Tag Archives: Europe

September 20: L is for Lindisfarne

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A modern coble captured by Nigel Coates

Let’s go almost as far north as we can in England, to the Holy Island of Lindisfarne. There are many stories of the early saints of Holy Island, and we can come back to Cuthbert, Aidan and their companions again. But today I’m retelling a cautionary tale of the last two centuries, from Richard Perry’s 1946 book A Naturalist on Lindisfarne. It is worth the telling because we need to take care of our earth and the seas that surround it.

The morning I wrote this piece there were fishermen on the radio convinced that Brexit would lead to greater catches for themselves with the European nations excluded from their grounds.

Perry suggests this is unlikely to happen.

He tells how over-fishing at the end of the nineteenth century led to the end of the herring industry. The fishermen took to catching white fish inshore, but

‘light trawling during the war of 1914-18 brought relief to over-trawled fishing and spawning grounds and allowed the white fish to increase to their immemorial millions at a time when inshore fishermen were beginning to suffer from the effects of this over-fishing. But within a few years of the end of the war the trawler fleets were again cleaning up the inshore grounds of both lobsters and white fish; just as the drifters had destroyed the inshore  herring fishing. By 1931 the catches of the ten Island cobles were only ten or twenty per cent of those taken before or after the war…

‘With the year 1945 at an end …events will no doubt conform to the post 1914-18 pattern, with seven  or ten good years inshore fishing, before the trawlers have swept the grounds clean of all marketable fish.’

Let us pray for wisdom all round as Britain and Europe’s leaders negotiate every aspect of their new relationship. May God’s earth, sea and air not be forgotten! And let us pray for all fishermen and all at peril on the Sea.

Laudato Si’.

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19 August: Shared Meal XV: A Powerful Picnic.

 

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It’s Saturday, it’s summertime in Europe, it’s a good day for a picnic.

A very good day for a picnic. On this day in 1989 there occurred a mass picnic on the border between the then communist Hungary and democratic Austria. It became known as the Pan-European picnic because the two neighbours agreed to open their borders, allowing citizens of Western and Communist nations to cross borders and mingle without let or hindrance.

Many East Germans took advantage of the open border to leave for West Germany as the border between Hungary and Austria remained open.

Within a few months the Iron Curtain, as it was known, no longer cut Germany in half; many other nations also fulfilled their citizens desire to leave the communist bloc.

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It wasn’t all because of the picnic, but that helped maintain momentum for change, thanks to politicians in Austria, Germany and Hungary, and to many brave, ordinary people.

It won’t take a great deal of bravery to hold a picnic for your family today, or just to share fish and chips or a pizza by the sea. But spare a thought and prayer for those brave souls who died trying to cross borders to the West; for the brave souls whose actions made a freer Europe possible, and for those brave souls who still try to cross borders as refugees or migrants.

And as you enjoy your picnic, thank God for the freedom to do so.

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Preserved stretch of the Berlin Wall, MMB

World Youth Day Pilgrims about to enjoy a picnic in the Tatra Mountains, Zakopane, Poland. MMB

 Picnic monument by Kaboldy

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July 13, 2017: Nuts, nuns and a Saxon princess.

Our local Saint Mildred, a Saxon princess who had a continental education and rejected the St_Mildred,_Preston_next_Wingham,_Kent_-_Window_-_geograph.org.uk_-_325439 (1)idea of a political marriage to become a nun, has her feast today. She reminds me to pray for her sisters, living today at Minster Abbey; and also to forage the walnuts from my favourite tree.

It’s harvest time because right now the nuts have not yet grown their woody shells inside those green carapaces. Off the tree they come to get pricked all over with a fork, then left to steep in brine for a few days before drying off for a few days more.

The juice has stained my fingers to the complexion of a chain-smoker, if only for a few days. But when the nuts are fully dry for pickling they will be as black as the habits of the Benedictine Sisters who live in Saint Mildred’s Abbey at Minster-walnutsgreenin-Thanet. By Christmas the nuts will be sweet-and-sour and spicy.

Only the first and third of those adjectives apply to the sisters at Minster!

Happy foraging!

Saint Mildred, pray for us.

Saint Mildred from a window at Preston-next-Wingham, Kent.  John Salmon

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2 June: D is for Dover

Pharos -Roman lighthouse by Saxon Church

Pharos – Roman lighthouse by Saxon Church, Dover Castle

This picture suggests there may be more Roman remains above ground in Dover than in Canterbury, but is that a reason to talk about a place so close to home?

No, but the Pharos is significant. On the day I visited with a friend, the other side of the Channel was clearly visible, though I could not convincingly discern the column to Napoleon’s Grand Armée above the French cliffs. (I did once!) The Pharos has shown the way for nearly 2,000 years, though it’s a long while since the beacon fire was kindled there.

And who has come? The Romans, were they in peace or war? Both, over the years. And so on through two millennia. Napoleon certainly meant War.

Nowadays, thank God, those who come through Dover come in Peace; no more is it called Hell Fire Corner; the video displays in the Castle upset my friend who was seeing them for the first time.

My wife’s sewing machine was all that could be salvaged from a bombed house in Dover. It was made in Germany …

Let us pray for a continuation and a deepening of peace in Europe – and may the Pharos and Castle be a sign of welcome, not rejection, to travellers.

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23 May: B is for Blacklion, Brocagh and Belcoo

Most readers will not have heard of the twin villages, Belcoo to the North, Blacklion to the South, of a river bridge across the Irish border. The river joins the two Loughs, or Lakes MacNean. Once upon a time I was a student in Blacklion, and each week went to the village school at Brocagh, a good walk from the college, to give the youngsters a catechism lesson.

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Sometime around 1970 the little 2 classroom schools were closed down and a new school built in Glenfarne village. In 2011 I shared this photograph of the school on thepelicans.org.uk website, and it was from Belcoo that Olivia O’Dolan identified many of the children, helped by Mary Brady-Timoney, her sisters Kathleen Brady-Keaney and Bridget Brady-Fitzpatrick with Ben McHugh and the Clancy family. Olivia and her family live in the old station house seen at the top of this post. Life goes on; at times it’s almost as if the border did not exist. These children’s cousins will have lived north and south, and things have been so much better in recent years; pray that life doesn’t deteriorate post-Brexit.

Mrs McCormack, the head teacher, (far right) gave me a valuable lesson, thanks to Joe McHugh, down there in the front row, hand to his brow.

One week after Easter we had John’s story of the barbecue by the lake after the miraculous catch of fish, and Peter’s final declaration of faith. I thought the lesson went well. The children drew some remarkable pictures, but Mrs McCormack drew my attention to Joe’s in particular: come here now, Joe, what’s this in the corner? – It’s Saint Peter’s lorry, Miss, come to carry away the fish. I’d missed the lorry completely; I’d not interpreted the shapes he’d drawn in 20th Century terms.

What she knew, but I did not, was that Joe’s family had recently acquired a lorry which was Joe’s pride and joy, so of course St Peter would have had his lorry ready to take the fish to market. The story made sense to Joe, and had always made more sense to me as a consequence; thank you Joe, wherever you are.

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May 4: A pleasure shared

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We walked home from church with a friend who wanted to see the bluebells in the wood. She had heard about them but did not know they were so close to home. A pleasure shared already, but she took pictures aplenty to share with her mother in East London, a pleasure further shared: her mother will enjoy not just the bluebells but the clear and infectious pleasure our friend received from them.

A gift that is special to an English spring.

A few days before we had walked that way with young Abel, who’s too small to damage the flowers as he walks, but he too loved the ‘blue flowers’: pleasure shared as a little child lets us into the Kingdom of Heaven. I don’t often quote Rupert Brooke, but I remember …

the thoughts by England given;
Her sights and sounds; dreams happy as her day;
    And laughter, learnt of friends; and gentleness,
        In hearts at peace, under an English heaven.

The Kingdom of  Heaven is reflected in that very English carpet, but I’m less sure about an English Heaven? One that welcomes people from around the world, I trust, or it would not be Heaven, just an off-shore island …

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Archbishop Welby’s vision of a catholic Europe in the 21st century.

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The Archbishop of Canterbury has been awarded an honorary doctorate by the Institut Catholique de Paris. He concluded his address in these challenging words:

Subsidiarity. Solidarity. Gratuity. Creativity.

These can be the building blocks for a vision of a catholic Europe in the 21st century. One that is unwaveringly committed to the common good and to the
flourishing of all.

We urge you to read the full text which you can find at Independent Catholic News, here.

Read on!

Will Turnstone.

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Book Review: David Jones in the Great War, by Thomas Dilworth.

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David Jones in the Great War, by Thomas Dilworth. Enitharmon Press.

Born in South London, the artist and poet David Jones nevertheless grew up a fervent Welsh patriot, absorbing the romantic epics of Welsh history with its battles and brave warriors. Hardly surprising then, that he should volunteer in the Royal Welch Fusiliers when the Great War broke out.

Thomas Dilworth takes us through Jones’s wartime life as if inviting the reader to be a third party to a conversation between friends, and indeed the book is largely the fruit of interviews with David Jones and his friends. Like other poets and former soldiers Jones never got the Great War out of his system and he suffered depression and breakdowns in the years that followed.

He had spent the war as a private, unlike university educated poets Sassoon, Brooke and Owen, who were seen as natural officers. Jones resisted promotion, preferring the company of the Welshmen and Cockneys in the ranks. An officer once encouraged him to apply for a commission, saying, ‘You’re an educated man. Where were you educated?’ At Jones’s reply, ‘Camberwell School of Art and Craft’, he fell silent and never again would Jones be considered for promotion.

Jones was not alone in becoming aware of the iniquities of the class system through his wartime experiences. He had chance to contrast British public school officers with the French alongside, where there was greater camaraderie and an officer could encourage his troops with ‘mes enfants’. He also served in Ireland after the Easter Rising, and became acutely aware of the contrast between Britain’s defence of ‘poor little Belgium’ and the oppressing of Irish aspirations.

Above all Jones was an artist and one who took opportunities to exercise his gift while at war. At times he was detailed to draw maps of battlefields for his superiors; of those that survive, few can be clearly reproduced, but Dilworth gives us many pencil sketches of broken buildings, battlefields, equipment and men. There were months when drawing his companions became too painful, knowing he might soon lose sight of them forever. There is a sketch of a robed and stoled priest, about to distribute Communion. Dilworth links this to a moment of epiphany for Jones, when he came across a Catholic celebration of Mass in a battered barn. Seeing his Irish companions transformed at their devotions was a step towards his conversion.

Just as that experience would have been impossible to explain back home, so too the privations of mud, rats, lice, noise, explosions, shells, smells, death that remained with Jones the rest of his life.

Thomas Dilworth is a warm companion to bring us to Jones and his subsequent poetry and art. Read this book, make friends with Jones, turn to his poetry, and let it speak.

 

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Interruption: from the Rule of Saint Benedict

image by Fra Angelico

Today is the Feast of Saint Benedict, patron of Europe and one of the founders of Western Monasticism.

Here is an extract from his rule. Let my introduction be very short, for I do not claim to be inspired by divine grace, and Happy Feast to our Benedictine friends at Minster Abbey, Sisters Johanna and Mary Stephen!

Chapter 20: On Reverence in Prayer

When we wish to suggest our wants to persons of high station, 

we do not presume to do so
except with humility and reverence.
How much the more, then,
are complete humility and pure devotion necessary
in supplication of the Lord who is God of the universe!
And let us be assured
that it is not in saying a great deal that we shall be heard (Matthew 6:7),
but in purity of heart and in tears of compunction.
Our prayer, therefore, ought to be short and pure,
unless it happens to be prolonged
by an inspiration of divine grace.
In community, however, let prayer be very short,
and when the Superior gives the signal let all rise together.

Rule of St Benedict Ch XX

 

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July 6, Relics IV: Thomas’s elbow returns to Canterbury

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The Eztergom relic of Saint Thomas carried in procession to Canterbury Cathedral. MMB

I am not alone in finding the treasuring of bones of saints a mite disturbing. I do not need to visit my father’s grave in Leicestershire to remember him; but it’s not hard to see how being at the graveside, even decades later, helps some people connect to their loved ones. We all know someone who talks to a spouse or parent in this way; their own little portion of the Communion of Saints.

But what set me thinking about relics was the pilgrimage made by St Thomas Becket’s elbow to Canterbury. We were invited to walk the last mile and a half from Saint Michael’s church at Harbledown, on the old London Road that he would have travelled.

The fragment of bone was in a new reliquary, displaying, even proclaiming, the relic rather than simply containing it. The procession to the Cathedral combined the solemnity of papal knights in splendid robes and a guard of honour from the Hungarian Scouts of London; and relaxed conversation, as if we were walking with a member of the family, as indeed we were.

The family included not only us locals, who are well aware of Thomas’s presence at the Cathedral and the Catholic Church nearby, but also the Hungarian delegation, eager to tell how important this European connection is to them. Thomas stood up to secular power as they had to during Communist times. The relic says that we are one family, one body, across the world and across time. No need to emulate the Church of the Latterday Saints in genealogical research to know that. We may hold solemn acts of remembrance in November, but a photo, a book, a loved one’s spoon that we use daily can stir our hearts to think of them in love and prayer. Even a fragment of bone in a crystal monstrance.

Archangel Saint Michael:                       pray for us.

Saint Thomas of Canterbury:     pray for us.

Saint Elizabeth of Hungary:        pray for us.

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