Blog Entries for the World Meeting of Families Events Aug 2018, Dublin.
Running through the whole event was an exhibition on ‘Religious Art in the Home’. The art works were produced by artists resident in Ireland in response to the Pope's letter Amoris Laetitia. Probably the best known contributor was the late Patrick Pye, who produced a striking work on the Crucifixion. There was a huge richness in the other works – I was particularly impressed by the Christmas image of Brónach McGuinness from Belfast, the large dramatic pieces by Ann McKenna from Kildare and the colourful treatments on the theme of Family by George Walsh of Dublin. The catalague (pictured) is a fine resource in itself. Many of these works will feature in an exhibition at the Limerick Diocesan Centre Wed 29 August until Fri 21 September.
Just back from the papal Mass in the Phoenix Park ... a great event that went so smoothly. The music was of a very high standard as it was during the week at the RDS masses, though being a long way back from the altar and with no big screen that close it didn't feel as involving. The opening WMOF theme 'The Joy of Love' set the scene effectively, and I was glad to hear the familiar 'In Christ Alone' near the start. Liam Lawton (pictured, just about!) was in fine form with the responsorial psalm, 'The Lord Hears the Cry of the Poor' and I also loved the fresh makeover given to the old hymn 'O Sacrament Most Holy'. The event was such a fitting and uplifting end to a joyous week.
‘Domestic Devotion - A History of Visual Piety and Religious Practice in the Family Home' was the title of one of the workshops I attended on the Wednesday morning, delivered by Prof Salvador Ryan from the Pontifical Universityof St Patrick’s College Maynooth. Much of the material was from his own family archives and it was an engaging exploration of of those holy prayer books and pictures our grandparents would have been very familiar with. Images of the Sacred Heart were prominent as would be expected and we saw images from a Sacred Heart Prayer Book from the 19th century. There were many lace trimmed prayer cards from France and some of the images were quite unusual .e.g. one strange one showing Mary giving the Eucharist to Jesus, another showing Our Lady giving a cross to a lady, a scary one featuring an unrepentant sinner with devils ready to grab him. Images. Sometimes images of saints appeared on memoriam cards and sometimes there were used as bookmarks, both practices continuing, though with less frequency to the present day.
The Festival of Families event at Croke Park was such a treat. The presentation was spectacular and far exceded my expectations. The atmosphere in Croke Park was electric. It wasn’t entirely my kind of music, but there were so many standout moments - e.g. Rita Connolly singing the ‘Deer’s Cry’, with the World Festival of Families Choir. And I loved the artist combinations we don’t often see - Andrea Bocceli with our own Celine Byrne singing 'Ave Maria', The Priests with Tríona and Mairead Ni Dhomhnail (a striking version of ‘Deus meus Aduva Me’). Sean Keane (pictured) sang a wonderful version of ‘Never Alone’, and Cathy Jordan performed a soulful version of 'Rainy Night in Soho'. I’m not a great fan of Nathan Carter but he really nailed ‘Everybody Hurts’ with the help of several choirs, including two choirs for the deaf. There was a most dramatic and spine tingling moment when Patrick Bergin sang a marvellous version of Leonard Cohen’s ‘Anthem’ as the Holy Father entered the stadium. I don't know if the two events were meant to coincide but it was magic!
The visual effects were eye-popping - in one awe-inspiring sequence aerialist Lee Claydon did some aerial ballet as the Palestrina Choirs sang ‘From Way Up Here’ with a solo from young Davide Antochi from the Croke Park sky walk. I thought the imagery on the back screen while breathtaking could have featured more religious images - e.g. images of Christ during ‘The Deer’s Cry’ which features the Christ-centred prayer of St Patrick’s Breastplate. Some might have wanted the music to be less secular, but it wasn't meant as a liturgical service, rather a festival of celebration and it certainly was that.
World Meeting of Families - more Arts Events: This morning in the Family Arena a group from Comhaltas Ceolteoirí Eireann provided a lively presentation of music, song, dance and poetry on the theme ‘Families of Faith in the Irish Tradition’. The young performers were excellent, and while the presentation wasn’t overtly that religious there was a Rosary motif with references to the ‘Sorrowful Mysteries’ of life, including emigration, and later the ‘glorious Mystery of the Irish tradition’.
(Audrey Assad at World Meeting of Families)
Again with the morning show the crowd was small but increased when American singer-songwriter Audrey Assad took to the stage. I’ve long been a fan and was really looking forward to this. With just herself and piano she turned the huge RDS arena into an intimate space for reflection and prayer. She sang some of her best known songs like ‘Sparrow’ and ‘Garden’ (co-written with Matt Maher) and her voice soared beautifully, the performance enhanced by graceful hand movements.
Her chat between songs was worthy of note. She said she was coming to us as she was, with her doubts and scepticism. Her songs, she said, were often addressed to herself - she was preaching the Gospel to herself. Despite her doubts she was ‘leaning’ towards faith, joy, hope and love, while wrestling with Scripture (as in her treatment of Psalm 23 - ‘I Shall Not Want’). It wasn’t one of her own songs but I loved her heartfelt rendition of Chris Tomlin’s ‘Good Good Father’.
Assad’s performance was entertaining, challenging and inspiring, and all delivered with plenty of good humour.
(Rend Collective at WMOF)
World Meeting of Families - more Arts Events: This Thurs morning in the family arena I was delighted to see the group Kisi Kids performing their musical ‘Song of Ruth’. It was vibrant and celebratory but with touching quiet moments as well. The music seemed to be on backing tracks but the vocals were fine and the harmonies especially good. The cast was huge, with a mixture of young children and older teens, all performing with gusto and very professionally. Kisi is a movement within the Catholic Church and hails from Austria, but has branches worldwide. Their primary work is performing Biblical musicals. Check out www.kisi.org
Unfortunately with so many other activities, including talks, panel discussions and workshops going on the crowd for the morning performance was small and it deserved wider exposure. It struck me that a Catholic arts festival would be an excellent idea for the future.
Fortunately crowds were bigger in the afternoon for the beautiful music of the Mullingar Cathedral Choristers and the Lynn Singers as they sang well known songs like ‘Christ Be Our Light’ and ‘Cead Míle Failte Romhat a Íosa’. The singing was enhanced by some fine piano and harp accompaniment, with violin and horns as well.
Later the group ‘Factor One’ sang the catchy children’s song ‘Please, Thanks You and Sorry’ inspired by the words of Pope Francis.
Mid afternoon there was an unexpected set from singer-songwriter James Kilbane at the Veritas stand, and I stumbled on various young trad groups in the Tech Hall.
Then back to the Family Arena for the day’s Mass when again the music was exceptionally good. Not sure who was leading the music, combined choirs I think, but I did spot some of the talented folks from Newman University Church, including composer Steve Warner. The Congress theme song ‘The Joy of Love’ by Ephrem Feeley was an apt opening hymn and I’ve rarely heard the recessional ‘Laudate Dominum’ sung with such gusto by choir and congregation alike - I even saw young children singing it out.
Finally, in the evening folk-rock Christian band Rend Collective took to the stage and got the crowd moving. It was great to see young nuns and monks bopping with the teens and young adults. The band had energy to spare and sound Christian messages, and style-wise had something of a Mumford vibe. The effect was enhanced by the variety of instruments, with the addition of fiddle, accordion, and distinctive percussion. ‘My Lighthouse’ is one of their best known songs and they gave a fine performance of that one. It’s not my favourite kind of religious music, but there was no denying the confidence and conviction. Pity it was on at the same time as the Rex Band was playing in the Teen Space as the prospective audience would have been similar.
(Our Lady of Victories Gospel Choir)
So, my first day at the Pastoral Congress of the World Meeting of Families was most enjoyable. Apart from catching up with friends there were plenty of arts based activities to enjoy.
First off, over at the Teen Space the Rise Theatre Group, a Christian drama group from Reading UK put on a little drama, ‘Race of Life’ where life in general was compared to a race, with participants having a choice between the ‘Quick Fix’ stop or the ‘Living Water’ rest stop. The former was chosen initially but it led to greed and cut-throat competitiveness, with the Living Water meeting the deeper needs eventually. It was a simple sketch with a simple message but hopefully the teens were provoked to deeper thought and got a chance to tease out the relevant issues in the workshops that followed.
Still in the Teen Space the Elation band were equally at home rocking it up or calming the teens with in the lead in to workshops with the chant-like ‘Trust, Surrender, Believe, Receive’
Gospel music fans weren’t disappointed with three groups performing today. The Dublin Gospel Choir livened things up early in the morning, unfortunately the crowd was small. They concentrated on familiar material that was borderline Gospel - e.g. ‘Something Inside So Strong’, ‘Lovely Day’ and ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’, all performed strongly and with confidence. A few weeks ago I heard ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’ in the same venue, this time sung by its writer Paul Simon - he said it came from somewhere outside of himself, though he didn’t pin down the source of the inspiration. Later Ciaran Coll directed a lively set with the Our Lady of Victories Gospel Choir of Ballymun (pictured above). It seemed more focused on the Gospel and I enjoyed the fact that much of the material was less familiar. Both choirs were in the Family Arena, and in the evening The Gardiner Street Gospel Choir livened up the audience in the Teen Space. From the songs I heard they concentrated on broadly spiritual songs from the mainstream catalogue, e.g. ‘You Got the Love’.
Heading back to the family arena I caught an impressive set from the Rex Band, a rock-gospel group from India. I counted about 15 on stage and they certainly exuded lots of Gospel energy. Much of it was upbeat praise and worship material, but some songs had an Indian flavour, and there was a slow pro-life song/presentation ‘Cry of an Unborn Child’, with its plaintive chorus line ‘Let Me Live’. It was a tad more preachy than I like in a song and I’m not a fan of spoken parts in a song, but it was well received, albeit by the small crowd that remained after the main Mass of the day.
The liturgical music at the Mass was beautiful, delivered by a choir (particularly from the ecclesiastical province of Armagh), and small orchestra. The responsorial psalm sung by Karen O’Donovan was a highlight. A link with the Eucharistic Congress from a few years in the same venue came with the inclusion of the theme song from that event ‘Though We Are Many’ by Bernard Sexton. Before the Mass Archbishop Eamon Martin delivered a keynote address, and introduced it by singing a song of joy - never knew he could sing so beautifully!