A good range of faith topics from RTÉ

TV and Radio with Brendan O’Regan

It wasn’t exactly your usual Lenten approach but Fr Michael Cusack, a Redemptorsist from Dundalk, received plenty of publicity for questioning the idea of giving money to beggars as there was a danger this would be feeding drug habits. His approach was more nuanced than the headlines suggested so it was good that he got a chance to explain his position, which he did Tuesday of last week on Morning Ireland (RTÉ Radio 1) and Lunchtime (Newstalk).

He was in favour of helping the poor but preferred to do it through local agencies dedicated to this work, or through person-to-person assistance that didn’t just consist of giving money. He had unpleasant experiences with some aggressive beggars and found that elderly parishioners were being harassed when dropping into the church.

On the Wednesday’s Breakfast Show (Newstalk) I was moved by the plight of a worker from the Philippines working in Ireland. He had been messed around by an employer and was now working illegally in Ireland and for well below the minimum wage. He had watched his mother’s funeral on Skype and that was also the only way he could communicate with his children. He became quite emotional when speaking of them – as soon as he could he would go home to hug them. As it was, his wages here were helping to educate the children at home. You’d imagine there could be a more humanitarian approach, some flexibility while his situation was being regularised.

Meanwhile, one of the biggest religious events recently was the Divine Mercy Conference in Dublin. Nationwide (RTÉ 1, Wednesday) devoted a programme to the event. Presenter Mary Kennedy gave some useful background into this devotion, while Patricia Keane, a humanitarian activist elaborated on the good work. We learned how the prayers are dedicated to people’s needs and we heard appreciation from the Whelan family who were grateful for the prayers for their son Conor when he was ill.

Chairperson Don Devaney drew attention to the presence of youth groups Youth 2000 and Pure in Heart, we got the story of his vocation from Fr Joe McDonald and a young Catholic girl talked about how she found the event “so warm” and “so peaceful”. We heard all too briefly from Sr Briege McKenna, still going strong, and from a young man, Phillip Ryan, who guides Irish pilgrims in Medjugorge. He spoke of our identity crisis since the Celtic Tiger saying that there’s “no negative equity in Jesus, no heart not worth saving”.

There was related coverage of a prayer group in Monasterevan that was lucky enough to have renowned soprano Celine Byrne singing for them. Byrne described how prayer acts as a great stress relief in her life. Programmes like this show that those who take broad swipes at RTÉ for being anti-Catholic need be more nuanced and more specific in their criticism.

On a related matter, The Media Show (RTÉ Radio 1) last Sunday night, reported on a survey that showed the Irish had relatively low trust in the media. The vox pop and studio discussion raised issues like media siding with the establishment, pushing agendas, reporting too much on celebrities and not enough on the serious news stories. There was also a useful discussion of the role of opinion polls, with suggestions that the media use them, as journalist Pat Leahy said, to provide evidence-based coverage, but there was also an acknowledgement by Dr Jane Suiter of DCU that they could skew public debate and voting patterns.

Finally, The Meaning of Life with Gay Byrne featured Dr Rowan Williams, former Archbishop of Canterbury. In a relaxed and appealing interview, Dr Williams came across as a modest, thoughtful and prayerful Christian who had no hesitation in declaring his confident belief in the basics of the Christian faith. Originally Presbyterian, he had joined the Anglican Communion and had eventually become its leader.

I’d like to have heard more about the implications of Anglicanism being state-established, but he didn’t find he had to be more compliant because of that. In fact, he was highly critical of how Western intervention in the Middle East “unleashed predictable fury” and lamented the atrocities currently inflicted on Christians, and other minorities, in that region.

When asked what he’d say to God when he died he simply replied, in the words of the familiar prayer “Glory be to the Father…”