Thursday, 27 June 2013

The LCP again

I blogged about the Liverpool Care Pathway for the Dying a while ago (Parts 1, 2 and 3 can be found here) and basically concluded that in itself it wasn't necessarily bad, but that it's application was likely to be problematic at best.
It seems that the recent inquiry (as reported by the BBC) highlights some of these problems more specifically. The fact that there is a financial incentive to use the LCP is an obviously disastrous initiative likely to lead to patients being innapproriately placed on the pathway and, in some cases, deliberately euthanised.
The comments of the medical student is also merits consideration. She says that "in medical school we focus so much on saving lives that dying is put to one side". I constantly read headlines about prevent deaths from cancer, heart disease, diabetes, you name it, we want to prevent deaths from it. But as finite creatures, death is an inescapable part of reality. As Christians, we know that it is our ordinary route of entry to eternal life. It is bizarre (or perhaps not) that the heady combination of atheistic humanism and aggressive secularism we now see is not sure whether to eliminate suffering by preventing death or to eliminate suffering by eliminating all those who suffer. While we live in a world which labours under the consequences of original sin and is in a state of journeying towards perfection, we experience both moral and physical evil and therefore neither of these contradicting so-called solutions can achieve its aim. The desire to do so shows that the problem is still the same: the desire to ignore our limited nature and be gods without God.

Why? - Sharon Dirckx

Sharon Dirckx is a friend of a friend and because of this I have met her a few times. She is, like me, a scientist and is currently a tutor and lecturer at the Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics. So when I heard that she was writing a book about suffering, I was interested to read it. Apparently it is well up on the Christian bestseller lists.
The first thing I would say about this book is that it is extremely readable. I read it from cover to cover at one sitting (maybe 2 hours), and I don't remember the last time I did that. I have to say that I was a little disappointed when I got to the end, that the book didn't go into more depth. Upon reflection, I realised that I was probably not the intended audience and that this book is not intended for people will a fairly well-developed spiritual life and a certain level of intellectual formation. If you have read and understood Salvific doloris (or at least attempted to understand it) this book will leave you cold. It is a book written for people who are who find themselves crying out to an unknown God in the midst of personal suffering, for people who won't or can't let God in and for those who have taken a few steps towards God but don't then know where to go.
However, this book does look at questions which are commonly asked about suffering as a way of disproving God's existence. Dirckx begins with the time-honoured 'If God exists, then why is there so much evil and suffering in the world?' and moves onto discussing whether this God actually cares. She compares Christianity, Atheism, Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism in their attitudes towards suffering and (not unexpectedly) concludes that only Christianity has anything sensible to say on the subject.
I don't think I'd recommend giving this book to someone who was suffering and starting to ask the bigger questions. It is, after all, written from a Protestant perspective and while it is general enough for this not to be an issue there were a few bits which I didn't think were particularly helpful (and one short part which I don't think is handled very well at all). Having said that, if you knew someone who was in this position it might be a good book to read. The question and answer format, as well as the 'human element' in the form of stories, in addition to the way 'popular' answers to difficult questions are dismantled might well be a helpful basis to supportive apostolate.
As I said, for a person who already has a relationship with God, practises their faith and has already reflected deeply on their own suffering this book would not be useful on a personal level, except to remind one that not everyone is in the same place as you, and that very small steps are necessary when leading another by the hand.

Speaking in tongues: That new biography of Pope Francis I mentioned is a project very close to my heart. Currently our blog operates in English and Spanish but, who knows? perhaps one day it will be in many more languages. As a small step towards this today we released an original production: Meet Pope Francis (in 4 minutes). This video is available in a total of 15 languages including Urdu and Arabic, because we haven't forgotten the persecuted Church (and also because Canva Ma's animation is so cool that we want everyone to be able to enjoy it!). The links for this are on Catholic Link's page.

Please, please, please share this video.

Friday, 21 June 2013

Remembering Monseñor Alcides

Monseñor, with his serious face on.
Archbishop Emeritus Alcides Mendoza Castro died one year ago yesterday. I was privileged to know him when I lived in Peru and attended mass at his home outside Lima at least weekly. Fluent in Spanish, German, and Quechua, nearly fluent in French, Italian, Portugueuse, he also spoke a fair amount of English. He was ordained priest the same year as Benedict XVI, whom he met at the Second Vatican Council (where he sat next to one Albino Luciani), but unlike the Pope Emeritus he attended as a bishop. In fact, at just 34 when the first session opened he was the youngest of the Council Fathers, having been ordained bishop when he was a mere 30 years old. He discerned his own vocation to the priesthood when he was 7 and was therefore inclined to look on those who entered community or seminary at 18 as late vocations! 

The young seminarian with his mother.
The seminary would not accept him when his mother took him there at the age of 12, because the newly appointed Bishop of Ayacucho had not yet arrived from Spain (it was 1939, after all). However, the young Alcides was advised that the Bishop would have to stop for petrol in his home town when he passed through to take possession of his diocese. Nothing daunted, the small boy waited there every day until March 1941 when the Bishop drove past without stopping! However he was forced to turn back by an incident on the motorway. Alcides abandoned his toy cars in order to seek him out, spent the afternoon talking to him and eventually took him home, informing his horrified mother that Monseñor would be staying the night with them, responding to her remonstrances with a calm, "He's my friend."

As first Bishop of Abancay, Monseñor Alcides discovered that there were 200,000 faithful in his diocese, but only 8 priests and 5 nuns. He had no house and embarked on his epsicopal ministry with only a table and 6 borrowed chairs. As there were no good roads in this mountainous region he travelled on horseback, covering 20,000 km in 9 years. At one point, seeking to raise some much-needed money to build an orphanage and a seminary, he considered competing in (it must be said, an undoubtedly rather dangerous) road race from Abancay to Cuzco. He felt there was a good chance that he could win the cash prize and persuaded Volkswagen to donate a car for the cause, but was denied permission by Rome who said simply, 'we do not have maniacs for bishops'. 

I could go on an on about Monseñor. There was always a twinkle in his eye, he loved to tell stories and jokes and his house was full of the photos to illustrate them. He was devoted to Mary and had a miniture reconstruction of the Grotto of Lourdes in his little garden (complete with a working fountain). He was a loving father and shepherd to all his spiritual children but, above all, a wise and holy priest. His rule of life was, "Eucharist, Mary, humility" which he often repeated to us. I loved Monseñor a great deal and I miss him a lot.
If you can read Spanish, and can get hold of a copy, I recommend the excellent Al Servicio de Dios: Memorias de Monseñor Alcides Mendoza, interviewed by Carmen Elena Villa, published by Círculo de Encuentro, Lima. The photos I have included here (apart from the first) can be found in that book.

The oldest and youngest bishops at the Second Vatican Council: Archbishop Alfonso Carinci on his 101st birthday and Bishop Alcides Mendoza, aged 34.

Friday, 14 June 2013

A new biography of Pope Francis have announced a forthcoming animation about the life of Pope Francis. I have been privileged to see the pre-release version and I have to say it is excellent. At just under 5 minutes it presents brief biographical facts of Jorge Mario Bergoglio's life with a clearly spiritual perspective in terms of the importance of prayer, trust in God and the way in which these enable one to respond to God's Plan.

This is most definitely a team effort on the part of Catholic Link (yes, this is a shameless plug) but special credit is due to Canva Ma, whose eye-catching animation is a delight to behold. The video is in the final stages of production (translation into over 10 languages), but in the mean time, a trailer (which gives absolutely nothing away) can be viewed on their website. Entertaining and informative, this is a definite must see for anyone involved with youth apostolate, but also for everyone else.

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Deo gratias! At long last we have a bishop!

Hopes Newton Broadhurst 2011-01-13 cropped.jpgMy daily VIS email hasn't arrived yet, but a kind friend pointed out the Catholic Herald report containing the good news that finally we have a bishop in East Anglia. Bishop Alan Hopes was formerly one of the Auxiliaries of Westminster.

I try to avoid reading comments on articles but I couldn't resist today (in the hope of finding out something more about the new man). There is the usual mix of completely conflicting nonsense, so I will do what I should have done in the first place and listen to what he says instead. Having such a boring name undoubtedly makes him the ideal candidate to follow in the footsteps of Bishops Alan Clark, Peter Smith and Michael Evans. In any case it is good to have a shepherd at last.

May God bless him in his new ministry and grant him the grace and wisdom to govern this diocese in these challenging times.

Monday, 3 June 2013

Credit where it's due

I often complain about the questionable practices in my parish. I often feel that the parish is a little island, cut off from the Universal Church. As a geographically large, rural parish at the farthest edge of a diocese without a bishop, which is in the care of a Religious Congregation rather than a diocesan priest we sometimes seem to "belong" only to ourselves. Never was this more evident than the week Pope Emeritus Benedict abdicated and didn't even get a mention.
I was, therefore, delighted that yesterday we participated in the Holy Hour called for by Pope Francis. It was fairly well attended (I was the youngest person there, but it was a busy Sunday in the parish, with an extra mass laid on for First Communion, and the village, with Open Gardens in aid of the Anglican parish), certainly there were more people there than just the usual suspects.
It was very reverent, there was incense (not seen in this Church since circa. 1995 when we ran out of altar servers) and we sang Tantum ergo (in Latin, a thing unheard of). If there was slightly too much 'Holy Hour input' for my taste, at least none of it was inappropriate, and I recognise that many people are not used to 60 minutes of silent prayer. There was Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament at a time when the vast majority of people were not at work and therefore able to attend.
The seemingly-Trappist Confirmation group, to my delight, broke their silence yesterday evening to say that they would prefer to have the organ than a guitar to accompany the hymns at the Confirmation mass next month and no-one requested Shine, Jesus, Shine. All in all, things are looking up a little.