One of the biggest media stories of the week was the massacre at the mosques in New Zealand, and among the hours of coverage I heard a few items that hit the right tone.
I was impressed by the host’s interview with New Zealand’s ambassador on Saturday with Cormac Ó hEadhra (RTÉ Radio 1) last weekend and I liked Michael Comyn’s dignified approach on The Leap of Faith (RTÉ Radio 1) last Friday night. He decried hatred based on religion or ethnicity, and referenced all the religious people he has had on the show whose faith leads them to acts of compassion. These don’t often make the headlines in a media landscape that thrives on conflict, scandal and knee jerk reactions.
The main item on the show was a seasonal item on St Patrick. I would have preferred a reflective and critical look at the way we celebrate our Christian heritage while abandoning many features of Christian teaching and values but instead we got an interesting look at the historical Patrick.
In a way it was familiar territory – we know little enough about the historical figure, and there has been lots of spin from the beginning, as various factions, dioceses and areas claimed a piece of him, and perhaps there was a little too much of the iconoclasm as some of the familiar stories were knocked as massaging, fabrications, even deliberate lies. The guest historians rightly concentrated on Patrick’s own writings, especially the Confessio, which revealed a very human person with endearing vulnerabilities.
Last Sunday’s Songs of Praise (BBC1) also marked the occasion, in a more upbeat way. Katherine Jenkins presented the programme from Belfast’s Titanic quarter, where we were treated to various stories from the history of the ill-fated ship, including the inspiring tale of passenger and pastor John Harper who gave away his lifebelt to save someone else. (I was reminded of the emerging stories of those losing their lives in the defence of others in the mosques massacre.)
There was much talk of life in the shipyards when Harland & Wolff was thriving, even of how there were prayer and Bible groups in the workplace and of how the company built some “wee tin churches” , some of which are still in use.
There was nothing about the discrimination and sectarianism associated with the shipyard, which felt like an obvious omission, but then for the saint’s feast day maybe it was appropriate to leave it out for now to move beyond that and leave it to history – we have enough dangerous divisions and destructive identity politics. Bringing people together was the mission of the Titanic Quarter’s innovative Dock Café, where instead of items being priced there’s an honesty box for customers to pay what they think is fair – definitely going to have a bite there on my next trip to Belfast.
It was news to me that the hymn ‘What a Friend We Have in Jesus’ was originally a touching prayer for his mother written by Banbridge man Joseph Scriven, found after his death and later set to music. It was one of the many songs featured from a variety of churches in Northern Ireland – that and ‘Be Thou My Vision’ were my favourites.
‘Be Thou My Vision’ also featured on the St Patrick’s Day Mass on RTÉ1 which came from the beautiful St Patrick’s Church in Strandhill, Co. Sligo.
It started with an introduction to the Christian heritage of the area the ‘noble inheritance of a pilgrim people’, with a topical reference to ‘the gifts a newcomer can bring’.
Obviously much thought went into the blessing of the shamrock, and among the hymns I loved the rendition of ‘Peace Prayer’ composed by Liam Lawton.
Also on RTÉ1 that Sunday morning Celebrate St Patrick was an enjoyable concert from St Patrick’s Cathedral in Armagh, with a variety of impressive choirs singing some of the familiar songs associated with the saint, and yes, ‘Be Thou My Vision’ featured yet again – no complaints about that!
The piece that stood out most for me was ‘Because of You’ sung by the Voices of Ireland, a group conducted by concert producer John Anderson.
The documentary interludes from key locations in Armagh and Down were enjoyable and informative, presented in an amiable and easy going way by Graham Little, striking an appropriately positive tone for the day that was in it.
Pick of the week
UNPLANNED – BEHIND THE SCENES
EWTN, Sunday, March 24, 9.30pm, also Tuesday, March 26, 11.30 am
About the film, Unplanned, the true story of former Planned Parenthood clinic director Abby Johnson’s conversion and journey to becoming a pro-life advocate.
EWTN, Wednesday, March 27, 5.30 pm
Richard Moore, founder of Children in the Crossfire, shares his story of adversity and forgiveness – he was blinded as a child by a plastic bullet during the Troubles.
BBC4, Thursday, March 28, 8 pm
Dr Thomas Asbridge challenges the popular misconception that the medieval crusades sparked a clash of civilisations between Islam and the West that continues to this day.