Madrid is full of boys named Paco, which is the diminutive of the name Francisco, and there is a Madrid joke about a father who came to Madrid and inserted an advertisement in the personal columns of El Liberal which said: PACO MEET ME AT HOTEL MONTANA NOON TUESDAY ALL IS FORGIVEN PAPA and how a squadron of Guardia Civil had to be called out to disperse the eight hundred young men who answered the advertisement.

This is the beginning of Hemingway’s short story , The Capital of the World.

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The priest at tonight’s Novena in Gardiner Street Church told this story when he was interpreting the story of the prodigal son in St. Luke’s gospel. I suppose the idea is that we are all Pacos. We all have done something wrong in our lives and we all want our father to forgive us.

I was trying to calculate when I first went to the Novena in Gardiner Street. I think it was in 1987. It was 29 years ago. With Pat and her sister. Then, when our children were born, we brought them along. It was always so packed that there were people working in the Church telling us where we could stand.

There is a Novena of Grace prayer that is said each of the nine days, and it contains the lines:

I also ask you to obtain the favour I ask in this novena.
(Here pause to ask the favour you seek.)
But if what I ask is not for the greater glory of God, or the good of my soul,
obtain for me what is most conducive to both. Amen.

Each year I went, I prayed for the people in our family who needed it most, I thought. Never in my wildest dreams had I ever thought that one day, we would be bringing in Pádraig, in a wheelchair, and be praying for him.