Just after I finished the log last week and sent it off to our webmaster for posting, along with the newsletter, word came in of the death of Queen Elizabeth II. We prayed for her respectfully at the Novena Mass that evening, and at the Masses next day. Since then, of course, it has been blanket coverage. I was born in June 1951, while George VI was still king. He died in February the following year and Elizabeth immediately acceded to the throne. Her coronation took place in June 1953. So, Elizabeth has been queen for almost all of my lifetime. Being from an Irish immigrant Catholic family, the queen didn’t feature hugely in our consciousness. In our tenement home in Partick, we had the usual pictures of the Pope, the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the Immaculate Heart of Mary, and Saint Anthony of Padua. There was no picture of the queen, but neither was there any anti-royal sentiment. I suppose what I remember most is the national anthem being played at the end of a night at the cinema, or at the dancing, at which I probably felt a slight awkwardness, but stood anyway, as everyone else was standing. I think that came to an end sometime in the early 1970’s. On hearing of Queen Elizabeth’s death, I surprised myself by feeling quite emotional. Over the years I had come to respect her as a woman of deep faith, and someone whose faith informed an extraordinary life of dedicated service, and devotion to duty. I admired her when, as the country became less and less Christian, she continued to express her Christian faith quite strongly in her Christmas messages, and on other occasions when she addressed the nation. Ironically, I will be in Dublin for meetings on the day of her funeral. I do, however, feel a sense of being part of history as King Charles III accedes to the throne. We will pray also for him. I still remember a remark he made once, along the lines of, that to imagine the universe was created by accident, was like believing a hurricane could blow through a scrap yard and create a Rolls Royce. I think he actually had a Rolls Royce at the time. He too, I believe, is a man of strong Christian faith, and I’m sure that will inform his reign too, like his mother.
In terms of being part of history, the last time I felt that was when I was in Africa at the time of the first free elections in South Africa, which took place on 27th April 1994, now known as Freedom Day. In the lead-up to the elections, I had spent a few months looking after a parish, including a black township, in South Africa, near Pretoria. I remember clearly the tensions running high and I experienced a few scary moments during that time. I remember too, the efforts made to inform black and coloured people of the process of casting their vote, as it was something completely new to them. I felt embarrassed at the things we take for granted. Before the elections took place, I moved on to Botswana for a time to work with Passionist postulants and novices. I finished my African trip at our Theology house in Kenya, near Nairobi, and I was there when the elections in South Africa took place. Coincidentally, it was while she was in Kenya, that the then Princess Elizabeth heard of the death of her father. A few days before the elections, South Africans living in other countries were facilitated in casting their votes. I recall clearly three of our Theology students putting on their best clothes and queuing for hours to cast their vote in Nairobi. They were so excited, and so proud. It was, for me, very humbling. So, yes, I feel a sense of history in these present days. Someone mentioned to me that when the new postage stamps come out, the king’s head will face in the opposite direction to that of the queen’s on current stamps. I’ll take their word for it. The last time I took an interest in stamps was when the postal service in Ireland brought out a first-class stamp to commemorate the Canonization of St. Charles of Mount Argus. As rector at the time, they obliged me with a generous number of first editions which I was able to distribute to deserving recipients. I suppose, in Passionist terms, that was history too.
I now know that Fr Gareth will return on 29th September, Feast of the Archangels. Yippee!
So, as always, protect yourselves, protect your loved ones, and protect Christ in your lives.