I woke up early and was shocked to hear news of the fire in Grenfell Tower, West London. It didn't take long to learn of the concerns expressed by a local residents group before and after a recent multi million pound renovation, about the safety issues. This is going to turn into a colossal tragedy with ramifications for high rise accommodation, both public and private all over Britain. There have been other apartment block fires abroad, indicating flaws in safety design and materials used. It seems lessons from those incidents have not been heeded or applied. It's another toxic outcome of a decade of austerity which has seen major cuts in public service expenditure. To judge from other recent tragedies, there will follow a wave of compassion and generosity, as the country as well as the neighbourhood rallies around the survivors. And there'll be another public enquiry of some kind. But how will collective indignation at the scale of a preventable disaster of this kind in public service provision affect the body politic?
As I arrived at the churchyard gate to celebrate the midweek Eucharist, a group of four youngsters, English speaking, late teens, early twenties were leaving. One of them accosted me, seeing that I was wearing my cross and a black shirt and asked in halting Spanish who I was, and was relieved when I replied in English. She asked me if there was anything I wanted her and her friends to pray about. I asked her to explain, as usually people ask me if I'll pray for them! She explained that her group had been sent as pilgrims on a mission to pray for people in Malaga.
It transpired that they'd been given plane tickets, and left to their own devices to find their way about, meet people and to seek hospitality from people. They had no money, and had spent the previous night sleeping on the beach. It seemed that they'd been sent to experiment with the biblical idea of trusting in Providence, although I was offered no idea, apart from the fact that they were from Cheshire, who had paid their fares and sent them off without any briefing or local contacts.
I spoke about this later with the three women who came to the service, and they said they'd had a similar instance of this six months ago. It seems there's an organisation out there which funds this kind of youth initiative with plane tickets, but nothing more was known. How very strange! It's not as if it's hard to find out about ecumenical youth contact networks via the internet, it you want to set up a simple experience of mission in another country. To me this approach is potentially very risky, if the youngsters have no prior knowledge of the situations they were entering. I've not been here long enough to have any idea about how to connect with grass roots Christian communities. I'm sure it would be possible through Lux Mundi in Fuengirola or Torre del Mar, but as for this city, I have no idea, and couldn't help them. And that had me worrying about them for the rest of the day.
Late afternoon, I went out exploring parts of the Old Town, and as it was gone five, churches were opening for the evening after siesta, and I was able to take a look inside several I'd never seen inside before - San Joan, Los Dos Martires, both rebuilt after the 1680 earthquake, and El Sagrado Corazón the 1920's Gothic revival building belonging to the Jesuits, who have a substantial commitment to education locally. I went to the port on the way back, to check out new arrivals and found one large ordinary cruise ship, Panama registered MV Aegean Odessy at one end of the Palmeria de las Sorpresas and the MV Turama huge Super-yacht registered in Saudi Arabia at the other. The latter has sixty staff and luxury accomodation suites, catering for 70 passengers. It can be chartered for cruise parties at the rate of €90,000 a day, I discovered with a little on-line research. It was almost as big as the other cruise ship, carrying 300.
Coming back into the Barrio de la Malagueta, I realised that people were entering the Parish Church of St Gabriel, so I went to have a look inside. Mass was about half way through, and I stayed and prayed. It's a brick building of the 70's or 80's, vast and cavernous, seating 500+ at a guess. There were about 50 people of all ages in the congregation, including a few parents with children. Earlier at St Joan, I'd seen 20 people assembled with an elderly priest before the Blessed Sacrament praying the rosary. And, it was a layman seated at the back who was leading. Sometimes it's a woman who leads, not necessarily a nun. The priest plays his part, but the enterprise of prayer is owned by the community of the faithful. I find this inspiring and encouraging.