November is a month when many people like to reflect, pause and remember beloved family members and friends who have died. The month begins with the Feast of All Saints. It was instituted to honour all of the saints, both known and unknown, and, according to Pope Urban IV, to supply any deficiencies in the faithful’s celebration of saints’ feasts during the year. The Feast of All the Saints of Ireland was instituted in 1921, by Pope Benedict XV.
The evening of June 23, St John’s Eve, is the eve of celebration before the Feast Day of St John the Baptist. The bible states that John was born about six months before Jesus, therefore the feast of John the Baptist was fixed on June 24, six months before Christmas. St John the Baptist, like Jesus and the Blessed Virgin Mary, is one of very few persons to have the anniversary of the birth commemorated.
The Feast of St John coincides with the June solstice also referred to as Midsummer. The feast is celebrated in many countries throughout the Christian world. In Ireland this was the traditional night for the Bonfire. In this celebratory bonfire old bones were burned. In the Irish language the bonfire is called “Tine Cnáimh” which literally means fire of bones. Another name for the fire was “Tine Féil Eóin”.
Matthew came to see us last week. He spent a whole day in our office. We had quite a bit for him to do because another regular volunteer was taking a well deserved break. Among other things, Matthew prepared 50 Information Packs for Irish Council for Prisoners Overseas. Each pack needs envelopes which are pre-stamped. These are sent out to prisoners who are new to us. They contain a large colourful map of Ireland and a poster with Irish pictures to brighten up a prison cell. Our latest ICPO Newsletter https://www.icpo.ie/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/Newsletter.pdf
We have contact information for our services and other organisations which people may need. Pur packs tell people what we can and cannot do for them. We have over 250 new people every single year so our Information Packs are a very important resources. If they are not ready and waiting then our extremely busy caseworkers have to stop what they are best at, go to print and prepare the information packs themselves. It is extremely frustrating and time consuming to have to do this. So we’ve made it a challenging but rewarding task for our volunteers and despite it being a very boring tedious job, Matthew does it more cheerfully than most.
He makes sure to enjoy a chat and some music to lighten the load. The time saved by a volunteer doing this means our caseworkers ensure that the continuous requests and letters which need responses get done efficiently and with the least interruption possible.
Matthew loves working with us as a volunteer and we love Matthew’s work because it allows us to do our jobs better. Thank you Matthew! Go raibh míle maith agat!
As part of Traveller History Month in June, the Irish Chaplaincy organized an event at Wormwood Scrubs prison in London for Irish Travellers. After a competition (with cash prizes on offer for the lucky winners) I sang a few old Irish songs and was spontaneously and ably joined on guitar by one of the men who informed me that he’d worked as a session musician. There was a great atmosphere with lots of friendly banter, and this continued during the shared meal that followed. I was touched when one of the guys said to me “it’s things like this that help to keep my spirits up”. The event was very uplifting for me too. We promised to be back for another event near to Christmas, to which one character shouted out “well I won’t be here, please God, because I’m due for release in November”!
My Camino journey, which began in St Jean Pied de Port in the French Pyrenees over 2 years ago, came to an unexpected but blessed moment of completion on the evening before walking the last 13 of the 500 miles to Santiago. A group of us were sitting round a table in a pilgrim hostel in Pedrouzo eating, drinking, chatting and laughing: three Brazilians, two Americans, our Spanish friend Ignacio, and the Anglo-Irish-Korean combo which is myself and my wife Yim Soon with whom I walked my third and final stage of the Camino. A Canadian man called Claude came and joined us. He was doing the Camino by bike so didn’t know any of us who were walking (he was much quicker!) but he said that he had heard the chatter and the laughter and that something had drawn him towards us.
There is a good tradition in L’Arche, my previous organization, of going on pilgrimage. Each year in May or June the normal routine of life is put to one side and people walk together for 4 days. It was always one of the highlights of the year for me, that opportunity to walk with people along the North Kent coastline or through the countryside. And some years we even went along the original Pilgrims’ Way, where people have passed for hundreds of years on their way to Canterbury. Indeed each day when I cycle or walk to Canterbury West station to get the train to London I go along the road that leads down to the West Gate and towards the Cathedral that Henry ll crawled along on his hands and knees as the final atonement for his part in the murder of Thomas a Becket. As with the Pilgrims’ Way to Canterbury Cathedral, a pilgrimage usually has a final destination, a designated ‘sacred place’. And, happily, pilgrimage routes seem usually to have lovely scenery to enjoy. But perhaps they give us as well a chance to look at things differently; to be open to whatever is given; and to give thanks for blessings received, whether big or small.