I was on holiday in Italy last week and in the course on our adventure we took in such sights as Pompey and the Isle of Capri. On our last day as we travelled towards Rome we took in the Benedictine Abbey of Montecassino. The monastery was founded by St Benedict in the year 529 and through the ages it became famous because of the life of its founder, renowned as a place of holiness, culture and art. The foundation has been destroyed on four occasions and rebuilt during its long history. The last attack was in 1944 when Allied bombing raids reduced it to rumble. The Italian Government then financed its rebuilding, based on the ancient architectural pattern and design, which was completed after nearly a decade.
The monastery is situated on a mountain top 517 metres above sea level. It is an imposing building on a grand scale. The only thing more impressive and stunning is the drive up the narrow road which gives magnificent views of the surrounding plain and mountains. Like a lot of Italian design the building uses its natural surroundings creating backdrops which just take the breathe away. Needless to say I was like a Japanese tourist let loose with a camera. Unfortunately you can spend most of the time looking through a lens in an effort to capture the right image you fail to take a moment to appreciate the natural beauty and allow the scene to sink in. Amongst the majesty of the buildings, the wonderful scenery there is the human story of broken and lost lives. This was brought home when we visited the Polish Cemetery located just a few hundred metres below the Benedictine Abbey. Buried there are more than one thousand members of the Polish Army who lost their lives in 1944 in the battle for Montecassino.
I couldn’t help but reflect on the timing of my visit to Montecassino as I was reading one of the Irish newspapers on the plane on the way home. The front page and several inside pages concentrated on the speech made by the Taoiseach Enda Kenny to the Dail in response to the Cloyne Report. The tone of the speech and the language employed left us in no doubt about the Irish Government’s attitude to the Vatican and the failings of the institutional Church. As a Catholic and a priest it makes uncomfortable reading, many of the report’s conclusions are disturbing, its revelations unsettling, especially when contrasted with the words of St Benedict. Having only visited the resting place of the saint the day before I was struck by the Taoiseach’s use of St Benedict’s concept of listening with the ‘ears of the heart.’ Evidently this can be understood as a call to humility, compassion, understanding and love. Yet we have to do more than quote such words, we now need to lead by example and both as a society and a Church we have to rise to the challenge of creating a more caring and safer environment for children and responding to the needs of survivors of abuse.
For those who have had to endure the heartbreak, the turmoil and the humiliation of abuse, simple apologies will never be enough. The onus placed on all of us is the safeguarding and protection of all the children in our care. Last weekend’s Gospel challenged those with ears to hear, to place their trust in the real treasure of our faith, the wisdom of God. As we live through this present crisis we have to look ahead to the future and ask ourselves what legacy we will leave the children of our country. What foundations are we building for the next generation, are we prepared to make the sacrifices which ensure everyone is respected as a child of God. This is only possible if we take seriously St Benedict’s words and are able to listen with the ‘ear of our heart’.
Landing back in Dublin it was still raining, the weather hadn’t changed although the climate in which the Church finds itself in modern Ireland has seen a profound shift. Maybe the government is only catching up with the attitudes and opinions of many in this land who have lost faith in the church. Respect and creditability are realities which now will have to be earned. A long road lies ahead yet we remain focused on Christ and his presence amongst his people through the gift of the Holy Spirit. One of the real treasures existing in our lives is the people with whom we share this world. God has called us together as his Church; only by listening to his voice can we be guided and granted the courage and wisdom to treat one another as true brothers and sisters. Only then will all people begin to believe that God’s Church can be a safe haven and a home, leading us all towards everlasting life in God’s kingdom.