One of the least endearing aspects of modern media culture is the cult of celebrities. Make ‘em dance, drop them on remote islands, pop them into quiz shows. It’s not the worst idea to send them on a pilgrimage.
And so it was with Pilgrimage: Road to Rome (BBC 2) a new series that started last Friday night. Like its predecessor, Road to Santiago, it features a mixed bag of celebs, with varying attitudes to faith. Les Dennis is an actor and comedian whose mother was Catholic until she gave up the faith when the local church refused to baptise her baby born out of wedlock. Now Les doesn’t know what to believe in but seems to be open to inspiration.
While some of the participants can be irritating, he’s pretty low key, which is welcome.
Dana flies the flag for Catholicism, and was introduced as a Eurovision winner, with no mention of her roles as MEP. There was a touching moment as she explained how Catholics honour Our Lady, which had an emotional effect on Les as he remembered that his mother had sung ‘Ave Maria’ in Liverpool Cathedral.
Mehreen Baig (of Walks of Life, reviewed last week), is a practicing Muslim, and while she realises she mightn’t match up to the strictest standards (e.g. not wearing head covering) she does pray, fast and abstain from things like alcohol and sex before marriage.
Lesley Joseph is a non-practicing Jew, says she’s not sure what God is, doesn’t know what she’s supposed to believe, but finds it emotional to be walking in the path followed by so many others.
Greg Rutherford is an Olympian, a lapsed Jehovah’s Witness and is probably the fittest of the group, with a cheery and helpful disposition.
Katy Brand is a comedian, who was very much into evangelical Christianity until she went to university. Now she doesn’t know what to think about God, doesn’t not believe, is not an atheist, is not sneery towards religious belief and finds it easier to define what she’s not than what she is.
Stephen K. Amos is yet another comedian (why so many?), is wondering and questioning and sees the potential for this journey to be a light for future chapters in his life.
Finally, Brendan Cole is a dancer and self-avowed atheist who likes noise – he said “silence kills me”.
The pilgrimage route itself is impressive – beautiful scenery in the Alps and some intriguing historical background. It dates back to the 10th Century, and features characters like St Bernard (of the mountain pass and the famous rescue dogs), Archbishop Sigeric (‘The Serious’) whose pilgrimage to Rome seems to have been the original inspiration for the route, and 14th-Century St Rocco who gave up all his wealth to go on pilgrimage and tend to those with the plague.
Maybe these were the celebs of their day, though I suspect their impact and legacy will last longer than the eclectic crew now walking in their footsteps.
I’m unsure about the impact of last week’s controversy on school divestment – a knotty issue with a conflict of rights. Tuesday of last week Today With Seán O’Rourke (RTÉ Radio 1) featured a useful discussion between theology lecturer Dr Tom Finnegan and Paddy Monaghan of Educate Equality. Monaghan didn’t help his case by using loaded terms like “indoctrination” and “segregation” to describe what went on currently in Catholic schools. He favoured teaching about religion rather than faith formation within normal class time. Dr Finnegan supported a plurality in models of school patronage, defended the primary rights of parents and even spoke of some schools having a ‘duty’ to divest.
Wednesday’s Drivetime (RTÉ Radio 1) returned to the issue, with David Quinn of the Iona Institute in discussion with Paul Rowe of Educate together – a less fractious discussion. Quinn was in favour of a certain amount of divestment but also wanted parent choice to be primary. He thought the controversy in the North Dublin area was due to poor communication on all sides. Rowe didn’t want to take choice away from any Catholic parents but thought communications from the Catholic schools to parents was irresponsible, inaccurate and misleading. Yet he showed what differences there would be in Educate Together schools, where Christmas would be marked as part of various ‘winter festivals’.
I felt the discussion showed that there could be reasonable solutions that most involved could live with, while respecting diversity and choice.
Pick of the week
Mass For Palm Sunday
RTÉ1, Sunday, April 14, 11 am
With a gathered congregation from Lucan parish in Co. Dublin, in collaboration with Trócaire.
Moving Statues – The Summer of 1985
RTÉ1, Monday, April 15, 9.35 pm
In 1985, thousands of people gathered at grottos in the belief that they would witness statues physically move before their eyes.
Solemn Liturgy For Good Friday
RTÉ1, Good Friday, 3 pm
From the Chapel of St Patrick’s College, Maynooth, Co. Kildare, the celebrant is Rev. Fr Thomás Surlis, with the Maynooth College Chapel Choir.