98,400 : 1

 

boat-reduced

 

The cold at night was as intense as the heat during the day. They travelled when they could, hoping they were headed in the right direction. Eventually another group of traffickers arrived and began to negotiate with them. Abraham was taken to one side and a gun was put to his head. The traffickers planned to use him as an example and were ready to kill him. If the other people in the group did not pay money to the traffickers, he would die. His friend volunteered to pay so they took his money and then shot him,

This article was published in January’s Messenger            98,400:1 Part 1

and this one is a follow up article in February’s edition   98,400:1 Part 2

 

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RTE’s A Living Word, Friday, the 20th January, 2017. ‘The Ultimate Migration’

 ‘The Ultimate Migration’

To listen to Alan’s reflection click here.

esec_impa-a3_stampa_page_11

St Catherine of Sienna was known for her bluntness. Once she said,

We’ve had enough of exhortations to be silent. Cry out with a hundred thousand tongues. I see that this world is rotten because of silence.

The power-brokers of our world want us to be silent about migration and migrants. They don’t want any more photographs of children dying on beaches; they don’t want newsreel of people dead in trucks or containers. The slick operations now sinks migrant boats and takes people to camps where the local community remains unaware of the conditions of those who live there. And from those camps the complexity of the situation grows as the odour of illegality surrounds the surreptitious placing of people in country towns and villages.

In this year’s letter for World Day for Migrants and Refugees. Pope Francis refuses to be silent and he consistently refers to the plight of all migrants and in particular this year to the plight of those who are young and unaccompanied;

 The condition of child migrants is worsened when their status is not regularized or when they are recruited by criminal organizations. In such cases they are usually sent to detention centres. It is not unusual for them to be arrested, and because they have no money to pay the fine or for the return journey, they can be incarcerated for long periods, exposed to various kinds of abuse and violence.

Pope Francis has chosen to keep the plight of migrants to the fore despite the inertia of many of his followers. Why? Well one reason I suppose is that his life is a celebration of the greatest migrations of all time which is that of the Son of God who entered directly into our human condition so that he can bring us all to the Father of love…about this wonderful mystery which is the ultimate and most cherished migration… there is little room for silence.

Fr. Alan Hilliard, 20th January 2017.

Artwork by Francesco Piobbicho of the organisation ‘Mediterranean Hope’.

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RTE’s A Living Word, Thursday, the 19th January, 2017. ‘Kindness’

‘Kindness’

To listen, click here  -Thursday Alan Hilliard

http://www.rte.ie/radio1/a-living-word/programmes/2017/0119/846247-a-living-word-thursday-19-january-2017/?clipid=2377866#2377866

red-faces

We were standing at the edge of St. Peter’s Square in Rome just beside one of the homeless shelters run by the Missionaries of Charity. It was that time of the evening when those who were to spend the night in the shelter were gathering prior to its opening. Many of the accents were not Italian. They were mostly migrants. Their accents betraying origins in places such as Eastern Europe, Africa even parts of former Russia.

Unbeknownst to her one of the straps of a friends hand bag had slipped off her shoulder revealing her purse, passport and a few other items of value. One of those queuing to get into the shelter noticed what I also had noticed and he moved towards my friend. And yes you guessed right – he tapped her on the shoulder and said in his broken eastern European accent, ‘miss your bag is open and some-one could take something please close it’. He refused any reward and re-joined the queue.

On the 19th of April last year Pope Francis tweeted that ‘Refugees are not numbers, they are people who have faces, names, stories, and need to be treated as such’.

Where some have suggested that we find only evil and terror I fortunately, have mostly found goodness, humanity and forgiveness. The Christian vision for our world today rests not in labels or categories or even in theories or great homilies but in our mutual respect for one another as brothers and sisters who share a common home, a mutual respect that I saw so beautifully expressed  in the kindness of a homeless migrant in St. Peters Square in Rome. His simple actions opened my eyes to the true heart of the Church in the midst of its great columns and piazzas.

Fr. Alan Hilliard, 19th Jan 2017.

Artwork by Francesco Piobbicho of the organisation ‘Mediterranean Hope’.

 

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RTE’s A Living Word, Wednesday, 18th January, 2017. ‘Tying the Knot’

‘Tying the Knot’

To listen click here – Wednesday, Alan Hilliard

http://www.rte.ie/radio1/a-living-word/programmes/2017/0118/846248-a-living-word-wednesday-18-january-2017/?clipid=2377868#2377868

red-knot

‘Ah sure they’ve tied the knot’.  This is a phrase often associated with marriage in Ireland. However it has other origins. In parts of rural Ireland in the midst of a conversation someone might say…’I haven’t seen Micheál or Nora for a while’. The reply might be, ‘ah sure, they’ve tied the knot’. The expression referred to the silent emigration of the poorer members of the community from their home. To ‘tie the knot’ referred to the last act a person carried out before they left their dwelling. A person in the better off part of town might have had a suitcase into which they packed their belongings. In a poorer home a few pieces of clothing and a few small items of memorabilia were wound round one another and tied together with a piece of string. The knot was then tied on the all that the migrants owned and possessed.

The photographs and film clips of those arriving on the shores of the Southern Mediterranean show that even if they had a piece of string there’d be little to wrap up. I know one man who was returned from the UK to Rome under the Dublin Convention (Ironically enough) with nothing only the pyjamas that he wore.

I’ve been fortunate to meet many migrants whose wealth cannot be tied into tidy parcels because their wealth lies within them. Having lost everything, they see their world differently and they live with a profound sense of God’s providence. Like Abraham, Moses and many, many, others in scripture, their uncluttered lives reveal a passion for life that possesses every limb and sinew of their being.

Fr. Alan Hilliard, 18th January 2017.

Artwork by Francesco Piobbicho of the organisation ‘Mediterranean Hope’.

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RTE’s, A Living Word, Tuesday, 17th January, 2017 ‘Ships of Hope’

‘Ships of Hope’

To listen, click here – Tuesday Alan Hilliard

http://www.rte.ie/radio1/a-living-word/programmes/2017/0117/846249-a-living-word-tuesday-17-january-2017/?clipid=2377871#2377871

red-boat

In his book Self-Portrait, John B. Keane talks about emigration. He tells of his journey across the Irish Sea and he puts into words what he observed happening all about him on the boat:

Underneath it all was the heart-breaking frightful anguish of separation. It would be a waste of time for me to launch into a description of what went on. A person had to be part of it to feel it.

A person had to be part of it to feel it. It is so easy to separate ourselves from the plight of those who are people before they are refugees, asylum seekers or migrants. Today many travel in boats that are laden with their fellow human beings, clinging to one another in sometimes silent and more times chaotic desperation.

Is there much difference, other than time, between the words of our own John B. Keane that we have just heard and those of the Somali poet Warsan Shire:

 

you have to understand

that no one puts their children in a boat

unless the water is safer than the land

no one leaves home until home is a sweaty voice in your ear
saying-
leave,
run away from me now
i dont know what i’ve become
but i know that anywhere
is safer than here

I think that those who make a migratory journey, whether that journey is from West Kerry to Camden or from Aleppo to Ballaghadreen, that they hope for one thing. They live with the hope that what they gain in moving to a new place will outweigh what they lose in leaving the place formerly known as home. This may be difficult for us to grasp, especially if we’ve never wanted for anything but as John B. says, ‘a person had to be part of it to feel it’.

Fr. Alan Hilliard, 21st January, 2017.

Artwork by Francesco Piobbicho of the organisation ‘Mediterranean Hope’.

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A Living Word, Monday,16th January, 2017 ‘The Cittle’

‘The Cittle’

To listen, click here – Monday Alan Hilliard

http://www.rte.ie/radio1/a-living-word/programmes/2017/0116/846250-a-living-word-monday-16-january-2017/?clipid=2377873#2377873

red-ocean

She spoke with the best Queen’s English when she described her work with elderly Irish Emigrants in the Heuston Station area of London. Years spent in religious life and service to the community had given this sister an instinct that saw in these elderly Irish gents the need of for understanding, care and practical aid. She gave out bed-clothing, warm clothes, radios and whatever else brought a modicum of ease to their lives. She also knew their need to tell stories about home and their journey.

‘You came from the west of Ireland’ she recalled asking one elderly gentleman, ‘I did sister and I came with the cittle’. ‘Oh…so you like making your own tea!’ ‘Ah sister…no…you took me up wrong…the cittle was in the bottom of the boat and we were on the top!’

In the midst of their misunderstanding he was absolutely right. It wasn’t an emigrant ship that travelled from Dublin to Holyhead…it was a cattle ship. Emigrants were a secondary consideration. The ‘live’ cattle were loaded and the people followed.

This week we mark the week for Migrants and Refugees. It is an initiative of the Catholic Church and it is a worldwide program of awareness of behalf of those who journey in hope. This year Pope Francis asks us to pay attention to the plight of all migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers and in particular to the plight of ‘unaccompanied minors’.

I don’t know who you bring to mind when you think of young people who travel alone to new locations. My mind and heart think of my uncle, who despaired at the lack of opportunity in Ireland in the mid 1950’s. Five           years previously he witnessed the death of his mother in a hospital bed. Like many others he followed the cattle to Dublin Port and walked up the gangway towards a new future. He had just turned fifteen years of age.

Fr. Alan Hilliard, 16th January 2017.

Artwork by Francesco Piobbicho of the organisation ‘Mediterranean Hope’.

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Dinny

Dinny O’Brien R.I.P.

 

Reception of his Mortal Remains to St. John Vianney Church

Ardlea

Tuesday the 6th of December 2016

 

The Gospel: Mark 10: 17-30

 

He was setting out on a journey when a man ran up, knelt before him and put this question to him, ‘Good master, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ Jesus said to him, ‘Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments: You must not kill; You must not commit adultery; You must not steal; You must not bring false witness; You must not defraud; Honour your father and mother.’ And he said to him, ‘Master, I have kept all these from my earliest days’. Jesus looked steadily at him and loved him, and he said, ‘There is one thing you lack. Go and sell everything you own and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.’ But his face fell at these words and he went away sad, for he was a man of great wealth.

 

We welcome the mortal remains of Dinny O’Brien to his local Church. He worshipped here very frequently and was known to many of you who attend the morning Mass here at this Church of St. John Vianney.

We meet here to support his wife Margaret, his children Mick, Tom, Andrew and John and their wives Fidelma, Bernadette, Laurie (USA) and Ciara. We cannot but fail to remember his son Denis who predeceased him in 1990.

We also remember a wonderful collection of grandchildren, Keith, lisa, Shane, Aoife, Cormac, Ciara, Aisling, Hannah, Andrew, Ruan and Conal and his two great grandchildren Phoebe and Isable. This is a time of great remembering and confused grief for you all.

We welcome also his siblings Kathleen, Angela, Tommy and remember those who have gone before him; May, Bernard and Peter.

And we welcome everyone from the wider world that Dinny inhabited, those of you from Wexford, Kilkenny and North County Dublin and all of you from his world of Dublin Football, Hurling and Music. I think it’d be fair to say there’ll be very few referees here this evening.

We bring Dinny’s remains here this evening to present him to the mercy of God and the tender mercy of this community who knew and loved him. He wasn’t what you call a shy man; he didn’t hide in the corner of a room. You knew he was about.

Many of us here have great memories of his antics be it in the world of football, music, the neighbourhood, his time with Premier Diaries and more importantly his home. There are many stories to be embellished. However as important and all as our picture of Dinny is the manner of his death raises the question of how he saw himself at this particular point in time.

Dinny bought his house with Margaret on Chanel Road in Coolock. Most of us in Coolock couldn’t understand why a road and a school were called after a ladies perfume (In those days there were no Men’s Toiletries just Old Spice for Dinner Dances and Carbolic Soap for the rest of the year! I later came to know the story because I attended Chanel College.  St. Peter of Chanel was a Saint who was associated with the Marist Fathers, they ran the local secondary school. His feast was the 28th of April, a day I remember because it always meant a half day or at the minimum, no home work.

Peter lived on an island in the South Pacific as a missionary, thousands of miles away from his native France. His life was an abject failure. He made only one convert and the natives of the islands put him to death even though he was known to them for many a long year. After his death, many on the island were baptised because they began only then to see and acknowledge the source of his goodness and virtue.

Why I mention Peter of Chanel is that I am sure there were moments in his life when he saw himself as an abject failure and that life was facing him with every increasing challenges and difficulties. Whenever I myself face challenges where I feel isolated and unsure I think of him and his spirit. He inspires me and at times keeps me going, even getting me over the line.

Let’s be real, there are moments when we all face darkness and difficulty and these moments can frighten us all. For Dinny a dark moment came for a few brief earthly seconds that was impenetrable to light.  Others can judge us harshly but there is no doubt that, given the wrong circumstances we can be out own harshest judge and critic.

For Peter of Chanel, the community on the island and the larger community of the Church gathered to acknowledge his goodness, not just the goodness that he did but the goodness that he was to the extent that they proclaimed him a saint. We gather today as family and friends to say Dinny you are more to this world that you believed you were in the last moments of your life. We want to shine light into that darkness to complete the picture of your human journey. We believe that we are only completely real in God’s presence when he shines his light of love, compassion and mercy on us but in the meantime we have both the right and the duty to complete the picture and give honour to the fullness of your life as we know it.

I remember once reading about the spiritual life and one wise person said ‘that no person is good enough to direct themselves’. How true are these words? We cannot judge what is right or wrong, good or bad in solitariness. Our lives have a context which is called ‘one another’. Yes our modern world makes us feel we are more and more on our own and so we have to work all the harder to create the context in which we survive, live and flourish. The author of those words was making the point that I made earlier that we can be our own harshest critics and we need the gentle compassionate eyes and hearts of others to help us undo the knots that are inevitable on our human journey.

This evening then we meet and as a community of faith we bring our eyes and hearts of compassion and mercy to Dinny as we present him to God. We see the great love and goodness that is there and we complete the picture that for a few brief moments he couldn’t see. The Gospel that we listened to saw Jesus acknowledging the confusion of the young man yet through all this confusion he looked on him lovingly. Pope Francis proclaimed last year as a year of Mercy. One of the things he said was

“Wherever the church is present, the mercy of the Father must be evident. In our parishes, communities, associations, and movements, in a word, wherever there are Christians, everyone should find an oasis of mercy” (Pope Francis, Misericordiae Vultus, 12)

For us here this evening there is a great challenge ahead of us all. The challenge is ‘to be compassionate.’ Many of you have heard of the practise of mindfulness which is one of our buzz phrases and activities around today. The purpose of the practise of mindfulness is not just to take time out or to reduce stress; the prime purpose of mindfulness is to cultivate a methodology whereby we can look compassionately on ourselves; in doing that we can look compassionately on the world.  In this oasis of Mercy in  Ardlea Church we gather with one purpose which is to say Dinny may your darkness be dispelled by light; may your difficulties be melted with mercy and may your judgements be dissolved by love. Amen

Fr. Alan Hilliard

 

Dinny O’Brien

Funeral Mass

Wednesday the 7th of December 2016

 

Eighteen months ago I had to deal with the fallout from the tragedy in Berkeley with the students in the college where I work. It was a very difficult time. The tragedy was of horrific proportions when young people in the prime of life and with a golden future were taken from us. Many others were injured. Others are scared emotionally and physically. The only other tragedy that impacted on me deeply was one which is familiar to many of you here and that is the Stardust tragedy; but I was young then and without responsibility.

A few weeks after the tragedy I was in San Francisco helping the Pastoral Centre look at how their response affected them. I asked what do you remember most about the time you arrived at the scene and one person responded. ‘This may seem strange but in the midst of all the flashing lights and the drama, the one thing I remember is phone chargers’. He went on to explain that peoples phones were dead and they needed chargers just to ring home and say ‘I’m all right’ or to ease the fear of those who were phoning from Ireland only to receive a message that the phone was out of service which caused increasing anxiety and stress. They went to all the stores around the area and bought loads of phone chargers to allow people to ‘reconnect’ with people that mattered.

A strange story maybe, but not unlike the story of the characters in our Gospel today. Before the age of telecommunications or internet those affected by the tragedy of Jesus’ death simply met in a room described as ‘the upper’ room. A room away from it all that allowed people to connect with those that mattered. I suppose many would like to connect with Dinny for a few moments to find the right question to help us fumble around an award question that really just asks ‘why?’ but we can’t do that. But we are all connecting, men who might not normally shake hands are now unashamedly hugging. These hugs are a little longer especially with those who are part of our lives and who we no longer take for granted because in the light of what has happened we simply can’t. ‘Are you ok?’ is asked differently.

We all rue the crazy busy lives that are a barrier to our connecting and question it while knowing we can do little about it. And we realise that in the midst of all our technology there is nothing as good as looking into the eyes of some-one or feeling their touch. As an emigrant parent said to me, ‘Simply put…you can’t hug SKYPE’. These days for the family and close friends are days when everything is up in the air, nothing is normal, the predictability of life and its routines have melted away to make room for deep and meaningful connection to things and people that matter probably because something and not just somebody but something deep has been taken from us.

Today we gather for our Eucharist, a Mass, a ritual. Clumsy and awkward for some but necessary and healing for others. When we came to the Church we asked for mercy for ourselves. Mercy as I said last night is necessary because we can judge ourselves oh so harshly. One thing I have learnt from dealing with trauma is stay with the ‘what has happened’. If you go on a journey down the road of ‘what if’ you are on road to despair. It is a bottomless pit without real answers because the starting point is not real. Let’s ask for the grace and mercy to acknowledge that Dinny is gone from us and we miss him and live with the hope that we’ll meet him again one day.

Then we read the scriptures. A story of Abram who became Abraham. He left a lot behind and set out on a journey not knowing where this journey would lead. To be honest most of our important journeys are like this. We step out into unknowns; when people marry, have children they really are shaken to their roots because in reality they don’t know what is ahead. We also hear in these scriptures that our goodness goes before us. This means that in the presence of God what is first heard is not what other people think of us or what we think of ourselves but our goodness is the first thing that God’s sees. How comforting.

Then we break open the word just as we break open Dinny’s life in stories. People vie for the best story not because it is the funniest or most outrageous but because they want to claim the one that shows who this man who has died really is. They want to capture what lies beyond biology and science and reveal all that lies deeply etched on each soul, and indeed every soul, but which at the same time was unique to Dinny. Then we make prayers…we take time to think of one another because at a time like this we dispel as best we can the selfishness and narcissism that is more and more common today.

We make an offering of bread and wine and on this day we offer more. We offer the good deeds of Dinny’s life, that fact that he was generous to everyone particularly with his time deserved acknowledgement. That he brought people who may have felt left out into a room through his mirth and chat and he made people feel at home in themselves. And then we offer sacrifice and at this point where do we end when it comes to Dinny’s life. He gave up so much of himself for others. He at times, worked three jobs. In an Ireland that wasn’t very diverse, sleep was the only foreigner in his life. He worked for unselfishly for Margaret and the family. He drove buses to festivals and children to Feis, Fleadh and music lessons and if a judge wasted his journey he’d let them know. He packed Gaelic teams into his car without thought of cost or expense to himself and put simply – he loved. We can talk about it till the cows come home but real love comes at a cost to self and is contextualised by a greater good. Real love is not a benefit to oneself at the expense of another.

Then we give thanks at the Preface…and boy do we want to give thanks for all the offerings and sacrifices that this man made for many here today. As the older liturgy said ‘it is right to give thanks and praise’. Why do we name what we have to offer, the sacrifices and that for which we have to give thanks?  Patrick Kavanagh put it best when so wisely he stated in his poem The Hospital:

Naming these things is the love-act and its pledge.

We remember the words of Jesus at the last supper in the deep belief that remembering makes him present and here we wander into a territory that lies outside what many can understand but which is practised and professed by many peoples. It is not just Catholics who belief that the practise of ritual brings us into deep connection with those gone before us. Uncle Bill Nedijie whose tribe live in the Kakadu area of the Northern Territories tells his people that:

Man will come back

Like I come back each time.

This story is for all people

Everybody should be listening

Same story for everyone, just different language

My meaning might be a little hard,

So I speak English

You just listen careful and slow.

 

We got to hang on,

Not to lose our story.

Don’t think much about money

You can get a million dollar..

But not worth it

Million dollar..

He just go ‘poof’

Couple of weeks ..

You got nothing

 

Our Eucharist, our mass is our story. It is a story that connects us deeply to a place beyond us and with those we love and have left us in body. It is our fervent hope and prayer that Dinny is now part of greater story. That deep innate respect that we have for those gone before us, even before Christianity came to these shores, is an important part of who we are and becomes all the more important at time like this. As Bill says… ‘same story for everyone…just a different language’. It is our hope that we become immersed in that story where pain and suffering is no more and somehow – in the wonder of it all – we can connect with those who were the love of God to us in our earthly lives.

Then we break the bread. Important for us today. Let us not be afraid to present Dinny’s brokenness God. Those bits that were out of shape and caused him pain. We know from the Gospels that Jesus dealt with brokenness well. He often transformed it. That in some strange way we can offer Dinny’s last minutes to God. That when his mind was tormented and confused that we can offer this to God as well and not try to hide it.

And then we are invited to share in the Communion. It is a challenge today to step into mystery and live comfortably with it. The pressure to know and understand everything is killing our spirits and slaying our souls. To lie before a tune, a golden sunset, the love of another is worth immeasurably more than being right a thousand times. Maybe people bring things to and end not because they haven’t got the answers but that the mystery of life is stolen and gone from them, mystery which is the nectar of the soul is stolen for a few moments. If there is any way we can counteract the forces of today’s world that are upsetting us and stealing our wellbeing it is to be a good friend of mystery. It is the spot where the true artist, composer and writer seek and it is there for us. Seamus Heaney wrote:

I went to the altar rails and received the mystery

on my tongue, returned to my place, shut my eyes fast, made

an act of thanksgiving, opened my eyes and felt

time starting up again.

 

Heaney didn’t have a myriad of phone chargers but he was deeply connected.

Yes Dinny is gone from us. His life ended in a way we never countenanced. If our prayers would speed his journey we’d pray for ever but we are confident that his goodness will be seen by God and that God will help him see the goodness he lost sight of in his last moments. We deal with what has happened with the support and prayers of all here, we tell stories, we remember the offerings he placed before us, we name his sacrifices which were made for many here, we immerse ourselves in a great remembering which reaches deep into the heart of things and invites us to stand on our tip toes to ponder mystery. And in this context we find a place to situate the brokenness that seemed to take over for a few moments. We realise that the only place that brokenness can be understood and welcomed is at the heart of love which is in God and in at this point we express our Communion and solidarity with one another.

These days of torment and loss are contextualised in our rituals. They don’t take the pain away but they help us bear it better. We perish when our story loses a connection with the greater stories that have stood the test of time. We highlighted this last night that for our sakes and for Dinny’s sake we need to put bits together so his perceptions are not the entire story. His sense of self when he faced his end is not all that there is. What a refreshing thought from Heaney the feeling that time can start over again; that pain and suffering and anguish is not the end…that time can start over again. This is our prayer for one another and for Dinny.

Fr Alan Hilliard

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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