A few Sundays ago one of the readings at Mass was about welcoming the stranger. The exhortation came back to me when I was watching Ireland’s Refugee Hotel, a TV3/BBC co-production shown last Thursday on TV3 and last Tuesday on BBC 1.
The focus was on the small town of Ballaghaderreen in Co. Roscommon, where Muslim refugees from Syria were accommodated in a disused but modern hotel.
The film was moving, thought provoking, even inspiring, but I particularly liked the low key approach of the film makers and how there was no canonisation of the refugees and no demonisation of those locals who were less than enthusiastic about the venture – it was just a very human story, well told, and one that had respectful faith elements relating to the local Catholics and the visiting Muslims.
Considering the indifferent attitude to Massgoing among many Irish Catholics, I was tickled by the irony of some of the Muslims being upset that they missed the Easter celebrations in the local Cathedral. It seems that at home they often celebrated major religious feasts with their Christian neighbours.
The parish priest was surprised and invited them for a visit to the Cathedral where there were some prayerful and tearful moments.
Some locals were not fully behind the idea of the refugee initiative. An uneasy neighbour who lived across the road from the hotel admitted she was afraid of them, especially when groups of young men were around the town together, and thought it was unwise to put so many in such a small town – better to spread them more widely.
There were some sad stories – one young man missed his mother back in Syria, another had been with his mother when she was shot dead, a young mother didn’t know whether her husband was dead or alive after a bomb blast. But whatever the case they were so grateful for the welcome they got in Ireland, far exceeding their expectations, and most locals were hugely welcoming.
In a touching moment we learned that the fears of the uneasy neighbour, now receiving cancer treatment, were allayed once she got to know the visitors.
With so much ugliness and polarisation featuring daily in the media it was a relief to find a programme so uplifting – catch it at tv3.ie.
Meanwhile, Sunday, BBC Radio 4’s religious affairs programme, covered a very different kind of location, but also a place of refuge in its own way, the Abbey House retreat centre in Glastonbury, shortly due for closure. Margaret Morris felt a sense of loss – “when I Come to Abbey House I expect to meet with the Lord here” – and she feared Christian heritage ‘being shaved away’.
Some attention was given to the loss of retreat houses in general and the problems cause by high maintenance costs and declining religious orders, but Alison McTier of the Retreat Association said there was still a high demand for retreat experiences, though there was trend towards smaller venues.
In the case of Abbey House, a former trustee, Nick Dennison, said that finance wasn’t the problem at Abbey House, but that the landlord, the Glastonbury Abbey Trust, had given notice to quit. He was saddened by this, and thought the trust’s actions incompatible with their charitable purpose “to advance religion”.
He pointed out that the nearby ruins were of a Benedictine abbey, a place of great spirituality until the dissolution by Henry VIII, a tradition revived by Abbey House 80 years ago.
Finally, the current furore over sexual harassment is an unexpected controversy. Some say media hysteria, some say a long overdue exposure of the mistreatment of women by men abusing positions of power. One of the best debates I came across was on last weekend’s Sunday Morning Live on BBC 1, where there was a welcome diversity of opinion.
No one defended the inappropriate actions we’ve been hearing about, but there was divergence over how to approach it.
Sophie Walker of the Leader Women’s Equality Party saw this as women taking back control and saw talk of a ‘witch hunt’ as a diversion. Journalist Naomi Firsht on the other hand feared a ‘moral panic’ and thought it unhelpful to put everything from flirty text messages to sexual assault on the same spectrum – she found it was denigrating the serious offences.
I suspect the dominoes will continue to fall on this issue.
Pick of the week
REASONS TO BELIEVE
EWTN Sunday, November 12, 11.30 am, also Thursday 9.30 pm
Biblical scholar Dr. Scott Hahn and co-host Mike Aquilina debunk the common misconception that faith and science are opposed to one another.
Channel 4, Sunday, November 12, 3.20 pm
Homer the Heretic: Homer has a vision from God and decides to start his own religion.
This World: Killing Christianity
RTÉ 1 Friday (night), November 17, 4.30 am
Jane Corbin travels across the Middle East to some of the holiest places in Christendom and finds that hundreds of thousands of Christians are fleeing Islamic extremists, conflict and persecution.