Tag Archives: religion

On Italy, And Hunky Priests

We have just returned from Rome, of which more anon. (I have found a cure for my obsessive fear of flying, which is to write throughout the process. Will get around to posting my latest short story in due course.]

I am reminded, though. of one oddity of this Catholic nation. In bookshops and on street booths you can buy calendars. Cats of Rome, with little kitties pictured on the Forum. Views of the sights of this great city. Or of hunky priests.

I recall these now, from earlier visits. Each month there is a new one in the calendar. February’s is Federico, say, who smoulders out of the picture, all dark good looks and four o’clock shadow. And his grey robes and dog collar.

Then March, and Umberto, ditto, smouldering good looks and four o’clock shadow. And dog collar. Priestly pin-up of the month. There is just one problem with this picture, is there not? He’s a priest. He’s not actually on the market, shall we say? By definition.

Still, women, I assume, must buy these and enjoy looking. Good for them. Actually, priestly abstinence is a relatively late development in Catholicism, and of little scriptural relevance.

Odd thing, religion. No offence intended.



On Churches, And Christmas

My wife went to a midnight mass in church on Christmas Eve in the small Norfolk village where we were staying. She walked out after 15 minutes. It was, she said, utterly lacking in magic or a sense of seasonal mystery. It seemed like a social event held in a community centre.

This is, I suspect, because it was held for believers, as opposed to those who wander in for an annual helping of nostalgic spirituality. God is everywhere, we are told by those who believe in Him. It does not require a picture postcard service of Christmas sentimentality to worship Him.

There are arguments both ways. I suppose it must be a touch galling, for those who worship all year around, to have to cater for spiritual tourists, and put on that sentimental show, with the candles, the crib, the donkey…

On the other hand, Christmas Eve may be the only time non-believers or partial believers venture into church. It is the shop window for a faith that is still shrinking. Is it not better to have a decent audience of uncommitted worshippers once a year, not necessarily there for the right reasons, some of whom may choose to visit more often?

On Armenia, And Armenians

This week I attended a service at Westminster Abbey to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide.

Not a sentence I thought I would ever write, and not one I shall write again, presumably. Armenia was ruled, at the time of the First World War, by the Russians and the Ottoman Turks. It is now an independent nation, one of those to emerge from the wreckage of the old Soviet Union, though it was semi-autonomous before then. In that anywhere was.

In and about 1915, a million and a half or more Armenians died in what is described, perhaps accurately, as the first genocide of the 20th century. At the hands of the Turks, who have so far avoided any admission of guilt.

The service in Westminster Abbey came after the decision by the Armenian Church, earlier this year, to deem all those who died then as martyrs, a little like beatification under the Catholic Church. (Forgive me for any theological solecisms, I am a member of neither church.)

It was performed by CofE worthies such as Richard Chartres, Bishop of London (good sermon, Richard), and the Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of the Armenian Church, among others from that church as well. The equivalent of the Pope, I was told by an Armenian next to me who was helpful enough to interpret events. I felt truly privileged to be a part of it, though regular readers will know my own spiritual views are a little unorthodox.

No pun intended, though the church of Armenia is Orthodox, akin to but independent of the Russian and Greek faiths.

There were 2,200 people present in the Abbey, the majority, I must guess, of Armenian descent. This was, I imagine, the biggest event for them for a generation. Two things struck me.

One, how remarkably smart, well turned out and prosperous they looked. There is what statisticians call a pre-selection bias here, because those who attend such events tend to be among the more prosperous of their community.

Still, I know nothing of the Armenian diaspora but I imagine it followed the usual pattern. First generation poor, second more prosperous, middle class, so onwards, upwards. The Armenians have a reputation for being clever, industrious and mercantile. Such people are not always loved by those less gifted who live among them, or rule over them.

Ah, yes. That second perception. This is where I get into trouble, but I could not help but be reminded of the Jewish diaspora. The Armenians, and the Jews who arrived here at the turn of the last century and in the 1930s, seem to share the enviable ability of being able to ride two horses at once, to retain their cultural roots while assimilating into whatever society they adopted, be it Britain, France (many Armenians went there) or the US.

The Armenians had certain advantages over the Jews, also known for their industriousness and mercantile abilities, I would suggest. The Jewish racial genotype is a recognisable one, always the recipient over the past century of discrimination as a consequence. (Interestingly, less so today. I was brought up with Jewish friends and often had no idea they were such. My parents, and their generation, always knew. Somehow.)

Few, I imagine, over the past century discriminated against an Armenian for being so. Still, it was clear from the service that though you would have no idea of their religious or ethnic background if you met them in your everyday life, they retained an identity entirely their own, and an awareness of that background that ran in parallel with their identity as British.

I think I could spot an Armenian, though to be fair I have known three in my life, one quite well. Blue eyes and dark hair, often, and any name ending in “–ian”.

An extraordinary experience, then.  I hope I have not been patronising to my hosts in giving my untutored response to the ceremony, and a subject I know little about. It has taken me several days to order my thoughts.

I wonder if that ability to ride two horses that way might have lessons elsewhere? No more said.

“Mer Hayrenik’, azat ankakh/ Vor aprel e dare dar/ Yur vordik’e ard kanch’ um e/ Azat, ankakh Hayastan.”