07 February 2021

How European borders
can create division or
enrich cultural co-operation

Médecins Sans Frontières … breaking down borders brings healing (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

As ‘Brexit’ begins to have its impact throughout this island, many of us are realising the harsh realities it is creating. Many popular brands and items are no longer readily available on the supermarket shelves, buying online has become more difficult – it’s not all that easy for everyone to access amazon.de or amazon.fr – and when we finally translate from German or French and find what we want, deliveries are slow and there is always the fear of those ‘hidden extras’ and unexpected charges.

Fishing boats have reduced areas to fish in, and they face greater complications in getting their catches to their markets.

Both the Vatican and San Marino – two of the three smallest internationally-recognised states in the world – are completely landlocked by Italy. The Vatican State has an area of just 44 ha (109 acres), and San Marino just 61 sq km (24 sq miles).

There are other countries that are totally landlocked by EU member states: Andorra is surrounded by Spain and France; Monaco’s only land border is with France; In addition, Switzerland and Liechtenstein only have borders with each other and with EU member states.

Perhaps the most unusual land border that is legally an internal border in the EU is the land border between France and the Netherlands – not on the continental European landmass, but on the shared island of Saint Martin / Sint Maarten in the Caribbean.

Malta, the world’s tenth smallest country defined by land area, has three main inhabited islands, but no land borders. The land border dividing Cyprus is illegal by all standards of international law, and Portugal’s only land border is with Spain.

Derry Girls … television can create a shared, cross-Border humour (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)


All the protocols promised that there would be no return to a hard border on this island. Now the Republic Ireland has become the only EU member state whose only land border is with a non-EU state.

I have crossed many of the internal and external borders of the EU, including the ‘Green Line’ dividing Cyprus. Even when a non-EU member state is part of the Schengen agreement, border crossings are not always smooth and seamless, as many people know when they arrive at the French ‘side’ or ‘sector’ of Geneva airport and want to hire a car to drive in Switzerland.

On the other hand, however, neither the Vatican nor San Marino is a party to the Schengen Agreement. Yet I have criss-crossed the borders between these two microstates without ever showing a passport, changing currency or facing customs … and sometimes not knowing which side of the border I was on.

Historically, the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands were never part of the UK or of the EU. Yet travel between the UK and the Republic of Ireland with those islands was always clean and simple – in pre-Covid days.

It seems, even in the first weeks of implementing ‘Brexit,’ that both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland got the worst possible deal, when we compare ourselves with tiny Andorra, Liechtenstein, Monaco, San Marino and the Vatican.

San Marino is not in the EU … but visitors do not need a visa to cross the border (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Gibraltar … in or out
of the European Union?

One of the many unusual land borders I have crossed is the border at La Linea between Gibraltar and Spain. Technically, Gibraltar is not a member state of the Commonwealth, so it seems to be an anomaly that it was the only British Overseas Territory that was part of the EU.

After a ten-year campaign for the right to vote in European elections, the people of Gibraltar took part in European Parliament elections from 2004 to 2019 as part of the South-West England constituency, along with Bristol, Cornwall, Devon, Dorset, Gloucestershire, Somerset and Wilshire.

Before Britain left the EU, the constituency had five MEPs, including three Brexit Party members, among them the formidable Anne Widdicombe. But there was an 84 per cent turnout in the ‘Brexit’ referendum in Gibraltar in 2016, and 96 per cent of voters opted to remain in the EU.

The Economist, long part of my essential weekly reading, reported recently how the Chief Minister of Gibraltar, Fabian Picardo, describes Gibraltar as ‘a perfect synthesis of Britishness and the Mediterranean way of life.’ There are red telephone boxes, the police wear ‘London Bobby’ style helmets, and there are English pubs and a Marks & Spencer shop.

The official language is English. But the 34,000 residents often lapse into Llanito, a kind of ‘Spanglish’, and their daily lives are intertwined with Spain.

Gibraltar exports few goods, and its economy depends on finance, online gambling and tourism. It also depends on 10,000 workers who cross the border each day from Spain, and it relies on its Spanish hinterland for space for homes and business expansion.

Crossing the border at Gibraltar … totally landlocked by Spain (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)


Gibraltar got some consolation for Brexit on 31 December with an agreement that softens what is now a hard border. It was a victory for common sense. This agreement aspires to freedom of travel between Gibraltar and Spain. A corollary is that Gibraltar’s airport and port will be the external border of the EU and will fall within the Schengen passport-free area. Arriving passengers, including British visitors, will have their passports checked first by Gibraltar’s police and then by Frontex, the EU’s border agency, working in conjunction with the Spanish police.

The Economist points out that many of details have still to be hammered out before a treaty between the EU and Britain, perhaps later this year. But this involves many fudges. Spain continues to claim sovereignty over Gibraltar, although it was handed over to Britain over 300 years ago in 1713.

Without an agreement, the biggest losers would be the Spanish towns in the hinterland across the border. These are some of the poorest in Spain. In Linea, unemployment is already 27 per cent and drug-traffickers are powerful.

As I write, La Linea and Gibraltar are both locked down due to Covid-19, and there is little traffic across the border. But when the pandemic ends, both sides have much to gain, and Fabian Picardo says he looks forward to a ‘Bay of Prosperity.’

A red post box in Gibraltar … ‘a perfect synthesis of Britishness and the Mediterranean way of life’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

A Cold War border
breaks down barriers

Among the many interesting but curious borders I have crossed between two EU member states is the old Cold War border that slices through the town that is known on one side in Italian as Gorizia and on the other side, in Slovenia, as Nova Gorica.

Like Berlin, this is one city is one despite straddling an old Cold War frontier, but unlike Berlin it remains in two separate states. Nicosia in Cyprus is also a divided capital, but this is in contravention of UN resolutions and international law.

In recent weeks it was announced the city has been chosen as the European Capital of Culture for 2025, alongside the German city of Chemnitz, known in East Germany during the Cold War era as Karl-Marx-Stadt.

Galway and Rijeka in Croatia were the European Capitals of Culture last year, and this year’s Capitals of Culture are Elefsina in Greece, Timisoara in Romania and Novi Sad in Serbia.

Gorizia and Nova Gorica applied as one, single urban area as the candidate for 2025 in a unique gesture of cross-border co-operation. Together, these two cities will be the first capital of a region that stretches across two countries.

The mayors say this this gives the two cities the opportunity to become an important point in the EU as ‘the hub of the cross-border region.’

Crossing points in Gorizia have been a matter of curiosity since the end of the Cold War (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)


After the collapse of Yugoslavia, the frontier dividing Gorizia remained in place until Slovenia became part of the Schengen Agreement on 21 December 2007.

Today, the border between Italy and Slovenia is almost invisible, an artificial line that slices through Gorizia and Nova Gorica. The most celebrated border crossing is at Europa Square, an open pedestrian square in front of the Transalpina railway station. But there are other border crossings between Gorizia and Nova Gorica, for the border is a straight line that ignores the natural contours and bends in the streets and buildings, still seen in the remains of a fence that once ran across streets and even divided gardens.

Today, the two towns form one conurbation that also includes the Slovenian municipality of Šempeter-Vrtojba. Since May 2011, these three towns are joined in a common trans-border metropolitan zone, administered by a joint administration board.

As I stepped between three towns and two countries, no-one asked me for a passport, no-one asked me to take my place in a queue, asked for my identity, or sought my opinion on who should be in the European Union and who should be out.

Perhaps the most creative and inviting borders are the ones that invite us to step out of our safe space to enrich our cultural experiences and to appreciate diversity and pluralism in our own lives. And, conversely, the worst borders must be those I set up in my own mind, to exclude others and to put fences around my own inner, and all too comfortable prejudices.

Gorizia has been chosen as one city as the European Capital of Culture for 2025 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

This feature was first published in February 2021 in the ‘Church Review’, the Dublin and Glendalough diocesan magazine (pp 14-15)

Sunday intercessions on
7 February 2021,
Creation Sunday

‘The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it’ (John 1: 4) … evening lights at Knightstown on Valentia Island, Co Kerry (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Let us pray:

‘The earth is the Lord’s and all that fills it, the compass of the world and all who dwell therein (Psalm 24: 1):

Heavenly Father,
we pray for the world,
and for all who ‘strive to safeguard the integrity of creation
and sustain and re-new the life of the earth.

We pray for all who defend democracy and human rights,
for all who stand against racism, prejudice and oppression,
for all nations torn and divided by war and strife,
and we pray for all peacemakers.

Lord have mercy,
Lord have mercy.

Christ ‘is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; … in him all things in heaven and on earth were created … ’ (Colossians 1: 5-16):

Lord Jesus Christ,
on this Creation Sunday, we pray for the Church,
that we may reflect your love for the cosmos.

We pray for our neighbouring churches and parishes
in Co Limerick and Co Kerry,
that we may be blessed in their variety and diversity.

In the Anglican Cycle of Prayer this week,
we pray for the Anglican Church of Burundi,
and Most Revd Martin Blaise Nyaboho,
Archbishop of Burundi and Bishop of Makamba.

In the Church of Ireland this month,
we pray for the Diocese of Clogher,
and the bishop-elect, the Revd Canon Dr Ian Ellis.

In the Diocesan Cycle of Prayer this week,
we pray for those in our dioceses
suffering from despair, depression and addiction.

We pray for our own parishes and people,
and we for ourselves …

Christ have mercy,
Christ have mercy.

‘When you send forth your spirit … you renew the face of the earth’ (Psalm 104: 32):

Holy Spirit,
we pray for all created beings;
we pray for ourselves, for one another as children of God,
for those we love and those who love us,
and we remember those who have brought love into our lives:

We pray for those in need and those who seek healing …
for those working for healing …
for those waiting for healing …
for those seeking an end to this Covid crisis …

We pray for those who are sick or isolated,
at home or in hospital …

Linda … Ann … Daphne … Declan … Sylvia …
Ajay … Ena … Eileen … George … Louise …
Ralph …

We pray for those we have offered to pray for …
and we pray for those who pray for us …

We pray for all who grieve and mourn at this time …
for Margaret, Nigel, Brian and their families …
Anne, Pete and their families …

We remember and give thanks for those who have died …
especially for Alan Fitzell … George Hill … Pete Culley …
and for those whose anniversaries are at this time …
including Kevin … Kathy … Stephen … Dorothy … Kathleen …
May their memories be a blessing to us …

Lord have mercy,
Lord have mercy.

A prayer from the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) on this Sunday:

Lord, we bring before you
all whose lives have been affected by Covid-19.
Give restoration to those who have lost livelihoods,
comfort to those who grieve,
And grant eternal rest to those who have died.

Merciful Father …

‘Before the mountains had been shaped, before the hills, I was brought forth’ (Proverbs 1: 25) … the Pyrenees on the borders of Spain and France (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

These intercessions were prepared for use on Sunday 7 February 2021 in the Rathkeale and Kilnaughtin Group of Parishes

Care for the universe and
the created order reflects
the mission of Christ

‘All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being’ (John 1: 3) … Christ the Pantocrator in the dome of the parish church in Panormos in Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Sunday 7 February 2021

The Second Sunday before Lent (Creation Sunday)

10 a.m.: The Eucharist

The Readings: Proverbs 8: 1, 22-31; Psalm 104: 26-37; John 1: 1-14

The statue of Pythagoras (1989) by Nikolaos Ikaris (1920-1994) on the harbour front in Pythagóreio on the Greek island of Samos (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

May I speak to you in the name of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit

This is the third time in less than two months that we have heard the Prologue to Saint John’s Gospel. It is the traditional Gospel reading on Christmas morning; we heard it again on the Second Sunday of Christmas (3 January 2021); and now we hear it again this morning (John 1: 1-14), which the Church Calendar marks as Creation Sunday.

These opening verses in Saint John’s Gospel are like the opening verses of the Bible, in the Book of Genesis. They talk of a new creation, and a creation in which God is pleased, God is very pleased.

In this reading, we are introduced to key concepts in Saint John’s thinking: word or logos (λόγος, logos), life (ζωή, zoe), light (φῶς, phos), belief and being sent, testimony or witness, truth, and the cosmos (κόσμος, cosmos).

The word cosmos appears in this passage four times, and later,when Saint John goes on to tell us that ‘God so loved the world …’, he actually says ‘God so loved the cosmos that he sent his only Son …’ (John 3: 16).

The cosmos is the Universe, but the word specifically refers to a complex and orderly system or entity, the very opposite of chaos. The word cosmos gives us words in the English language like: cosmology, trying to understand the reasons for existence and its significance; or, more simply, cosmetics, an equal presence of order and beauty, an attempt to bring order or even beauty to the chaos of our skin, our facial appearance.

The term was first used by the Greek philosopher Pythagoras (ca 570 BCE to ca 495 BC), the philosopher we remember because everyone in school learned the theorem to which he gives his name: ‘The square on the hypotenuse is equal to the sum of the squares on the other two sides.’

Pythagoras lived on the Greek island of Samos, and he influenced every Greek philosopher who came after him, including Plato and Aristotle. He is said to have been the first to prove that the earth is a sphere; he shaped how we think of numbers and musical notation, the perfect consonances of music; he taught the immortality of the soul; … and he was the first philosopher to develop the concept of the cosmos, the harmony of the created universe.

His followers, the Pythagoreans, believed in a superior divinity, the One God, above all other gods. Because of this belief in one God, and their rejection of the pantheon of mythical Greek gods, Pythagoras and his followers were labelled as atheists.

He who was the first philosopher to give the word cosmos to the universe on the basis of his concepts of order and harmony which he believed govern all things.

He said that humanity and the universe are made in the image and likeness of God, and that understanding God, the universe and humanity are inter-connected.

In Pythagorean thinking, the cosmos is not just the whole world, but the whole universe, the whole created order; it is the earth and all that encircles the earth like its skin.

For Pythagoras, all things are related, just as in an ecosystem. In this thinking, the universe is a living organism and not an inanimate machine.

His followers compared a just and well-ordered society to a well-tuned lyre. While each note retains its individuality, all are proportionally linked together in a larger whole to form a musical scale, and all are interdependent in terms of their reliance on one another (Plato, Republic 443 D-444). Justice is present in any well-functioning organism, society, and the soul.

When Saint John the Divine wrote the Book of Revelation, he was in exile on Patmos, the neighbouring island of Samos, where Pythagoras was born, and like Pythagoras, he too was in exile in a cave.

So, is it any wonder that the idea of the cosmos, the harmony of the created universe, is a key concept in the writings of Saint John?

The word cosmos occurs 188 times in the New Testament, and the vast majority of these occurrences (104) are in Saint John’s Gospel and his three letters.

The first use of the word cosmos in the New Testament is in our Gospel reading this morning. When Saint John uses the word here – ‘He was in the cosmos, and the cosmos came into being because of him’ (John 1: 10) – he is referring not to humanity, not to the world as our planet Earth, but to the created universe, the sum total of everything, not here and now but past, present and future, the orderly universe created by God to be in harmony.

When we care for the cosmos, the created order, we reflect the life of Christ. It is not a marginal, side issue for the Church, but it is at the heart of the mission of the Church, because it is at the heart of why the Word has become flesh and dwells among us (John 1: 14).

The fifth of the five marks of mission agreed in the Anglican Communion is: ‘To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and re-new the life of the earth.’

These five points of mission are the topics for the shared study course organised for Lent this year by the dean and chapter members of Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick. This is taking place on Zoom on five Tuesday evenings in Lent (8 p.m., 23 February to 23 March).

On Creation Sunday, and throughout Lent, it is good to be reminded that the care of creation, the cosmos, is not an added-on extra to our priorities in mission; rather, it underpins and explains all we do in mission. When we care for the cosmos, the integrity of creation, we are being like Christ.

And so, may all we think, say and do, be to the praise, honour and glory of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

‘The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it’ (John 1: 5) … light pours into the darkness in Saint Barbara’s Church, Rethymnon, in Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

John 1: 1-14 (NRSVA):

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4 in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. 8 He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. 9 The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.

10 He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. 12 But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.

14 And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.

‘The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it’ (John 1: 5) … a winter sunrise at the Rectory in Askeaton, Co Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Liturgical colour: Green (Ordinary Time).


Almighty God,
you have created the heavens and the earth
and made us in your own image:
Teach us to discern your hand in all your works
and your likeness in all your children;
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who with you and the Holy Spirit
reigns supreme over all things, now and for ever.

Post Communion Prayer:

God our creator,
by your gift the tree of life was set at the heart
of the earthly paradise,
and the Bread of life at the heart of your Church.
May we who have been nourished at your table on earth
be transformed by the glory of the Saviour’s Cross
and enjoy the delights of eternity;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

‘The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it’ (John 1: 4) … light in the darkness in the courtyard in Marlay Park, Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)


59, New every morning is the love (CD 4)
52, Christ, whose glory fills the skies (CD 4)

‘The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it’ (John 1: 4) … the River Lee at night in Cork (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

Material from the Book of Common Prayer is copyright © 2004, Representative Body of the Church of Ireland.