There’s so much interesting stuff in the media over Christmas, but it’s the one time of the year when I find I have less time and inclination to engage, what with all the wonderful goings-on in the world of family, friends and Church community.
However, I was impressed by a Nationwide (RTÉ1) programme leading up to Christmas about the Irish Chaplaincy in London. Founded in 1957 to support Irish emigrants working in constructions its remit broadened over the years – offering practical and spiritual service to the Irish, especially those who became isolated. One of the strands nowadays is a valuable outreach to elderly Irish living alone (around 20,000) and support for any Irish in UK prisons (just over 1,000 at the moment).
The person in charge of the prison work suggested that a society is judged by how it treats its most vulnerable. For sure.
The second half of the programme focused on the Polish Chaplaincy in Clare. Fr Darius in Ennis ministered to the many Polish in the area, who greatly appreciated his efforts for that community, helping them to grow in faith and maintain their sense of identity. The glimpses of their Christmas customs were colourful and it was great to see young people so active.
Among the vulnerable are the homeless, and on Christmas Eve’s Pat Kenny Show (Newstalk) Fr Peter McVerry gave us a timely reminder yet again of the inadequacies on this front and while reluctant to get into personalities, he was very critical of Government policy in the area. The same show featured an interview with Fr Paddy Byrne of Portlaoise, who emphasised the true Jesus-centred, meaning of Christmas and described his own parish preparations for the busy season.
There must have been hundreds of films on over Christmas, most of which were re-runs. I was pleasantly surprised by The Lady in the Van (BBC2, Christmas Eve). It is based on the true story of an elderly homeless woman (Maggie Smith) who inveigles support from author Alan Bennett – he ends up with her VW van parked in his driveway. I wasn’t expecting any faith content (it was mostly positive) – the Lady spent some time in a convent (it didn’t go too well) and is haunted by guilt after a road accident.
She seems to be a regular at Confession over the matter, and in a touching Confession scene the priest assures her that absolution doesn’t expire!
Also good for a warm fuzzy feeling was the animated feature Up (BBC1), a charming story about the relationship between an old widower and a young boy, but with a strikingly beautiful and poignant opening sequence that presents wordlessly the ups and downs of a loving marriage.
Sing Street (RTÉ2, Christmas Eve) was a different matter. On one level, especially in the early part of the film, it was a funny, charming and youthful story about young teens starting a band, but it got darker, and became a nasty thrashing of the Christian Brothers, which was devoid of nuance and subtlety and played to the worst stereotypes. Plot wise, I thought it went off the rails at the end, but I won’t throw in a spoiler, just in case.
On the news front I was glad to see the high profile given on RTÉ News programmes to the Capuchin Day Centre and its efforts to feed the hungry in the run up to Christmas. The sight of that mountain of food bags told a story that should give us all food for thought. On BBC News on Christmas Eve there was a nice item on the 200th anniversary of the carol ‘Silent Night’. The reporter called it “simply the carol that means Christmas”. On St Stephen’s Day, BBC News reported on a new initiative by UK Foreign Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, to investigate the plight of persecuted Christians around the world – an issue that deserves more coverage over here.
There were interesting chats and anecdotes, but the musical items were what stood out most for me in the relaxing Christmas morning Leap of Faith (RTÉ Radio 1) – especially a haunting harp piece ‘La Source’ played by Andrea Malirsch and an old Christmas Carol ‘Unto Us is Born a Son’ sung by Loah and accompanied by Philip McKinley, Chaplain at DCU and the Discovery Gospel Choir – an uplifting start to the day that was in it.
Pick of the week
VOX NOSTRA WITH VLAD SMISHKEWYCH
RTÉ Lyric FM, Sunday, January 6, 7 am
Vlad only explores the music connected to the feast of the Epiphany.
SOLEMNITY OF THE EPIPHANY OF THE LORD
EWTN, Sunday, January 6, 9am, repeat 11 pm
Mass of the Epiphany with Pope Francis, from St Peter’s Basilica.
THE BIG QUESTIONS
BBC1, Sunday, January 6, 11 am
Nicky Campbell presents a new series of the topical debate show.