Better leaders? Now that’s a leap of faith

Better leaders? Now that’s a leap of faith Sarah MacDonald with her godson in East Timor, Natalizio, and his parents, who featured on Doc on One (RTÉ Radio One). Photo: © RTÉ

There have been quite a few changes on radio for the autumn season, with presenters moving around in a kind of media musical chairs, but some things stay the same.

And so I was glad to see the recent return of The Leap of Faith (RTÉ Radio One) to its Friday night slot, with Michael Comyn still at the helm.

Last Friday’s episode ranged across several upbeat topics, and boy do we need upbeat at the moment.  Comyn interviewed Paul Vallely who has written a book  Philanthropy, From Aristotle to Zuckerberg. Many philanthropists, he said, were motivated by their religious faith, a “real driver” for their donating.

Not all philanthropy involved giving money away to the poor (only one-fifth, he estimated) – much of it involved rich people funding various institutions like universities. He didn’t favour a cynical view – some suggested it involved tax dodging, but he pointed out that these people were still giving away lots of money rather than finding ways to keep it.

He did believe, however, that some used it to consolidate their position in society. He also included in the definition of philanthropy those who, like Bono and Bob Geldof, use their celebrity status as currency to draw attention to favoured causes.

There were a few issues I’d like to have seen explored but they weren’t, e.g. what happens when rich people donate to dubious and divisive causes, or when their money is used to skew the democratic process, ensuring anything but a level playing field?


Then there’s the source – if money is accumulated thanks, say, to slavery, is it so tainted that it should be refused? The recent toppling of certain statues would suggest that consolidation of positions can be short lived.

More personally immediate was the story of Secret Street Tours, a Dublin initiative whereby formerly homeless people give tours of Dublin which shows a different side to the city, more than the usual tourist fare. Comyn spoke to two of the guides, Shane and Kenny, and I was impressed by how articulate and reflective they were.

Both were, to varying degrees, well disposed towards religious faith, and had positive things to say about experience of the Capuchin Day Centre, the services offered by Fr Peter McVerry and the Salvation Army.  They were strong on hope and gratitude, and Comyn showed a genuine interest in their improving situation – “you have a voice now”.

RTÉ’s Doc on One series has provided a voice to so many people over the years and has built up an impressive archive. Last Saturday’s episode, ‘Timor Leste: Coming of Age’, followed the story of journalist Sarah MacDonald as she returned to that country, formerly East Timor, after a 20-year absence.

On her original visit she had become godparent to a baby, Natalizio, and was going to meet him again. After initial communication she had lost contact after she returned to Ireland and felt guilty about that. She had been distracted by health issues resulting from side effects of anti-malaria medication.

Back then East Timor had been regularly in the news over here – it had been taken over by Indonesia after the Portuguese colonists left and this was followed by war as the East Timorese struggled for independence. It was good to be reminded of those days and we heard again about infamous massacres in cemeteries and in front of churches.


The history of the country was brought up to date – it was the first newly-sovereign state of the 21st Century and MacDonald noticed several changes for the better. She found that there were still huge social and economic problems yet reckoned that the future was “bright but fragile”.

She found the people still loyal to their Catholic Faith – the Church was the only institution that had stood up for them in the times of oppression and occupation.

The reunion with her godson was touching but was somewhat low key and anti-climactic – after all, Natalizio had been a baby last time she had seen him. Now she was determined to take up her responsibilities as godmother if he ever came to Ireland.

Finally, I watched the full Presidential Debate last Wednesday morning and while it held my attention it was anything but presidential – both were underwhelming and often irritating. How is it, in a country of such talent, that better leaders don’t find their way to the top?


Pick of the week
The 13th Day
EWTN, Sunday, October 11, 9 pm

A dramatisation based on the true story of three shepherd children from the village of Fatima, who experienced numerous visions, prophesies, and warnings from the Blessed Virgin Mary.

The Meaning of Life
RTÉ Radio One, Sunday, October 11, 10.30 pm

Joe Duffy interviews Catherine Corless, local historian who investigated the Tuam babies case.

The Confessors
RTÉ One, Monday, October 12, 9.35 pm

A selection of Irish priests, urban, rural and chaplains discuss the sins they’ve heard that have impacted and stayed with them. They also discuss why they have stayed within the Church.