Last Tuesday I attended the Annual General Meeting of the Conference of Religious in Scotland. It took place, for the first time, in Carfin, and I was looking forward to it as I hadn’t been to Carfin since I was at school, over 50 years ago. I had decided to go by train as there was no direct bus, and recent excursions to Lanarkshire by car had gotten very confusing. I got the bus from Bishopbriggs into Buchanan Bus Station and walked down to Glasgow Central intending to get the 09.17 to Edinburgh Waverley, stopping at Carfin. This would get me there way too early and the next train would have sufficed, but I wanted to give myself time to have a walk around the Grotto area. I purchased my ticket and waited patiently for the departures board to tell me what platform to go to. Eventually Platform 5 came up, with the additional information that we were to head for the front two carriages. Off I went and boarded the train on the first carriage, then settled down to say my Morning Office. Just as I was finishing there was an announcement that this was the train to Newton. What? How did that happen? I grabbed my bits and pieces and jumped off the train, looking to find a guard, only to notice that since I had boarded this train, another train had come in front of us, and that was the train I was meant to be on. I ran along the platform and jumped on to the second carriage from the front, just seconds before the doors closed and the train pulled out.
Four stops later I alighted at Carfin. It was a pleasant day and I set off on my stroll. I can’t even say that it had changed a lot since I was last there as I had very little memory of my school trip, but it was obvious that there were some fairly recent additions. One that struck me was a beautiful sculpture of Pope St. John Paul II in the shrine area erected by the Polish Community. It captured that iconic image of JPII as an old and frail man, leaning on his crozier, chasuble blowing in the wind, and giving witness to the dignity of age and sickness. He is gazing over at the glass-fronted chapel of Our Lady, Maid of the Seas, where the Blessed Sacrament is often exposed, capturing his great devotion to Our Lady and to the Eucharist. This chapel is also dedicated to the victims of the Lockerbie Disaster. Lest the Lithuanians feel left out, I was also taken by their shrine area with the Wayside Crucifix flanked by statues of Our Lady of Vilnius, erected to mark the Marian Year of 1989, and St. Casimir, erected in 1990 to mark Lithuania’s regained independence from the Soviet Union. This area is next to the Assisi Garden with statues of St. Francis and St. Anthony, (also St. Claire), and having been Christened Francis Anthony I am a bit of a closet Franciscan.
This was appropriate as Franciscans were the first to feature in the main talk of the day which, to mark the centenary of the Catholic Education Act of 1918, was a celebration of the contribution of Religious to Education in Scotland. The speaker was Dr Francis O’Hagan who set out to highlight five Religious Orders in particular whose work had paved the way for that Act. The first of these was the Franciscans of the Immaculate Conception who came to Glasgow 1n 1847 and through whom Catholic religious life returned to the West of Scotland for the first time since the Reformation. Other orders highlighted were the Sisters of Mercy, the Marist Brothers, the Jesuits and the Sisters of Notre Dame. There were some extraordinary women and men among those groups and what they achieved was remarkable.
My journey home was easier. I got the train, accompanied by the latest member of the Jesuit community at St. Aloysius, an Indian by birth, who was ordained last June and Glasgow is his first appointment, teaching religion in the high school. His first question to me when I introduced myself to him as a Passionist was, “Do you know Father Gareth?” Is there anyone who doesn’t know that Welshman? It turns out they had studied together at Heythrop College in London. He also knew Brother Antony but he was only an afterthought. Jesus is the great teacher, and after washing the disciples’ feet He spoke these words, which seem appropriate to finish: “You call me Teacher and Lord and rightly so, for that is what I am”