Radio: A-Z of the cross

07 April 2010

by Edward Wickham

I LEAVE it to others to critique the Archbishop of Canterbury’s words on the state of the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland, as delivered in Start the Week (Monday, R4) but widely circulated in advance of the broadcast. Suffice to say that Dr Williams was neither misreported nor taken out of context. This is not to say, of course, that he meant his remarks to come out as they did.

The programme as a whole was an admirable — and rare — ex­ample of a round-table radio talk show demonstrating consistency and cohesion. Andrew Marr’s guests — gathered in Lambeth Palace for the occasion — all had interesting and pertinent angles on the big questions of faith, religion, and interfaith relations.

It was, therefore, entirely natural that a conversation that was soon to turn to religious pluralism (in re­spect of David Baddiel’s film The Infidel) and the relationship be­tween global big business and per­sonal faith (Mona Siddiqui is a newly appointed adviser to the World Economic Forum) should begin with the Archbishop’s views on the plight of Christians around the world.

He talked of the suffering of com­munities in Nigeria and the Middle East before he turned closer to home and reflected on the “colossal trauma” suffered recently by Irish Roman Catholicism. To ears finely attuned to the nuances of political insult, this might have sounded startling. But to find offence in that, the listener surely needed the ears of someone who, in the words of George Eliot, can hear the grass grow and the squirrel’s heart beat, and is deafened by the roar that lies at the other side of silence.

One of those Christians about whom Rowan Williams might have been talking is Pastor Mohamba Dounia, whose story featured on a special Holy Week edition of Heart and Soul (World Service, Saturday). Caught up in the conflict between government and rebel forces in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Pastor Dounia underwent a horrific period of torture.


This impassioned, poetic testi­mony came at the end of a programme in which Michael Ford explored the different ways in which people under extreme stress under­stand the Easter story — through the experience of pain and its alleviation. A cancer-sufferer talked of how the promise of resurrection became more comprehensible as his suffering increased. As one hospice chaplain expressed it, resurrections of hope can come in a multiplicity of surprising forms.

Something of that theme of faith expressed and understood through the unexpected was also present in Radio 4’s Good Friday Liturgy, a sequence of readings, reflections, and music, in which the Revd Professor Ben Quash took a walk to his workplace (King’s College, London) through London.

His stations along the way included Great Ormond Street Hospital, Covent Garden, and Tate Modern (a mix-up with the A-Z, I suspect), connected by the theme of cries — the cries of football fans at the Emirates Stadium the cheer­ing and jeering of crowds in Covent Garden, and the lonely crying of the bereaved in a hospital chapel.

The producer, Clair Jaquiss, and Professor Quash deserve applause for a thoroughly imaginative take on the themes of Good Friday and the concept of a broadcast liturgy.

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