A major row was averted at the Christmas Mass when Tom Hammerton stepped up to the altar to prevent a figurine of a black Mary and Child being smashed to the floor by parish priest Gerry Prindiville.
The small statue, in a dark clay, is a thoughtful and moving image of an exhausted and elated mother, reclining and holding her new born infant. It is a stark contrast to the stereotypical representation of Mary and Child, and invites broader readings of the story of the birth of Christ. It has been used in the community’s Christmas liturgies for many years.
Participants in the offertory procession – including small children – adorned the altar with candles and Christmas bush upon which was placed a cloth and the figurine. Dried leaves (a disgrace, according to Prindiville) covered the Neocat carpet upon which the altar stands. Their appearance and smell evoked an image of Christ’s humble birth place.
This was apparently all too much for Prindiville. In a soul-destroying display of contempt for the Community’s liturgy he pushed the figurine away, demanding that the altar be respected.
Tom, who was sitting in the pew closest to the altar, dashed forward and placed a firm, protective hand on the figurine, and remained standing in front of the altar. Some discussion followed. Prindiville threatened to abort the Mass and sat down. Co-celebrant Clesio Mendes then remonstrated with Tom over the figurine. Tom refused to move. The acute tension, felt by all, was eased a little when Hillary approached the altar and quietly convinced the Neocats to behave themselves and continue the Mass.
On Christmas Eve of all nights, the Neocat "priests" made no attempt to engage with any of the children of the community; rather they set a woeful example of angry, immature and petulant behaviour.
Their capacity to spread the Christmas spirit was witnessed by at least two real priests who were part of the congregation. Either would have done a far better job in the true spirit of the joyous occasion that Christmas is and should be for real Christians.