In the remote islands of the Outer Hebrides you will encounter an organic and vibrant church. Surrounded by a stark beauty and tested by uncompromising weather, the islanders are very close to nature, aware of its power and beauty. Crofters and Fisherfolk spent the long winter nights by their peat fires mending their nets, knitting their jumpers and telling stories, with a bottle of whisky and a set of rosary beads near at hand. The famous Eriskay jumpers, a seamless piece of pure wool were knitted with patterns that were unique to each village, often it was the only way of identifying their drowned loved ones when the sea eventually relinquished their bodies.
Marybell Macintyre is keeping a dying tradition alive. She sits through the long winter nights knitting jumpers for family and friends, often finding that the rhythm of knitting helps her to contemplate. Thus in 2014, enthused by the new Pope, she dedicated hours to knitting a jumper to Pope Francis. Filled with symbols and patterns apt for the successor to Peter, who wears the ring of the fisherman, BBC Alba made a documentary about her efforts. It was an act of prayer, and her prayers were answered when she was able to present the jumper to him in person, in Easter 2015, at a general audience in Rome. “It was an Eriskay Jersey for the Fisher of Men,” said Marybell.
The Islanders are used to many visitors and are proud of their tradition of hospitality. Marybell and her husband Angus have welcomed the late Cardinal Hume to their house and various Jesuits too. They were involved a couple of years ago with a week of guided prayer led by Fr Matthew Power SJ, and have had regular visits from Fr Tim Byron SJ. Marybell who also teaches in the local high school has asked Fr Tim in the past to help with classes or assemblies, so this year when she heard that he was visiting Lebanon, she asked him to take some letters from her students to the Syrian refugees out there. “We were very keen to host some refugees on the island, but we were deemed to be too remote, so the next best thing was to express our solidarity by writing to them.
The generous efforts and desires of the students were reported again on BBC Alba. On a recent visit to share photos and report on his journeys to Lebanon, Fr Tim was surprised to receive his own jersey. Marybell explained “The patterns are similar to the one that I gave to Pope Francis, with the cross of St Andrew, the tree of life and the keys of St Peter. But more importantly every time he wears it he is himself surrounded in prayers and blessings”