Charlie Hegarty Notebook
When I was a child I read a picture book about a bunyip. Bunyips, as is well known, are furry, mythological Australian creatures.
This particular bunyip emerged one evening from a billabong and as these creatures, like man himself, are not meant to live alone he went in search of someone like him.
During his wanderings in the outback he came across a bald-headed, pallid-faced man with steel-rimmed spectacles who was living inside a jumble of testtubes and staring at some algebraic formula he had just calculated on his notepad.
Hoping for company the bunyip politely introduced himself but the man did not even look up. He simply said in a clipped voice: "Bunyips don't exist." This story came vividly to mind during Holy Week. I was staying in the foothills of the Apennines in a small town not far from Parma in northern Italy.
It was the evening of Good Friday, the Venerazione was over and the procession of the Cross was about to begin. At the front was the serious young Dominican parish priest, holding a large cross and flanked by altar boys. Behind him the whole town lined up in two long columns, from ancient grandmothers dressed .
entirely in black to noisy bambinos in their prams and push chairs. Towards the real a life-size statue of the dead Christ lying on a bier was carried on the shoulders of several stout men. There followed the town brass band: boys and girls, young men and middle-aged matrons. all in uniform, stepping out in unison while playing a funeral march punctuated
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Finally there came a largerthan-life statue of the Madonna, her heart pierced with an arrow in dramatic folk-baroque style, swaying aloft on a dais, watching over her children in their jeans and leather jackets and following her Son on the way of the Cross, just as she had done 2,000 years ago.
And so we slowly processed through the main streets of the little town, reciting the sorrowful mysteries of the rosary as we passed the shops with their lights blazing and their bouquets of daffodils and primroses placed reverently on the pavement where the shadow of the Cross would fall as it went by. We passed the silent cafés and bars, the school playground, the marketplace. the cinema; we passed the palazzo of the mysterious contessa who is never seen but who puts lighted candles on her garden walls in honour of this annual event; the plaque recalling a local man shot by the Nazis on that very spot; a few men standing sober but apart — "Catholic but not fanatic" as the saying goes; and then back down the narrow cobbled lanes to the medieval church at the heart of this community, with its bell that has pealed the times of Mass to its sleepy citizens for several hundreds of years.
nd as I slowly shuf fled along with my fellows, in a scene enacted in towns and villages all over Italy in memory of the most sorrowful day of the Christian calendar, the buried image of that picture book came into my mind and the cold-eyed, bald boffin of the illustration was transmogrified into a buttonedup, officious bureaucrat, a g-, Etwcrcrat-%v faintly resembled a certain Oxford professor. He was peering at a fat book of EU statutes and regulations, impervious to the silent crowd behind him, with their rosaries, their statues and their large wooden cross held aloft by a young man in the black and white habit of the Dominican order, and he was muttering: "Christian Europe doesn't exist."