Ut Unum Sint

His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI of Rome, Servant of the Servants of God and Vicar of Christ, looks on as His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople processes into his cathedral today for a Solemn Divine Liturgy marking the feast of St Andrew. We pray that full communion may be restored between the Holy Roman Church, mother of all churches, and her prodigal sister in the East, that all may be one.

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2nd Test Preview – Fire in the belly

In just under thirteen hours I will be near a nervous breakdown. In just over thirteen hours we should have a pretty good idea what the rest of the series will look like.

Let’s review: 

England were thrashed in the first test.

Everyone is calling for Ashley Giles to be dropped. So far the team has yet to show that magical espirit de corps which has made them an opponent to be reckoned with.

A side of proven batsmen need to rise above the odd individual performance and produce a rock solid innings.

McGrath, having taken a bag of wickets is out injured.

Sound familier to anyone else?

A wise man predicted the second test would be the defining moment of this series and I stand by that prediction. As a further sign of my faith in the tourists, I have dumped McGrath from my fantasy team and elected Steve Harmison.

While the wayward favorite son of Durham has been written off by many, and there is a good chance he may never fully recover his confidence or achieve long-term form, today at least you cannot write off the rage coursing through Harmison’s veins. 

My instinct is that someone is going to get hurt and that Flintoff will be able to light enough of a fire in the Pavilion to get one really blistering show out of this side.

If they win they can ride the wave to at least a drawn series and maybe another victory.

If not, then the Ashes of English cricket really would be on display in Sydney.

Amid the turmoil, one man keeps his head

Speculation is rife among the chattering classes of Kathmandu as to the motives behind King Gyanendra’s message welcoming the recent ‘peace’ deal signed between the Seven-Party Alliance Government and the Maoist rebels.

Despite informed reports that His Majesty’s press secretariat had shut up shop and abandoned the country en masse, a statement issued from somewhere inside the Royal Palace declared that “His Majesty appreciates the contributions of all those involved in bringing an end to the bloodshed, violence and terrorism through the peace accord and hopes that, by ensuring sustainable peace, a prosperous Nepal can now be built with the collective efforts of all Nepalese people through multiparty democracy”.

Pilloried as the “most humiliated man in Asia”, His Majesty’s magnanimous gesture should have been taken at face value, but newspapers throughout the country devoted many column inches to rumours that it was nothing but the latest cunning ploy in the King’s project to retain power and eventually re-assert his authority.

Indeed, other news sources have reported growing frustration in republican circles as it becomes clear that the Nepalese people are not so fed up with monarchy as their lords and masters in the ‘democratic parties’ are telling them to be. As one commentator writes, “Privately, key campaigners now decry the people as imbeciles.”

Meanwhile, former army chief Sachit Sumsher Jung Bahadur Rana, a close adviser to the Royal regime, has spoken of His Majesty’s feelings of betrayal. Speaking about the events surrounding the King’s decision to re-instate parliament last April, Rana said, “The Indian envoy told His Majesty that if he stepped down he could become a ceremonial king again. However, the very next day, they said, ‘India has no role in the future of the monarchy, it’s for the people to decide.’ The king felt he had been set up… He reinstated the defunct parliament and then everything started to go wrong … the agenda coming from the south (India) was to remove the king, weaken the army and weaken religion.”

Rana also makes the point that Girija Koirala and the Seven-Party Alliance must have made certain commitments to the Monarch before he reinstated parliament in order to secure the King’s personal seal of approval when he swore in Koirala as his prime minister. These commitments now appear to have been reneged upon.

In any case, it becomes increasingly clear – if somewhat ironic given the Maoists’ stated intentions – that the only man not to lose his head in all of these shenanigans is His Majesty King Gyanendra Shah himself, who stands above the petty politicians and murderous Maoists like a colossus. Only he can bring real peace and order to a country ravaged by disloyalty and treachery. God save the King!

Blood on his hands: Koirala and Prachanda in their act of betrayal

The breach widens

Last year England won the Ashes thanks to a peerless bowling team. Simon Jones, Flintoff and Harmison, if we are honest, scared the bejeezuz out of the Australian batting.

This time round Jones is still injured with no end in sight and I think we may have witnessed the death of Steve Harmison.

A notoriously senstive soul, a poor traveller and a regular victim of the yips, this weekend he was hooted for hours by 40,000 Australians and it is hard to see how this will not finish him off.

All the experts seem to agree that he is just terribly short of overs, that he needs to bowl and bowl and bowl until his rhythm comes back. If I had a fiver for every time Botham, Aggers, Boycott or Atherton said “He just needs to keep bowling” I could have flown to Brisbane and kicked him up the arse myself.

Hoggard and Anderson were made to look distinctly village on a bone dry wicket already cracking up on the morning of day 2.

Flintoff, the lone bowling hero, confounded my expectations. I was hoping for/expecting a little of the Pakistan summer spirit, where a team without the great man banded together and played as though they did not even miss him.

I thought the team would perform and Flintoff’s ankle would falter. Instead he has returned to his best form and the team have gone to pieces.

Unless Monty is moved in fast, he will be isolated at the front, left like the Light Brigade to charge on his own into the cannon’s mouth.

Rumblings continue that Vaughan may be back before it is too late. This would be a huge psychological blow to Ricky Ponting, a boost to England and most importantly; an enormous relief to Freddie.

Bishop on fire – Vinnie lights up campaign trail

In the next phase of his concerted campaign to replace Cardinal Cormac next summer, His Grace Vinnie “Knuckles” Nichols has attacked the government for attempting to impose its own moral order.

Following hot on the heals of his denunciation of the BBC and Education Secretary Alan Milburn, Archbishop Vinnie parked his battle bus in Birmingham Cathedral and used his festive homily on Christus Rex to berate the government for its “intense and at times aggressive reshaping of our moral framework.”

“Indeed the secular agenda seems to propose that all we need is the clarification of what is lawful. But that is not so! Those who are elected to fashion our laws are not elected to be our moral tutors. they have no mandate or competence to be so. And the wise among them would not wish it, either.”

While Archbishop McDonald of Southwark is widely tipped to move over the water following Cormac’s departure in July, the aggressive media campaign being mounted from Birmingham is making a difference.

There is likely to be a push for a more forceful character in SW1 after Cormac soft-spoken reign.

According to a source close to Birmingham cathedral, Archbishop Nichols sees a clear role for himself.

“He thinks the new Pope, and Nuncio for that matter, is going to be looking for a guy not afraid of speaking the truth. The Bishop wants everyone to know he’s up for the fight.”

While unabashed campaigning would be distasteful in the extreme, HG must be lauded for acting like a good and outspoken Bishop of the Church. By avoiding sordid self-promotion for orthodoxy and truth he has garnered many headlines and more than a few nods of approval.

While HG of Birmingham may or may not be fit for the throne of Westminster, he is setting a powerful example to the episcopate of this country.

If only more of them wanted Cormac’s job.

The 1st Test – What I could tell him

I apologise for the four day delay in updating, however I am sure that most people were as loath to read about the Brisbane Massacre as I was to write about it.

I shall not labour points which have been given a more than good airing in other media, England were justly humiliated, the team simply did not perform.

Flintoff’s bowling showed the opposition were not immortal and the batting of Collingwood and Pieterson have kept burning the embers of competition. Indeed the contempt with which Collingwood swatted Warne for the boundary rope suggests that Australia are more vulnerable than the score suggests.

The second test on Friday offers England a chance at complete redemption. Strauss needs to address a serious technical flaw in his hooking and Flintoff must bat with unnatural caution, but there is still more than enough talent to overcome an Australian already creaking after one test.

I for my part remain quietly confident that history will repeat itself. After the Lord’s thrashing last year, the more loquacious cons spoke of a whitewash, England found a team spirit forged in the crucible of defeat. 

Last year G McGrath flung himself over a cricket ball and found himself injured, over the weekend McGrath was restricted to a very limited part in the second inings due to a sore heel. If only an innings play can cause him problems, the famously hard pitch in Adelaide may see him off.

The lads in green will also smart from the absence of Shane Watson who would almost definitely have made the side.

Flecher’s quixotic selection policy may find England fielding two spinners at the expense of James Anderson. This is unfair to the lad but it is not possible to jettison England’s primary paceman after only one diabolical test.

The inclusion of Monty would lift the dressing room no end, and ensure that England did not live and die with the new ball.

One of the most apparent disparities I noticed over day four, in addition to the obvious ones on the pitch, was that of the commentators on Sky.

Normally I eschew listening to the television in favour of Aggers and co on TMS, but the time lag was so pronounced it was hearing every delivery before the bowler started his run.

Sky, according to time honoured tradition of about five minutes, has alternating teams of home and away commentary. As Pieterson and Collingwood made their stand of 150, the Australians could not praise them enough.

Collingwood was hailed for batting out of himself, for his mettle under pressure and his gritty determination to hold the bridge. Pieterson had his litany of talents listed over and again and they were praised as a wonderful double act.

Every boundry was cheered and complimented.

Then in stepped the English team. Instantly the moaning started, every shot at the rope was greeted with a sharp wheeze as Atherton predicted a catch. But the worst was Boycott.

The skeletal Yorkshireman systematically took apart the career of every England player over the five days with cringeworthy self-reference. Each self-important criticism starting with “What I could tell him is…”

I earnestly hope he is after Duncan Fletcher’s job, at least then he might have to show some modicum of solidarity and respect for the England team.

Segolene says – Tell me who I am

While we at the RCC have been following the improbable rise and rise of Miss Segolene Royal for some time, the rest of the media back home in Blighty are beginning to take note.

Miss Royal, the newly crowned Socialist candidate for the coming French presidential election has gained notoriety about the club for her unusual debate strategy.

Having yet to make a single policy commitment, or indeed to launch a manifesto, she bested her Socialist rivals by calling them “backward chauvinist pigs” and “elephants”.

While this may have been enough to see off her inter-party rivals, many warned she would have to raise her gave if she were to seriously trouble M. Sarkozy of the Gaullists.

This she has done.

Following the success of her ‘no policies, no promises’ technique, Miss Royal has now gone for ‘no personality’.

Her status as a young (54), sexy (openly promiscuous) and dynamic (no one knows what she is doing) is being re-made, or rather unmade.

Trying desparetly to get the bottom of Mme. Royal’s appeal, a journalist played one half in the following exchange with Herself:

What are your presidential qualities?

That’s for the people to decide

But you must have… qualities?

That is for you to tell people about

At the launch of her national campaign some months ago, Mme. Royal was accused of bringing ‘Blairite’ politics to France; all spin and no substance.

Truely, the pupil has become the teacher.