Bubbles and Queen Nefertiti

“O Lord my God, when I in awesome wonder consider all the works Thy hand hath made…”

Last week I found myself sitting on a park bench in Berlin. I was gathering my strength to visit some museums there in one of the world’s greatest concentrations of culture in one place – the so-called Museum Island where many of humanity’s treasures are gathered.

But it was not the contents of these that caught my attention It was the chap on the lawn with a big pool of soapy stuff blowing those huge balloons with two sticks. He was surrounded by a gang of children gazing in amazement as the enormous bubbles wobbled off up into the heavens. Many were desperate to have a go, and the frenzy of excitement hit new heights. So here we were, surrounded by the priceless achievements of the human race – but the kids just wanted the bubbles, their faces and voices capturing the “awesome wonder” of what air can do with soap.

An hour later I found myself inside face-to-face with one of the most famous sculptures in the world – the head of Nefertiti. This limestone carving of the Queen of Egypt, wife of Akhenaten, from about 1350 BC, stops you in your tracks.

“Perfection” an American lady behind me said. Indeed, you cannot help but marvel at the beauty of the Egyptian queen and the skill of the sculptor.

Then I suddenly remembered the laughing kids outside. In front of Nefertiti, as when faced with a stunning landscape like the Rockies, we can be taken to a different place. May we never lose our childlike “awesome wonder”, the excitement deep in our human spirit when we consider God’s works, either in nature itself or through human gifts – or even in soapy water in a Berlin park.

Fr Matthew

Surprising Korea

Martyrs 20th September

You may be amazed to discover that by 2015 the Catholic Church in South Korea had 5,560,971 members (10.6% of the population) with 4,901 priests and 1,668 parishes.

A Portuguese Jesuit was possibly the first Catholic missionary in Korea, arriving in 1593. However, Catholicism in Korea really began in 1784 when a layman Yi Seung-hun was baptized in China. He returned to Korea with religious texts, and baptized many fellow countrymen. Interestingly the Church continued without formal missionary priests until clergy from France arrived in 1836. During the 19th century, the Church was targeted by the government chiefly for its opposition to ancestor worship, important to Korean culture. Despite a century-long persecution that produced thousands of martyrs – 103 were canonized by Pope St John Paul in 1984, including the first Korean priest, St Andrew Kim, ordained in 1845 and martyred in 1846 – the Church in Korea expanded.

Current surveys show that more than 45% of South Koreans practice no religion, that about 22% are Buddhists, and that 28% are Christians with just under 11% being Catholics and 18% being Protestants, meaning that Christianity is the largest religion. The Catholic Church in South Korea has seen prodigious growth in recent years, increasing its membership by 70%. In 2014 alone, the Church grew by 2.2% as over 98,000 Koreans became Catholic. There has also been an increase in vocations to the priesthood and religious life. Part of this growth can be attributed to the Church’s positive perception by the pubic because of its role in the democratization of South Korea, its participation in works of social welfare, and its respectful approach to interfaith relationship and matters of traditional Korean spirituality.

There are now 15 dioceses in the South, but in North Korea all Christianity is officially suppressed, and unofficial estimates by South Korean Church officials place the number of Catholics there at only 5,000. Pope Francis visited South Korea in 2014, when he beatified 124 more martyrs. An invitation for North Korea’s Catholics to be allowed to attend was declined.

Fr Matthew

Racing, shopping and Saint Denial

St Deiniol (feast day Monday) seems to have been the first Bishop of Bangor in Gwynedd, North Wales. The present Bangor Cathedral (now Anglican) is dedicated to him, and is said to be on the site where his monastery stood, possibly the oldest cathedral site in Britain.

Deiniol was from an old family who lost their land in the North of England but were given land by the King of Powys in Wales. One member joined the Celtic religious life and founded the monastery at a different Bangor, on the river Dee, now better known for horse racing!

Deiniol is said to have studied under St Cadoc at Llancarfan, not far from Cardiff and site of the famous rediscovered frescoes. He also spent part of his early life as a hermit in Pembrokeshire, but was soon called to be a bishop. He soon left Powys for Gwynedd where he founded the monastery of Bangor which was later raised to be the official seat of a bishop, whose diocese covered the principality of Gwynedd. Deiniol would spend the remainder of his days there as Abbot and Bishop.

He attended the famous Synod of Llanddewi Brefi in Carmarthenshire in c. 545 with St David, and was apparently consecrated Bishop by him. It is said he died in 584 and was buried on Bardsey Island the so-called Island of the Saints off the Llyn peninsula. St Deiniol was venerated across North Wales and is also venerated in Britanny as Saint Denoual. In English and Latin his name is sometimes rendered as Daniel.

Prime Minister Gladstone dedicated to him St Deiniol’s Library, a residential library in Hawarden, Flintshire for arts students, in 1896, and is buried at St Deiniol’s Church there. Rather more prosaically, Deiniol’s name, rather like St David in Cardiff, has also been given to the Deiniol Centre, a shopping centre in Bangor!