Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Fabulous past pupils

This week's INM Irish regional newspapers' column

Michael Commane
Greek philosopher Plato said young people were rude, they had little respect for authority and they showed disrespect for their elders.
Plato was approximately 80 when he died in 347 BC/BCE.

So when older people give out about the generation coming up behind them they are simply repeating an age-old sentiment.

There are those who will always look on the glass half empty but there are those who see it as half full.

On some occasions it can be full to the brim.

I can't really say what sort of a teacher I was or am. There were the good days and the not-so-good days but looking back on it now, I can honestly hold my hands up and say I really enjoyed teaching. My main subjects were German and English. I also taught religion, a subject that could be difficult to teach because it was not an exam subject.

In recent weeks I have met up with two past pupils I taught in a Kerry school.

They were in the first class I taught in that school. It was a German Junior Cert class. And then in Leaving Cert I was back teaching them German again. I had gone back teaching, having worked at The Kerryman newspaper for a number of years. I was substituting for a woman, who was out on maternity leave, and then stayed on for some years afterwards.

They were good years. It was a small school in a West Kerry village with a dedicated staff. There was a lovely and easy relationship between teachers and pupils.

The two young women I met are now in their mid-20s. One is a nurse and the other woman works for a food company. The nurse started out doing science but changed disciplines after her first year at college and now thoroughly enjoys the nursing job that she has just begun. The other young woman had been teaching but she also has changed her career and is now working in the food industry. She too loves her job.

It was Ryan Tubridy who introduced me to the word 'millennials'. A millennial is someone who reached young adulthood in the early years of this century. So,  I suppose you could say these young women are millennials. But it's a funny one. Because when we attempt to class or codify people in groupings we can so easily get it all so wrong. Labels are always dangerous things. Name calling is never a good idea. Prejudice is deadly.

I met both women at different times and different venues. But they both had one thing in common. I was profoundly taken by their genuine goodness and attitude. They both could not be more content in their jobs. 

In all my years teaching I could count on one hand the number of young people who might have been nasty. Or maybe it was that we simply did not get on; they did not like me and/or I did not like them. That happens.

I am well aware there are other stories out there, people do get into trouble, not everyone is happy at work, indeed, there are many who have no job at all. There are those for whom school doesn't work. But all I am saying here is that I was impressed to meet two young people I taught, who are now so happy in the early years of their working lives.
Great to meet former pupils who are now thriving. And good people too.

I wonder what Plato might say to me? What would he think of the two young women?

Monday, January 30, 2017

Trump news

On last evening's late ARD German news the news reader began with a smile, saying: "This evening's Trump news".

The president certainly would be the delight of any advertising agency.

One must admire the governor and mayor of New York, also the mayor of Boston and other mayors and governors across the US.

The ill thought out latest US presidential directive concerning immigrants gives us some insight to how bizarre this US administration is.
People from the seven barred states, who have dual citizenship may be able to enter the US, that is, depending what the other state is. It's all simply bizarre.

The power that has now been given to on-the-ground US custom officials is so similar to what happened the German police under the little man with the moustache.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Martin Schulz at the helm

Martin Schulz will be the SPD challenger to Angela Merkel in the September election.

The former president of the European Parliament was officially introduced to the party in Willy Brandt House in Berlin this afternoon.

He comes from an SPD family in North Rhine Westfalia, close to the Belgian border.

The 61-year-old succeeds Sigmar Garbriel as leader of the SPD. Gabriel had little chance of defeating Merkel. The Rhinelander might well give Merkel a run for her money. If there is a reaction to the Trump  administration then the SPD under Schulz could make large electoral gains.

The SPD is the oldest political party in Germany.

As from the weekend Sigmar Gabriel is German foreign minister. He replaces Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who is due to be elected German president by the Federal Convention on February 12.

Free-sheet 'Alive' snippets

The snippets below appear in the February issue of the free-sheet 'Alive'.

The free-sheet claims charity status. Does it have its own specific charity number?

Are Irish tax payers happy subsidising this free-sheet?

It drips of nastiness.

Catholics in the Trump cabinet!

New bins not fit for purpose

Dublin City Council is in the process of erecting new small bins. It says on them that they are for dog litter.

They are flimsy in the extreme. They are locked and as of yet not all workers emptying them have been given keys to open them.

The one in this picture is not two weeks in place and already it is 'out of service'.

A poor design and not fit for purpose. 

How much did the programme cost?

Saturday, January 28, 2017

A reminder of what the officials said in the Hitler era

A piece in today's 'New York Times'.

The comment of the customs official at JFK is exactly the sort of comment officials made to victims during the Hitler years.

And then this in today's Guardian.

Of course Trump is a bully.

The Catholic bishop of Hildesheim in Germany, Norbert Trelle, said he was "shocked and appalled" by the president's insistence on 'America First'. It was "most worrying" he said.

Pope Francis in an interview he gave to a Spanish daily said: 

Crises provokes fear, alarm. In my opinion, the most obvious example of European populism is Germany in 1930, Germany is broken. It needs to get up, to find its identity, a leader: someone capable of of restoring its character, and there is a young man named Adolf Hitler who says: "I an, I can'".

Hitler didn't steal the power, his people voted for him, and then he destroyed his people.

In times of crisis large segments of the population think, 'Let's look for a saviour who gives us back our identity and let's defend ourselves with walls, barbed-wire, whatever, from other peoples who may rob us of our identity. An that is a very serious thing.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Irish bishops' difficulties making eye-to-eye contact

The piece below appears on the website of the Association of Catholic Priests.

The picture is from the current issue of 'The Irish Catholic'. It was taken during the Irish bishops' ad limina visit to Rome.

A strange picture. Whatever about whether or not Pope Francis is looking at Archbishop Martin, certainly Eamon Martin is not making eye contact with the pope. What at all is the archbishop looking at or what is he thinking?

The Association of Catholic Priests (ACP) is disappointed, frustrated and angry that, after six years of attempting to engage the Irish bishops in a respectful and mutual consideration of issues central to the health and well-being of the Irish Catholic Church, the bishops have pulled the plug on any future engagement with the ACP.

While their letter to the ACP (October 24, 2016) states that they ‘are committed to working with priests at every level’ it is quite clear that the bishops are attempting to substitute other more amenable and less forthright channels of communication with priests.

The ACP protests vigorously against this attempted sidelining of our influence and the diminishment of our role. We believe it is unconscionable and irresponsible, in present circumstances, to still the voice of an association that represents over a third of Irish priests (1000-plus) who are prepared to name important and difficult truths at a critical time for the Irish Church.

It is clear, from the upbeat and optimistic language employed by the bishops in their comments in relation to the current ad limina visits to Rome, that a public relations gloss on the condition of the Irish Church, rather than a truthful presentation of our difficulties, is being employed.

An example of this PR tone is the Irish Catholic article (January 12, 2017) by Archbishop Eamon Martin of Armagh on the bishops’ intentions during their Roman visit. In it he states: ‘We will be able to discuss the seeds of renewal and new growth in catechesis, lay involvement, intentional discipleship and pastoral outreach that are emerging all over the country . . . I, and my fellow bishops, will be able to share with them (Curial officials) the resilience of our priests and religious under increased pressure and workload . . .’

The sad and difficult truth is that Archbishop Martin’s words bear little relationship to the realities of Irish Church life today and pretending that they do is self-serving and irresponsible. The comment on the ‘resilience’ of Irish priests in struggling to cope in a situation spiralling out of control is the equivalent of praising the ‘resilience’ of a very sick patient while refusing to consider obvious measures to relieve his/her condition.

If Archbishop Martin’s comment represents the thrust of the bishops’ reports, it will constitute a blatant refusal to name important truths and a failure to accept responsibility for taking the necessary decisions to arrest the decline of the Irish Church.

While the ACP voice may be sidelined by the bishops it will not be stilled.

Holocaust Day

Today is Holocaust Day when the world remembers what was done across Europe in Nazi Germany's concentration camps.

On January 27, 1945, the Red Army liberated Auschwitz-Birkenau.

When the Soviet army arrived, most of the camp's prisoners had already been sent on a death march.
Approximately 7,000 prisoners were still alive when the camp was liberated.
All hate propaganda has the potential to erupt into something awful.

At the entrance to the Holocaust museum in Berlin is this quote from Primo Levi.

"It happened, therefore it can happen again: this is the core of what we have to say."

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Rowan Williams hints at Brexit and Donald Trump

Former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams has expressed concern about "the blurring of boundaries between democratic decision and populist mandate.

Talking in Oxford on the same day that Donald Trump was inaugurated as US president, Williams said that blurring the boundaries between democratic decision and populist mandate undermined the legitimacy of a minority view.

In a television interview yesterday the US president spoke about how angry the world is.

His vocabulary is sounding more and more like that of a dictator.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Wolves make a comeback

Did you know that wolves are making a comeback in Europe?

It isbelieved that there are at present approximately 12,000 wolves in 28 European countries.

In Germany it's estimated that there are 150 wolves in 26 packs.

They have migrated from western Poland.

Wolves were seen in Lower Saxony for the first time in 150 years.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Time for reality check when elites 'standup' for ordinary people

This week's INM regional newspapers' column.

Michael Commane
People far more knowledgeable than I have been writing and commenting on Trump and Brexit over the last number of months.

I seldom if ever write on the news of the day or on topical matters.

The exception proves the rule.

I can still remember my first visit to Germany. It was summer 1972. I headed off to Germany to do a six-week language course in Cologne, staying with the Dominicans in Lindenstraße.

Gosh 45 years have passed. Hard to believe it's that long ago.

It was my first time to drive on a motorway. In 1972 Germany was worlds away from life in Ireland.

We had that large green passport and before heading off I had to buy German Marks. If I remember correctly when I changed £100 into German Marks it had to be registered in the person's passport.

At the end of the course I travelled to Leipzig in the former German Democratic Republic. The hoops that one had to go through to get a visa for the GDR was simply mesmerising. And then travelling by rail from West to East Germany the locomotive would be changed at the border. East German police boarded and systematically and methodically check every passenger on the train.

At the time, the 'young fella' that I was, it was great adventure heading east. And then there was all the hassle of changing West German Marks into East German Marks. Add to that the fiddling one could do by changing money on the black market. The East German authorities required visitors to exchange a specific sum of money for every day they were in the country. The official rate of exchange was one West German Mark for one East German Mark. But the true value of the West German Mark was equivalent to approximately seven East German Marks.

In other words it was a madness and all crazy stuff. That's exactly what borders can do.

Whatever gloss the Brexiteers put on their plans, the reality is shockingly worrying.

When I was a 'young fella' there was no Erasmus. We stayed put and the majority of of us grew up in an insular Ireland.

People might be inclined to thank Michael O'Leary and Ryanair for all our coming and going. But no, it has been the genius of the European Union that has given us the possibility of working in Berlin, studying in Paris or getting to know friends in Florence.

The irony of it is that the EU has helped give all of us the lifestyle of the 'elite'.

To hear the likes of Michael Gove and Boris Johnson cast scorn on the 'elite' must be the ultimate in irony. And that's exactly what Trump does too.

There's that old phrase that 'familiarity breeds contempt'. Maybe it is that we have taken all our privileges for granted, got bored with them and anyone who promises some sort of new misty 'paradise' we simply fall for the bate. Does anyone really believe that jobs are going to spring up across the Rust Belt in the US and in the unemployment black-spots of the UK? 

How can people such as Trump, Gove and Johnson even pretend to be on the side of the marginalised? It seems to me to be obscene. They are the elite.

To think that a member of the Westminster Parliament can run off to the US, interview Donald Trump, have it published, never asking the man one delving question is horrific.

The vulgarity, the rudeness of Trump. Everything about the man. His crass wealth.
What's happening? Then there's Vladimir Putin.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Christian unity

These days are set aside to pray for Christian unity. Unfortunately it is a quieter event than it was in the past.

The Roman Missal carries two Eucharistic Prayers for Reconciliation. The second of the two, on page 648 of the Missal, including the Preface, makes for prayerful reading.

It expresses sentiments which are far removed from what Donald Trump said in his inaugural speech on Friday.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Trump, Dolan and O'Connor

Even in the era of Photoshop, a picture can still be worth a thousand words.

The guffaws of Dolan and Trump.

The Sunday Independent carries a page-long piece by Joseph O'Connor. A nice read.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Garton Ash on Trump's economic confrontation

Timothy Garton Ash in today's Guardian.

The world of the conservative/right-wing politician has so much in common with right-wing clericalism


The morning after the 'day'  before.

Quote from Abraham Lincoln:

Nearly all men can stand adversity but if you want to test a man's character, give him power.

And then the blessing given by the archbishop of New York, Cardinal Timothy Dolan.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Fee paying schools run by religious congregations

An article in today's Irish Independent. It makes for most interesting reading.

Why should religious orders run fee-payng schools? Why should they run fee-paying shcools when in many cases the religious order running the schoold does not have one recognised teacher on the pay roll?

It is an absurdity staring the church in the face.

Young people dropping out of school all over the country, especially those will little resources and at the same time the church runs schools for the rich, schools subsidised by the State.

Fee-charging schools... and the secret scripture of the rich

John Walshe's recent article (Irish Independent, Saturday, January 7) on fee-charging schools raises some very uncomfortable questions regarding the Catholic Church's sponsorship of these schools.


Soros believes Brexit will fail as will Donald Trump

Today's Guardian carries a piece on comments made yesterday by Gerorge Soros in Davos.

Below are the opening paragraphs plus a link to the article.

Theresa May will not remain in power long as Brexit cripples her government, while Donald Trump is a “would-be dictator” who is “going to fail”, the billionaire investor George Soros has told the Davos world economic forum.

On the eve of Trump’s inauguration as president, Soros delivered a scathing assessment, saying the “impostor and con-man” was “gearing up for a trade war” which would have “a very far-reaching effect in Europe and other parts of the world”.

The “would-be-dictator … didn’t expect to win, he was surprised”, Soros told an audience of business leaders and journalists in Davos where the World Economic Forum is being held.
“I personally have confidence that he’s going to fail … because his ideas that guide him are inherently self-contradictory,” added Soros, who was a supporter of Trump’s Democratic rival Hillary Clinton during the 2016 US presidential election campaign.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Dominican preaching?

At the Dominican congress in Rome.

Wouldn't you love to know what is being said.

Boring, interesting? There should be a competition to discover who is talking and what is being said.

How many are on their phones? Any praying the Rosary?

A lot of habits. Some large veils, some small veils. And they seem to be looking in all directions. One or two clapping. Is there someone sucking something? Any smiles? Some stern faces. But maybe an overall sense of boredome?

Maybe it is during a break or pause during some wise theological/philosophical lecture?

Fifth anniversary of the death of Tom McInerney OP

Today is the fifth anniversary of the death of Dominican priest, Tom McInerney,

Below is the obit on Fr McInerney that appeared in 'The Irish Times' on Februray 4, 2012.

Michael Commane
More comments have been posted on the original blog reporting his death. To read them simply scroll down and click on to 'comments'.

Fr Pat ‘Tom’ McInerney OP, who has died aged 81, belonged to that group of men known as “worker priests” - priests who lived and worked in the secular world while carrying out their missions. The concept was developed by the French Catholic Church in the 1940s and spread elsewhere, although it never became as widespread as in France. 

Pat McInerney was born in Roscrea. His father, Michael, had joined the Garda Síochána in 1922. His mother, Sheila Drennan, was from Roscrea. He was educated at CBS Abbey School in Tipperary town. 

In 1947 he declined a university scholarship and worked for a few years in the civil service in Dublin.

He joined the Dominican Order in 1951. The custom then was that when someone joined religious life they were given a new name, and Pat became “Thomas” - however, he continued to be known personally as Pat. 

While working in the Civil Service he wrote a letter home to his parents telling them that he had met a Dominican in St Saviour’s Dublin and was thinking of joining the Order, “I came to realise that I should become a member of the Dominican Order. It seems to offer everything I am looking for, and much besides.”

He in turn in his wisdom and gentle spirit gave to the Dominicans a unique understanding of priesthood that is remarkably needed today.

He studied theology at Le Saulchoir in Paris, where he was ordained a priest in 1957. He taught theology at the Benedictine Abbey in Glenstal and in the Dominican House of Studies at St Mary’s Priory, Tallaght. In 1962 he went to Nagpur in India where the Irish Dominicans had been asked to staff a seminary. Due to ill-health he returned to Ireland the following year and moved to Tallaght, which was to be his home for the rest of his life.

In 1970 he joined the staff of what was then Radio Éireann, based in the old studios in the GPO in O’Connell Street, Dublin. He started his career there as a radio producer in Features and Current Affairs under Donncha Ó Dualaing who was then head of this department. Later he moved to the Donnybrook studios where he joined his fellow Dominican, the late Romuald Dodd, who was religious affairs adviser at the station. 

Pat McInerney worked on a wide range of programmes across the RTÉ radio schedule, with a particular interest in factual and current affairs programmes. He made a major contribution to reshaping Irish radio as the originator of the Liam Nolan Hour in 1970 when he was one of its founding producers; the other was Michael O’Donnell. Before this programme started, there was very little speech on RTÉ Radio in the mornings. Round-the-clock radio (so-called at the time) had begun in 1968 with an initial morning schedule that consisted mostly of music. The Liam Nolan Hour was the first attempt at daytime current affairs outside the newsroom and it morphed into Here and Now, then Day by Day, and now the Today with Pat Kenny Show. 

In its day, the Liam Nolan Hour sounded fresh, new and quite unlike anything else on Irish radio. 

In the early 1970s he was seconded to the office of the deputy director general, John Irvine, where he worked as a special assistant. This work included conducting relations with he Broadcasting Review Committee; cable development and radio development studies; aspects of legislation; aspects of responses to the Complaints Advisory Committee; corporate planning and special assignments and papers for the RTE Authority, director general Tom Hardiman and the deputy director general. These were perhaps his happiest times in RTÉ; the role played to his clarity of thought and analytical skills. He enjoyed being at the centre of things. 

He returned to the radio division in 1976 where he became the first editor of the “Brief Series”: Adminbrief, Mediabrief, Eurobrief and Northbrief, which in time developed into the strands Looking North, Looking South and Looking West.

His work on the Papal visit in 1979 was one of the high points of his career in RTÉ. He was a clear-minded editor of a complex outside broadcast operaton.
He remained at RTÉ until his retirement on August 27th 1995, and continued to work for the station on a consultative basis for some time afterwards. 

He had none of the vestiges of clericalism, and he never expected any sort of preferential treatment back in the days when such behaviour was often par for the course.
He is survived by his sisters Eileen and Tess, brothers Michael and Noel, nieces, nephews and grandnieces and grandnephews.

Fr Pat ‘Tom’ McInerney: born August 26th, 1930; died January 19th

From Yiwu to London

BBC, ITN and RTE showed on their news programmes last evening a train arriving into London. It was the first train to travel from China to the UK.

In the week that's in it someting of an irony that the cargo train is hauled by a DB locomotive - German Rail.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

NPD in the clear

Germany's Constitutional Court rejects attempts to ban far right NPD party

The milk of human kindness flows from a reader's pen

This week's INM Irish regional newspapers' column.

Michael Commane
I received a Christmas card from a reader. Naturally, I was chuffed with it. Tempted to carry it around in my back pocket and show it it off to friend and foe.

I have removed the writer's name and hope she does not mind my publishing it here. Good to know I have at least one fan.

Here's what she wrote:

"Dear Father Commane,

I just thought I would wish you a very happy and peaceful Christmas and new year.

Thank you for the words you write. I am a 'Catholic' in many senses but probably of the 'a la carte' variety and I used to be the other devout kind as a young child and young adult.

I disagree with too many ideas of the Church now (although I am no expert on my own religion) but 

I still believe in community and goodness.

I don't suppose I will ever figure it all out. I struggle on!

However your words and opinions and open questioning nature makes me feel that there are others like me out there wondering about it too.

Sorry about the writing! I am balancing a three-year-old on my knee!"

Occasionally I receive feedback. People send a personal letter, they might phone or send a letter to the Letters' Page of the newspaper.

Some years ago, a fellow priest wrote a letter about me to the editor of a  newspaper.   It was a reply to  a column I had written. I found the tone of his letter unpleasant and smart-alecky and he made some personal references which required editing before it could be published.   

In brief, it was criticising what he thought was a criticism of mine against the hierarchical church. 

The priest also sent a copy of the letter to my then provincial. But guess what, he never thought of sending me a copy of the letter or phoning me to suggest we have a chat. That's how some priests work.

Everything about it was a complete antithesis to the text above. This Christmas card is such a lovely note of genuine kindness. It's clear the woman struggles with her faith but is also serious in finding her path to a living God through the church into which she was baptised. There is something so real about it. Its honesty jumps off the page. Nothing pompous, not a hint of 'I know more than you'. A young woman, I presume she is young because she has a three-year-old on her knee, though she could be a grandmother, who is genuinely interested in her faith.

What is so interesting is that there are so many people like my Christmas card writer. 

Only last week I was speaking to a woman who had come from Sunday Mass. She is articulate and intelligent and she is not someone who is 'anti' church. But on this occasion she just could not believe the nonsense the priest spoke during Mass. "I just wonder how they get away with it. It would happen in no other job," she said.

On what occasions do bishops or provincials call their priests aside and give them words of advice? Of course, on all matters of sexuality there is a line which no priest dare cross but it seems in all other areas, priests are free to say whatever they like, no matter how crazy it is.

Our paths to God are varied and require great care and love. Wise and gentle nurturing too.

Thank you Christmas card writer. Lovely to hear from you and I think I know exactly how you feel. 
Join the club.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Obama, reader and writer

'The New York Times' carries an article today on the importance books are to President Barack Obama.

A lovely piece.  Here it is:

Wealthiest and poorest

A news item carried on RTE Radio this morning quoted a newly released statistic:

The eight wealthiest men worldwide own the equivalent wealth of the poorest 3.6 billion people on the planet.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Obama on racism

President Barack Obama on racism:

"After my election there was talk of a post-racial America.

“Such a vision, however well intended, was never realistic. Race remains a potent and often divisive force in our society.”

- At his farewell speech in Chicago last Tuesday.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Richard Kearney on RTE

Philosopher Richard Kearney on Marian Finucane today:

"There is a Christianity that works and a Christianity that doesn't work."

"Yes, I am a Christian, an a la carte Christian."

Andrej Holm's Berlin woes are a universal tale

The story of Andrej Holm is an old and interesting story about human nature.

He's now a member of the Berlin City State government. He is a member of the Die Linke - Left Party.

But just months before the Wall came tumbling down 18-year-old Holm joined the SED - the ruling party in the GDR. He also signed up to be a member of the Stasi, [East German Secret Police] doing some background training in his father's department. His parents were closely linked to the SED and his  father worked for the Stasi.

The Wall falls, the young intelligent Holm changes from journalism studies to sociology.

The years pass and Holm applies for a job at the Humboldt university. He is asked to sign a form asking if he ever worked for the Stasi plus other questions relating to the GDR.

Holm answers with 'NO'.

Is that the universal story of so many people who seek preferment? Is it the story of the management class in the majority of organisations and institutions?

The churches?

The thing about it is that there is rumbling in Berlin about the life and times of Andrej Holm.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Slow-down in Germany

Arctic conditions in Germany mean that Lufthansa has so far today had to cancel 80 take-offs and landings at Frankfurt Airport. Further cancelleations are expected during the day.

German Rail's ICEs have had to reduce speed to 200 km/h, which is causing delays on the railway between all major cities. And on the regional networks there are many cancellations and delays.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Dominican headline

A headline on Santa Sabina's Dominican website:

The habit out of the closet again!: A day of study at Louvain, Belgium

Trump news conference

Anyone who watched the Trump news conference yesterday must have been reminded of Charlie Chaplin's portrayal of Adolf Hitler.

Television outlets should show the Chaplin film in the coming days.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Fascism is alive and well

Fintan O'Toole wote an excellent piece in 'The Irish Times' yesterday on fascism.

Unfortunately this blog is unable to download the link to the article.

Here's the opening paragraph:

To call the self-styled “alt-right” neo-fascist is a bit of an exaggeration. But the overstatement doesn’t lie in the fascist part. It’s the neo that is a bit of a stretch. Like most viruses, fascism adapts itself to changing environments. We should not expect it to look the same in a 21st century globalised liberal democracy as it looked in traumatised European societies struggling with the aftermath of the first World War and the onset of the Great Depression.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

A wise and saintly man

This week's INM Irish regional newspapers' column.

Michael Commane
In 1990 I was living in the Dominican Priory in St Saviour's in Dublin's north inner city. Back then the custom was that if you needed a car, you signed a book in advance and off you went. 

I was doing some work at an army barracks outside Dublin so booked a car for three nights. The prior was not impressed with my taking a car overnight without first clearing it with him. We had an almighty row over it and he often reminds me of the event and how I spoke to him during our confrontation.

The man's name is Fr Ned Foley. He spent many years of his Dominican life working as a school teacher in Trinidad and before joining the Dominicans he studied engineering at UCD.

He is now in his 95th year, drives a car, reads without glasses and spends hours in his workshop designing and making all sorts of gadgets. The last time I was in his workshop he showed me logs he had made out of paper pulp for burning in a stove. He prays too.

Ned is one amazing man. We started our relationship under the worst possible conditions but over the years we have become good friends. Maybe it's more a matter of my being greatly inspired by the man. But I think I can also say he likes me and I certainly regularly give him things about which to laugh.

Last Tuesday his brother died. Paddy Foley was a Holy Ghost or Spiritan priest and spent most of his life working in Africa. He was 90 when he "shuffled off this mortal coil".

Ned has another brother, also a Spiritan priest, he is 'only 88'. He too has spent most of his life in Africa but is currently living in the Spiritan house at Kimmage Manor. And then there is their sister, who is 95. Paddy is the first of the siblings to die.

They grew up near Blessington. Their father was an engineer who worked for Wicklow County Council and father-like-son, Ned set out on his working life as an engineer and spent some time working for Kerry County Council. Just to confuse matters, his real or the name on his brith cert is Michael. When he joined the Dominicans the Order gave him the name Edward. A strange practice indeed. As if to say the names our parents gave us were not good enough. The theological purists will argue how it made sense to change names when joining the Order. It sounds baloney to me.

Over the years I have had the good fortune to see up close the sort of life that Ned Foley lives. 

Simply put, he is an extraordinary man. He knows I have an interest in trains so he will phone me on a Monday to tell me that there is a programme on BBC Four later in the week on the Flying Scotsman. When it comes to any mechanical details I don't understand he will always explain them to me. It's not that long ago at all since he helped me rebuild a front axle on a bicycle.

And he's a voracious reader: one day it's John Grisham, then back to Dickens.

Living as a member of a religious community throws up all sorts of unusual and 'different' sort of things. But it has often struck me how privileged I have been to meet a number of fine people, often men significantly older than I. And to be advised and guided by such people is really something very special.

If Ned sees this I'm in trouble.

Monday, January 9, 2017

German cruelty on the Volga

On this day 74 years ago on the Volga.
A letter sent from the Soviet Army pleading with the German Sixth Army to surrender.
The management class in Berlin refused Paulus permission to surrender.
"To the Commander of the Sixth Army encircled at Stalingrad, General Paulus, or his deputy.
"The Sixth German Army, the units ofthe 4th Tank Army and their reinforcements have been completely surrounded since November 23rd, 1942. The forces ofthe Red Army have drawn a secure ring around this German army. All hopes of rescue by means of a German offensive from the south and south-west have proved unfounded.
"The forces which were rushed to your aid have been destroyed by the Red Army, and the remnants of these forces are withdrawing towards Rostov. The German transport planes which are supplying you with a bare minimum of food, ammunition and fuel are being forced to move between airfields, and to fly from great distances to reach your positions. Moreover, the Russian air force is inflicting great losses on Gennan transport planes and their crews. Air transport is unlikely to continue for much longer.
"Your encircled troops are in a grave situation. They are suffering from hunger, sickness and cold. The harsh Russian winter is only just beginning: hard frosts, cold winds and snowstorms are still to come, but your soldiers do not have winter uniforms and are living in unsanitary conditions. You, as commander, and all the officers of the surrounded troops know very well that there is no longer any realistic possibility of breaking through the encirclement. Your position is hopeless and further resistance is pointless.
"Given the inescapable position that your forces now find themselves in, and in order to avoid unnecessary bloodshed, we propose that you accept the following terms of surrender:
1. All surrounded German troops, with you and your staff, are to give up further resistance.
2. You are to hand over to us, in an orderly fashion and intact, all men, arms, weaponry and army property. 
"We guarantee the lives and the safety of all officers, non-commissioned officers and men who cease resistance. We also guarantee that at the end of the war they will be returned to Germany, or to any other country of their choice.
"All surrendering forces will be allowed to keep their uniform, insignia and decorations, along with their personal belongings and valuables. High-ranking officers will be allowed to retain their service daggers.
"All officers, non-commissioned officers and men who surrender will immediately be issued with normal rations. All those suffering from wounds, illness or frostbite will receive medical attention.
"We expect your written reply on January 9th, 1943, at 15.00 hours, Moscow time. It should be brought by a representative whom you have personally appointed, and who should proceed in a car flying a white flag along the road from the Konny railway halt to the Kotluban station. Your representative will be met by Russian officers in Region B, 0.5 kilometres south-east of railway halt No. 564.
"If you choose to reject our proposal for your capitulation, be warned that the forces of the Red Army and the Red Air Force will be compelled to take steps to destroy the surrounded German troops, and that you will bear the responsibility for their annihilation."
Colonel-General of Artillery, Voronov;
Supreme Commander of the Don Front, Lieutenant-General Rokossovsky.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

"Nationalists always break their promises" - Nick Cohen

Nick Cohen wrties in yesterday's Guardian.

Below are the first two paragraphs from the article and then the link to it.

Nationalism always breaks its promises because nationalists hate enemies in their countries more than they hate the enemies of their countries. Millions of American conservatives proved it when they voted for Donald Trump, even though he was an open admirer of a hostile foreign power

Local hatreds, not national security, moved them. They hated Obama more than they feared Putin. 
They hated political correctness. They hated – not without reason – the attacks on freedom of speech. 
They hated rich liberals and defence lawyers. They hated Black Lives Matter and immigrants speaking Spanish in the shop queue. They hated the “experts” who told them that fossil fuel caused global warming and gun ownership caused crime. For all their patriotism, when it came to the crunch, they cared as little for national security as the “reds” their ancestors condemned in the 20th century.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

A sense of belonging

The 'Thinking Anew' column in today's Irish Times.

Michael Commane
Most of us wish to be wanted and liked. We want people to appreciate us. It's not a matter of craving for appreciation and affection. It makes life so much more tolerable when we fit in, when we know that we are respected and that we have a specific and special role to play.

Everyone has his/her own niche role. It's the sort of thing that enhances our personalities.

Have you ever noticed after a major sporting event when the leading sportsperson is being interviewed she or he will always stress that it was the role the team played that brought them victory. It is never a one-person effort. And the more successful the sportsperson is, the more emphasis they will place on the team effort. 

Every time the Dublin football team won a game last year, manager Jim Gavin went out of his way to stress that it was a team effort. And so too with one of the world's great horse racing trainers Aidan O'Brien, he always talks about his team after a racing victory.

It's a cliche to quote John Donne's line that no man is an island. But like all cliches, it's a truth that stares us in the face and we are simply being nonsensical if we don't subscribe to it.

It's important to belong. I have never been so struck by that idea as I have in the last few months since taking up a job as a hospital chaplain. To watch how the staff work as a team, everyone with a specific role and every job feeds in to improving the well-being of the patient. It is amazing watching it all work every day. And then to see how family and friends come to visit the sick: every single person is different and yet every person has his or her loving and unique gift to give to the person in the bed. It all comes in so many different shapes and forms. Indeed, there is no set 'formula' But watching it work is honestly astonishing.

Michael Harding in this paper last Saturday wrote a piece about watching people say good bye at Knock Airport: "The last moment of physical intimacy is always a miracle. To breathe in love for a second and then hold it for another year as if each year were an eternity." That same love, greatly magnified, can be seen every day in hospitals around the country.

Tomorrow's liturgy celebrates the Baptism of the Lord. It's the marking out, or the beginning of Jesus' public ministry.

As John baptises Jesus, a voice from heaven cries out: "This is my Son, the Beloved; my favour rests on him." (Matthew 3: 17) What confidence it must be for the newly baptised person to know that God's favour rests on him.

Baptism begins the process of Christian initiation.

What it must be like to know that the favour of those closest to us rests with us. When we know that people place their genuine favour and love and trust with us it surely gives us that great impetus to do the right thing, to do good, to respond to their goodness with like-minded behaviour.

As Christians we believe that all our good actions are in some extraordinary way raised to a new reality.

It's a matter of seeing the love of God in all the good human acts that take place every day right in front of our eyes. Those acts of love and kindness are made so explicit and clear, every day around the beds of the sick and dying. You can't miss them in those contexts but they happen everywhere. It's for us to open our eyes to see them.

Remember, the favour of the Lord rests with us. The grace of Baptism enhances all our good deeds.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Never be afraid to speak the truth to those in power

A quote from the retirement letter of Sir Ivan Rogers to his staff. Sir Ivan, who retired earlier this week, was the UK's ambassador to the EU:

“I hope you will continue to challenge ill-founded arguments and muddled thinking and that you will never be afraid to speak the truth to those in power.”

A universal sentiment applicable to every organisation under the sun. Maybe especially today within relgious congregations.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Scanning the website of two Irish religious congregations

On occasion this blog criticises the management team of the Catholic Church and that includes criticism of the Irish Province of the Dominican Order.

People criticise this blog and express the opinion that it is far too often snide in its approach.

It might well be a valid point.

But may I on this occasion simply ask readers to log on to the website of the Irish Dominican Province and then log on to the website of the Irish Jesuit Province.

One website is attractive, publishes interesting stories about the work done in the province. The other website is filled with pious thoughts.

One website is all-inclusive of its province, representing a wide range of opinion within the province. The other website confines itself to people of like-minded opinions.

Why can one website be so informative, alive, interesting to read, and another website be so boring and yes, awful?

Simply, it is not acceptable and it is also embarrassing.

On one occasion Roy Keane came home from an international campaign and expressed how he was sick and tired with poor performance. He could never understand how people could 'celebrate' failure.

He argued that it does not have to be so.

It's time for people to ask for something better. It does not have to be as bad as this.

'The Irish Times' yesterday carried a story of a Jesuit priest, who has been working in Limerick, experiencing the life and pain of people.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Unsocial behaviour

Irish Business Against Litter (Ibal) awards were announced yesterday.

The survey was carried out by An Taisce for Ibal.

Dublin has slipped in the ratings.

This bin has featured before on this blog. This was the state of play yesterday at 08.30 at this bin in Dartry Park. Obviously someone decided to leave the large refuse bag beside the already over-filled public bin.

What sort of person does this?

Most likely one of their characteristics is anonymity.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

A young priest disappears and is never seen again

This week's INM Irish regional newspapers' column

Michael Commane
From time to time we all spot notices in shop windows or on lampposts of people who have gone missing. People, in desperation, circulate flyers looking for their loved ones and family members.

This time 41 years ago I was living in the Irish Dominican Priory on Rome's Via Labicana, a stone's throw from the Colosseum, a few minutes' walk from the centre of one of the world's greatest cities.

I was there doing two years post grad work. It was a charmed life - swimming in the sea in the good weather and skiing in winter in Terminillo. In between a little bit of study but nothing too serious.

And to add to the location, the community at the time was made up of lovely people, some of them with interesting backgrounds. I had the good fortune to live with Fr Michael Heuston, a brother of Seán, who was executed in 1916. In 1966 they renamed Kingsbridge Station after Seán. 

He had worked with the railway before the events of 1916.

The Irish Dominicans established a foundation in India in the 1960s and a practice grew up that on occasion young Indian Dominicans came to Rome to study. They lived with us in San Clemente.

When I went to Rome in 1974 there were already two young men from India living in the priory. And then at the beginning of the 1975/'76 academic year another Dominican came from India. I remember him as an enthusiastic young man. Indeed, the two of us did some repair work in the priory, including painting a number of rooms.

Out-of-the-blue and without a word of warning he went missing one day and has never been seen since. It was Christmas 1975.

It has left a deep mark on my psyche. At the time I was told that the police had been informed, so too I was told, authorities in India were made aware of his disappearance.

He was a fastidious young man, always well groomed. Yet he left the priory at some time of the day or night leaving everything in his room, his toothbrush, his passport, it seems everything but the clothes he was wearing.

He simply vanished. And I can well remember talking to Fr Michael Heuston about it at the time. Michael was a meticulous man for detail and was also greatly puzzled by it all, as we all were in the community.

Did he disappear of his own accord, was he kidnaped, was he murdered? We never found out. I was always told too that the police never came up with any leads.

Relatively quickly he was forgotten about within the Irish Province of the Dominican Order. His name simply slipped away. I have never been happy with how that happened.

But some years ago a fellow Dominican and a friend of mine began to look into the case. He too made no headway but at least he has planted a tree to the man's honour and he makes sure that his name is remembered. It was he who suggested I write this column.

Every year approximately 4,000 people are reported missing in Ireland and every day on average 16 people are reported missing.

Missing in Ireland Support Service (MISS), who are based at 6 - 7 Harcourt Street, Dublin 2, work in co-operation with the Garda. Their website is www.missingpersons.ie; email address, info@missingpersons.ie, telephone number is 1890 - 442 552.

When someone goes missing and is never found, there is something about it that never rests. Families never give up looking for their loved-ones. It's a never-ending nightmare.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Arrupe's priests don't leave, they stay with their people

From Wikipedia.

On 20 June 1977 the White Warriors Union death squad threatened to kill all 47 Jesuits serving in El Salvador unless they abandoned their work with the poor and left the country within a month. 

After consulting with the Jesuit community in El Salvador, Arrupe replied "They may end up as martyrs, but my priests are not going to leave because they are with the people.

Fall in Love, stay in Love

Taken from a book of prayer and meditations by Gareth Byrne.

Nothing is more practical than finding God,
that is, than falling in love in a quite absolute way.

What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination 
will affect everything.

It will decide what will get you out of bed in the mornings,
what you will do with your evenings,
how you will spend your weekends,
what you will read, who you know,
what breaks your heart,
and what amazes you with joy and gratitude.

Fall in love, stay in love,
And it will decide everything.

                                                                                                     Pedro Arrupe

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Richardson, May and Merkel

Three interesting talks on tv/radio yesterday.

Louise Richardson, Vice Chancellor, Oxford University gave this year's Michael Littleton Memorial Lecture, which was aired on RTE Radio 1 at lunchtime yesterday.

UK Prime Minister Theresa May gave a four minute talk to the nation. She spoke of the importance of a united nation and the possibilities of greatness ahead.

Angela Merkel spoke for seven minutes, addressing the German nation. She spoke of the importance of the European Union and finished her address wishing God's blessing on all those listening.

She stressed the good health of German industry and how Germany leads the world in its social welfare programmes.

The Richardson lecture is availbale on the RTE Radio Player and the Merkel and May talks are available on Twitter. The Merkel talk has English sub-titles.

Guidelines for Dominicans

On December 27, 2016 the Dominican Order published guidelines on how Dominicans should be introduced to the Order and then how that development grows and becomes a life-long process.

Below are the last two paragraphs of the document.

A reality or an aspiration? Maybe a dream? Does it 'happen'? When it happens it's amazing to see. But how often does it happen?

The word 'formation' is unfortunate.

199. Our [Dominican] form of government cannot work unless we continue to learn and practise the art of dialogue, listening to each one, being prepared to consider other points of view, being ready to help out, being prepared to take initiatives. ‘Our preparation for the art of dialogue is never done once and for all, and everyone has to perfect it and learn it over and over again’ (Bologna 1998 123, 3). 

200. Permanent formation ought to help us have confidence in God and respect for others. Its final purpose is to bring healing, hope and renewal into our lives and the lives of all entrusted to our care. 

Happy new year to readers of Occasional Scribbles.

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