independent

Sunday 20 April 2014

The poor die young and who cares?

IT RAINED every single day in Kerry in early August. Maybe it rained every single day right through the 'summer'. In the end I took flight and decided to revisit places in which I had lived many years ago. It's interesting to go back to places in which you previously lived.

My first call was Cork and on a whim I decided to retrace steps I had often taken in the late 1970s. Back then I became friendly with Julia. She was an old lady, who lived in poor conditions. We immediately hit it off and I was greatly impressed with her gentleness and kindness. I got to know her children and their children and she became friendly with my parents. Our friendship spanned a three year period.

Within about a year of my leaving Cork Julia died. I had just begun teaching so I was unable to attend the funeral Mass but I did travel from Newbridge to Cork so as to be at the evening removal service. In the funeral home before the body was transferred to the church I said a decade of the rosary and when I was leaving a member of the funeral home staff offered me a £1 note, which I declined. I suggested he give it to a deserving charity.

The following summer I was back in Cork and called on Julia's daughter. The moment the door was opened I felt all the wrong vibes. I had been friendly with Julia's daughter over the years and many is the laugh and joke we shared. Her husband experienced bad health and was in and out of hospital. On this summer's day I certainly did not feel the usual warmth and welcome, which I had previously experienced.

We chatted for a while and then when I was leaving I asked the woman of the house if the funeral of her late mother had set her back much. There was a momentary silence and then, and I can still see it, she looked at me with a coldness I had never seen in her face before. 'Father, you don't mind if I say to you that I thought your charge of £10 to say a decade of the Rosary was very high.'

I was stuck to the floor. I could not believe what I was hearing. I tried to explain that the reality was very different. But she did not believe me. The funeral home people always dressed in a most respectable manner and haut couture has never been my thing. It seems people find it easier to believe the well-dressed 'respectable' merchants.

It must have been ten years later when I met up with her again. I explained to her in as forceful and convincing a way as I could, what had actually happened. I think eventually she believed my story. When I was back in Cork earlier this month I met a neighbour of Julia's. She told me that Julia's daughter and her husband had died. They would have been no more than 10 years older than I. The poor die young. And who cares.

It made me think how we treat our poorer and less privileged people in society. No one will convince me that the dice is always stacked against those who have the least resources. They are battered, abused and yes, insulted by State and the private sector.

After my evening in Cork I went on to Rome to retrace old haunts from the 1970s. Almost 40 years later I found myself scratching my head and asking myself, what indeed is it all about. As a young student in Rome I really enjoyed skiing in Terminllo in winter and swimming in summer in Ostia. Back then I never managed to get my head around those young men all dressed up in cassocks and habits.

That clerical haut couture has always made me smile. It confirms me in my beliefs. A well researched story for a later date. If Jesus Christ turned up on our doorstep what would he have to say about how we live out the message he left us? What would he say about how we treat the poorer and less privileged in our society? I think I have a fair idea.

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