21 March 2020

10 places I would miss
if I could no longer
see or travel … (1) Italy

A Venetian mask decorated with an image of Saint Mark’s Square … What would you miss if you could no longer see or travel? (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

As the Taoiseach said earlier this week, we have witnessed ‘a Saint Patrick’s Day like no other, a day that none of us will forget.’

In the morning, there was a quiet celebration of the Eucharist for just a small cluster in Saint Mary’s Church, Askeaton. In the afternoon, I went for a walk through Askeaton, by the banks of the River Deel, and around the ruins of the Franciscan Friary. But, apart from traditional Irish folk songs blasting out from one house on Church Street, this was a Saint Patrick’s Day like no others.

At the age of 68, with sarcoidosis in my lungs, and having had pneumonia and asthma in the past, perhaps I am one of those people who may soon be asked to ‘cocoon’ ourselves and to stay at home for several weeks.

Already, I have been moaning about how many of my travel plans have been cancelled, including a visit with USPG to Myanmar next week, and Orthodox Easter in Crete next month.

The Taoiseach also warned last Tuesday that many people may have to self-isolate, perhaps for several weeks. What am I to do if I face several weeks in self-isolation? Apart from praying and keeping in touch with people through social media, there is a lot of books to read, a lot of music to listen to, a lot of games of chess to play, movies to catch up on, and the promise to complete some of the writing projects that have been on the ‘back boiler’ for some time.

But I shall dream too, and in particular dream of travel.

Matador, the global media travel platform, sent out an encouraging email earlier this week, saying, ‘You may not be traveling now. But you will travel again.’

It went on to say, ‘There are few things that collectively unite the world. Coronavirus has pushed us into one such moment. No one will exit this time period unchanged or unaffected. And we must do our part in this pandemic to prioritize and value our fellow humans around the world.

‘We believe travel is an essential human experience. We believe travel is the ultimate education, with the power to open minds, change perspectives, and defeat ignorance, racism, and prejudice. But we also believe that traveling should be approached responsibly, and we can’t in good faith tell you to go out into the world at this moment.

‘What we can tell you is that the day to venture, explore, and wander will come. We are already hungry for the sights of far-flung destinations, the comforting sound of laughter contrasted by unfamiliar languages, and the weight of a passport in our pocket.

‘This will pass, but we hope your appreciation for people will not. In real-time, we are witnessing the resiliency and strength of the human spirit, from the singing balconies of Italy to the healthcare workers putting the needs of others ahead of their own.

‘For the foreseeable future, we encourage you to do your part. That means distancing yourself from others as much as possible. And in the meantime, we will do our best to inform and entertain you with our most inspiring stories and videos. Our goal over the coming weeks is to connect you to the destinations outside your four walls – because we want to get you back to doing what you love and exploring soon.

‘Travel will be waiting for you: and will welcome you back like the old friend it is.’

In a similar vein, Laura Reilly, Director of Editorial, sent out an email from Expedia, saying how much people at Expedia ‘believe in the power of travel: to create joy, to bring people together, to enrich our hearts and minds.’

She too said that despite these uncertain times that at Expedia ‘one thing we know is that for people and communities around the globe, travel is a force for good.’ She encouraged everyone to stay informed and follow the recommendations of local health authorities.

She said, ‘No matter where you live, and whether you are travelling or not, it’s worth our repeating the WHO’s advice for protecting yourself and others: Wash your hands frequently with soap and/or alcohol-based sanitisers; avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth; cover your mouth or nose when you sneeze or cough; and maintain distance between yourself and anyone who is coughing or sneezing. Of course, if you have a fever, cough, or difficulty breathing yourself, seek medical attention.’

In liturgical and preaching resources I posted earlier this week on another site, I looked at next Sunday’s Gospel reading – the story of the man who is blind from birth and who is healed (John 9: 1-41) – and asked readers, ‘What would you miss if you were blind?’

In answer to my own question, in solidarity with people living in countries that are now in total lockdown or facing that prospect, and in tune with the idea that ‘travel is the ultimate education, with the power to open minds, change perspectives, and defeat ignorance, racism, and prejudice,’ I plan over the next few days to repost photographs of ten favourite places in a variety of countries, beginning with Italy, Spain, Greece, England and Portugal.

In part I have been inspired by a posting on Tuesday from Jewish Heritage Europe (JHE), headed, ‘Social distancing or lockdown got you stuck at home? Take a virtual tour of some of Italy’s gorgeous historic Jewish heritage sites!’ And it begins with the ark in the synagogue in Casale Monferrato in Italy.

Until this year, Italy was the fifth most-visited country in the world, and with 52.4 million tourists a year Italians were saying they could cope no longer with tourism in these numbers.

So, I begin this evening with ten places in Italy I would miss in Italy if I could no longer travel or see … click on the images to view them in full-screen mode. If social isolation is extended, I may even broaden my horizons.

1, Venice:

Sunset and gondolas at Santa Maria della Salute … the collapse in tourism in Venice has had an unexpected side effect with the normally cloudy canals transformed into water clear enough to see fish and the return of swans and dolphins (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

2, Rome:

Who is going to return to Rome? … tourists are told throwing coins in the Trevi Fountain guarantees a return visit to Rome (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

3, Florence:

The Duomo of Florence and the Palazzo Vecchio seen from the terraces of the Uffizi (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

4, Bologna:

A panoramic view across Bologna from the top of the Asinelli Tower (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

5, Ravenna:

Mosaics in the Basilica of San Vitale in Ravenna … in ‘Byzantium: the Surprising Life of a Medieval Empire,’ Professor Judith Herrin recalls that the mosaics in Ravenna were her ‘first and most exciting introduction to Byzantine art’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

6, Tuscany:

The vines, groves and terraces of Tuscany that have given us Chianti (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

7, Pisa:

The Tower of Pisa ... will still be leaning after this crisis is over (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

8, Lucca:

Lucca, the birthplace of Puccini, Lucca was saved from bombing during World War II, leaving intact the walls, tiny squares, narrow streets and alleyways, with their fountains, statues, and mediaeval churches (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

9, Siena:

The Piazza del Campo is the venue for the Palio horse race in Siena twice a year (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

10,Cinque Terre:

The Cinque Terre region in Liguria … recently introduced a ticketing system to limit the number of tourists to 1.5 million a year, now there are none (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Of course, there are far too many more places I could add to list … Amalfi, Bergamo, Capri, Lake Garda, Milan, Montecatini, Mount Etna, Naples, Noto, Pompei, Positano, Ravello, Rimini, San Gimignano, Sirmione Sorrento, Syracuse, Taormina, Torcello, Verona … I still plan to visit Bari in June, I still have to visit Palermo

But this is just a beginning.

Next: 10 places in Spain.

Praying through Lent with
USPG (25): 21 March 2020

‘O earth, cover not my blood’ (Job 16: 18) … the verse continues, ‘let my outcry find no resting-place’ … a prophetic cry in the Jewish Museum in Venice (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Today is the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. During Lent this year, I am using the USPG Prayer Diary, Pray with the World Church, for my morning prayers and reflections. This year marks the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz and the end of the Holocaust, so I am illustrating my reflections each morning with images that emphasise this theme.

USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) is the Anglican mission agency that partners churches and communities worldwide in God’s mission to enliven faith, strengthen relationships, unlock potential, and champion justice. It was founded in 1701.

This week (15-21 March), the USPG Prayer Diary is focussing on the theme of ‘Standing with Indigenous Communities in The Philippines.’ This theme was introduced in the Prayer Diary on Sunday.

Saturday 21 March 2020 (International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination):

Lord, help us to see each other as equals, and to do all we can to end all forms of racial discrimination.

Readings: Hosea 5: 15 to 6: 6; Psalm 51: 1-2, 17-20; Luke 18: 9-14.

The Collect of the Day:

Merciful Lord,
Grant your people grace to withstand the temptations
of the world, the flesh and the devil
and with pure hearts and minds to follow you, the only God;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Lenten Collect:

Almighty and everlasting God,
you hate nothing that you have made
and forgive the sins of all those who are penitent:
Create and make in us new and contrite hearts
that we, worthily lamenting our sins
and acknowledging our wretchedness,
may receive from you, the God of all mercy,
perfect remission and forgiveness;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Continued tomorrow

Yesterday’s reflection