picture of the disaster that this programme draws? I feel like I'm looking at a picture of carnage and being told to admire the camera angle! Never mind the devastation, be amazed at the judicious lighting.

Is it me? If James Preece is still smarting about being shouldered out of Catholic Voices, he might want to think again.

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Divisions divided

If Mark Dowd's programme on BBC Radio 4 this morning does nothing else, it will create a lot of discussion. I dare say that is a good thing. It's as well to know what the 'other side' is thinking, and, boy, we certainly got that!

Dowd definitely did his homework for The Pope's British Divisions. He interviewed people from Inverness in Scotland to Blackfen in Kent, via Catholic youth services, the Archbishop of Westminster, and Bernard Wynne of Stand Up for Vatican II. Though a competent journalist, Dowd is not above the odd clanger of colossal proportions; he remarked at one point that you knew the game was up when David Cameron said even Jesus would be for gay rights ... Personally, I feel that if there is anything more ludicrous than Cameron spouting theological opinions, it is people who think Cameron's theological opinions are remotely normative.

Of course, Cameron's opinions might be indicative rather than normative, and Dowd indeed gave us a soberingly varied picture of the leading indicators in the Church, at least as he sees them. On the positive side we can note the extraordinary way in which immigration has changed the Catholic Church in England since 1982. Some might of course have found in Vincent Nichols's description of the multipication of tongues a pretext for advancing the cause of a universal Church language - say, Latin? - but the immigrants' biggest impact probably results from the fact they tend not to be carriers of liberal Western opinions.

There followed sometime later a little section on Fr Tim Finigan's parish at Blackfen, Kent. Fr Finigan is of course one of the ablest voices in favour of the Benedictine reforms in the Church, though I found myself a little agitated by his defence of Latin for which he questioned whether anyone could understand the liturgy in English anyway! It's a fair point but in the circumstances it looked like a case of playing the man, rather than playing the ball. Of course I would have done no better. Dowd also interviewed a female parishioner - was it Mac? - who quoted the then-Cardinal Ratzinger's remark that truth wasn't about numbers.

It was a thoroughly apposite comment given the rest of Dowd's documentary which ranged in alarming detail over the kind of consensus Catholicism which Cardinal Ratzinger was in fact targeting.One of the major changes since 1982 is surely the large numbers of people who like the Catholic brand but appear to have no qualms of conscience about what they stick under it. This flexibility has been sold under the cover of being 'not judgmental', but nobody appeared to appreciate the problem which the Ratzingerian position poses: you cannot believe in total individual expressiveness and the Catholic faith. Somewhere Catholic belief is an obedience. Who said that? Oh, yeah, it was St Paul.

There was a serious degree of self-deception in advocates of non-judgmentalism in the programme. Fr Joe Wheat who works with Catholic youth didn't want to make value judgments about who was Catholic and who wasn't. But, I thought, isn't he making a value judgment about value judgments? Fr Wheat described the situation of young Catholic people who disagreed with Catholic truths as a 'struggle', but judging by the young people who were interviewed, their struggle seemed to be in understanding how Pope Benedict could be so out of touch with the 21st century. They seemed not to be involved in a moral struggle at all; more of a knowledge struggle in what was to them an incomprehensible Church. I don't want to make judgments, of course, but why do I have the feeling they needn't look to Fr Joe Wheat for enlightement?

'Elastic' is how Dowd qualified Fr Wheat's approach to Catholicism, and it was an epithet that might have been applied to many others in the programme. To the sound of twanging rubber, Andy Burnham, the ex-Labour minister, commented on how rigid the Church was over certain health issues. Burnham too doesn't quite see what is wrong with both calling yourself Catholic and conducting pragmatist politics. Pontius Pilate would have been proud. More elastic pings could be heard when Bernard Wynne was rolled on to say how the Latin Mass symbolised a return to 1950s clericalism. Here was another example of self deception; anyone who thinks clericalism died with Vatican II clearly never tried to cross a priest in sandals and rainbow stole. One man's clericalist is another man's freedom fighter. I suppose it is no consolation that Wynne's groupuscule will soon have to rename itself Zimmers for Vatican II. Still, it is ultimately no laughing matter, especially when one listens to the young Catholic people Dowd interviewed in a Catholic school who said they had no problem with abortion and same-sex marriage. Somehow, somewhere, Wynne's Church failed, but he thinks the problem is bossy priests? The mind boggles.

No more was the self-deception issue more acute than in Vincent Nichols's defence of the Soho gay Masses. No priest makes Communion a moment of judgment but trusts that people come forward in good conscience. Thus, said His Grace. The principle is fine in isolation. But when Dowd interviewed people who attend the Mass, at least one of those he spoke to felt not only accepted in her lesbianism, but also that it was fine to believe the Church had got it wrong on this issue. Perhaps some people go to the Soho Masses honestly wishing to lead a chaste life. Was it Dowd's fault that he didn't interview them? Did he interview them and decide to suppress their comments? Or was the person inteviewed more indicative of the kind of gay person that attends the Mass? What I want to know is whether the word 'acceptance' is code for 'no evangelisation here'. Where is the evidence that this congregation understands why this Mass has been allowed? And where is the justification for allowing it without ensuring a constant, gentle, but determined call to keep them on the straight and narrow - that narrow path which is the aim of the rest of us sinners who have proclivities not to homosexuality but to violence, drink, racism, or just sheer nastiness? One protestor outside said that we had become the Church of Accommodation. One can understand why. In this light, Vincent Nichols's telling 'judgmental' people they should just 'learn to hold their tongue', sounds like pastoral bullying, not honest leadership.

Ultimately, Dowd's picture suggested that the coming battle will be not so much between the Wynnes and the Finigans but between the Wheats and the kinds of seminarians that were interviewed towards the end of the progamme. The Wynnes are in the minority. So too sadly are the Finigans. The programme, however, sounded a vague note of hope through the voices of students from Oscott. They, it turned out, were optimistic. They were also clearly the pope's men and hoped his message would be heard during his visit.

But is it their business to hold this mosaic of Catholicism together, as Dowd concludes? The mosaic model - code again for theological incompatibilities - sounds much too much like the latitudinarianism which has turned Anglicanism into a sort of religious whitewash. Nobody, of course, wants to see division, and the human race is all too prone to want to wage war on its nearest and dearest. But latitudinarianism is a counterfeit of charity or ecclesial unity. To be honest, the word 'pastoral' is looking like a blanket with the end thread pulled loose. Still, who with a mitre has noticed that it is getting alarmingly short?

Frankly, my Lords, we need a different model which is gentle of heart but hard of head; not this praxis of disaster with our heads stuck in the ground.

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Mac needs cheering up

Fellow blogger and noted knee sufferer Mac at Mulier Fortis needs cheering up. Do stop by and say something for her amusement.

Meanwhile, Mac, try this technique. Take any silly word you like the sound of - for the exercise, let's say 'sausages' - and see how many film titles you can alter using your chosen WMD (word of mass divertissement). Thus, for example:

The Lord of the Sausages

One Flew Over the Sausage Nest

A Few Good Sausages

A Fist Full of Sausages

Sausage Trek

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Sausages


or the classic Vietnam movie: Full Metal Sausage

It works equally well with operas - The Sausage of Figaro - and with song titles - Somewhere Over the Sausage.

Try this and I guarantee it will bring a smile to even the most drab evening.

Hope you're feeling cheerier soon!

Hawking some shady wares

Well, that's a blogger's life for you. No sooner is there a story to get your teeth into than life intervenes and whisks you away for a few days. I realise I have committed the heinous teacher-crime of not returning homework on time. The shame, the shame!

Still, let's get something straight. I cannot possibly comment as a physicist on Stephen Hawking's argument about spontaneous creation . It's entirely possibly that many physicists cannot comment on Hawking's argument as physicists either. Still, the nub of the Hawking argument comes down to this:

Because there is a law such as gravity, the Universe can and will create itself from nothing. Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the Universe exists, why we exist.

There are, as I see it, two logical problems with this proposition. Let us rehearse them:

1. You cannot attribute an action to an agent who is not. I'm not saying agents are always evident; merely that they cannot explain anything to which they have no relationship. You know the scenario. We've all seen small children, discovered in flagrante delicto , who attempt to blame their misdemeanour on somebody else who couldn't possibly have been responsible. How can Hawking attribute causality to something which is not there? It was the Universe wot done it, 'onest. Even if we allow for a slightly different meaning to the word 'universe', how can anything be said to exist inevitably (and, therefore, it is conditioned to be this and not that) before it exists, unless there is some other source of that inevitability?

2. I suppose the second logical problem here is in the meaning Hawking attributes to 'why': 'why we exist'. Surely, when physical science says 'why' it only ever means 'how'; only ethics or psychology, neither of which are physical sciences, explore agency as the cause or result of meaning. Since the argument Hawking is referencing, however, involves the possibility of divine agency in the physical world, to use 'why' when you mean 'how' is objectively a sleight of hand.

In comments on a previous post, Moretben has made the argument that 'glory and gratitude' are also necessary conditions of being able to appreciate the argument from the physical world to the existence of God. For my part, I do not deny that knowledge and moral rectitude are connected; but I do question whether any atheistic understanding of the universe can be ultimately logical (not only formally but materially). I suppose that depends how we understand 'logic'. As Chesterton says somewhere, the mad man is not the one who has lost his reason, he is the one who has lost everything except his reason. In other words, the mad man is the one whose only claim to knowledge lies in the impregnability of his formal logic.

St Paul's teaching is that the invisible God is discoverable in his eternal power and divinity through material creation. That does not mean that we can understood the Uncreated one; only that the human mind can perceive something of Him through what surrrounds us.

I suspect there is every reason to believe that Hawking's conclusions are not those of victorious physics, so much as those of humanism defeated by the roaring absurdity of a theist or atheist universe. This argument is not exhausted by the possiblity of the Hagios or the God of the Philosophers; there is also the God who can be known through natural reason and who has chosen to reveal his nature and purposes more clearly and more fully through his Son.

Friday, 3 September 2010

Don't try this at home

I've had such a busy day that I have been unable to write the blog I intended to write about Hawking, and now I'm away until late on Sunday. A blogger's life, eh?

Still, I note that two of you - count 'em, two - handed in your homework.

Left-Footer, you're definitely barking up the right tree.

Moretben, however! Moretben, I want you to copy out ten times St Paul to the Romans, 1: 18-21 and have it on my desk by Monday morning ;-)

I, meanwhile, am off to do some marriage preparation and will return with more on Hawking next week.

And on other things.

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Your homework

Your homework for this evening, dear reader, is: what is the logical fallacy in Stephen Hawking's argument about God and the creation of the universe?

My solution tomorrow.

Bloggers, beware

I'm scratching my head and trying to understand the scandal surrounding the Foreign Secretary William Hague at the moment. His sharing a room with his driver Chrostopher Myers, who has since the 2010 election campaign become Hague's (or is is 'a'?) special advisor, have led to insinuations of homosexuality against Hague, mingled with doubts about why he hired Myers in the first place. Hague has now issued an alarmingly intimate statement, explaining how hurtful all these rumours are, especially since he and his wife have suffered many miscarriages, the most recent of which happpened this summer. The story was broken by political blogger Guido Fawkes and the press have since got the scent in their noses, publishing pictures of Hague laughing and chatting with Myers and dressed in shades, baseball cap, low-slung trousers and white top. The press-shaped connotations of Hague's attire are unmistakeable in the context.

Several stories are emerging to explain this storm in a teacup. There is the story of a purient press, never happier than when it can catch the whiff of sexual misdemeanour among the political classes. There is the story of an unwise Hague who shared his room with his driver, even though there have long been rumours about his sexuality. There is the story of a sappling like Myers, suddenly exposed to the freak winds of bad publicity and feeling that his happiness and that of his family are more important than staying in a job that had become too hot.

And then there is the story of the blogger Guido Fawkes who apparently started it all. Fawkes claims to have sources who were firsthand witnesses of Hague's behaviour. He provides apparently salient details, like the fact that other campaign staffers stayed in more modest hotels and that Myers was not qualified for the advisor position he was subsequently appointed to.

***************

Of course it is very difficult to know what the truth is in all this. If Hague, as a senior politician, is sleeping with male staff members, he surely won't be the first to do so. If he is appointing lovers to political positions they are not qualified for, then of course there is a question over his probity, not to mention his political judgment in what is one of the most sensitive of cabinet roles. The impression is already abroad that Hague has already protested too much about the press insinuations.

But who said he was guilty? For all we know, Hague may simply have found after spending days in the car together that Myers, his then driver, had a more interesting and well-informed understanding of foreign policy than any number of wannabe Conservative apparatchiks. He might, furthermore, have taken a twin room as a way of saving money on the campaign, rather than spend yet more money on a room for Myers. Maybe they played poker and drank whisky until late one night, and Myers crashed out in his room. And maybe, just maybe, Guido Fawkes's sources are not decent, upstanding Conservative servants but green-eyed monsters, furious with their ungrateful master for promoting a bloody upstart. Spreading muck, after all, is the oldest political trick in the book.

****************

Only God, and Hague and Myers, know the truth for sure. The rest of us must reflect on how easy it is to tell a different story by the alteration of a detail, the weight given to this or that fact, and the trust we put in stories told by witnesses whose motives might not be as pure as we imagine them to be.

or, as I'm sure the Romans used to say, caveat bloggor.

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Aid to the Church in Need

I have been requested to advertise the following event for Aid to the Church in Need.


Aid to the Church in Need Annual Mass and 'Hope Without Fear' Event,
taking place at Westminster Cathedral and Hall, Ambrosden Avenue London,
SW1P 1QW

Saturday, 16th October, Mass of Our Lady (Feast of Margaret Mary
Alacoque).

The day begins with Sung Latin Mass in Westminster Cathedral at 10:30am. Mass will be followed by an afternoon of talks in the cathedral hall. We are delighted to welcome some very special guests from the suffering Church in Sudan and Siberia.



Bishop Eduardo Hiiboro Kussala of Tombura-Yambio, south Sudan is leading his people in south Sudan through a time of great uncertainty. Despite the country's fragile peace agreement, he has seen his people fall victim to atrocious attacks, including crucifixion. Benefactors are helping to provide hope, funding Christian education at the Save the Saveable schools, training seminarians, Sisters and catechists, and helping priests reach Christian communities with new vehicles.



Father Michael Shields from Magadan, Siberia is a long-time friend of Aid to the Church in Need. An American from Alaska, he chose to serve in a former communist gulag camp in Magadan, Siberia. Millions died here. Father works for those who survive, ensuring their stories are told and their suffering acknowledged by the authorities. He is the author of the Aid to the Church in Need publication Martyrs of Magadan - a book that tells the stories of 15 survivors of the gulags. Earlier this year, Aid to the Church in Need paid tribute to Father Michael's work by including him in the book Heroic Priests.



Neville Kyrke-Smith, UK Director, Aid to the Church in Need has travelled extensively in Eastern Europe and, this year, he will give an update on the help benefactors are giving to Christians in Ukraine, where he recently visited.



John Pontifex, UK Head of Press and Information, Aid to the Church in Need will speak about suffering, faith and hope in Pakistan and how benefactors are helping to nurture this hope.