Remembering and learning

This week the 27th January marks Holocaust Memorial Day, a special one as it is 75 years since the liberation of Auschwitz on this day in 1945. It is probably the last major anniversary in which survivors will be able to be involved. There are various events marking this anniversary.
I visited Auschwitz with the September Pilgrims ten years ago in 2010. We were based in nearby Krakow, and decided that we would offer the visit to those who were with us. I think everybody came. We visited the original Auschwitz camp and then the much larger Auschwitz-Birkenau camp. The weather was grey and overcast and rained off and on, somehow suitable for the day.
At the end of the first part of the visit our guide quietly motioned us without words towards a smallish nondescript building looking a bit like a school from the 30s or 40s. But this was the surviving gas-chamber. I went in and found myself in this soul-destroying gloomy room. I observed the candles and the hole in the roof for the gas cylinder. But a few moments was enough – I had to get out of that hell. But in order to get out you had to pass by some of the (in)famous furnaces for the disposal of the bodies. Without any doubt I believe this was the worst place I have ever been. It haunted me for quite a time, and, looking back, its effect went deep.
Some people do not want to go to places like Auschwitz, and some who have been say it was terrible but that they are glad they went. I belong to the second group. For sometimes I wonder if we need to have our faces rubbed in it, as it were. Like most people, I find that the vast majority of the human race are good and kind. But I think that it’s good to be reminded how bad we can be – if we can take it5
If we are to be the Church as the 21st century unfolds, if we are to offer the Good News to what seems to be a world that couldn’t care less, one way of getting some fire in our bellies is by experiencing or coming close to the Bad News that our human race can inflict, and that so many in our world have had to endure, and still are.
“So where was your God at Auschwitz?” some ask, faced with this utter emptiness, a vacuum of humanity. And the nearest to an answer maybe is that our crucified humiliated God, Jesus, the Lamb, was there with them.

Fr Matthew

Third Cousin Fr Adam Kearns

I learnt this week of the death before Christmas of the only other priest I know of presently in my very extended family. Fr Adam Kearns was a priest of Trenton diocese in New Jersey, to where one member of my mother’s Kearns family had emigrated at the time of the Famine in the middle of the nineteenth century. Fr Adam was born 17 September 1928 and so was 91 when he died. After school in his home parish he went on to gain a bachelor of science followed by philosophy and theology studies at the local seminary. He was ordained in 1954, was assistant priest in no fewer than eight parishes, and eventually became parish priest at Edison NJ until he retired in 1999. He died peacefully on Wednesday 13 November, and was buried with many of his forebears in St Joseph’s Cemetery, Keyport, NJ. His obituary says he was “beloved by the many people he served as both priest and friend and by his brother priests of the Diocese of Trenton. May this kind and loving priest rest in the peace of the Lord whom he served with joy and fidelity!”

Some years ago I spoke to Fr Adam on the phone at his retirement home, which led to him sending me details of his branch of the Kearns family, of which my mother was part. Another Kearns priest that some may have heard of was Fr Tom Kearns, my mother’s cousin, who was a Rosminian, and became Provincial at one time. Fr Adam was a little farther away on the family tree, being my mother’s third cousin…

If you are at all interested in your family tree, one of the first things to do is talk to people, especially the elderly, before they leave us, taking with them their knowledge, both of facts and of the often far more interesting gossip or family legends.

Oh, and by the way on my father’s side I have one Welsh Baptist minister, David Jones my great-grandfather, and a little further back, two Calvinist Methodist ministers, Rev John Jones Llanedi and Rev David Jones Pontyberem. I thought I had better mention them – as it is Unity Week, after all!

Fr Matthew

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May they be one

Every year in January the Church reminds us of an aspect of our faith that it is so easy to forget – Christian Unity. From 18th – 25th every year we have the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. And it’s fast approaching in this new year of 2020!

During this special week, Christians all over the world meet to pray, worship, relax, share in many different ways. Lots of districts have a Council of Churches or a CYTUN / Churches Together, as we do in Llanishen and District. It’s probably true to say that after a burst of ecumenical interest after our Second Vatican Council in the 1960s, things have gone a little quieter in many parts. So often things like this in the Church depend on individuals, who come and go…

So, all the more reason to make sure that the events of the Week of Prayer are well-attended in our own local area. This year the Service for the Week will be at St Isan’s church in Llanishen village on Sunday 19 January at 6pm. We are lucky to welcome this year as preacher Rev Aled Edwards, the Chief Executive of CYTUN – Churches Together in Wales.

I especially draw your attention to the annual Agape or Fellowship Meal, when Christians come together in a more relaxed social setting and share some refreshments. This year the Agape is at St Brigid’s on Tuesday 21 January at 7pm.

So why not make a special effort to remember Our Lord’s prayer “Father, may they all be one” during the week, and come along to share worship and fellowship with our Christian brothers and sisters.

Fr Matthew