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‘That’s Holy water!’ Dundee priest gives Pope bottle of whisky after taking up role in Rome

A DUNDEE man who spent 14 years as a priest in the city has spoken of his new life in Rome.

Father Jim Walls, 51, who was first ordained in Dundee in 2005, took up the role of spiritual director at the Pontifical Scots College in Rome in September 2018.

A few weeks into his new job, the Fintry man enjoyed a meeting with Pope Francis for the first time and gifted him a bottle of Scotland’s finest whisky.

Fr Jim said: “Around the start of October the bishops of Scotland came out [to Rome] for what they call the ad limina, where every five years they meet the Pope to tell him how things are going in their diocese.

“It was a great honour to go into the Vatican and go to the chamber to meet the Pope and he came out and shook all of our hands. Then we presented him with a bottle of whisky and he looked at it and said ‘Ha ha, that’s holy water!’

“He’s obviously been gifted some whisky before.”

Fr Jim, ordained in St Matthews in Whitfield, began his service to the church as assistant parish priest to St Bride’s in Monifieth, St Anne’s in Carnoustie and St Thomas’ in Arbroath.

In 2010 be became parish priest at St Stephen’s in Blairgowrie, returning to Dundee three years later in the same role at St Pius X in Douglas and Our Lady of Sorrows in Fintry.

Fr Jim says he has enjoyed the different type of work in Italy. He said: “It’s been good. It is a different way of being a priest as far as you are mainly administering to men who are looking to become priests themselves, so it is all to do with spiritual direction and giving spirituality classes.

“So that is very different than being a parish priest and doing all the priestly things like funerals, weddings, baptisms and visiting the sick. It’s more sort of college-based.

“You really can’t put one above the other, they are both wonderful ways of living your life, with many great privileges, dealing with people’s inner desires and inner longings.

“Both jobs have their joys and sadness, but overall they are the same in trying to find ways to help people get closer to God. I enjoy them equally but just in different ways.

“We also have to put together spirituality courses, so that the men can experience different aspects of spirituality and Catholicism.

“Being here in Rome gives you a real sense of God’s spirit around the place and a real sense of the universal church.

“People all over the world come here and are taught in the various universities and our men go to university and mix with these people.

“So they are not only getting the sense of the church in Scotland, and their own parish, they are also getting a real flavour of God’s spirit working through the world.”

Saint John Henry Newman, the 19th-century Anglican cleric who famously converted to Catholicism, was declared a saint by Pope Francis on Sunday.

Fr Jim was present, alongside dignitaries from around the world including Prince Charles.

“It was a wonderful occasion,” he said. “Afterwards we went on a walk around Rome, which the British Embassy had organised, to visit all the places associated with St Newman.”

It’s not all been plain-sailing for the priest, as he does miss his family, friends and his parishioners.

He added: “You miss your family, first and foremost. I miss the nieces and nephews growing up, although I am back for Christmas and Easter.

“I am lucky to a certain extent. The Rector did allow me to go home when my mother wasn’t well earlier on in the year, so you miss your family, you miss your friends, and you miss the nitty-gritty of parish life, being involved in your ordinary parishioners lives and a part of their families.

“Italy and Rome is wonderful, the food is great, it has great wines, and the sky is almost always nearly blue. Living in Rome, there is beautiful countrysides and lakes.”

Comparing Rome to Dundee, he continued: “They are very different; one is a capital city with a huge population, they both have their own character, they both have their own delights.

“Rome is great on the historical and cultural side of things; Dundee is where home is, where the heart is, where the friends are – they both are good but in different ways.”

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