Anthony Horan reviews a play by Stephen Callaghan for Lentfest, performed by the Archdiocese of Glasgow Arts Project
Following a trip to Lourdes in 2012, Stephen Callaghan was inspired to start thinking about a play based on the historical events surrounding the Apparitions of Mary to St Bernadette. His eventual production was, however, to be somewhat different from that original intention.
After some consideration of the time it would take to make a production based on such a historical event Stephen decided that it may be better to write a play about the actual experience of the pilgrimage itself. The play was written within one week, though Stephen admits he did come to a point where there was a standstill around the development of the characters. He decided to pray the Rosary and felt his mind being opened up to new ideas and says 'the characters' lives began to intersect with one another.' This, for me, was a critical and most beautiful aspect of the production. The relationships between the characters all seemed to fit neatly with one another and into the overall theme of the production.
In his programme Stephen said that he 'wanted to write a play that reflects the everyday ups and downs faced by people of faith.' This he certainly achieved. The various characters in the play were all experiencing different joys or anxieties around their faith and Stephen's own character, Father Peter, was a priest who appeared to experience many struggles in his vocation. Indeed, he was seen to be fond of drinking and watching television late into the night. He appeared to be at a juncture in his life where many years of always trying to say the right thing to people and going through the motions of being a man of God were boiling to the surface and creating real anxiety. Father Peter seemed to be tiring of his work and was perhaps questioning his own faith.
Other characters in the play included Margaret, a grandmother whose grand-daughter was seriously injured in a car accident involving a drink driver; Monica, a hard working businesswoman living a lonely life after the passing of her mother; Joanne, a young girl fond of poetry who had been sick but who was full of the joys of creation; and Tom, a young music loving student who was keen to experience the sights and sounds of Magaluf and Ibiza.
The first part of the play introduced the audience to the different characters and there were some fairly evident dynamics between some of the characters, particularly Father Peter and Monica, who was a member of the Parish Pastoral Council. This part of the play provided a very useful background to the lives of the characters to bring real meaning to what was to come.
What was to come was a pilgrimage to Lourdes for all of the characters and, for Father Peter, an opportunity to be open and honest about his anxieties as a priest. These anxieties came to the fore whilst praying at the shrine one night and the priest opened up to the audience, speaking about the difficult job he had and how even he would be found wondering if God was there for him. He then came to appreciate that priests do make mistakes and that they are not as perfect as people may perceive. Yet, through that frailty Jesus can still work wonders; for it is not the priest who acts, it is Jesus. It was a wonderful moment in the play and one which surely resonates with us all as there are few of us who have not experienced a time where we have criticised a priest for a certain action or a word we felt was out of turn.
In the end, each character had found some happiness in their experience at Lourdes. Even Tom, the young lad who had only gone with the intention of benefitting from a cheap holiday, spoke of the 'goodness' he had experienced within the shrine. And this, for me, resonated perfectly with my own experience of the Marian shrine at Fatima in Portugal. Though some of the streets around the shrine may be filled with shops trying to sell light-up figurines of the Blessed Virgin Mother and personalised Holy items, the shrine itself is full of genuine goodness and unconditional joy. All around you there is tangible evidence of faith, love and peace. The Holy Spirit moves here in constant waves, showering the faithful with its love, and these people then carry that love through their lives and to different parts of the world. That was certainly my own experience and it seemed to be an experience felt by those pilgrims in the play.
Again, the AGAP team have come up trumps and Stephen Callaghan has come up with a gem of a play to rekindle genuine hope in our hearts and give us confidence in our faith. It's a play which shows us that everyone, even priests, have moments of weakness and struggle with their vocation yet we must come together to carry the flame of Christ's love. It is in coming together as pilgrims, be it to Lourdes, Fatima, Rome or even our own Parish that we are strong in faith and where the love of God has its best chance to spread.
Look out for 'Stations of The Cross' to be performed as part of Scotland's Rio in Stirling for World Youth Day in July 2013.