Pilgrimage, forgiveness and arguing semantics

Pilgrimage, forgiveness and arguing semantics Mont Saint Michel featured on Songs of Praise.

When on holidays to France one of my favourite places is Mont Saint Michel, so I was glad to see it featured on last Sunday’s Songs of Praise (BBC 1).

Now a World Heritage Site, its modest origins were in the 8th Century and later it became a Benedictine monastery from the 10th Century. Most appealing was the barefoot pilgrimage across the sands that presenter Sean Fletcher joined as he chatted to the enthusiastic pilgrims – a dangerous journey without a guide, due to quick tides and quicksand.

I learned that there was a sister island, St Michael’s Mount, off Cornwall, where Benedictine monks were sent for training. This location, now in private hands, is still a pilgrimage destination.

Pilgrimage was an unlikely theme in Love Your Garden (UTV) on Wednesday of last week. Presenter Alan Titchmarsh and his team renovated a garden for twin sisters Betty and Rita Mills who had spent a lifetime looking after others and indeed each other in the parish attached to Salford Cathedral.

Now their fellow parishioners, friends and family were joining with the Titchmarsh team to give them a wonderfully relaxing garden, which included a Lourdes themed grotto to reflect their interest in pilgrimage. The sisters were declining physically but were still young at heart and highly spirited, and their emotional reaction to the garden transformation was priceless.


The show was marked by the best of human kindness from all involved.

“Human kindness is overflowing” – so goes the fitting opening theme song of Broken (BBC 1) thankfully back on form for its last episode, Tuesday of last week, and I suspect this was because the show’s creator Jimmy McGovern was the sole writer, as he was for the first two episodes.

This was a deeply moving episode and a masterful treatment of the theme of forgiveness – so many broken characters had much to forgive and much to be sorry for. Fr Michael’s personal crisis became quite intense as his disturbing flashbacks continued to haunt him during the consecration – at the high point of priesthood he felt like a hypocrite and an imposter.

As his counsellor Fr Peter pointed out he was quick to forgive others but slow to forgive himself.

Right through the show his relationship with his dying mother provided some of the most touching scenes and in this episode we got some emotional closure. In fact mothers and the theme of motherhood were central to the whole series.

Superb acting

Drama-wise the acting and direction were superb throughout – this episode portrayed the most tense inquest scene I’ve ever seen.

No show is perfect, and here the ending might have been a bit overly sentimental, the sledge hammer attacks on gambling machines were overdone and one could take issue with Fr Michael’s use of general absolution, but rarely has a TV drama taken religion, priesthood, prayer, sacrament and service so seriously. I’ll miss it.

I’ll also miss the host soon leaving TV3’s Tonight with Vincent Browne Show. He has provided some memorable TV moments, and this included last Thursday night’s show – a fractious debate on the Citizens’ Assembly and the Eighth Amendment.

As always, Caroline Simons and Maria Steen ably represented the pro-life position, but I thought Bríd Smith TD and Kate O’Connell TD didn’t do their side any favours.

At one stage Smith said to Steen “Shut up and listen to me” and muttered the other “sh” word.

Ms O’Connell said she had read everything written about ‘fatal foetal abnormality’ and when Simons was referencing some paper she didn’t seem familiar with she came out with this clanger: “If I haven’t read it, it’s not valid”!

In a possible Freudian slip she reckoned we were now at a place “where the views of the people can be framed”. Framed? Really? Shouldn’t that be ‘sought’?

It was telling to see some of them struggling awkwardly to describe the unborn child – Browne went from ‘foetus’ to ‘person’ to ‘entity’ to ‘child not yet born’.

Smith thought it was only a “potential human being” – right up to birth. Ms O’Connell allowed for it to called ‘child’, or ‘unborn child’, but twice described it as “the potential for a child”.

She had issues with abortion after viability, which she pegged at 24 weeks, but was for unrestricted access to abortion up to 12 weeks, even for ‘lifestyle’ reasons, as she thought the woman had ‘jurisdiction’ over her womb. Scary stuff.


Pick of the week
Saturday Matinee: A Man For All Seasons

RTĖ One, Saturday, July 15, 2.30pm
(1966) Paul Scofield. Dir: Fred Zinnemann. The story of Thomas More, who stood up to King Henry VIII.


EWTN, Saturday, July 15, 10pm
Iben Thranholm interviews Norwegian icon painter and art historian Solrunn Nes about the spiritual journey involved in creating icons.

Medieval Lives: Birth, Marriage, Death

BBC 4, Tuesday (night), July 18, 1.00am
A Good Death – Helen Castor explores how remembering loved ones shaped popular worship of the Middle