With Covid-19 dominating the news and current affairs programming it is usually only very bad news that knocks it off the top spot.
And so it was last Friday, especially in the British media, when news was announced of the death of Prince Phillip, the Duke of Edinburgh. It was wall-to-wall coverage in a way we rarely see. Even that national institution that is Gardeners’ World was bumped off its Friday night slot on BBC Two, while BBC Four programmes were suspended that same night. However, BBC was then inundated with complaints about the blanket coverage. English republicans, estimated at around 25% of the British public on Ayesha Hazarika (Times Radio, Saturday), kept a fairly low-profile as the tributes flooded in and media outlets grabbed anyone they could find from the relatively large pool of royal watchers.
Cardinal Vincent Nichols gave a gracious assessment on Times Radio Breakfast last Saturday morning. He had met the duke, including while they waited together for the arrival of Pope Benedict XVI at Edinburgh airports for the papal visit in 2010. He found him to be a man of wit, spirit and forthright opinion. Presenter Luke Wilson quoted Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby’s reference to the prince’s “outstanding example of Christian service” and Cardinal Nichols suggested that “the inspiration in his life was of his faith”. He believed this faith would support the family now and thought that the comparative privacy afforded by Covid-19 restrictions on the funeral would help the royal family, with its “complexity of dynamics”, to find “healing and fresh resourcefulness”. The cardinal also referenced the influence of the duke’s mother, Princess Alice, who eventually became a nun in the Greek Orthodox Church and devoted herself to serving the poor.
Her unusual story, which was new to me, inspired an intriguing episode of The Crown (Netflix) and another touching episode featured the duke finding a renewed interest in his faith when he visited a group of Anglican clergy in retreat because they were getting burnt out. It’s a sign of our media saturated age that many know of the duke, or at least that particular and not always appealing portrayal of him, mainly through the Netflix series and I suspect it will become ‘trending’ again.
At home, sadly, the story that pushed coronavirus most consistently down the news priorities was the awful street violence in the North. Those of us who remember the ‘Troubles’ will have experienced the revival of some very unpleasant memories. “Blessed are the Peacemakers”, says the risen Lord, and responsible leaders have been urging calm. But some media commentators have suggested the influence of irresponsible leaders, sinister figures in the background that are using and manipulating the young people involved. Others commentators have called it “recreational rioting” and there also seems much truth in that. Worst of all is the sectarian nature of the violence, with, ironically, the barriers of the ‘peace line’ between the communities, becoming a particular flashpoint.
These developments were a serious worry to clergy from both communities in the North. On Sunday (BBC Radio 4) Bishop Noel Treanor of Down and Connor expressed his concerns and called for “new, inventive and creative steps” to support the Good Friday Agreement. Rev. David Bruce, Presbyterian moderator, thought the duke’s death might have a calming influence out of respect but he feared this would just be temporary. On Sunday Sequence (BBC Radio Ulster) Fr Gary Donegan CP and Rev. Norman Hamilton, former Presbyterian moderator, were pretty much of one mind on the matter. Variously they emphasised the important role played by clergy and community leaders on the ground engaging with disaffected young people who might never see the inside of a church. They wanted Church leaders to be in support of such initiatives, not standing back, protecting the institution and being afraid of making mistakes. Further, political leaders need to tone down their language.
As I was writing an early draft of this column I got a notification from my RTÉ News app that broadcaster Shay Healy had died. I really liked him as a presenter, partly I think because he didn’t take himself too seriously, partly because he was also a writer of funny songs (I dabble myself!) and also because he kept on working with dignity even as his Parkinson’s disease made that very difficult for him.
Am I imagining things or are prominent people dying more regularly these days?
Pick of the week
All or Nothing – Sr Clare Crockett
EWTN Sunday April 18, 9pm
When young Sr Clare Crockett’s life was tragically cut short, her talents, infectious personality and deep love of God inspired people on three continents.
BBC One Monday April 19, 7.35pm
Clive Myrie investigates allegations of racism in the Church of England, hearing stories of racist abuse and claims of a culture that creates a hostile environment for Christians of colour.
Faith and Life
EWTN Friday April 23, 8.30pm
Fr Patrick Peyton, nephew of the famous Rosary Priest discusses his famous uncle and his current work at Collooney Parish in Co. Mayo.