We got back from our pilgrimage yesterday evening, tired but happy with the days spent in Italy. As promised, you were all remembered in prayer, and I received some messages from members around the world indicating that they were with us in spirit.
I know a lot has happened in Ireland since we left, mostly concerning abortion and the vilification of a fine senator, Sen. Ronan Mullen - a gentleman who listens and respects even the most vociferous of his opponents. I think the attack on him, unwarranted, unjust and hateful as it is, is part of the anti-life campaign to silence the argument against the introduction of abortion into Ireland. The annihilation of a good Christian man comes easy to ideologues who want to enshrine in law the annihilation of innocent children.
They have made their plans, they have their politicians in place and I think it is a foregone conclusion that the Minister for Health, Dr James Reilly, will legislate for abortion. The time has come to make our voices heard, and time for Church leaders to stand up and meet the challenge. Time too to remind Catholic politicians that to legislate for abortion carries with it automatic excommunication from the Church. And that includes exclusion from the Eucharist and other sacraments. The Church will be attacked and vilified by the media, but it is time to bite the bullet. Perhaps Church leaders should pop over to Rome and confer with CDF on how to respond should Enda Kenny, James Reilly and co legalise the killing of unborn babies.
We must pray and fast - as Jesus said, only prayer and fasting can exorcise such demons, and believe me, those who are working hard to bring abortion into Ireland are working for the demons.
Speaking of demons and the fight against their influence, we had a wonderful surprise in store for us on the last day of our pilgrimage: one of the Church's great Saints had a treat in store for us. As we were winging our way from Loreto to Bologna airport, we had scheduled a stop at the Basilica of St Dominic, where the great man is entombed. We had a slot booked for Mass. However, our plans did not work out, and when we arrived at the Basilica, they were closing the doors for the siesta. Everyone was disappointed, but despite that, there was no persuading. One of our priests managed to slip in as the door was closing, so he got to the tomb and offered prayer for us all.
When he got out, we all began the lonely track back to the bus. I was aware St Catherine of Bologna was somewhere in the city, but not sure where. As we made our way through the streets, one of our pilgrims, Mary, was shouting at us from a side street: "St Catherine is in here!" We jumped with joy and ran to the church for fear they would close it. Our group got in, honoured the Lord and found St Catherine's body, sitting up in her chair, spied through a little window over an altar dedicated to her.
Then a gentleman in the church told us that the sisters might open up the door to the inner chapel to allow us see the Saints up close. Our guide, Mario, rang the bell and, God bless those holy Poor Clare nuns, they opened the door and allowed us into the chapel, even though they were in siesta time. We spent some wonderful moments venerating the Saint's incorrupt body. She is perfect, apart from the colour. I noticed her hands and feet, perfectly preserved, looking fresh as if blood was flowing through them. Dainty hands, yet hands that worked hard for Christ. One of the sisters opened the shop, so our pilgrims bought little biographies, medals, rosaries and prayer cards. They were delighted, and the visit has left its impression on them.
Reflecting on it, I think Dominic and Catherine were in cahoots. St Dominic was a man who did not draw attention to himself - it was the Word which was important: and we heard the Word that day. St Catherine was calling us to visit her, to be made aware of her life, her struggle with temptation (of which she is patron), and her trust in God: something we need to hear in Ireland today. She was also an artist, musician and writer - how appropriate - I must sign her up as a member of the Fraternity! May she intercede for us all.
So, if you happen to be in Bologna, go and visit St Catherine in the Church of Corpus Domini: it is a grace-filled place. Today, I place Ireland and the unborn of Ireland in her hands, may she intercede that those who seek to destroy those innocent lives will be confounded.