May 11 | comments icon 0 COMMENTS     print icon print


The ‘King of Greenock’ comes to the Bow

THE BOW IN THE HEAVENS teases a pupil – and a headteacher – ahead of a busy trip to Rome — By FR JOHN BOLLAN

As much as I love the school trip to Rome, I’m not loving the early start. We have to gather at Gourock Station at 4.30am to be bussed up to the airport for our 7.30am flight. I can guarantee you there will be tears and tantrums on the bus—mostly from the sleep-deprived padre. Moreover, poor Jasmine will think herself abandoned, as daddy slinks off with his case in the wee small hours.

In truth, it’s never the best of weeks to be away, as it’s always the week before our First Holy Communion. Two years ago, in fact, I didn’t get back to the parish until late the night before the Big Day.

To compound matters, during the night there was a rammy in a nearby house which spilled out on the street. My best efforts to get some shut-eye were frustrated by the flicker of blue lights and the crackle of police radios.

Being away also means that you can’t fit in a final practice with the children in the immediate lead up to the Mass. We had to settle for that last week, but I’m fairly certain that they would have forgotten most of it by the time they got back to school after the First Friday Mass.

Besides, there was another engagement causing a buzz in the kids’ minds last Friday: the unveiling of St Joseph’s Eco Schools Green Flag. This was quite a prestigious achievement —these things are not doled out willy-nilly—and the children had to work really hard to get it. The presence of the provost, convener and vice-convener of the education committee was an indication of the significance of this occasion.

There was an audible gasp from the children in the hall as Provost Brennan made his entrance, his chain of office glittering impressively. Tasneim, one of our Syrian children, asked me ‘who’s that?’

“That,” I said, “is the King of Inverclyde.”

“Really?” she gasped, eyes wide in wonderment.

“Yes, he’s the King of Greenock, Gourock and Port Glasgow. And you know the building with the big tower in the town centre? Well that’s where he lives.”

Misleading the weans is a strong feature of my skill-set.

After a presentation from the boys and girls from the Eco Committee, we were ushered outside to the playground for the unfurling of the flag itself. The provost was assisted in this by another ‘King,’ well-known local Elvis impersonator Mr Graham, who also moonlights as a headteacher in his spare time. Indeed, he’s been doing it so long and so well, it would be more accurate to say that all the would-be Elvises are merely tribute acts to him.

Anyway, once the flag was up and properly saluted by all and sundry, we repaired to the staff room for tea and cakes. It was a nice way to end the week and usher in the first May weekend.

As I mentioned last week, this year we are taking 50 students to Rome. All 50 crammed in to an RE class last Thursday for a presentation-cum-pep talk on the glories of Rome. Having been snubbed by the producers of the recent BBC remake of Civilisation (Mary Beard was cheaper, apparently), this was my opportunity to wax lyrical about the Eternal City in front of a captive teenage audience.’

It’s not easy condensing nearly 3,000 years of history into 40-odd minutes, but I gave it my best shot. We whisked through images of Rome past and present and I even had a chance to sound off on my pet peeves: the mispronunciation of the mouthwatering toasted bread and tomato dish bruschetta (it’s ‘broosketta’ not ‘brooshetta’) and our awful habit of making the word ‘panini’ (a sandwich) singular when it’s plural. “Don’t say, ‘I’ll have a panini,’” I admonished them. “That’s like saying, ‘I’ll have a sandwiches!’

I’d like to think these impassioned words had a life-changing impact on these young minds, but I’m fairly certain I heard one of them ask for a panini in the canteen, not five minutes later.

One of the things I do try to impress upon them is the importance of looking both down and up. Down, 20 feet or so, is where the ancient city lies; whereas up is where you find a host of hidden detail, nestling amid the cornices of Rome’s architectural jewels.

Of course, in addition to the ‘up’ and ‘down,’ there’s the ‘side to side,’ as Rome’s streets still require eagle eyes and nerves of steel to cross.

Speaking of Rome and ‘crosses,’ last week I paid a visit to a couple of our parishioners who have cancer. They have a strong Faith and set a wonderful example of being outward-looking, remembering the ­intentions of the parish in their daily prayers.

I brought them a little memento of my last trip to Rome, a souvenir of one of my favourite churches, San Clemente: it is a reproduction of the Crucifix which forms part of the apse mosaic from that ancient Basilica. The cross is accompanied by a little brochure in which Pope Benedict gives a penetrating theological and artistic reflection on the mosaic itself. The text in the booklet is taken from a chapter in his book, written as Cardinal Ratzinger, called ‘Images of Hope: ­Meditations on Major Feasts’. It is well worth a read.

What is striking about the mosaic is that is a riot of life: the cross is the vine of life, more like a tree than anything else. From it flows a river of life, and around it we see an abundance of people and living things. It is the very opposite of an instrument of death.

Indeed, as Pope Benedict points out: “If we were to seek a title for this depiction of the Crucified, words like ­reconciliation and peace would immediately occur to us. Pain is overcome. Nothing of wrath, of bitterness, of accusation lies in the picture. The biblical saying that love is stronger than death can be seen here.”

That is why I gave that cross to those parishioners: I wanted to make a gift of the words as much as the cross. In the midst of their discomfort and the weariness which often marks their condition, they offer a beautiful and uplifting glimpse into the mystery of the Eucharist, the ultimate fruit of Christ’s own passion and ­resurrection. As these parishioners devoutly receive Holy Communion each week, they are being drawn into the mystery depicted in colour and stone on that mosaic.

That reminds me: I’ll have to find some little mementoes for the children who will be receiving the Eucharist for the first time next Sunday and those who will be confirmed in a couple of weeks’ time. In amongst the tacky stuff you find in most Roman souvenir shops, there are always some tasteful treasures to be found. If I have them in time, I can offer them up for an apostolic blessing at the audience with Pope Francis on Wednesday.

Right. I really need to go and pack my case. We are having our annual SSVP pensioners’ dinner dance this evening in the hall. Given my packing (and this column) and the fact I will have to be in bed for 9pm, I have sent in my apologies. I took a quick turn round the tables and, before saying grace, asked them not to repeat last year’s carry on.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for folk enjoying themselves, but the sight (and sound) of highly refreshed pensioners doing the conga round the car park at 2am is something I can well do without—especially with a 4.30am start!

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