On Friday night I had the pleasure of attending one of those Gala Dinners in aid of the building fund for the neighbouring local parish. There were over 500 people from a small rural parish seated comfortably in a hotel that was, to paraphrase our local politicians, fit for purpose.
The meal was well prepared, well served and the whole surroundings of the function room lent itself to the enjoyment of the evening. When the PP got up to speak he got a loud cheer.
As I sat among the friends who had invited me and my wife to the evening, I began to get a picture of how much the local chapel and the local PP mean in the lives of ordinary people. Here was a group of over 500 people all with one thing in common; they were members of the same parish.
Even assuming that 150 people were guests from outside the parish, that still leaves 400 members of the parish who were present.
What political party or organization could get that number of people out on a Friday evening to pay a big sum for a meal? On top of that there was a draw and an auction, at which people went mad to get bidding.
There must be something very deep inside each of us that connects us so closely to our local chapel and when you stop to think it is not hard to see what it is.
The chapel is the place that we are taken to for baptism, the place where most of us still choose to get married and the place from where we will all be brought as we begin our final journey. The chapel is the most important place to us when it comes to the great rites of passage in our lives.
Looking around that crowd on Friday evening I could well see that here was an assembly of ordinary people, many of whom would probably not give much thought to the finer details of Catholic philosophy or theology and many of whom would not know the finer points of Catholic teaching, but who, all the same, know deep down the importance of their parish and their chapel.
I was among the ordinary people of the world, the people who go about their daily tasks and look after their family and homes and have no real big input into society. They are the type of people that our local politicians tend to take for granted assuming that they will do what they are told.
But I think the local politicians are sadly mistaken; these people know in their hearts the truths that the local politicians in their arrogance have left behind. Truths such as there is a God, we only think we are in control and when we lose control, as in sickness and death, we need the chapel, the priest and the community at our side.
And there is something much deeper in their attendance at the dinner to raise funds to renovate their local place of worship. It shows commitment to the memory of those who have gone before and commitment to providing a place for their descendants to come who will perform the same rites of passage as we do now.
The community is not seen as the three or four people that I hang around with on a Saturday night. It is much more than that. It involves neighbours and people from the area to whom I hardly ever speak and hardly ever see, but we are all members of the same small local community which we call our parish.
The renovation of a church is also a firm statement of belief in the future, a statement of hope when all around us there appears to be so much despair.
The original church was opened on July 6th 1873. When you think of it, that is a wonder in itself.
During the years of the 1850s and 1860s the whole of Ireland, which at that time was totally held in bondage by the British, had undergone a great population decline due to the famine. Although South Derry did not suffer greatly from the hunger, it had, like the rest of Ireland, suffered from disease, economic deprivation and mass migration.
In the middle of all this the local people of the parish had gathered their pennies and tuppences to build the original chapel: just after the famine, when the people of Ireland had been decimated, the people came together to build a church.
Now, when we are stuck in the worst economic crisis of the past century, when the world appears to be on the brink of disaster, and when the future looks bleak for everyone in Europe, the people of one parish in South Derry come together to say, “We have faith in the future, we know that God and his people are going nowhere and we want a nice new community place of worship where we and our children can come to meet that God.”
Aren’t they wonderful!
By the time most of you read this our local leader and prima donna, shall have let the talks on the future of Northern Ireland begin without him.
Prima donna is an opera term which in Italian means ‘first lady’. However in modern usage the term has come to mean something else:
“At times, these prime donne (the Italian plural form) were grand with their off-stage personalities, and demands on fellow troupe members, musicians, set and wardrobe designers, producers and other staff but were deferentially tolerated because of their commensurate talent and "pulling power," that is, their draw at the box office. From this experience, the term "prima donna" has come into common usage in any field denoting someone who behaves in a demanding, often temperamental fashion, revealing an inflated view of themselves, their talent, and their importance.”
Here is the way the BBC reported Peter’s decision not to attend.
“Mr Robinson told the BBC he was not aware that the talks were due to begin next Thursday and added he found out about the date through the media.
"The secretary of state hasn't spoken to me about the date of the beginning of any talks. I know that I have a very full diary as first minister next Thursday," the DUP leader said.
"Of course, the indication is that next Thursday is a sort of showpiece - the circus act for the sake of media - it's not getting down to the nitty-gritty.
"I'm very keen to roll up my sleeves and get down, we want the process to work. We think it's essential that we look at the arrangements for government at Stormont. We think it's absolutely essential that we look at budget issues and welfare reform issues.
"So when the real work begins, the Democratic Unionist Party is there to talk about those issues, but we really don't favour the high wire act and the circus of bringing people together, just for the sake of the cameras."”
I don’t know; I think Peter has missed out on something very significant about his attendance at the opening session and in it the small matter of respect.
By not attending, Peter may certainly be playing to his constituency in the same way as his late mentor did so many times before, but he is also saying to the non DUP people of Northern Ireland, the Irish and British governments and to the US, ‘we know that you are going to bail us out and we can go on doing whatever we want in the sure and certain knowledge that you will not push the people of Northern Ireland too far. The “nearly peace” that we give you is enough for you to keep giving us the money.’
And in a sense, Peter has already been proved right. The Brits caved in and threw the natives £100 million to keep the place ticking over for another while.
The Executive up on the Hill has been given the money to stop the place from closing down. We are like schoolboys running to daddy every time our pocket money runs done. Whatever the deadlock is in Stormont, nothing has been done about it, daddy is still prepared to give in to his squealing children:
“The loan will ensure Stormont does not breach its spending limits by more than £200m at the end of the financial year.
However, it will increase the amount Stormont will owe the Treasury next year.
Mr Hamilton said a letter from the chancellor made it clear that Northern Ireland would incur £87m in penalties this year and another £114m next year for a failure to implement welfare reform.
However, he said he was hopeful those penalties might be waived if the parties reach a deal in the near future.
"I hope that if we can get agreement on welfare reform that perhaps those fines may be waived and we may not have to pay that. That would be a tremendous help to public services in Northern Ireland," he said.
"It wouldn't solve all of the problems that I face and executive colleagues face, but it certainly would be a great assistance."
Speaking at a DUP event on Thursday night, First Minister Peter Robinson said the loan was conditional on Stormont agreeing a draft budget for 2015/16 by the end of October.”
So in fairness to Peter, why would he bother to attend the family meeting under Mother Villiers, he has already been hailed as the saviour of the day and he knows that that the trump card of a return to violence will always force the British to give us more money; sure in the scale of things throwing the beggars of Northern Ireland a few million is better than all the bad publicity and the money spent during their wee troubles.
Speaking of Mother Villiers, Martina Purdy shall soon have a Reverend Mother to look up too.
I think it is brilliant. I think it is a great statement of faith and hope in the future, and it mirrors exactly all that was good about the Gala Dinner on Friday night.
Whereas on Friday night I sat with a community that believes in God and is not afraid to stand up and say that it does, we saw in Martina Purdy a woman who has the courage of her convictions and is prepared to stake her life on the belief that there is a God who is more important than all the worldly goods that her life at the BBC could have given her.
To the world and the people who belong to the world, the poor old Catholic Church looks to be on its knees and that is the way it has always been, ever from the very start; the Church always looks like it is going to tumble.
But somehow it keeps on going, enough people are touched by God and are prepared to follow his call to Catholic married life, single life or consecrated life, to keep the thing going; this is probably the biggest miracle of the age, the fact that the Church keeps going when so many people want it to fail.
Did you ever wonder who are the people who believe the Catholic Church is about to die? I have, and I have reached some kind of a conclusion that makes sense to me: The people who believe that the church is about to die are people who want it to.
For those of us who attend and believe in the life of the Church, the Church is a vibrant place full of life and a very interesting group of people to belong to. I notice this most among the people who attend morning Mass in our parish and the parish next to us, the one that had the dinner on Friday night.
The only connection that I have with the parish which held the Gala Dinner is that I go to morning Mass there a couple of times a week and yet this attendance at Mass was enough to leave me that I knew quite a few people at the dinner and was a sort of semi parishioner.
Martina Purdy giving up a life in the limelight to enter a convent also says a lot about the life of the Church; it says that at least one person believes that it shall be more fulfilling to live a life away from the glare of publicity and to follow God in a more simple way.
The Catholic Church and Northern Ireland have one thing in common, they are both going nowhere. But Northern Ireland is going nowhere in the negative sense, it is caught in a spiral of inward looking mania and believes that throwing tantrums every now and then shall force daddy to pay up.
The Catholic Church, on the other hand, is going nowhere in the positive sense; it is here to stay and much as the world would like it to go away, it is here to stay. It stands on its own feet and the people are prepared to support it.
And those good decent people of a small parish in Northern Ireland know that they and their children and their children’s children shall always want a place to go and celebrate the great rites of passage, and that their current PP shall be succeeded by another good man willing to give his life to the service of God’s people.
And better than that, there were no Prima Donnas in the parish who thought they were too good to turn up on the night; everyone knows that it is a privilege to respect their neighbours.
The views expressed are not necessarily those of
the editor but are the views of the writer.
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