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Good leadership engenders real hope

Second Reading

Good leadership engenders real hope


Fr Kevin Hegarty

The ability to instil hope is an essential ingredient of positive leadership. In 1940 the British people were in despair. The Nazi terror was on the doorstep. The appointment of Winston Churchill inspired the hope that evil could be defeated. The caption in the Pieta House advertisement  for its ‘Darkness into the Light’ walk, on May 11 puts it simply ‘Hope, it’s a powerful thing’.
We live in gloomy economic times. Nothing new there! For the past five years we have been haunted by recession and battered by austerity. We are bombarded by painful stories of those facing the financial abyss. Unemployment remains stubbornly high, house repossessions are rising. Daily we hear of people suffering the threatening ministrations of banks whose main imperative seems to be the restoration of their funds after their profligacy during the years of the boom. “Put not your trust in princes,” exclaimed Thomas Wentworth in 1641 as he went to the gallows despite a lifetime of service to the English king. Those of us who believe in Christianity find in it the ultimate embodiment of hope. Though often stranded on Calvary we seek to deepen our faith in the light-filled reality of resurrection. It is appropriate that hope was the theme of a Novena that ended yesterday in the Graan, a monastery set in rolling fertile fields in Fermanagh.
Among the  keynote speakers were Mark Harte, Alice Leahy, Michael Hand and myself. Mark, brother to Michaela who was murdered on her honeymoon in Mauritius two years ago, set the tone with a poignant address describing how his family are coping with the tragedy that befell them. The novena is the initiative of Fr Brian Darcy, probably the best known priest in Ireland. He has been a columnist for ‘The Sunday World’ for 38 of the 40 years existence of the paper. When asked to write the column he was somewhat doubtful. The new paper was colourful and edgy and disdained by the staid Catholic Community. The then editor, Kevin Marron, quelled his doubts by saying he was offering him a congregation of three quarters of a million readers. “If a priest has nothing to say to them, then he has nothing to say!”
And so began a long career in the secular media that now includes a weekly BBC  programme. I admire his commitment, honesty and enthusiasm. He is forthright in his views, yet fair in his expression of them. His questioning of Church policies on, for example, clerical celibacy, has got him into trouble. I met him for the first time at the Association of the Catholic Priests meeting in Dublin in October 2011 . He seemed somewhat sad and weary. I did not know then the pressure he was experiencing.
Some months later the story broke that the Vatican was trying to curb his freedom to write, as with Frs Tony Flannery, Seán Fagan and Gerard Moloney. Curia officials had questioned the orthodoxy of his writings, though he had never denied any of the fundamental doctrines of Catholicism. Since the election of Pope Francis the Church seems to be in a new and modern space, though time will soon tell whether this is an illusion. My hope is that the officials will be told to put their shabby swords back in their scabbards and to find better ways of spending their time. Like for example going to work in a parish where they would meet real people, not theological and liturgical cutouts . I spent an extraordinary day at the novena last Wednesday, the highlight of which was the afternoon healing service. When I arrived there I first met a battalion of people preparing to serve afternoon tea to the 800 plus people expected at the service. Some of them had been there since 7.30am arranging the cakes and other delicacies, all provided free by themselves, on trays. I thought I was seeing a contemporary re-enactment of the miracle of the loaves and fishes, or the story as a film director might envisage it. Altogether there were three services on Wednesday, each one packed to standing room only. For each one people began to arrive at least one hour before the starting time. Local volunteers genially policed the enormous car park. Also giving their services free were Nathan Carter, a new star in the Irish Country music world, and his band. Nathan is a very young member of shy grace who seemed somewhat bewildered by his popularity. I hope he goes far.
At the centre of this hive of activity was Fr Brian. He has impressive leadership and organisational skills. He has a way of making everyone feel welcome and at home. I don’t know where he gets the energy.
I remember seeing a cartoon of Henry Kissinger when as American Secretary of State he was involved in shuttle diplomacy. Sometimes it seemed as if he was on three continents in the one day. The cartoon depicted a weary Kissinger arriving into a bedroom while another bright-eyed and bush- tailed, emerged from a wardrobe. I was tempted to look in the wardrobes in the Graan! Thanks to Fr. Brian, Vera, Patricia and Carmel and all who made my visit so memorable.