Friday, June 30, 2006

Conventual but not Conventional

Now anyone who knows me will realise that my primary task is to promote vocations to the diocesan priesthood. It's not that I've anything against religious life. It's just that I don't know much about it except that it's definitely a different vocation.
However, to show that I'm also happy to do my bit for community life check out this vocations video from the Conventual Franciscans:

It's an invitation to "Join the Brotherhood"
Anyone know how I get one of those little video still previews to appear?

Post Scriptum: H/T to Joee Blogs for this link.

Not your ordinary Vocations Promotion

I don't know about other dioceses but in Southwark vocations promotion is definitely fun. My aim is that before anyone starts at a seminary they should already know and be friends with the other Southwark students who will start with them. To that end we organise events with a healthy human dimension as well as a spiritual one. A couple of Bank Holidays ago some of us hit on the idea of meeting together in the parish for Holy Mass, heading off somewhere for lunch and then going for a post-prandial walk. We ended up at the Barley Mow - opposite the spot where the last duel in England took place. It's a somewhat bizarre story: the first duellist fired and missed. The second attempted to shoot but his gun mis-fired and so, in the best tradition of British chivalry, his opponent said something like, "Jolly bad luck, old chap. Here, try mine". And was promptly shot with his own gun!
Over lunch I reminded them of the last verse of Belloc's Song of the Pelagian Heresy:

Now the faith is old and the devil is bold
Exceedingly bold indeed
and the masses of doubt that are floating about
would smother a mortal creed
but we who sit in a sturdy youth and still can drink strong ale
Let us put it away to infallible truth
which always shall prevail!

The post-prandial walk took in the Royal Airforce War Memorial, Runnymede, the momument recalling the Magna Carta and the President Kennedy Memorial - before another glass of strong ale back at the Barley Mow.

This little escapade led to a more adventurous trip some weeks later when seven of us flew to Spain for a walking trip in the Pyrenees. We got cheap flights to Zaragoza where we hired a car and stayed just outside the Ordesa National Park. It was a great week and helped some of our Seekers see how daily Mass and prayer can easily be combined with an active schedule.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

The Joys of Catholic Priesthood

It's a great thing to be a priest but we don't always realise how our ordinary work can touch people in profound ways. This Lent we had a parish outreach project that we called 'Catholicism for the Curious'. It was given a great write-up in The Tablet by James Roberts. Part of the project was to have a website where people could leave messages on a feedback page. The mission saw many people come back to the Church and to confession. But for me this anonymous message on the feedback page means a lot:

My family and I are leaving the country next week. Before leaving I wanted to share with you the wonderful experience we had at the Holy Ghost while being in London. Around three years ago, we started to attend Sunday Mass at the HG because our daughters had to prepare for First Communion. In my first 11am masses I ended up in tears moved by the beatiful singing and amazing community so active in praying, going to confession and taking Holy Communion. After some months, my husband and I decided to stop using birth control methods and went back to confession and to receive Christ after 10 years, one of the happiest experiences in my life. My daughters took the First Communion last year and this year our four month daughter was baptised. I have fallen many times but went back to Confession not wanting to break my friendship with God. For being such wonderful and effective instruments of God I want to thank Fr Stephen, Fr Marcus, Fr Peter and the whole community of the Holy Ghost. I'll keep you in my prayers so that the Lent mission and the ones to come will bring as many blessings as it did to me and my family.

Now isn't that great! May God bless her, her husband and her family as they take up a new life abroad!

Southwark Seekers

There have been two new enquiries about priesthood so far this week. The first was from someone I first met about twenty years ago when I was myself still a seminarian. Since then he has studied and spent some time discerning his vocation with a religious community. We were able to meet on Saturday. The second came yesterday evening when I received an email from a young man someone mentioned to me a little while ago. I look forward to meeting him as soon as possible.
In this diocese we have a group which we call the "Seekers". Essentially Seekers are men considering a vocation to the priesthood who come along to our regular vocations events such as our monthly Seekers' Meetings. I saw recenlty that one diocese in the States has a similar group but uses the term VIPs (Vocations in Progress) - now why didn't I think of that?!
More good news this week with one of our Seekers contacting me to say that he now feels ready to apply. Let's keep him in our prayers. And with seven of our Seekers starting seminary this year, let's ask the Lord of the Harvest to send us seven more to take their places. (I'll tell you what, why don't we make that a dozen?).

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Miguel Angel Lopez Ruiz

Very good news today from Miguel Angel who writes to say that he will be ordained to the priesthood on Sunday. The ordination will take place in the Cathedral in Granada and will be followed by some light refreshments. In the days that follow he will celebrate a number of 'first' Masses in various parishes associated with his vocational journey.
Many of you will remember Miguel Angel from the summers he spent in England. For more years than I care to remember Spanish seminarians have come to the parish ostensibly to learn English. The presence of ordinary young men in and around the parish who are thinking of priesthood is a great example to English lads and has proved a wonderful vocations 'catalyst'. I am not sure how well they learnt English, but it has certainly helped me pick up Spanish. Not only that, it also means there are presbyteries all over Spain where this particular English priest is assured of a welcome.
Let's pray for Miguel Angel this weekend that he will make a good and holy priest to serve the people of Granada.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Diaconate Ordinations

Once again the end of term at St John's Seminary, Wonersh, was marked with the joyful celebration of ordinations to the diaconate. Last Saturday the presiding bishop was Bishop Paul Hendricks, one of the new auxiliary bishops in Southwark.
Although he himself studied first in Oxford and then at the English College in Rome, Bishop Paul is a well-known and much loved figure at St John's. For a number of years he taught philosophy there and was also vice-rector. It is said that he could often be seen in his wellingtons off to unblock a drain somewhere (the seminary is a rambling Victorian building that could do with a massive input of cash!).
In this photograph Bishop Paul is with one of the new Southwark deacons, Sean O'Connor. Sean is from the Cathedral parish and was a lawyer before applying for the priesthood. Along with fellow Southwark deacon Behruz Rafat, Sean is due to be ordained priest in October.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Summer Get-Together

Once again this year we are inviting young men considering priesthood to spend a few days together in order to get to know each other. This year the venue is to be the magnificent Sacred Heart School in Woldingham. The get-together starts on Tuesday 11th July and ends on Friday 14th July. We look forward to having the Archbishop with us for part of the time and hope to be able to welcome some of the other bishops as well.
Our summer get-together is not a retreat. Holy Mass will be celebrated each day and there will be time for prayer. There will also be some interesting talks. However, above all, the summer get-together is a time to make friends and to encourage each other. The school has wonderful sports facilities so don't forget to bring some suitable clothes.
For more information, or to book a place, contact Fr Stephen on

Sunday, June 25, 2006

World Youth Alliance

This weekend we hosted a meeting of the World Youth Alliance (WYA). The WYA is an international alliance of young people committed to building the culture of life. Emelia Klepacka and Phil Hunt came over from Brussels to train a number of young English, French and Belgian professionals, including some parliamentary interns.
From a vocational point of view the weekend was very fruitful. On Saturday evening we showed 'Fishers of Men' the new vocations video from the United States. It provoked a lot of thoughtful discussion. One lad returns to the continent intending to contact his Bishop. 'I will call him if you think I should', he said. If only all vocational work were that easy!
Of the English lads present one hopes to join us for the forthcoming get-together at Woldingham school. It will be good for him to meet the Archbishop. Another will be in London next year, and I hope that he will join some of our vocational activities.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Discovering Priesthood

From time to time the question is raised about the best age to begin promoting priestly vocations. Some people hold that if you start too soon you risk having an excessive influence on an impressionable mind.
In Southwark we take the view that modern youth culture is already likely to be a powerful influence and that it is good to offer young people an alternative. To this end we organise days for 14-17 year olds which we call Discovering Priesthood. These days offer young people a chance to meet other committed Catholics, to learn more about the life of a priest and to ask questions. In the photo we see the participants at our last Discovering Priesthood day, hosted by Fr John Boyle in Ashford. We were very pleased to have Bishop John Hine with us. Bishop John celebrated the Mass, joined us for lunch, took part in a discussion group and even submitted himself to interrogation during the Priest on the Hot Seat slot!

St Raphael's

Last night I had a very enjoyable meal at St Raphael's parish, Surbiton. The ever cheerful parish priest, Fr Vincent Flynn, wanted to introduce me to a young man from his parish who is considering a priestly vocation. The young man concerned has just completed his first year at university where he takes an active part in the life of the Chaplaincy. We chatted about various things including the difference between a vocation to diocesan priesthood and that of the religious life. Later we were treated to a wonderful meal in the presbytery.
Incidentally, Fr Vincent was to leave this morning for Scotland where he is to take part in the Three Peaks Challenge: Ben Nevis, Scarfell Pike and Snowdon within a fixed period of time.
I am grateful to priests like Fr Vincent who actively seek to encourage priestly vocations among their parishioners.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Papal Nuncio

This evening I attended a reception in honour of Pope Benedict XVI hosted by the Papal Nuncio at Archbishop's House Westminster. We were in the throne room which really is very splendid and at its best on occasions like this. I met various ambassadors and their wives and was able to catch up with a good number of priests whom I haven't seen for years. The Cardinal was there, of course, and gave a short speech - promising us all that we would be able to get away in time for the football! Archbishop Faustino Saenz Munoz also spoke. He was very warm and affectionate commending the guests and wishing God's blessing on their families - "I may be a Nuncio, but I am also a man" he said.
For me the highlight of the evening was meeting Fr Jeremy Fairhead, the university chaplain in Oxford. He mentioned the name of a young Southwark man who is thinking of the priesthood and who Fr Jeremy is encouraging to contact me. Let's keep him in our prayers.