The 12th May was a special Saturday in Lisbon: it was of course the final of the Eurovision Song Contest and the first time the contest had ever been staged in Portugal.
Immediately on our arrival, Helen was swept off by Ginnelle Sawyer (wife of Frank Sawyer, the Chaplain of the Greater Lisbon Chaplaincy) and her daughter Maggie for a tuktuk sightseeing ride around the city.
My own visit to the Portuguese capital began in the British Cemetery attached to St. George’s Church – equally romantic in its own way! The cemetery dates back to the early 18th century. Non-Roman Catholics traditionally had the right to be buried here, although nowadays practising Roman Catholics are also admitted and, indeed, there are ‘residents’ from other nations too. The most famous grave is that of the novelist Henry Fielding. But there are many other fascinating monuments: for example, an obelisk commemorating Boers who fled the British in South Africa and settled in Portugal having arrived via Mozambique. It is also the final resting place of the English hymn writer Philip Doddridge. Much European history could be studied with reference to the graves here, and I was delighted to learn that a cultural project is shortly going to be underway to provide more research information and easier access to the cemetery.
St. George’s Church is one of the diocese’s largest buildings. We sang evening prayer together. Here a large group share in a dramatic reading of 1 Corinthians 12 – illustrating Paul’s image of the body of Christ by everyone reading in his/her own native language. The effect was deeply moving – and something many of our chaplaincies could try for themselves.
St. Paul’s Estoril is also a large though contrasting building – modern, light and airy. We gathered on the Sunday morning for baptism and confirmation.
Michael Allaway missed out on baptism as a baby because his father had been seriously injured in a traffic accident. He was nearly baptized at the age of 11, except that a bomb fell on his home town of Reading killing many people, so the baptism never took place. Irrespective he went on to have a highly productive life, including inventing a special bed used to help hospital patients avoid pressure sores. At the age of 84 he is still working …and he has finally been baptized!
Our four confirmation candidates – Ginnelle, Michael, Wojolomi and Jeremy gather with chaplain Frank Sawyer, newly inducted worship leader Pamela Patten and colleagues after the service.
I particularly liked this typically Portuguese blue tiling that adorns an inner courtyard at St. Paul’s.
Whilst world attention was focused on the Eurovision contest and its songs celebrating romantic love, we had gathered to celebrate a different kind of love. This is the love which is made known in acts of loving kindness, in the love of people different from ourselves, in the overcoming of barriers of language and nationality. It is a love which endures and will finally triumph when people from every tribe and nation and race will gather around the throne of the Lamb; when the lion will lie down in peace with the lamb and when God finally wipes away every tear from our eyes.