Thursday, May 11, 2006

Flowers and Nightingales

There are eight different types of flower in the arrangement in front of the Vatican Radio altar at this present moment. I can’t name them all, but they include white lilies and gypsophylla, purple orchids and other flowers in white and pink. They really do look lovely. There’s something so complete in the one display that if only one bloom were to be removed, the whole display would be spoiled. Whoever arranged the flowers was considerably more expert than I am, able to imagine wonders, but unable to execute them.

In the chapel with me, there were Italians, a Korean, a Spaniard and two Indians. I am English. We still only accounted for five of the sixty nationalities represented amongst the staff of Vatican Radio. During the course of a single year, perhaps at least one person of almost every one of the world’s nationalities must come through the doors of the building. Considering many of these will speak one or more local languages in addition to whatever might be the country’s official tongue, then there is a massive range of possible communication within just the one building. Sometimes the one word will have the same meaning in different languages. ‘Mutakatifu’, for instance, means ‘holy’ in both Swahili and Cibemba so that there is an unexpected unity in diversity. It really is pretty amazing.

Yesterday evening I had the privilege of taking part in a Mass at the Pontifical Beda College, where I live, where seventeen first year students were admitted to the Ministry of Lector, as part of their journey towards the priesthood. All five Continents were present amongst the students, staff and former students of the seminary. The Mass itself was celebrated in eight languages, including Cantonese, Konkani and Tagalog. It wasn’t a clutter. It was beautiful. It was a celebration of life, culture, language and the utter goodness of a loving God who gives such variety to our world.

People are like flowers, each one beautiful and irreplaceable. The world would be a poorer place without its wealth of languages, cultures and traditions. Imagine what it would be like if there were no traditional dress: if Japan had no kimono, Indians no sari, Scots no kilt, and so on. Discrimination because of skin colour, language, nationality or culture is as pointless as deciding that one flower has more value than another simply because a snowdrop cannot live in Africa or a mango doesn’t grow in England. Nobody is more or less important than anybody else: we are only different, and differences are wonderful.

As the saying goes, “If every bird in the wood were a nightingale, even a crow would sound beautiful.” Another version says, “If every bird in the wood were a nightingale, we’d soon tire of nightingales!”

God bless,
Sr. Janet