I’ve often wondered why Ireland doesn’t have a dedicated high-profile Christian arts festival. There was plenty of arts content during the Eucharistic Congress and the World Meeting of Families, but an annual event would be in order. A few years ago Glenealy, Co. Wicklow, had its MAD (‘Make a Difference’) festival thanks to the late Tim Philips and it was wonderful, but now there’s a gap in the market.
These thoughts were prompted by last Sunday’s Songs of Praise (BBC1) which paid a visit to Spring Harvest, one of the UK’s most prominent Christian festivals, now in its 40th year.
Participants described it as a spiritual “boot camp”, a life-giving place, a place where you can learn a lot about faith and get to know God.
It was good to see songwriter and worship leader Graham Kendrick still going strong – he credited Spring Harvest with inspiring his ministry from the early days, though his performance of his song ‘Meekness and Majesty’ came from a different church location.
Surely there must have been enough performances at the festival to fill the programme without showing songs recorded elsewhere. There were however some good stories of faith-inspired people who, like Kendrick, credited Spring Harvest for their inspiration – for example a young couple who helped community relations and social problems on a one-to-one basis in a Manchester suburb.
Of all the songs I particularly liked ‘Knowing You Jesus’ which I hadn’t heard before – “all I once thought gain I have counted loss”.
In the West we’re blessed to have relatively stable countries, with the opportunity to have arts festivals. In the developing world the problems can be more basic and pressing, with the focus often on survival. Tuesday of last week saw the return of What in the World? RTE’s series about the developing world.
The opening episode focused on Somalia – deemed a ‘failed state’ ravaged by war, poverty, hunger, climate change, drought and Al Shabaab an Islamist terrorist group.
It was disturbing to watch ordinary people trying to go about their lives under such conditions. Worst scene of all was the aftermath of a suicide bomb that killed 600 in Mogadishu. Also graphic but with a happier ending was the scene of an emergency Caesarean – the mother had been told her foetus was dead, but was thrilled when the baby was alive on delivery.
Much of the documentary was shot in a camp for internally displaced citizens – some had been there for over seven years. It was heart-breaking to hear mothers telling of their children who had died, of malnutrition or cholera or other ailments.
A government minister said the main problem in the country was lack of clean water and it was unnerving watching young men drinking from a very dirty-looking river.
Documentary maker Peadar King took a low key approach and didn’t make a big deal of his own presence. I would have liked more political context along with the painful personal stories, but it was good to see the Trócaire label on some of the supplies.
Channel 4’s Unreported World series also brings us stories from the developing world, though the reporter/presenter tends to be much more prominent.
In last Friday’s episode, conveyed empathy in the story of young girls in prison in Madagascar, described as one off the poorest countries in the world, where adults can be held in jail for five years without trial, with under 18s potentially incarcerated for three years.
The programme went for a subjective approach, focusing on just one teenage girl, Saholy, who had been accused of petty theft, which she denied.
The programme makers inserted themselves into the story and helped to locate her parents who, in a faraway village, weren’t aware of their daughter’s plight. Apparently some parents disown their jailed children, but Saholy’s parents came to visit her and there was a tearful reunion. It was a moving event, though I’m always uneasy at the intrusiveness of the camera on such occasions.
They confronted Saholy’s employer who had accused her but not informed her parents of her whereabouts (they made out this was the girl’s own wishes) – in fact, even as the parents visited her in jail, the employer, a doctor, said that Saholy was in church! Unfortunately we were told at the end that she was still in jail without trial.
No happy ending there.
Pick of the week
MARCH FOR LIFE IN ROME
EWTN, Saturday, May 18, 2 pm
Live coverage of the pro-life event from Rome.
QUEST FOR SHAKESPEARE
EWTN, Sunday, May 19, 9 am
Host Joseph Pearce examines Shakespeare’s Catholic motives in Hamlet.
HOW TO BUILD A CATHEDRAL
BBC4, Tuesday night, 1.50 am
Architectural historian Jon Cannon goes in search of the clues that shed light on how our medieval forebears were able to build the wonders of their world.