- Strangers in a strange land
With the United Kingdom criticised for opting out of a European Union plan to resettle thousands of migrants from Africa and the Middle East, what should be the Christian response to immigration and does Scripture offer any guidance?
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- What is going on in Brentwood Diocese? Mark Lee
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Saying that “Islam is a religion of peace”, as the Prime Minister has repeatedly done, may be a worthwhile sound bite to cool community tensions and soothe anxieties. It could even help Muslim community leaders bring about what it declares to be already the case, though there is also the danger that it could alienate them.
Last month I went to Rome. I went to give a paper on the theology of beauty and its relationship to contemporary British nature poets at a conference, titled “The Power of the Word”, which is engaged in getting poetry, theology and philosophy to talk to each other.
There was no doubt about the audio of the week. “Barack Obama sang ‘Amazing Grace’ yesterday in a eulogy for the victims of the US Charleston church shooting,” was the full report of the event under a picture in The Sun.
The United States Supreme Court’s ruling that the ban imposed by some states on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional, paving the way for its universal introduction, has hit the Vatican’s conservative hardliners like a thunderbolt.
“What are you doing?” I’d been lurking round the back of Barclays Bank for about 10 minutes when I realised I’d begun to attract attention. In the car park, about 20 yards behind me, a woman stood staring uncertainly at my binoculars. “It’s just that I work at the bank, and …”
The scientific consensus in support of Darwinian evolution is probably stronger even than that in favour of global warming. Yet in Laudato si’ Pope Francis treats the latter as sound enough to be a base for strong moral teaching, while he remains tentative about the former.
There is a moving film clip of Lee Kuan Yew weeping during a press conference after Singapore had been expelled from the Malaysian Federation in 1965. His grand strategy lay in ruins. Singapore’s future looked bleak and vulnerable. People saw the personal impact of his failure, the hard politician at his weakest point.
It was no secret that one of Pope Benedict’s greatest hopes was to be able to bridge the theological divide between the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches. His work seems to have prepared the ground for what is now a profoundly close relationship between Pope Francis and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew.
The Foss is one of York’s best kept secrets. Bubbling up in the Howardian Hills, this little river meanders across the Vale of York. Slow moving, you’d almost say pleasantly lazy, by the time it reaches the Viking city of Yorvik, the water is barely flowing.
When Pakistan’s rulers look east, they see a nuclear-armed adversary in the shape of India. When they look west, they must contend with al-Qaeda, the Taliban and civil war in Afghanistan.
Two narratives about respect for natural phenomena wove in and out of the British news this week. One concerned the Pope’s encyclical Laudato si’, “On the care of our common home”. The other was about a British woman said to have offended a mountain in Malaysia.
Pope Francis take note: Hillary Clinton, presidential hopeful, is proud – repeat, proud – to be a grandmother. When daughter Chelsea’s daughter Charlotte arrived, she released pictures of them having a warm cuddle, and said being a grandmother was her “most exciting title yet”.
It seems to be easier to clean up the Vatican bank than to establish a policy of zero tolerance of the mishandling of cases of sex abuse by Catholic priests.
There are still so many surprises left. Like the scent of a bean field wafting up the lane to meet you.
The mess we inherited” turned out to be one of the most powerful political slogans of all time, and it may be the principal reason that Ed Miliband was metaphorically hung from a lamp post on 7 May. The Tories repeated it day in, day out in the months following their partial election success
Altruistic evil” is a striking term coined by Jonathan Sacks, the former Chief Rabbi, now a global campaigner for religious understanding, in a challenging new book, Not in God’s Name, published this week. He uses it to describe the appeal for young, Western-born Muslims of fighting alongside Islamic State (IS) in Syria and Iraq.
No sweltering summer day in Rome is complete without a guilt-ridden stop at a gelateria. And while coconut, pistachio or anything related to Nutella are reliably delicious options, one of my go-to flavours (you always order two dollops) is zabaglione, the frozen version of the classic Marsala wine and eggnog-style dessert.
And the eighth wonder of the world is … the roundabout by Tomrods the Steel Stockholders on the York Road in Thirsk. There’s no warning that you’re approaching something special. A light industrial estate gives way to a view of fields, caravans and a flyover.
On Friday last I sat with a former colleague from the Foreign Office who knows Ireland well, having reported on it back to King Charles Street over the decades. His comment on the recent passing of the same-sex referendum was telling: “Was it the same country?”
It’s funny how a choice of words can make familiar things seem strange. Huge crowds gathered in San Salvador for the beatification of Oscar Romero, reported Joshua Partlow of The Washington Post in a despatch carried by The Independent on Sunday. “It is the first time a Salvadoran has received this religious honour.”
This month we are “losing” our parish priest – he is being deployed elsewhere in the diocese, and cannot be replaced because there is no one to replace him. What were within living memory seven independent parishes will be served by a single priest.
René Bruelhart, chairman of the Vatican’s Financial Intelligence Authority, known as the AIF, likes understatement. “We are on the right track, although a lot remains to be done,” he says. Yet the recent publication of the annual reports both by AIF and the Vatican Bank (properly the Institute of Religious Works, or IOR) shows how much has changed since the election of the Argentinian Pope.
The lane was a foaming wave of Queen Anne’s lace. At the gate, red campion frothed like a cherryade fountain. The buttercup field shimmered. In a month of grey skies and grim winds, the sun came out. Just when I thought things could not get any better, the whitethroat began to sing in a series of rhythmic, melodious riffs.
How should the Catholic Church treat relationships that are regarded as proper marriages in the eyes of the state and society, but not in its own eyes? This question is raised by the outcome of the Irish referendum on gay marriage.
A few miles away is the anchorhold of Mother Julian of Norwich where her solitude, friendly and open to all, burned bright in the medieval church. Here, at Noggs Barn, the Norfolk summer day is playing light and shade over the lawns and through the branches of the trees.
It’s exam time, and I’m stressed out. I thought the stress was bad when I was doing my O levels; then A levels came along, and it was worse. Then I got to my degree, trickier still; then postgrad exams, and they took it to a new level.
Last weekend saw a visit to Rome by Julian Brazier MP, the first Roman Catholic to represent Canterbury in Parliament since the Reformation, who is an excellent bridge between our two communions – helped by having a wife who is not only an Anglican but a member of her Parochial Church Council (which is a labour of love if ever there was one).
Will I be the last person to do this? The storm had been chasing me for two miles when I saw the telephone box. I headed quickly for it – a red beacon in a steadily darkening world. As I opened the doors, the first drops landed.
It was sadly predictable that Rohingya Muslims from Burma would account for most of the victims of Asia’s version of the Mediterranean migrant crisis.
There seems to me some mental confusion behind the notion that a good press photo is to be had from nuns dressed in habits doing something ordinary like riding a bicycle or shovelling snow.
Buses and billboards around town are advertising the current exhibition of the controversial Body Worlds phenomenon: preserved human cadavers and organs “plastinated” for display in a mix of anatomical education and art, and which is claimed to be the world’s most popular touring attraction.
FOR A MOMENT I thought it was a shadow passing through the long grass. I hadn’t seen a black rabbit for years. It stopped, and standing on hind legs, listened to the May breeze. The sun came out and lit its fur to a blackberry gloss.
The anthem God Save the King first caught the public’s imagination after it was performed as an encore at a theatre in Drury Lane, London, in 1745. Rumours were arriving that a Scottish Jacobite army, in a revolt which took its name from the date, was about to descend on the south.
There are many wonderful things about not being able to drive; waking to a rain-lashed window with a round trip of 30 miles ahead isn’t one of them. Like an unwilling horse, my bike seemed reluctant to leave the garage. Soaked before I’d got to the end of the drive, my long-suffering wife obliged by dropping me at the bus stop on her way to work.
By the time you read this article it could already be out of date, so I won’t make too many bold claims or attempt to pick an outright winner from Thursday’s election. But barring a major upset on the day or faulty polling getting it consistently wrong...
This year, for Easter, the weather did an extraordinary and wonderful thing, at least here in southern Scotland. Although we did not have a particularly cold winter, spring seemed very slow coming – the weather was consistently grim, with a lot of rain, often falling as hail, very big rough winds and a general gloomy greyness, retarding growth and depressing spirits.
Vicars are employed by God, not the Church, says court,” ran the headline in The Independent. The question of who employs Church of England clergy arose from a claim by the Revd Mark Sharpe for unfair dismissal from his “role in the Church of England parish of Teme Valley South
Having dug the wildlife pond, we waited for it to fill up. For a month little rain fell, and we were left looking at an expanse of black pond liner. The temptation to use the hose became sore, but there are too many harmful nutrients in tap water.
All the signs are that in less than a week, Britain will be digesting the news that – for the second time running – a general election has given no single party an overall majority in the House of Commons. It would be nice to think the name “hung parliament” for a house thus divided against itself ...
Oscar Wilde said “I never read a book I must review; it prejudices you so.” I once thought the same silly truth applies to getting to know students whose work you have to grade at the end of term. Does it become more difficult to be “objective” if you have spoken to them personally at some depth?
The mood in Italy concerning the flood of people crossing the Mediterranean is dark and getting darker. While the horrific death of 900 people two weeks ago has given pause to some of the angrier and more fearful voices, I believe it is only temporary.
The disaster almost defies imagination: a crowded boat capsizes by night, casting hundreds of people into the Mediterranean.
It’s exactly a year since I was diagnosed with cancer; eight months since I finished treatment. And surprisingly – or at least, it has certainly been a surprise to me – my life is completely back to normal. People talk about a “new normal” after cancer; but no, I’ve just got my old normal back.
On 14 April the legendary Cardinal Roberto Tucci SJ died just five days short of his ninety-fourth birthday. Baptised in the Anglican Communion because of his Anglican mother, Tucci converted as a student and entered the Society of Jesus in 1936.
THE SPECKLED song thrush darts through the garden like a young trout through water. Spotting a stalk of last year’s grass, she seizes it and shoots into the hedge.
Until Tony Blair intervened in the debate with his reminder of the significance of a referendum on the UK’s membership of the European Union, during his Sedgefield speech on 7 April, I had feared the future historians might dub this “the sleepwalkers’ general election”. Why?
Are you happy in your work? Spiritually uplifted? Such questions may be fundamental to the good of the nation and all the people in it, but would be regarded as irrelevant, even subversive, by the majority of economists, politicians and business executives.
The phone call came on a Saturday morning, when I was away in the Lake District. One of the young ex-prisoners I mentor, as part of the Longford Trust’s programme to support them through university and back into the workplace, had been arrested.
Famously, Rome’s best cappuccino is to be had at Caffè Sant’Eustachio, named for the basilica opposite the coffee house that venerates the second-century martyr St Eustace, the Roman general who, according to legend, was roasted to death inside a bronze statue of a bull.
There’s nothing quite like the forgiveness of grass. We cut it, hack it, kill it, scorch it, poison it and in a few weeks, given the chance, it comes back for us. Even if you smother grass under a foot of concrete, it won’t be long before the first green nose pops up.
Purdah – that stretch of time between the calling of an election in the UK and the announcement of the results – is now in full swing in Whitehall. The Government is reduced to something of a “night-watchman” role, avoiding any initiatives which might favour a particular party or unduly bind the hands of the incoming administration.
Easter, like Christmas, is usually a quiet news time when papers feel they should report something religious. But this Easter there was quite a bit of news around anyway, much of it about Christians getting killed.
Many years ago I was watching the film Four Weddings and a Funeral on TV with a very sweet – and holy – elderly nun. At one point in the film, Scarlett (played by Charlotte Coleman) dressed in men’s formal wedding clothes, precipitates herself at full speed into the arms of Chester (Randall Paul)
Pope Francis marked the second anniversary of his election with renewed criticism of the Roman Curia and the announcement of an extraordinary jubilee year.
Easter Monday and the traditional Easter egg hunt had come round again. My German sister-in-law first instigated it, and now it’s part of our calendar. Chocolate eggs are hidden over about an acre of terrain, and the children given baskets.
How suddenly the world can change. Once, one mid-morning, I walked with a friend into a hospital to get important test results. We knew they might turn out good or bad but also we would have admitted that the odds were in our favour. Nevertheless, we were still on this side of the actual outcome. Hope was therefore still eternal.
Why did Cardinal Vincent Nichols scold the group of nearly 500 priests who signed a letter declaring their fidelity to the Church’s teaching, rather than answering them in more detail? He told them sternly that the discussions they ought to be having with their bishops, prior to this autumn’s international synod in Rome, “are not best conducted through the press”.
ROMANS HAVE been talking about the announcement of the Jubilee Year, the Year of Mercy beginning in December. One unavoidable question is how a borderline-bankrupt city, whose carabinieri have a habit of taking the day off if there’s anything exciting going on (85 per cent of the force called in sick on New Year’s Eve)
Who are you voting for? Amazed that Britain has no official national bird, “urban birder” David Lindo decided to remedy the glaring oversight by holding an election.
Benjamin Netanyahu cut an imperial figure when he appeared before thousands of supporters in Tel Aviv last week. Having just achieved a fourth election victory against all the odds, the Israeli Prime Minister was in no mood for modesty or magnanimity.
Both Tony Blair and Richard III were in the news this week. One, a monster of duplicity, with an eye on power alone, accused by his enemies of responsibility for numberless deaths. The other, a pious medieval king.
Recently I met a young woman who suffered from anorexia. She told me how her illness made her dishonest (people with this disorder often lie about how much they eat) and about how she made life hell for her family for many years. “I hope you don’t think I’m a horrible person,” she said eventually.
We’ve had a spell of wet weather here and, as in most other places, the local meteorologists take a verbal lashing when they are wrong about the forecast, and one is caught unawares.
The Badger lay on the roadside verge. Snout tucked under paws, back arched comfortably, he seemed to be sleeping. When I got close, I saw his eyes were open but lifeless. A trick of death had gentled the snarling jaw to a smile. The car must have hit him in the night. Primroses rose on the bank behind him. A queen bumble bee, freshly woken from winter, buzzed by.
The opening of Gone with the Wind describes the war between the American North and South as a resumption of a much older conflict between Roundheads and Cavaliers in the English Civil War. This points to a more universal truth. The expressions “roundhead” and “cavalier” may refer to a pattern of character traits that are, if not inbred,
Statistics have a habit of passing me by – not, I should stress, because I fall into that fashionable trap of disparaging number skills (no one boasts “I’m no good at English”, so why say it about maths?), but rather because I tend to need to hear a view expressed before it feels real to me.
Kenneth Clarke is one of the great survivors of modern politics. He has filled a fistful of the great offices of state including Chancellor of the Exchequer and Lord Chancellor. He was first elected to Parliament in 1970. The phrase “downy old bird” could have been coined for him and he has a wide appeal across the parties.
I wasn’t the only one up early. As I biked through the back lanes, with the dawn mist just lifting, the curlew’s cry sounded out. There’s nothing like the sound of a curlew. The haunting lilt of notes blew through the bare, early spring fields like a breeze from the wilderness. Impossible not to stop when you hear a curlew. I pulled up, got off my bike, and leaning against a gate, listened.
Immigration is likely to be a significant subject in the minds of the electorate as the general election approaches. But is the issue a genuine point in the minds of voters or is it exploited by some politicians as they seek electoral gain?
Middle-class anxiety informed some of the choice of news coverage last week. “Children who fail to visit their frail elderly parents for months at a time will go to Hell, the Pope said.” That was the Daily Mail’s interpretation of his words “before 20,000 people in St Peter’s Square” last week. “He told a story of how when Archbishop of Buenos Aires he visited a care home and spoke to elderly residents.
It was International Women’s Day last Sunday, which meant sadly the old dreary plod through the numbers to see that inequality between the sexes continues across almost every conceivable measure: women in global and national statistics do less well in health, wealth, basic freedoms and rights, access to education, to chosen employment, to leisure, to safety and to respect.
Romans, with their mischievous sense of humour, call them the “Amazons”: the women enrolled as members of the security staff of the Vatican Museums. Up until now, their role has been to oversee and protect visitors, and they have not been part of the papal Gendarmerie. Yet there is no doubt that in future their role will be extended to other parts of Vatican City.
Our old friend the north wind doth blow. We’re well into March, but spring still feels far away. This afternoon, toiling into bitter gusts, I was about to call it a day and head for home, when I saw the treecreeper. There were two of them in the alders.
Compared with the fate of other former disc jockeys, elderly pop stars and motley faded celebrities who have recently been sentenced for child abuse, the 16-year term handed down to singer Gary Glitter, real name Paul Francis Gadd, doesn’t seem out of line. If it departs from the sentencing guidelines and tariffs currently in force, no doubt the Court of Appeal will correct it.
After he led the John Main Seminar, “The New Creation in Christ”, I took a plane with Bede Griffiths. He was then in his eighties and recovering from a near fatal stroke. He was grateful for the spiritual benefits of it. He had been sitting in his small hut at Shantivanam when, he said, it was if somebody had punched him hard in the head and his vision went blurred – like the old televisions when they went wobbly.
“We will conquer Rome by the will of Allah”. This bravura statement, coming at the end of the ghastly video showing the slaughter of Coptic Christians in Libya, may have been missed by people in the rest of the world (focusing, rightly, on the human tragedy shown on the film), but it wasn’t missed in Italy.
I stepped off the bus and stopped dead. There was chimney smoke on the wind. The acrid tang carried me instantly back to childhood. Both sets of my grandparents had open fires.
When is an invasion not an invasion? The bitter experience of Ukraine suggests that if Russia sends a trickle of soldiers into its neighbour – rather than a flood – then it can somehow avoid the stigma of attacking another country.
Similes are addictive, like Werther’s Originals. Or like crystal meth. Yes, it all depends on the simile one chooses. This week Lord Carey of Clifton, a former Archbishop of Canterbury, wrote in The Mail on Sunday that the three-parent baby procedure debated in the Lords was “like an organ transplant”.
After seeing the recent reports and moving videos of Pope Francis making an unannounced visit to a migrants’ shanty town outside Rome, I was doing some reading and stumbled across a papal statement on the issue in the American context, which at first sight seemed pretty prosaic.
You know the kind of day – a raw wind and a February sun that stings your eyes without warming your face. I was on the bridleway’s most exposed point when the hare surprised me. Concealed in the long grass beside the path, it suddenly rose on long legs, and lumbered away through the winter wheat.
As with the gay marriage debate last year, Catholics were recently urged to contact their local MP to protest at proposed legislation that would allow mitochondrial donation to be used to create what were dubbed “three-parent babies”. As with gay marriage, the legislation was duly passed in the House of Commons by a thumping majority.
Pope Francis may have bitten off more than he can chew with his well-meaning new venture for the homeless, according to some. He has installed showers under the colonnades of St Peter’s for the homeless and a barber shop that will be staffed by volunteers on Mondays, the traditional barber’s day off.
With a jolt I realised it was over 10 years ago that we put in the wildlife pond. A decade since that sunlit day of spades and laughter with my son and nephew. My son is a young man of 15 now; my nephew drives a wagon that would scare you to look at. The pond, too, seemed to be showing signs of passing time.
Henry Kissinger is said to have asked: “When I want to speak to Europe, who do I call?”
To help readers discover how politically incorrect they are, The Sunday Times ran a little quiz earlier this month. Question 9 was: “Do you think Stephen Fry is: a) A doughty campaigner for gay rights? b) Very clever on QI and awfully good as Jeeves? c) Looking rather fat and smug these days?” Those who answered c were characterised as being white-van drivers – the sort of person who drapes flags of St George on the house and is patronised by passing Labour MPs.
Recently I have been getting interested in geology. This started because around here there are a lot of big chunks of rock that, unlike the extrudant granite, seem to sit on the ground, rather than rise out of it.
The new year began very badly for Fr Rosario Badolato, parish priest in the little town of Cessaniti in Calabria, southern Italy. On the feast of the Epiphany, when Italian children traditionally receive presents, his car was set alight near the church.
Who needs a weather station when you’ve got a washing line? There can be fewer more accurate thermometers than the rush of morning air as you step outside with the washing basket first thing.
There is a simple explanation for the disillusionment with politics that seems to be growing as the British general election approaches.
Women priests? Frankly, the Church should be so lucky. I know tens of wonderful Catholic women who would have been brilliant priests.
We are barely in the foothills of the 2015 general election battle, yet we are showing signs of exhaustion with the peaks still to come.
Eamon Duffy’s insightful account of Thomas More in The Tablet last week threw a spotlight on sainthood and to what extent our notions of sanctity are culturally determined by the spirit of the age in which we live.
Aftershocks of the massacres in Paris continue to be felt around the globe. Italians, who often maintain a lofty indifference to news from the rest of the world, were engrossed in the rolling news from Paris
Even the most mundane car journey can be a safari – if you’re lucky enough not to be the driver.
Scarcely a day passes without the Islamist gunmen of Boko Haram carrying out an atrocity in northern Nigeria. Last Sunday, they were bold enough to attack the city of Maiduguri and, for a few hours, fight for control of the airport.
Discover the real Middle Earth.” We climbed into two buses after the retreat and before the opening of the seminar to do what the brochures invited. It was a scorching New Zealand summer day, like the magical English summers of childhood’s selective memory.
In a week when the Church of England ordained its first woman bishop, I’m still puzzled by people referring to clergy as “men in dresses”. Neither cassocks nor vestments resemble women’s dresses, any more than kilts do or the Dalai Lama’s robes.
One of the many events in Rome marking the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity was co-sponsored by the Centro Pro Unione and the Lay Centre at the former’s historic location in the palazzo belonging to the Doria Pamphilj family on Piazza Navona.
It’s that time of the year again. The winter seems endless; the days appear locked into a trance of cold winds, semolina skies and cheerless suns. Yet despite this, nominations for the George Orwell Prize for Early Signs of Spring are already being taken.
Hayat Boumeddiene, top of the Most Wanted list in France though she may actually be in Syria, has been photographed with crossbow while dressed in a black Islamic niqab. The partner of Amedy Coulibaly, who killed four innocent shoppers in a Paris
When Iana Aleksandrovna Azhdanova, a Ukrainian Femen activist, got arrested, with the words “God is a Woman” daubed across her bare chest, in St Peter’s Square on Christmas Day, it did not make big news here. She was accused of the offence of vilipendio, or insulting a religion publicly, and locked in the cells in the Gendarmerie barracks.
TOWARDS MIDDAY the blue sky bruised to lilac. It darkened further to a violent violet, and then the snow began. The thick flakes fell all afternoon, but with night the clouds dispersed and the stars shouldered themselves above the village.
Newspapers like to have things clear, so it was impressive that the Daily Mirror’s explainer, “Why publishing pictures of the Prophet is a minefield”, began with the statement: “Islam’s rules on publishing pictures of the Prophet Mohammed are far from clear.” In 50 words, a model of brevity, the paper summed up the position: “Any depiction is forbidden by certain Muslims, including many Sunnis.
In today’s popular mindset, religion is often associated with violence rather than peace. On a superficial level, such associations could be forgiven. In the media we often see depictions of religion alongside violence, especially when reporting atrocities from across the world. Often such depictions are unrepresentative.
As part of my New Year review I have been confronting an uncomfortable little hypocrisy. In a number of these columns over the past year or so I have urged, even demanded, that people become more open and articulate about their personal spiritual practice, about what they do and what they experience when they pray; but I have never done so myself.
On paper, Pope Francis’ programme of curial reform is at an advanced stage. Vatican officials, who are up to date with meetings of the group of cardinals advising the Pope, the C9, say that at least a part of the reshaping process has been completed. It should result in the creation of two new bodies.
EVEN ON THE windiest days, and in the most unpromising places, you’re likely to meet a wren. Harried by bitter gale-force gusts, I was being blown along a low-cut hedgerow when I caught sight of the bird.
A priest friend of mine once provocatively declared that there were no mortal sins any more – except voting Tory. He was being mischievous. But the question still arises: are our immortal souls ever at risk when we go to a polling station?
Slea Head in West Kerry is austere in January. But there are magnificent clear days as well as low, slow mists that shroud everything. Walkers on coastal paths on these cold days exchange short, warm greetings, recovering the intimacy of strangers passing in lonely places from the polite,
A long-standing Roman tradition in the run-up to the Epiphany has been the fair in the Piazza Navona dedicated to “La Befana” – a curious present-giving witch who, in Italian folklore, appears on the Epiphany (and is mercifully free from reindeer and bright red Coca-Cola rebranding).
The commotion drew a small crowd. The scene, the entrance to a Morrison’s supermarket; the actors, a little girl and a herring gull. The little girl was willingly sharing her sausage roll with the herring gull; and the herring gull was willingly accepting the largesse.
The most illuminating words for me in the limbo between Christmas and bright new 2015 came in a piece by Catherine Philp in The Times: “Even if they are willing, many ordinary Yazidis are unable to explain the origins of their esoteric traditions – the refusal to wear blue or eat lettuce, for example.”
The Vatican announced that the date of the pope’s next consistory has been set for February 14-15, following meetings of the new papal commission on sexual abuse of minors and the group of cardinal-advisers known as the C9 in the days preceding it.
It hung on the wall for as long as I could remember. A lake scene that my grandfather brought back from the Second World War. It was a simple picture that took you into its vast tranquillity. The gilt frame was cracked and peeling but the scene inside was forever pristine.
One of my childhood Christmas Day rituals was morning Mass, clad in whatever awful anorak or jumper Santa had left under the tree. Each time the church door would creak open, I’d peep over my shoulders during a chorus of “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing” to see which of my friends had just come in, trussed up in their new togs, and evaluate at a glance how terrible (or cool) they were.
Christmas is the time of year when you want to break a stout stick over the head of the first person who says that the whole thing is over-commercialised. Or at least I do. It is not only that it is a cliché, but, like every reader of The Tablet, I have already worked out ways of finding space in the Yuletide froth. It is a technique, like stopping a saucepan of milk from boiling over.
I love having four children, but every once in a while I encounter someone who is critical of my big family, and rude enough to tell me. It is irresponsible, they say, to have more than two kids, which is the “right” number because that replaces my husband and myself on the planet when we die.
Back in 2012, a star of the global commentariat declared that oil prices would “skyrocket to permanently higher levels”. Since then, the price of a barrel of Brent crude has plummeted by more than 40 per cent, proving yet again the folly of making predictions.
A REPORT INTO the apostolic visitation to the nuns of the United States published this week should have been out before the Year of Consecrated Life began on 30 November, but was slightly delayed. A separate report into American nuns accused of “radical feminism” is likely to be delayed far longer as the panel is having difficulty reaching agreement.
Up and down the country, and indeed across the whole world, robins have been recently flying through letter boxes and landing on doormats. It is no surprise that these little birds are a favourite on our Christmas cards.
If I were Chancellor of the Exchequer, I would pray for a rapid return of trade- union militancy. George Osborne’s management of the national finances has been torpedoed by falling tax revenues and rising welfare bills. Both are caused by the same phenomenon: income levels are failing to keep pace with the cost of living.
Recently I have been reading a fascinating book called A Flourishing Practice? by Peter Toon, published by the Royal College of General Practitioners, which is an attempt to apply the “virtue ethics” of Alasdair MacIntyre to the NHS, both structurally and personally in the sense of enquiring about what would make a “virtuous” doctor.
THE EXTRAORDINARY Synod on the Family has left the Church bruised and 2015 promises to be a tough year for Pope Francis. The Pope’s supporters did not expect such strong resistance to his vision for a more compassionate and less judgemental Church. In recent weeks they have been urging him to make a faster and more radical reshuffle of senior positions in the Vatican.
A sharp wind scoured the fields. The afternoon was lengthening. Heading for home, a raucous cacophony began behind me. It grew louder: a flock of rooks was making for its winter roost.
Frequently I am asked about my preferences with regards to popes. It is most likely due to the job I once held in Rome. But it is a question that often confuses me, especially when asked by Catholics, as I fear they are inserting democratic norms and principles into the papacy.
I met the other day, in Latin America, a remarkable group of young people. They had discovered the contemplative dimension of life at an early stage thanks to a teacher who had discovered it later in his life. They were waiting sedately in the chapel, in their pews, when I arrived to meet them.
A tiny picture 21mm deep of Pope Francis apparently rubbing noses with Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople went with The Times’ report on Monday of their meeting in Istanbul. In The Daily Telegraph a picture 215mm deep showed the Pope’s face in profile, looking a little like Alec Guinness,...
Anyone moving to live in Rome (as I did six months ago to work at the Anglican Centre) gets a full-immersion baptism into the delights and absurdities of Italian life, writes Marcus Walker.
Gales of laughter gusted down the lane. What was it? Not human. Was a hyena loose among the rain-sodden sheep? The green woodpecker’s call is surely among the most striking in the animal kingdom.
Like Ukip’s leader Nigel Farage, I too have sat on a train from London’s Charing Cross hearing every language except English, at least until we reach Grove Park in Lewisham. But my reaction could not be more different from his, which may be summarised as “how dare they come over here and speak their language in our trains?”
One of the few near certainties in a fluid political scene – with a Rubik’s Cube’s worth of outcomes possible after next May’s general election – is that in a year’s time we will be in the midst of a strategic defence and security review (SDSR). By my calculation, it will be the twelfth such review since the end of the Second World War.
The river is calm; it flows gently into the North Sea. But the sea beyond the wide welcome of the harbour arms is wild. Waves crash against the Tynemouth headland; shredding on the crags, the foam flies as high as the ruins on the promontory above.
The daily struggle for control of Jerusalem’s holy places has been waged at least since Nebuchadnezzar destroyed the first Jewish Temple in 586 BC. Often, this ceaseless battle takes the form of Jewish settlers clubbing together to buy a house in the Muslim Quarter of the Old City,
The headline in The Sun summed it up: “Jesus wed hooker and had two kids.” If the language in the headline was a little rebarbative, the reporter adopted a more decorous tone in the relative amplitude of a 130-word report: “A lost gospel has been translated to reveal Jesus married prostitute Mary Magdalene and they had two children.
One by one, the colours of autumn have faded. Only the orange of the larches remains, curled round the nose of the hill like a fox’s tail. And the bright flames of the beech trees, whose leaves stay longest on the branch.
Scene One – what actually happened. Woman sitting on pavement, begging. Enter the leader of the Opposition on a walkabout, with aides, journalists and photographers. What does he do? Begging is illegal, he is thinking; the Big Issue movement, which helps the homeless to help themselves, says one should never give in to it.
C.S. Lewis said that cowardice is one sin that offers no pleasure, no compensation – unlike, for instance, gluttony. Being afraid and letting that fear control you is generally pretty horrid. This is possibly why making other people fearful or anxious has a certain nasty delight to it.
I do not think I have met anyone who has been excommunicated before: plenty who wonder about the wisdom of some church teachings, plus others who have left because they disagree so fervently with it over questions of doctrine, or have been so damaged or appalled by its behaviour
At first I thought the grey-blue, rather stiff-winged bird was a collared dove. But there was something a little too quick and purposeful about the flight. The flight became even more rapid as the bird swooped low over the ground. Express wing beats were punctuated by a full-tilt glide that shot it round an oak tree and into a small flock of sparrows in the stubble.
Late last month, a court in Lahore rejected the appeal of Asia Bibi – the illiterate Christian farmhand accused of blasphemy and sentenced to death by hanging. Asia has already spent more than five years in prison and is perhaps the most high-profile victim of Pakistan’s blasphemy law.
This is the time when we especially remember the dead and discover whether they are still within us. It is a test of the kind of relationship we had with them under this sky. I was thinking of Nicole from our community who died recently. At her memorial service her son, Laurent, in the softest voice ever used in a church, spoke about his mother.
Have you ever explained the rules of football to someone, or the workings of a car engine? It is not easy to put into concise, lucid prose. Yet if an attempt is made to explain briefly the deliberations of the Council of Chalcedon on the nature of Christ, say, the terminology itself is often regarded as a criticism of Christian thinkers
I was deep in the winter wheat when I heard the haunting whisper. Time and time again the same melancholy whistle passed overhead, but when I looked up I saw only the grey November afternoon. Then I caught a whir of wings passing through the low clouds, a flock of calling golden plovers.
Has the countdown to the end of the Bergoglio papacy begun? The faithful of the Regina Pacis parish in Ostia, the beach town near Rome which is part of the Pope’s diocese, were surprised when last Sunday he talked to them about his “illness”.
The proportion of children born into families in Britain where the parents are unmarried is fast approaching 50 per cent. Across Europe, the overall percentage of such children is 40 per cent and rising, with the United States not very different.
Was the Synod on the Family a missed opportunity? There were all our esteemed church leaders, grappling with the messy, slippery problems of family life.
WHATEVER HAPPENED to the aspidistra? There was a time when every house in Britain had one. With leaves like wide, waving tongues of green flame, the aspidistra first became popular as a houseplant in Victorian days.
The oldest dictum of statecraft must be “the enemy of my enemy is my friend”. As the terrorists of the Islamic State (IS) advance to the very barbed wire of Turkey’s southern frontier with Syria, this telling phrase helps explain recent events.
The question seems simple: should Catalonia be independent? But as the British found out with their own referendum, supplementary questions stick together like cranberries in muesli while any particular answer may long remain undiscovered, like the last teaspoon in the washing-up.
We all know how the film footage runs. The sound of honking draws the camera to a sky bruised with autumn, and then we see the geese. The flock stays in shot for a while, their beautiful, seemingly effortless skein rippling over the world.
Chatting to a taverna keeper during my recent holiday abroad, we discussed the secret of his success. “First, good meat, fresh vegetables, good chef; second, satisfied customers; then the money comes.”
It probably reveals something lacking in me, but I do love a list. My mother, in moments of exasperation, used to refer to my father as “Old Tidyitis” and I fear I have his genes in this respect.
HAS ANYONE ever compiled a list of remarkable public benches? When I have retired I may well do so, and one of the first to be registered will be the bench at Byland Abbey, North Yorkshire.
This week we celebrated the Feast of Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman. Among the many things the late cardinal is remembered for is his text The Idea of a University, published in 1852, but initially presented as a series of lectures
It is only shallow people who do not judge by appearances. This provocative pensée by Oscar Wilde has a certain depth to it, despite his brazen rejection of “deep ideas”. When he visited New York in 1882, a city then of a mere million, the tallest building was Trinity Church at Wall Street.
Although the secular press carried previews of the Synod in Rome, the piece on godly matters with the most impact this week was surely The Sunday Times Magazine’s 11-page photo feature #IamMuslim. The title was not merely an example of trendy design.
I stepped out of the back door and straight into autumn. After a month or so of unseasonably warm September weather, the “phoney war” was over and the October winds had arrived.
Historians always crave that which they cannot acquire. For British constitution watchers, there has always been one special network that never leaks, and of which no note of meetings is taken – the conversations between head of state and head of government.
Long before I had my own babies, I knew exactly how children ought to be raised. In my early twenties, I was full of retrospective advice for my own parents, and more than happy to point out the multitude of mistakes they’d made raising me, my sister and our two younger brothers.
if crane flies had an autumn weather wish list, then the past week would tick all the boxes. Warm, dry days followed by warm, dry nights. It’s their egg-laying time, and each tussock of yellowing grass plays host to a female crane fly producing the next generation.
It has become the ultimate cliché, wheeled out by diplomats, politicians and United Nations officials. “There is no military solution to this problem,” they intone, whether the problem in question is terrorism in the Middle East or any other international crisis.
I live just off a 13-mile stretch of twisting, hilly, unfenced, single-track road, with passing places, some of them official ones with triangular markers and tarmac
I want to write about Buster Bottley, but first I’d like to say that I was glad the Pope was not assassinated during his visit to Albania. “What has been declared by the self-declared Islamic State is clear,” The Mail on Sunday quoted Iraq’s ambassador to the Holy See as saying.
PERHAPS IT’S Thomas Hardy’s greatest poem, and he didn’t even write it – at least not with a pen – as my son and I found out when, with an hour to kill before catching a train home, we went for a wander behind St Pancras Station.
In his Tablet Interview (opposite) Cardinal Walter Kasper was asked what he would do about the present impasse over contraception in the Catholic Church.
Do not speak ill of the dead. It was one of the rules I grew up with. Unlike so many of those other once-cherished codes that have now been jettisoned as stuffy or hypocritical, it still seems to hold sway.
The larder is full. Just over the wall into our neighbour’s garden, the elder trees are bent with berries. Time after time, the starlings flock over the roofs and dart down to the glistening, black fruit.
It is perhaps no coincidence that the United Kingdom in the space of the next two years is likely to face the consequences of two separate referendums on integration; the first on the union with Scotland in just five days’ time and the second on membership of the European Union promised by 2017.
As war battered the Middle East and a constitutional crisis in the form of Scottish independence loomed in the United Kingdom, the attention of the nation, or nations, was gripped for a week by the tale of Ashya King, aged five.
Andy Coulson is serving an 18-month prison sentence for phone hacking. That is the sort of a sentence one could expect for child cruelty, residential burglary or serious non-sexual assault.
They say St Anthony of the Desert, the prototype of Christian monks, kept retreating further into the Egyptian desert as his fame increased and visitors multiplied. In the fourth century they did not come in tour buses, but the sense is that many were tourists nonetheless.
Procrastination can be a much-maligned pastime. For instance I’m so glad I was late sowing my runner beans this year.
It was a scene that consciously imitated a famous Red Square parade from 1941. On Sunday, as the rest of Ukraine celebrated Independence Day, the pro-Russian rebels who control the eastern city of Donetsk chose to mark the occasion by herding their prisoners through the streets.
The murder by beheading of James Foley, the American journalist, enacted on video by the Islamic State, dominated coverage of the war in Iraq by the British press, partly because the propaganda voice of the ostensible killer on the video had a British accent. But Foley and his family were people with whom readers could empathise.
THE TRAIN was pulling out of Huddersfield station when we saw the burning bush. Loaded with flame red berries, the rowan tree really did look as though it was on fire. Behind it, the derelict woollen mill rose like a crag, its stone still dark with the soots of the Industrial Revolution.
Twenty years before Hitler, the Jewish community in Germany was one of the best- integrated in Europe. It followed a deliberate policy of assimilation into German life and culture. Yet under the Nazis, Germany became the torch-bearer for the most extreme anti-Semitism the world has ever seen.
High summer is when the rest of the country winds down, increasingly falling in with the southern European model of a long lazy August, even if we do not have quite the weather to justify it.
BEYOND THE harbour wall, the sea roared like a bull seal. Riding into the gale, a boat slowly took shape. The lobster men were coming back without a haul – you can’t bring in lobsters with such high winds.
Late last year, the Shadow Foreign Secretary, Douglas Alexander, wrote an article highlighting his concern about the persecution of Christians in the Middle East. Asked about it a few weeks later, he summed up the difficulty at the heart of Western indifference
Until the first week of this month, many people had not heard of the Yazidis. Readers had to catch up with the horrors of Iraq rapidly. Kurdish leaders, reported Richard Spencer, the Telegraph Middle East correspondent, on 4 August, were “caught unawares” by the sudden advance of the forces of the Islamic State (previously known as Isis) to capture the town of Sinjar.
EVERY TIME you look out of the window, there is a masterpiece being unfurled. A moment ago I spotted a butterfly on one of the apples. It was a red admiral and the rosy fruit echoed the deeper red of the black butterfly’s wing bands.
Responses to the worldwide consultation in preparation for this autumn’s Extraordinary Synod of Bishops suggest that, with regard to the issue of divorced and remarried Catholics receiving Holy Communion, a consensus exists around three propositions. The first is that the existing method of dealing with second marriages in the Church is doing more harm than good.
I’m sorry,” I said to a friend the other day. “Oh,” she replied. “What for?” And on inspection I really did not know. I did not mean, “I repent of something or other.” I meant something much vaguer, about smoothing a rough edge or ending a mild argument.
The first surprise was Chicago itself. A real city. A place through which the peoples of the world flow and mingle, looking at each other across the great divides of culture and learn that the world is bigger than they imagined. Cities teach people how to get along with those different from themselves.
WOKEN BEFORE dawn by an unearthly screeching, I stumbled to the window. Had an owl caught a hare? Or worse? The shrieking grew louder. “Pigs,” my nephew informed me the next day. “They’ve just moved into Robson’s farm. Weaners.”
How we all long for a break, for a rest from the usual routine: an end to the nine-to-five, to the routines, to the worry and the stress. It is a simple thing for those of us with the wherewithal to organise it, but nigh impossible for others.
If the Queen’s coming round for tea,” the Daily Mirror advised, “leave oysters and lobster off the menu.” The Pope, too, “likes much more basic fare”, though “he takes the occasional break to treat himself to his favourite meal of bagna cauda (‘hot bath’ in Italian).
Are you a grasshopper or an ant? The story is as old as humanity. In the red corner we have the industrious, though dour ant, who works all year preparing for winter; in the blue, the fiddle-playing, goodtime grasshopper, who spends summer making music, and then the first cold breath of winter blows and …
But what if ATC gets it wrong; what if that total trust is not absolutely warranted? The explanation of the tragic and horrific crash of another Malaysian 777, this time in Ukraine, has many contributing factors, not least the irresponsibility of letting state-of-the-art anti-aircraft missiles fall into the hands of ill-disciplined militiamen.
I’ve just attended my first gay wedding. Two long-standing and very dear friends, originally of my wife’s, now of our whole family, got married on a sunny Friday lunchtime on the south coast, surrounded by their families, and those closest to them. There was a general sense among us of “what on earth has taken you so long?”
I’VE BEEN HERE before often, yet on each visit I can never quite believe it’s real. First of all you turn off the main road. Main road? Not exactly a motorway – the long-horned cattle in the field have far more hikers to gaze at than cars.
Thirty-nine tons of pleasure,” ran the headline in Le Bien Public, the regional daily of the Côte d’Or, with reference, of course, to the new tram in Dijon.
Even the most wanton and pointless outbreaks of bloodshed eventually come to an end. By the time you read these words, the sudden conflagration between Israel and Gaza may have been dampened down – or, with a bit of luck, extinguished altogether.
The two figures emerged from under the mulberry tree. Clipboards and cameras in action, they walked slowly up the wide, uncut roadside verge. Zooming down the hill on my bike, I decided to stop. “We’re surveying the wild flowers,” they explained, National Park botanists both.
Last week’s Notebook page drew attention to the accusations of political bias that the Catholic Church in England and Wales might run into if it produced a pre-election statement in 2015 based on Catholic Social Teaching, as it has done before previous elections.
Recently, three totally disparate things have been making me think about Heaven.
Although common, the hedge woundwort is shy and retiring.
I was waiting on the side of a busy street. Traffic flowed by like thoughts in neural pathways, sometimes speeding, sometimes congested. I saw occasional acts of kindness and many missed opportunities to make people feel better. Across the street the automatic doors of a large supermarket were opening and shutting continuously.
In The Independent, Peter Popham, an experienced foreign correspondent, grew quite hot under the collar that a blogger called Erasmus “thinks Pope Francis is a Bolshevik”. Erasmus writes on The Economist website, and though not calling the Pope a Bolshevik by name, he accused him of following an “ultra-radical line: one that consciously or unconsciously follows Vladimir Lenin in his diagnosis of capitalism”.
IF I WERE inventing a fairy tale, one of the characters would be a leaf-cutter bee. He would be one of the good guys.
Archbishop Derek Worlock always had a hankering to be a journalist. It is not inappropriate therefore to let him help me with my column this week. His is a voice we need to hear as the working document, or instrumentum laboris, for October’s Extraordinary Synod on the Family was due to be published this week.
Does having cancer change your life? Not in the long term, anyway: in the short term it can hardly fail to make you think things will be different, and significantly. If I get through this, you think, I won’t sweat the small stuff any more.
There are lots of figures plucked out of the air to justify the huge cost of global sporting events such as the current football World Cup in Brazil. Before and after our own 2012 Olympics, weighty reports totalled up billions and billions of pounds supposedly generated for our economy
You don’t get hummingbirds in Yorkshire, do you? I asked myself rather feverishly as I lay in the verge at the ruins of Byland Abbey, eight quiet miles from home.
In 1956 an unnamed MI6 officer used a tiny camera in an unlikely act of espionage: photographing, one by one, the pages of Boris Pasternak’s masterpiece, Dr Zhivago.
I have trouble with the sins of hypocrisy and blasphemy, though in contrary directions. Hypocrisy is saying one thing and doing another. “Activists poured concrete on top of spikes outside a central London branch of Tesco,” The Guardian reported on Saturday.
“Quick,” said the guide the moment we stepped into the RSPB visitors’ centre at Saltholme near Middlesbrough. “You must see this.” Clearly excited, he marched us to the ground-floor viewing area, which overlooks a phalanx of bird feeders.
I have mentioned before how much I am impressed and moved by the way the Church has coordinated the timing of our great feasts with the annual rhythm of the seasons; or perhaps more accurately, how skilfully she has adopted and adapted the traditions of her ancestry, deriving a springtime Easter from Jewish Passover
THE BEAUTY OF the common lizard takes your breath away. There it was basking in the sun on the quiet roadside. A sleek length of dark, parallel markings on a green body. An orangey flush of underparts. And a head with a reddish tinge.
Two stumpy towers of light-drenched Provence stone stand out on the skyline of Marseilles, seen over the blue water and the forest of sailing masts from the Vieux Port. The Abbey of St Victor is embedded in this ancient city, although not as revered as the Basilica of Notre Dame de la Garde, overlooking everything and visible by everyone everywhere.
If there is a frontline in Ukraine’s rebellion, it begins at the corner of Kyivsky and Partizanskyi avenues on the north-western edge of the city of Donetsk. Here, all traffic comes to a halt at a makeshift checkpoint consisting of old tyres piled in the middle of the road.
My favourite bench reclines in a slender, rather steep-sided valley about half a mile from the nearest hamlet. Framed by foxgloves and a rising bank of wildflowers, it faces one of the quiet roads that thread through our little range of hills. I sat there for an hour dandling a pen and empty page on my knee.
What do the polls really tell us? At the heart of the European project was a certain set of assumptions about the relationship between politics and economics, which may be beginning to fall apart. It was assumed that a single free-market economy could work across the whole continent without having one central government in charge.
There are all sorts of easy conclusions to reach on reading of the high proportion of Catholics behind bars in this country, as reported in these pages this month. If one in five prisoners is Catholic, according to Ministry of Justice figures, compared to roughly one in 12 nominally so in the population, ...
The last fortnight has been Shakespearian, “rough winds do shake the darling buds of May”. What will the coming months be like? Well, as we all know, summer’s lease hath all too short a date. Fortunately, however, we have a lodger that will add a few extra weeks to the summer’s expiry date.
There is something ominous about Michael Gove’s determination to insist all schools in Britain teach “British values”. The Secretary of State for Education has devised this as an answer to the threat of Islamist extremism in a handful of schools in Birmingham. His concerns are, on the evidence even of so few cases, justified.
Aldegonde Brenninkmeijer-Werhahn is one of those people who works with great influence behind the scenes in the Church. Her passion is theology and she has lectured widely in the subject as well as helped fund and support theological institutions. But much of it has been under the radar of ordinary Catholics – until the VatiLeaks scandal.
Boko Haram, the violent group that kidnapped more than 200 girls from their school at Chibok in Nigeria in mid-April, is always described in the press as “Islamist”.
I was working with the bees, which, in the life of a writer, is shorthand for saying I was in the garden with a book, reclining among the flowers on a sun lounger, when the amazing incident occurred.
Alarm about “religion being driven out of the public square” is distinctively American, but can be heard in Britain too. In both cases, the suggestion is of a secularist plot designed to deprive Churches and other religious bodies of their right to a voice in public debate. But the reality is more complex.
Like many people with early cancer (I am told), I am finding it impossible to adjust to the idea of being ill. Mostly that’s because I am patently not ill at all, not in the slightest. Last week I was swimming regularly (my usual 30 lengths); yesterday I cycled the three miles into central London for tea, and back.
Windows in urgent need of replacement, the property survey reported on our house when we moved in 15 years ago. Now at last we’ve signed on the dotted line for a new set in the lounge.
I know nothing about the affair apart from what I have read in the papers. My opinion is that the letter itself doesn’t ring true and is no more genuine than the Zinoviev letter, which in 1924 sketched out a plan to “develop the propaganda of ideas of Leninism in England”.
The road north of Donetsk in eastern Ukraine runs through the heartland of what some already call a “people’s republic”. Pro-Russian gangs have seized control of a string of towns in a landscape of open fields and rolling hills scarred by the derelict hulks of old mines and factories.
On May Day, I hauled myself out of bed just before four in the morning and set off through the gradually paling dark to attend a “dawn chorus guided walk” in an ancient oak wood. I have wanted to be better at identifying birds by their voices and this seemed a rather glorious way to celebrate the spring.
I found the pilgrims standing at the wall above the abbey guest house. From a distance, the biscuit-coloured stonework looked ordinary enough; coming closer, I realised what they were looking at. One stone was a block containing a huge curled horn.
There are lies, damned lies and statistics. Mark Twain said it was Disraeli who invented that remark; some scholars suggest Mark Twain made it up himself. Whatever … There is yet another set of figures where lies and statistics are rolled into one - what people tell the pollsters, and how the media report it.
The life of St Benedict, in a series of Renaissance frescoes around the cloister of Monte Oliveto Maggiore in Tuscany, reflects not only the legends of the “Life” but the way people believed and imagined the world in the era in which they were painted.
You can’t ask more of a pear tree. Firstly there’s the crystal icing of its blossom. Is there a more striking, whiter flower? Even on dull days like today, a blooming pear tree glistens like a constellation of gently scented stars. A touch of design genius sees that each blossom has tiny brown traceries tipped with black.
ack in March, one of the TV journalists standing outside Vanity Fair magazine’s Oscars party spotted an unlikely figure among the film stars and movie directors. “Sir Alex,” she shouted. “What are you doing here?”
Is Britain a Christian country? “I believe we should be more confident about our status as a Christian country,” David Cameron, the Prime Minister, wrote in an article for Easter in the Church Times.
If I were a king I would willingly give up my domains and dominions for the tawny mining bee.
It was apparently Bishop Basil Christopher Butler OSB who coined the term “creeping infallibility”.
I am not a particularly pious or devout person: passages from Scripture do not tend to replay themselves through my mind on a regular basis, nor do they trip easily off my tongue.
There are names aplenty, few of them kind, that have been thrown at me as a journalist, but “walkie-talkie” is new. It came my way when I recently met the remarkable Baroness Campbell of Surbiton, who prefers to be called Jane.
I am just back from a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. I have never been before and I am still feeling overwhelmed.
IS THERE anyone still alive who can remember the heyday of the cowslip?
Just as the statues in church were being swaddled with purple cloth last weekend, the advertisements from rival supermarkets were getting well stuck into Easter consumption. Superior cheese, which I hadn’t previously reckoned a paschal speciality, was being pushed by Lidl under its Deluxe brand in the so-called quality press.
“Slam dunk” has entered popular American speech from the religion of basketball to signify a “sure thing”. It refers to a certain crowd-pleasing shot in which a player places the ball in the net from above and does so with at least one hand touching the rim.
France has the mistral, North Africa its sirocco. Western Australia is known for the Fremantle Doctor, and we have the haar. All these winds can radically alter the quality of life.
This is more appropriate for someone previously baptised – who is already, in the words of Vatican II’s Decree on Ecumenism, in “imperfect communion” – than for someone who is not (as indeed was my own case).
As a historian, I’m not a “history-repeats-itself” man. Yet I am with Mark Twain when he said, “History doesn’t repeat itself but sometimes it rhymes.” Does the Ukraine/Crimea crisis have a touch of the Mark Twains about it? Is it a rhyming couplet with the Cold War?
AS MARCH gives way to April, how hard it is to remain patient. I want to see the full pantechnicon of spring rolling past, and I want it now! Far better to savour every small step in the cavalcade of growth.
The world is a violent place, but one country very rarely annexes the territory of another. The formal and forcible incorporation of Crimea into Russia marks the first such act in Europe since 1945.
It was raining in Venice on Sunday as I made my way to noon Mass at St Mark’s. A small group huddled under gold and red flags bearing the Lion of St Mark was standing about in the colonnade at the west end of the square.
AS THE distinguished Orcadian poet (and prolific contributor to The Tablet) George Mackay Brown once wrote, in time all human materials grow beautiful – except concrete. To many perhaps, the abandoned petrol station at the top of the village couldn’t be considered proof of the Orkney man’s words.
The riots and demonstrations in Cairo in 2011, and the similar breakdown in public order in Kiev last month, were both fuelled by popular resentment at corruption.
It’s Sunday evening and, once again, we’ve left Mass until the last minute.
Monday is the anniversary of the murder of Archbishop Oscar Romero of San Salvador, gunned down at the altar on 24 March, 1980, while saying Mass, because he spoke up for the poor and oppressed of his homeland.
Pope Francis will be celebrating Christmas Mass in Bethlehem on 26 May at the conclusion of his three-day trip to Jordan, Israel and Palestine.
Students of the evolution of consciousness today offer a fascinating map of how we arrived where we are. It began, they say, in episodic consciousness – being intensely attentive to the situation around us.
“Pope admits stealing”, ran the headline in the Irish Examiner. As everyone has now learnt, Pope Francis stole a little cross from the rosary of a priest he admired as he lay in his coffin (or “casket” as the Examiner called it,...
There is a memorable scene in the American medical drama House in which the eponymous, acerbic doctor of that name, played by Hugh Laurie, is introduced to a Canadian.
If you’re looking for inspirational reading this Lent, pick up Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium. It’s his vision for renewing the Church and making the Christian faith more vibrant and operative.
If you’ve seen one then you’ll know what I’m talking about. On a warm day in March, maybe your first afternoon without a coat, a flash of brilliant yellow crosses your path.
I am afraid that I am beginning to find the increasingly regular canonisation of (recently) deceased popes a bit distasteful. It smacks just a little too much of bankers awarding each other massive bonuses.
The Catholic Church undoubtedly needs a comprehensive renewal of its teaching regarding marriage and family life. So could that necessary renewal be supplied by the so-called Theology of the Body expounded by Pope John Paul II...
Pope Francis has done it again – he has gone and given another interview to a secular paper! This time it is with Corriere della Sera, arguably Italy’s most authoritative broadsheet. He told its editor he found all the “myth-making” depicting him as “a sort of superman
IS THERE any sound quite like it? The sudden, irrepressible cry of the March lapwing pouring out over a lonely field. Yesterday, there was one pair prospecting over the stubble acres, two today.
There was an educational moment to savour last month at Westminster. The occasion was a breakfast meeting – not usually a social instrument of choice for me – devoted to the place of arts, humanities and social sciences in the UK
“Barmy bishop backing benefits bums,” ran the headline in The Sun. The bishop in question was an archbishop on the eve of being made a cardinal, in other words, Vincent Nichols of Westminster.
If Pope Francis initially had at least some Vatican employees – especially those who are part of the Italian “old guard” – on tenterhooks when he first announced plans last April to make significant structural changes to their workplace...
There's a new grave in Thirkleby churchyard. Under the relaid turves and flowers, freshly turned earth glistens: the black riches of topsoil mixing with the orange clay forked up from a fathom.
Villages flooded, sea defences damaged by giant waves, fallen trees, power lines cut, army called in – such has been the dramatic news across much of Europe these last few weeks. Not that you would know it from watching British television or reading British newspapers.
One minute it is just another white coach, sitting at the roadside outside the basilica in suburban Buenos Aires. The next, the driver is busy decking it out with yellow and white advertising hoardings, complete with images of Pope Francis,
Pope Francis summoned the world’s cardinals to a pre-consistory gathering at the Vatican this past week and urged them to speak frankly about the challenges facing the Church in its ministry to families.
Like some fabled monster of the deep, the storm rose in the dark caverns of the Atlantic and headed for land. It hit us on the south-west coast, and then roared up the country.
“Breath of fresh air” and “official Catholic Church document” are not phrases that often occupy the same sentence. But all that changed a few days ago when the German bishops’ conference published its summary of responses to the questionnaire floated
It is not always easy to tell if the puns that the Sun enjoys so much have been stretched too far. “A life-size chocolate version of Pope Francis is unveiled – in Toble-Rome,” it reported next to an alarming picture of the sculpture.
When Pope Francis announced his initial group of new cardinals on 12 January, the first name on the list of the three men over the age of 80 was Archbishop Loris Francesco Capovilla.
“Mice are obsolete,” the computer store man said. “Computers have built-in track pads now.” Leaving the shops behind we strolled through York’s Museum Gardens.
Our diocese, like so many others, is facing a catastrophic priest shortage (though, actually, we have very nearly the same ratio of priests to Mass attendances that we did in 1990. Might it be happier and healthier to think that we have too many churches rather than too few priests?).
A Daily Telegraph columnist informs us that Conservative politicians have been instructed to include the phrase “our plan for economic recovery” in almost everything they say. This replaces the previous mantra they were asked to repeat as often as possible, namely “the mess we inherited”.
No one has any illusions that Francis of Rome, “Pope of the Poor”, is an expert on finances. Yet, he’s been handed a clear mandate to clean up the financial and organisational mess inside the Vatican.
Can this winter go on much longer? It hasn’t been cold, but grey and very, very wet. Good news from our neck of the woods – the bullfinch barometer is rising.
Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor delivered an important message during his homily at the ordination Mass for Mark O’Toole, the new Bishop of Plymouth, on Tuesday.
The jazz trumpeter is wearing polka-dot pyjamas and a red jacket. His hair is shaved at the sides and piled high on top with a flourish of stylish yellow. The stage is at the same level as the seated audience in waiting;
There seems something not entirely healthy in the fascination of the press with the story of the teenage runaways from Stonyhurst. It is the sort of thing that used to provide Sunday morning enjoyment to readers of the News of the World.
Why are the London editions of the national newspapers so scant in their coverage of the Scottish question? It’s not as if Scotland is a far-off country of which we know little. If you feel as I do about the possibility of separation, it’s flesh of our flesh.
One of the principal objectives Blessed John XXIII had in calling the Second Vatican Council, which he did 55 years ago last Saturday, was to pave the way for full communion between the world’s divided Christians.
Sometimes grey days give the clearest views. After a week of incessant rain, a gap suddenly opened up in the clouds. The hills emerged. Vast slanting sunbeams were lowered from the sky like ladders from a giant, slate-roofed hay loft.
A parish priest in Liverpool once told me about the time he printed a note to be pushed through people’s doors. It said that if anyone was a Catholic but no longer went to Mass, they were welcome to contact the presbytery.
There has probably never been quite so much contact between independent and state schools as today. In my youth, my direct-grant grammar school was in the same quadrangle of streets as the prestigious fee-paying Birkenhead School.
During his visit to Sacred Heart Parish next to Rome’s Termini station last Sunday, Pope Francis told young people how they could help him reform the Church. In a closed-door session with youths aged from 16 to 30, his message was clear – “make a ruckus” and don’t be too rigid!
“Aye,” the woman said, joining me at the gate. “She’s the last of her kind. Time was every village round here had its winter donkey.” I watched as the patient animal slowly approached. When she was within reach, I stroked her.
At the western gate of the biggest United Nations base in South Sudan, hundreds of people carrying bundles of possessions push and jostle. Peacekeeping soldiers wearing blue helmets hold them back, forcing them into a queue of sorts.
In my long career as a breastfeeding mother – I had four children across the course of a decade, and fed each until her third birthday – I only ever once decided it was inappropriate to heed my baby’s cries and pop her on the breast.
The dailies were friendly in their coverage of Archbishop Vincent Nichols’ impending creation as a cardinal. There is no reason why they shouldn’t be.
Some people were disappointed that Pope Francis did not take bolder action to change significantly the geographic composition of College of Cardinals. Perhaps he will do so in the future or even make significant changes to the college and the conclave process itself.
A puncture on a raw January afternoon. Why did I cycle off the tar road? Hawthorn-lined bridleways running down hills are asking for trouble.
Reading Alan Greenspan’s reflections on the causes of the financial crash, it becomes obvious that economics is nothing like a science.
Like most people who live in the country, I get regular invasions of mice. Luckily for me I do not suffer, as some people undeniably do, from real rodent horror, but I am not prepared to share my house with them.
Shortly after his election last March, Pope Francis met with the top brass and other officials of the Vatican’s Secretariat of State.
The red fox, Vulpes vulpes, states the guidebook, is the largest of the true foxes and the most successful.
There can be few people with so much hope riding on them as Pope Francis. Just about everybody – from Time magazine to the Archbishop of Canterbury – made him their person of the year.
Some years ago I visited the last synagogue in Cochin, in Kerala on the south coast of India. It was a tourist stop, but there were still a few families worshipping there on the Sabbath, remnants of a once thriving Jewish community.
A word to the wise: buckle up, because this promises to be a very fast-paced and interesting year of changes at the Vatican.
With its little cracks and licks, the log fire sings in the hearth. Ferreted out from woods, hedgerow and beck banks, each fallen bough had been carried home from up to a mile away before being sawn.
This is the first Christmas with Pope Francis, and we journalists will be listening closely to his words and keeping watch for any possible surprise changes he might make to the Vatican’s normal seasonal protocol.
Man on train sits by window, throwing out bits of paper. Second man says: “Excuse me, why are you doing that?” First man: “To keep the tigers away.” Second man: “What tigers? I see no tigers.” ...
As it came to an end, I was somewhat ashamed to realise how little impact I had let the Year of Faith have on me.
Christmas came early in The Guardian this week and it was all peace to people of goodwill. Indeed the paper resembled something from a counterfactual novel, like Kingsley Amis’ The Alteration ...
Out gathering pine cones, holly and yew boughs for the Christmas decorations, all at once my nostrils were filled with a ripe, rich reek. The smell of the manure rose before me solid as the stone wall of a stable.
‘There is an empty hole where Scottish contingency planning should be’
In one of his most penetrating mystical sermons, Meister Eckhart, the thirteenth-century Dominican, said: “A wise man said: ‘When all things lay in the midst of silence, then there descended into me from on high, from the royal throne, a secret word.’”
Time magazine’s selection of Pope Francis as its “Person of the Year” seemed to be a foregone conclusion to many.
Hearing a roe deer barking in the wood, I waited for it to show.
What if Cardinal Martini was right? One of the most revered church leaders of his generation, who almost beat Pope Francis as the first Jesuit on the throne of Peter, said in an interview published in German in 2008 that Pope Paul VI was guilty of dishonesty...
It’s a particularly special month for Pope Francis. He marks the forty-fourth anniversary of his priestly ordination on 13 December and his seventy-seventh birthday four days later.
You’re never alone. I’d only been among the alders for a minute or so when the robin appeared on a nearby branch.
In the darkness of a winter morning, the world changed. At 3 a.m. on Sunday in Geneva, my iPhone – and that of countless other journalists awaiting the outcome of the Iran nuclear talks – exploded with tweets announcing that an agreement had been reached.
Why do we send our children to Catholic schools? Many secularists have very fixed ideas about this, which can be summed up by the words “discipline” and “results”. I feel as though I have spent a lifetime responding, “No, it’s the Catholic ethos,”
During the Vatican press conference on Tuesday for the unveiling of Pope Francis’ new apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, my colleague Alessandro Speciale tweeted: “Three archbishop-firemen trying to douse the Pope’s words of fire!”
What was the last thing you saw in a car park? We were in Knaresborough for Uncle Jim’s seventy-fifth birthday and had just squeezed our diminutive Kia Picanto into a space when a large shadow passed overhead.
Certain wags say that the Church of England’s main job is to be a testing ground for the Catholic Church. But with the C of E edging ever closer to having women bishops, we are a very long way from experiments over the role of women edging out of the Anglican lab into the Catholic world.
At the end of a letter to the Daily Mirror urging action to meet the typhoon disaster in the Philippines, the writer added: “God bless all those affected.”
I see them at Mass on Sundays and, I confess, sometimes feel a pang of envy. They’re what I call the perfect families: a mum, a dad and three or four children, standing shoulder to shoulder to hear the Gospel and recite the Creed. My family, I’m afraid, has never looked like that.
Pope Francis has received high marks from reform-minded Catholics, especially those who believe many bishops and officials in Rome have reinterpreted the Second Vatican Council (1962-65) in a restrictive way over the past few decades.
There is something about the whole niqab question that seems to make so many of us stupid – or at least use some utterly separate part of our mind to “think” about it.
According to Sir John Major, it is “truly shocking” that “the upper echelons of power in 2013 are held overwhelmingly by the privately educated or the affluent middle class” ...
“With Pope Francis, we are being called to follow the paths laid out by the [Second Vatican] Council and its teachings regarding the Church as communion,” said an enthusiastic Archbishop Bruno Forte.
The most serious threat to free speech and the public’s “right to know” comes from politicians. This is not a reference to the ongoing row over the post-Leveson regulation of the press, however, but the even more important issue of the freedom of the BBC.
“She may be a woman, married, a feminist and only 49, but an Irish theologian called Linda Hogan is being tipped as the Vatican’s first lady in red,” said the Irish edition of The Sunday Times. It meant as a cardinal not as the Scarlet Woman. And why not?
There’s a growing sense that we are witnessing in these days the emergence of a “new” Synod of Bishops.
November bike riding is not like the salad days of July. No longer does every verge present itself as the perfect chaise longue on which to recline; favourite “dawdling places” have become damp and inhospitable.
One of the more regrettable impacts of the 24-hour news cycle over the past 20 years has been on the UK’s electoral cycle. It’s easy to feel as if you are living in a permanent election campaign.
Prince Bandar bin Sultan has no public profile outside the kingdom of Saudi Arabia – and that is just the way he likes it. This fighter pilot turned diplomat, ambassador, courtier and spymaster is one of the most important power brokers in the Middle East.
“What is health?” we were asking. Is it “the level of functional and metabolic efficiency of a living organism free from illness, injury or pain”?
For the first time in 20 years the Bishop of Rome has returned to his diocese’s most important cemetery to commemorate the Feast of All Souls.
On the day after the storm, I headed to a favourite oak and began gathering some of the thousands of acorns scattered below the wide spreading arms. Both pockets soon bulging with a wood in the making, I set about planting.
Pope Francis has asked the International Synod of Bishops to meet in Rome next year to examine, among other things, the Catholic Church’s policy towards divorced Catholics who remarry.
Catriona, my 11-year-old daughter, wants to know how we celebrated Halloween when I was her age. “Where did you go trick or treating?” she asks.
Pope Francis’ recent video message to Catholics in the Philippines proves that, despite some hesitancy, he certainly can handle a bit of English. Evidently, that’s not the case with German – or, to be more precise, the Germans.
The rain was soft and gentle, the ground pleasantly yielding, and every few yards we came across stunning fungi.
Bruk lost his home when his landlord decided to re-let his house in time to reap a higher rent from people attending the London Olympics.
More signs of changing times? I’m one of those shameless authors who is always up for hawking his latest book at literary festivals, a comparatively recent but popular addition to our national cultural scene.
This week was supposed to mark a major step forward in Pope Francis’ plans to reform the Roman Curia.
The plan seemed foolproof: one of us climb up and give the tree an almighty shake while the rest stand underneath with a sheet to catch the loosened fruit.
We live with the remnants of a moral universe that has passed away; we think we have a morality that works, but are deluded. These are the key ideas of one of the seminal books of philosophy of the late twentieth century, After Virtue by Alasdair MacIntyre.
Ralph Miliband, the late father of Ed Miliband, the leader of the Labour Party, was “The man who hated Britain”, or so said a headline on a Saturday essay in the Daily Mail.
Last week I had another email from someone looking for a hermitage. I do not have an overwhelming number of such letters, but since I published A Book of Silence in 2008, and especially since I have been writing this column, I have received a small but steady trickle.
It might sound incredible, but this was the first time in his life that Pope Francis had been to Assisi.
Pope Francis’ newly named Council of Cardinals is clearly a work in progress. After holding its first meeting in the papal library of the Apostolic Palace, the venue for the other five sessions was switched to a parlour at the Domus Sanctae Marthae...
And yet it was built in Nairobi, a city that, until quite recently, possessed only a handful of supermarkets. The last time al-Qaeda struck Kenya’s capital was in 1998 when it bombed the United States embassy.
Did the subsequent vote in the House of Commons and the opinion polls reflect a wish on the part of the British to have a rest for a while from the wider globe or will the events of August 2013 prove to be a benchmark ...
Yet as you looked at the satellite pictures and saw the dense swirl of cloud from the safety of space, it was hard not to give it an identity; hurricanes and typhoons are now given alternately male and female names by meteorologists.