Tuesday, November 25, 2008

And who is my neighbour?

I couldn’t resist. I heard on the news that the membership list of the British National Party had been leaked onto the Internet. I had to look. I did about five minutes of googling, and then, like many others, downloaded the complete list of 12,000 names and addresses.

Well the excitement, if there was any, soon wore off. I never found the telephone directory a particularly gripping read, and this list was hardly more interesting. However, I did discover one member of the BNP who lives just across the road from our Church here in Hanley, Stoke-on-Trent.

Now, I have little time for any group which believes that the multicultural nature of Britain is a bad thing.

Politics aside, this is just goes against the grain of what it means to be a Catholic Christian. We are a multi-cultural Church. Our founder was a middle Eastern Jew, who lived in an occupied land. From the very beginning, the Church numbered many nations and languages in its membership. Our leader today is a German who lives in Rome. Most of our members live in the developing world, especially Latin America and Africa. In North Staffordshire, we have priests with English, Irish, Italian, Polish, Indian, Vietnamese and African backgrounds. Masses are celebrated regularly in English and also in Polish, Shona, Malayalam, Ukrainian and – of course – Latin. Here in Hanley, on Easter Day we wished one another a happy Easter in our own languages: we found 17 (seventeen) spoken by our congregation.

So for us, whatever problems there may be (and I don’t wish to ignore them) the diversity of our society is something to celebrate and cherish, not to fear or destroy.

But even so, the list did make think. In this extraordinary society, where we can communicate instantly with friends and family and those on the other side of the world , we may hardly know our neighbours. And as Jesus was asked – who is my neighbour?

It is too easy to fear, ignore, reject or despise those who are different from us, who have different opinions from us, or who even share different tastes from us.

Who is my neighbour? My neighbours are the Czech girl who is struggling to fund a funeral for her boyfriend who died suddenly, the Eritrean woman who will not give up in trying to get a visa so that she can marry her fiance in America, the Nigerian mother who is arranging baptism for her child in London where other members of the family live, the family from Etruria (in the parish), sat around the bedside of their father in the MacMillan hospice, the Zimabwean refugees who I celebrate Mass for once a month, the many who come daily to Sacred Heart to confess their sins, sharing sorrows and joys, the Ukrainian community, now mostly elderly, who settled here after the War, the many Filippinos who work in nursing homes and hospitals and contribute wonderful food for parish parties, the good hardworking and faithful parish ladies, Potteries born and bred, who have always lived near the Church and who organise the Jumble Sales once a fortnight and many more parish activities, the numerous Italians, who have been here for decades, and the Eastern Europeans, who have arrived fairly recently, the customers of the Coachmakers, where I can be spotted far too often, and of course the people in streets around: Muslims, Australians, ... and even a member of the BNP.

What variety. What diversity. All these are my neighbours. And that, I think,  is a good thing.

(to be published in the Staffordshire Evening Sentinel November 26th 2008)

Monday, November 24, 2008

Rome ... a few tips

I had a message this morning from a friend of a friend who is a married Catholic priest who is travelling to Rome with wife and two teenage children in the new year. I'd been suggested as someone who might have a few ideas about accomodation, and so on.

Well answer the email caught my enthusiasm, so I thought I might put my suggestions down here. Readers may wish to suggest additions, amendments or recommendations of their own.

I started my reply by pointing out that I am hardly an expert traveller to Rome, but I have been several times now, both privately and with parish groups, so I am only claiming to impart a little of what I have learnt.

So, here goes:

If you want a well located and (reasonably) inexpensive Hotel, then I would certainly recommend the Concilliazione, which is in the Borgo Pio. It is clean, comfortable and family run. It is not luxurious, but it is in an excellent location, in a side street with a lot of character which runs parallel with the Via della Concilliazione the main road up to St Peter's. It is only a few hundred metres from St Peter's Square. They only do breakfast, but there is a cafe (same family) next door and many eating places near by. It is not the cheapest part of Rome, partly because so many tourists pass through the area, but it is possible to eat a reasonable meal (but not a banquet) for under €10.

I think you would find it difficult to find a hotel which does an evening meal. When we took a parish pilgrimage to Rome we stayed at the Concilliazione and ate each evening in a restaurant along the same road. Not at all bad.

You can get contact details for the Concilliazione here:

There are lots of Web sites with other Rome hotels and reviews. One I have used is venere.com. If you explore these Web sites you'll discover that the cheaper hotels are either well out of the centre of Rome, or in the less attractive areas, such as around Termini train station. We stayed near there once with one of our lads (aged 20 at the time). Hotels are basic and functional - but cheap. If you are out all day and just use the hotel to sleep in no problem.

A much cheaper option is to look into convents which provide accomodation. There are many, some very well placed and often very comparable with hotels.

One web site that gives a list of several is here: http://www.santasusanna.org/comingToRome/convents.html

And one I would especially recommend is:

SUORE DOROTEE, Via del Gianicolo,4A, 00165 Rome
Tel. 06.6880.3349; Fax: 06.6880.3311; E-mail: casafatima@libero.it

I stayed there with a priest friend last year. It is basic, but the sisters are very helpful, and you can eat full board here if you wish. You can order meals day by day. The meals are very generous, served with wine (though not the best!) and I think quite Italian. We came to the opinion that in fact the lunches are a little better than the evening meals. The location is excellent (you can walk through a car park set into the hillside right through to St Peter's square) and the charges are very reasonable. When we left we also discovered that they have a man who happily will take you to the airport for a few euros - very much cheaper, more convenient and more reliable than other forms of transport. I'd recommend it.

A few more tips.

You can get to most of the main sites on foot, though the bus services are very good. You can't pay on the bus, and must buy tickets in advance from any shop showing the T Tabac sign. You get on at the back of the bus, stamp your ticket and it is valid for any number of buses for up to 70 minutes, I think. You will need to catch a bus if you go to the catacombs. You get a bus near St John Lateran. St Peter's Square is on the opposite side of the Tiber to the main tourist sites - if you wanted to be nearer to them, then a hotel near Termini would be the least costly option, but the distances are not very great, and there's lots to see on the way.

If you eat out in the evening, then there are very many good restaurants. I'm told that the area between the Colloseum and St John Lateran is particular popular with the locals. I have eaten there a couple of times and its pretty good - but then we also ate near Termini and had a great meal, so pretty good all round.

When you know when you are going, I strongly suggest that you write to the Uffizio Scavi and ask to join a tour of the Scavi - the excavations under St Peter's. They get booked up very quickly, but even so it sometimes possible just to turn up. These excavations are quite extraordinary. The entrance to the Scavi is to the left of St Peter's basilica (ask the Swiss Guards). Tickets are about €10.

If you are in Rome on a Sunday head for St Peter's just before Midday for the Angelus. I prefer this to the Audience on Wednesdays, as then you have quite a long wait - however you do stand a chance of getting a much better view of the Holy Father. Tickets are free for the audience (no need for tickets for the Angelus). You can order them in advance or go the office in St Peter's Sq - entrance on the right hand side - a couple of days before.

Information about both the Scavi and the General Audiences is on the Vatican Web site.

Scavi: http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/institutions_connected/uffscavi/documents/rc_ic_uffscavi_doc_gen-information_20040112_en.html

General Audiences:
(you can download a request form from here)

Saying Mass
This is surprisingly easy to arrange. Normally you just go along to the sacristy of a particular church and ask when you could say Mass (usually it would be for the next day). At St Peter's such privately arranged Masses have to be quite early in the morning (typically, 7.30am), but in the other Churches it is somewhat more flexible. As a priest travelling abroad, yoiu should have a
celebret (usually issued by the Vicar General) which is your 'passport' to say mass while on holiday, and proof or your bona fides.

Have a great time!

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Prejudice or what?

Much has been made of the amazing and historic election of Barack Obama as President of the United States. All the commentators marvel at the election of a black man to the most powerful political office in the world.

But as I saw a photo of him emerging from the gym yesterday morning it did pass through my mind whether an ugly and overweight person could ever be elected to the highest office.

I doubt it.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

The Story of Q

Another Question:

Thanks for your answer on the authors of the Gospels. Could you tell us about Q in the NT?

My answer:

Q is the first letter of the German word Quelle which means "Source" is the name given to a supposed source used by both Matthew and Luke in the composition of the Gospels. Again, the Jerome bible commentary, and for that matter any introduction to NT studies, will give a good overview of the 'Synoptic Problem'

The theory that there is such a thing as Q comes about in this way.

From the 19th Century, a little earlier, Biblical scholars began to trace similarities between the Synoptic Gospels (Mt, Mk and Lk) and came to the broad conclusion that Mt was not the first Gospel, but that both Lk and Mt make extensive use of Mark. This analysis was taken from comparing both word for word matches and differences and also the general structure of the Gospels. Of course, this is by no means a closed debate, but as I said before, most scholars would hold that Mark was written first and his Gospel provided a major source for both Mt and Lk.

Now if Mt and Lk did indeed both use Mk, how can we explain other passages which Mt and Lk share, but are not in Mk? As we have virtually no evidence, other than the text itself, the field is open for wide (and wild) speculation, and we can only judge this, based on what seems plausible and what the text itself does not contradict.

It is not impossible that Lk also had Mt to hand when he wrote, or even that Mt used Lk. But for various reasons both seem unlikely. It is very likely (as Lk himself indicates) that all three writers had a number of sources, some of which would include eye witnesses.

However, there is a broad critical consensus for giving the name Q to those passages which Mt and Lk share but are not in Mk. Bear in mind there is no other evidence of the existence of Q from Christian writers, no manuscripts of Q, no hint of an author or compiler. That there was ever such a thing is speculation, based solely on criticism of the text.

Furthermore, just because a text is in Mt and Lk but not in Mk could not be proof that it was in Q even if it existed. And perhaps what we call Q may actually be several different documents, not one Q. Some of the Q texts are almost identical in Mt and Lk, others vary much more widely - compare for example the versions of the Beatitudes and of the Lord's Prayer in Mt and Lk. They are strongly similar - yet have significant differences.

What might be significant, though, is that most of the Q verses are short sayings - no parables or miracles, and no passion or resurrection. If we were to construct Q, then it would not look anything like a Gospel. Some writers claim to discover particular theological themes or trends in the Q material. These observations do perhaps give weight to the idea that Q was a real document, and not just a convenient name for shared material.

So, at the end of this little introduction to Q, you can see that it is far from certain that such a thing ever existed. The idea of Q rests first on the idea of the priority of Mk, which is critical orthodoxy, but not a closed question. And even if that is correct, there are other plausible ways of explaining the Mt-Lk verses. However, Q is an accepted term in NT studies, and can be safely referred to - with suitable caution and explanation - both in academic work and in teaching.