Africa, May 2019, Vol. 84 No. 4

From My Bookshelf: Frank Conlisk reviews

Prayerful Ireland by Helena Connolly

Sharing the Wisdom of Time by Pope Francis and Friends

Two books with a strong sense of history and the wisdom of learning from the past are offered from the bookshelf this month. 


The first is Helena Connolly’s Prayerful Ireland, published in 2018. Helena is a professional photographer from Lisnaskea, Co Fermanagh in Northern Ireland. She works with the Redemptorist Mission Teams in Limerick, Ireland and has a background in music teaching, school chaplaincy and youth ministry. In this beautifully produced book she sets out, camera at the ready, to document sites related to Ireland’s rich faith tradition. As she notes in the foreword, “Ireland is a country rooted in faith…Remnants of ancient churches and old graveyards are scattered throughout our land. Magnificent crosses are found side by side with holy wells and pilgrim paths. They tell us who we are and where we have come from.”


As a member of a mission team and with a background in youth work, Helena is well aware that Ireland has changed dramatically in recent decades. “Many people have simply ‘tuned out’ the religious wavelength,” she comments. “Ireland has been so busy becoming a secular country that we have forgotten the sacredness that permeates our land.” 


In this album of photographs, she attempts to capture something of that sacredness, visiting a large number of Ireland’s prayerful places, both well-known sites and many others off the beaten path. “The recent rediscovery of pilgrim paths across Kerry, Waterford, Wicklow, Cork, Tipperary, Offaly, Mayo, Clare and Donegal has brought with it a reawakening of our Christian heritage in all its richness,” she observes. She wonders if the way forward to a new religious awareness in Ireland might be found by remaining true “to our deepest roots.” She hopes that her photographs will help facilitate that process. 


While commentary is at a minimum, we do find prayers – some dating from as early as the 7th century (in English translation) – with poems and scripture passages. Though we are inspired by the past, the reader is encouraged to find God in the present in his/her own unique way. “Prayer can happen anywhere”, Helena says, “in the car, at the dinner table, [in] quiet moments of gratitude, while at work…”

The second book this month also attempts to capture the wisdom of the past so that it might enrich the future. In Sharing the Wisdom of Time by Pope Francis and Friends, it is “grandparents, mothers, fathers, widows, widowers, and single individuals who have known decades of joy and sorrow, loss and change” who are the reservoirs of wisdom. The idea came from Pope Francis himself who, in 2016, “was inspired to shine a light on the vital role of grandparents and other elders” in the lives of the young and to produce a book that would “highlight the voices of those who have lived longest, affirming that they have valuable, life-changing wisdom to share.”


In the preface, Pope Francis writes “When we marginalize our grandparents, we lose the chance to learn their secret, the secret that has allowed them to navigate their way through the adventure of life.” He counts himself among the elders. “We can teach those young people, sometimes so focused on themselves, that there is more joy in giving than in receiving.” He states his heartfelt desire: “Here is what I would like – a world that lives in a new alliance of young and old.” 


The fruit of that vision is this inspiring collection of conversations with elderly people from over 30 countries. They encompass the major universal themes of love, loss, survival, hope, peace in the face of unimaginable tragedy and faith. We hear from Bernard Mugwetwa, a blind basket-weaver in Kenya, from Margarita López, a centenarian midwife in Guatemala who is believed to have delivered 10,000 babies and from film director Martin Scorsese. As the editors point out, “each story is a testament to the power of faith, perseverance, human resilience and love.” 


As well as writing the preface, Pope Francis comments on each story and shares something from his own life. The photography deserves special mention – it is simply stunning. Each image tells a story all its own. Fr Antonio Spadaro SJ, who liaised directly with the Pope on this project reports that, after reading each interview, Francis simply gazed at the photograph and spoke to it as if addressing the person himself/herself. When you see the pictures, you can understand why. 

Both books are published by Messenger Publications, 37 Lower Leeson Street,

Dublin 2, ROI. 


Tel: +00 353 1 7758577;

Prayerful Ireland: €19.95 (£17.95)

Sharing the Wisdom of Time: €24.95 (£22.50)

Please note: Africa Magazine and St Patrick's Missionary Society do not stock books that are reviewed. Details of publishers and suppliers are given in each review. 

Please note: Africa Magazine and St Patrick's Missionary Society do not stock books that are reviewed. Details of publishers and suppliers are given in each review. 

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