Tuesday, March 13, 2007

An unwelcome unforgettable day

When something terrible happens you don't expect, you tend to remember where you were when you heard. I was writing up Chemistry practical notes in my hostel room when another student listening to the radio knocked the door, announcing President Kennedy's assassination. I was sitting in the lounge in the Chaplaincy house in Monaco, overlooking the sea, when breaking news of 9/11 was flashed up on the TV screen. This is a day to remember because of the murder of Father Paul Bennett, the Vicar of Trecynon and a fellow priest of the diocese of Llandaff, a beloved community pastor and family man, grandfather like me, just three years younger. What a waste.

I'd just received the good news that the Parish of St Agnes, Port Talbot had shown an interest and been granted permission to take the beautiful reredos (by a follower of Sir Ninian Comper) from the now redundant St James' church and install it in their own church - one of the last pieces of unfinished business standing between our Parish and the final disposal of the building. I rang Iris the churchwarden to tell her, only to be told that her sister had rung from Trecynon to tell her of the killing of their local minister. The sister lives in the street by the church. Such a small world. Only when I checked the Beeb news website a little later, did I realise the victim was a colleague in the diocese.

Later, I thought, this could have been me. I was attacked during a carol service last December by a man enduring a psychotic episode, and my jacket shredded as a result of him clawing at me. When he went for my throat I had to resort to bending back his fingers sharply to extract myself from his grip. All this, while I was waiting at the back of the congregation to go forward and give the final blessing. (I had to ditch the jacket quietly and try to look casual.) It was a bit shocking. But what might have happened if he had been carrying a knife un-noticed? People who knew the man in question blamed his behaviour on wrong medication. But the real issue is the insufficient resources given to mental health care, drug addiction included. Many in prison should really be in hospital instead.

The fact is, too many sick people are receiving inadequate attention for their ailments of mind and spirit. Recently I have been accompanying someone living bravely with a severe emotional disorder which remains untreated, as nobody seems to understand why it doesn't yield to the usual treatments. The 'support worker' on the case has no knowledge and understanding of his client's disorder. Case management and the client's social needs is a long tale of lost dossiers and buck passed around with great earnestness. And we dare budget more cash to fund weapons of mass destruction, whilst society is subjected to increasing on-on-one acts of criminal violence that destroys innocent lives.

Even if it turns out that Fr Paul's killer is insane and not temporarily crazy on drugs, it's still an indictment on the values and priorities we allow to be imposed upon us. We fail to do our utmost to deal with suffering that drives people to insanity, murderous, suicidal or otherwise.

Paul, I pray the journey you have so abruptly started allows you to savour the blessings of the life you left today and that they will equip you for the embrace of the even greater joy into which you are welcomed. Trecynon and all your friends will surround, comfort and cherish Georgina and all your family. The rest of us have to strive a lot harder against this world's demonic addiction to violence let alone all the other things people crave.

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