It’s quite a while since I saw a documentary as moving and impressive as Ministry of Hope, RTÉ’s new series on the work of lay chaplains.
The programme concentrated on Margaret Sleator in the Mater Hospital, Catherine Black in Shelton Abbey open prison and Philip McKinley, Church of Ireland chaplain at DCU. Margaret Slater’s work was catering to people of all faiths and none, offering reassurance, hope, silence and prayer on request.
There were plenty of prayers from the family of Margaret O’Keefe, a young mother in a coma – these scenes were the most touching and emotional. Her husband Sean and son Jack were regularly at her bedside, and their faith remained strong even at the most difficult of times.
At DCU, Philip McKinley worked at the new Interfaith Centre, but mostly with students of minority faiths. He found that Irish students from traditional faith backgrounds weren’t getting involved as much though the previews of the second episode suggested this was about to change.
The son of a Protestant minister, he felt it was ironic that he had eventually become a chaplain, as he would have thought at 18 years of age that this was not an attractive career path. Significantly he found a need to get away from it all once a month to visit his spiritual advisor, Fr John Byrne at Orlagh Retreat Centre.
Catherine Black was proud to be a Catholic chaplain but worked with many prisoners who had no involvement in religion.
Much of her work was being of practical help. Very much in favour of prisoners getting a second chance, she was also conscious of the sufferings of victims. She stressed that being a good listener was an essential part of the work and we saw her putting that into practice.
Also it was wonderful to see the prisoners training ‘buddy dogs’ to work with children who had disabilities. Kudos to all who worked on the programme.
The Leap of Faith (RTÉ Radio 1), with Michael Comyn, made a welcome return without any fanfare last Friday night, with an in-depth discussion on whether religion causes war and conflicts.
Actually, at the start the focus was on people being persecuted because of their religious identity – e.g. the Rohingya fleeing from Myanmar. Barbara Walsh of the Glencree Centre for Reconciliation warned against scapegoating and urged us to look at underlying issues when there were seemingly religious conflicts. Jude Lal Fernando of the Irish School of Ecumenics wanted to avoid generalising and favoured dialogue as did Walsh, so we could see the humanity in ‘the other’. Colm O’Gorman of Amnesty thought it was a tragedy when religion takes us away from humanity rather than towards it, but all agreed in the end that religion had the potential to act as a unifying force.
O’Gorman referred to “the dressing up of an act that is the violent killing of another human being which is obviously worrying on lots and lots of levels”.
He criticised how “we have to ‘other’ the person against whom we are going to offend in some way, so we need to make them ‘not of us’”. Spot on, but then I thought isn’t that exactly what he does when promoting easier access to abortion?
That issue surfaced in really worrying ways last week, especially in reports of pro-choice bullying leading to Dublin hotels cancelling pro-life meetings – including a meeting that would give voice to a group of women affected by rape – ironically in an initiative called ‘Ending the Silence’.
Tellingly, unlike the related Hook controversy, media coverage was low key. Last Friday the women in question were interviewed on the Pat Kenny Show (Newstalk) and they were hugely impressive – moderate, articulate and convincing. Kenny gave them a courteous interview but did press them on their attitude to women who had made a different choice, a question they handled very well.
However there was no mention of the hotel cancellations, effectively attempts to silence them.
On that evening’s Last Word (Today FM) a false equivalence was created between these high profile cancellations of major public meetings and a few local Repeal the Eighth meetings being cancelled by local community halls.
Presenter Matt Cooper seemed concerned that free speech was being stifled on both sides. He said that a Life Institute spokesperson was due on but wasn’t answering the phone. Hmm…couldn’t they have got someone else, for balance?
Pick of the week
Pagans and Pilgrims: Britain’s Holiest Places
BBC 4, Tuesday, October 10, 7.30 pm
Uncovering the stories and rich history behind many Britain’s most sacred places.
QUEEN OF HEAVEN
EWTN Wednesday, October 11, 9 pm
How Mary revived the Faith in France by appearing before a peasant girl named Bernadette in Lourdes in 1858.
Ministry of Hope
RTÉ 1 Thursday, October 12, 10.15 pm
Last episode of this series about the work of lay chaplains.