Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Christmas and Beyond

Having got back from Ars just in time for Christmas Eve it has been understandably busy here in the parish. I'm glad to say the Christmas ceremonies went very well. As usual we had about twenty servers for Midnight Mass - all drilled to perfection! The Choir was great and the Church was packed - this year we had over 1,600 people at our Christmas ceremonies. On my return from France I found a package waiting from me from Malaga. It was a gift from some of the seminarians who had been here over the summer and included some 'Three Kings Incense' - the stuff they use in Seville. We used it for the first time at Midnight Mass and filled the Church with clouds of sweetly smelling smoke!
Boxing Day was spent preparing two things: the weekend and the Archbishop's visit on 27th December for the Feast of st John. This is traditionally a day on which the seminarians and those thinking of the priesthood gather with the Archbishop simply to relax in each others' company. After Mass we had a meal together followed by some light-hearted fun and an exchange of Christmas presents.
Sunday was quieter than usual not only because lots of parishioners are away but also because those who stayed in town took the opportunity fo the weekend to visit friends and relatives. That was just as well because I needed time to get things ready for the New Year Retreat which began last night. The first impression is that numbers are down a bit on previous years but that there are lots of new faces. We're expecting quite a lot of people to turn up today.

Some of you may have seen this video of a previous retreat but I'm posting it again just to give you a flavour of what the retreat (or "prayer festival") is like. Typically we found that the heating in the school had broken down yesterday but our excellent school-keeper soon got it sorted. More worryingly the eight of us staying in the presbytery got up this morning to find that the heating had also broken down in the presbytery and that, with a thick frost on the ground outside, a freezing shower was the only thing on offer at home. I've now fixed the boiler (I hope) and the house is beginning to warm up again.
Oops! Time to go - some ladies have turned up wanting to cook soup for three hundred in my kitchen???!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Yours, Mine and Ars

Just before Christmas we took a group of ten lads on pilgrimage to Ars. They were all respectable and responsible, prudent and pious. There's always an official version of events. So far we've not had time to put that one together...

And then, sometimes, there's an unofficial version... So here, courtesy of Eddie and "Lord of the Flies Productions", is the one the priests didn't get to edit before it appeared on Facebook!

PS lads
- and you think we'd take you to Rome!??! And risk you playing practical jokes on the Swiss Guard? Ma siete pazzi?

I Guess 'Otec' means 'Father'...

Judging by the number of notifications I'm receiving from Facebook lots of my fellow pilgrims have been uploading their photos (and even videos...) from the trip to Ars. I've not had time yet so we will keep you in suspense a little longer.
However, take a look at the picture above. It will get bigger if you double click it. I was sent it recently by a Slovakian seminarian who used to attend Southwark events while he was living in England. It's an article on vocations published in a Slovakian newspaper. As I say in the title, I guess 'Otec' means 'Father'!
I'm grateful to Erik for sending it to me. Do please remember him in your prayers.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Reversus ad Altarem

I've just gotten back from a wonderful pilgrimage to Ars with a group of ten young men considering a priestly vocation. There's no time to edit and post photographs tonight but I'm sure I'll get some ready before to long. We also have hours of video footage to get through - so watch out for something on YouTube before too log as well.
I must say I am relieved to be back - not at all because I didn't enjoy being away but because I was worried about not getting home in time for Christmas! Tomorrow morning, apart from the Mass, we have servers' practice and several hours' worth of confessions. Fortunately there were no air-traffic strikes to stop me getting back to the Altar!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Where I will be tomorrow...

Aficionados of Facebook may have seen an event entitled "Pilgrimage to Ars and Paray le Monial". Fr Julian Greene, Fr Richard Aladics and I are heading off to France tomorrow for another vocations group pilgrimage. I have to admit that when it was first suggested - way back in August - the prospect of being away from the parish just before christmas didn't seem too daunting. Now I'm not so sure! Be that as it may, tomorrow a group of thirteen of us will be catching an Easy Jet flight to Lyon and then taking three cars to the town where St Jean Marie Vianney was parish priest for so many years.
We will be staying at the international seminary. I am sure it will be good for the ten lads with us to meet the seminarians there. The plan is also to visit Paray le Monial. It will be my first visit to Ars and I am looking forward to it. Over the years I've occasionally had visitors from the seminary and l've always enjoyed their company. It will be good to see it for myself.
Please say a prayer for the pilgrims - and also that there are no delays when we fly back the day before Christmas Eve!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Save the Date

Please put the word out that I will be giving a retreat for young women thinking about a vocation to the Religious Life. It will take place at the Dominican Convent in the New Forest from the evening of Friday 13th until after lunch on Sunday 15th February.
The Retreat is for young women aged 16-30. It will cost £30.00.
For more information or to book a place (there are only 9 places available) send me an email at Southwark Vocations.

Monday, December 15, 2008

What can bring us happiness many say...

A young man left the Church very upset yesterday. Not annoyed. Just upset. The homily for Gaudete Sunday was about happiness and joy. In particular I preached about difference between the false joys promised by the world: the joy of a momentary gratification that leaves us alone and unfulfilled, and the joy of being loved and giving oneself in love. As befits the theme of Gaudete Sunday it was a hope-filled: the very experience of the Real Absence for many will give way to a longing for the Real Presence. That's what happened to that young man who just happened to have accompanied his girlfriend to Mass. He looked at his life and found everything he held important to be a lie. He had embraced what the world had promised and found it to be a rotting corpse that collapsed even as lay hold upon it. He came to realise that there must be something more to life. His problem, as he wept into his arms leaning against his flash car - would he be able to leave the past behind and begin again. Could he extricate himself from the world of shadows to walk along the path of light?
Who knows? Pray for him.

Omnia in Bonum

'For the man who loves God all things work together for the good' - so we read in the Scriptures. Here is the story of a young man whose diagnosis of cancer led him to deepen his relationship with God - and ultimately to the seminary....

Monday, December 08, 2008

Vocations Retreat for Women?

Yesterday Sr Jacinthe OP gave her third in a series of three talks on the Theology of the Body. I was only able to be there for the end of it but what I heard was excellent. Sr Jacinthe was talking to our young adults group which meets after the Sunday evening Mass.

Because it is a long way for her to get back to her Convent she stays overnight with our parish sister. We were able to have a quick chat this morning before getting a lift to the station and one of the things that came up was the possibility of holding a Vocations Retreat for women. I already do an annual retreat for men and I know it has helped a number of them discern their vocation. Something similar for women might also be helpful and I hope Sister might find an available weekend at her Convent in the New Forest. Another possibility might be to join the Benedictine nuns at Minster but I don't know anyone there.

However, there's no point organising anything unless there is going to be some take up. I would have thought we need a good dozen women to make it a viable proposition. Do any reader of this blog know of any takers?

Saturday, December 06, 2008

What's been happening?

Yesterday we had another meeting of the Quo Vadis Group at St Osmund's in Barnes. We were very much reduced in numbers because - as we all know - December is an impossibly busy month. Even so four young men, including a new member, is not bad at all. It also gave us a lot more time for questions and discussion which was really good. As usual Fr Dominic had prepared a great supper!

Today we had our 'Come Home for Christmas' service here in the parish. The idea was that the parishioners would invite non-Catholic or lapsed friends as well as any new neighbours. You never really know what to expect with this sort of event but it went really well. There were lots and lots of new people who really enjoyed the carols in the Church (who doesn't enjoy a good carol or two?!). Afterwards we had mulled wine and mince pies outside which meant that wewere able to linger, chat to new people and generally enjoy the break from the Advent rush. At the end we gave them all a poster for their windows to advertise Christ's birth. The 'Come Home for Christmas' service was the brainchild of a few parishioners last year who organised everything themselves. If you were asked to do something that would reach out to those who didn't ordinarily go to Church, what would you do?

Wednesday, December 03, 2008


I've never met Fr Stan Fortuna but I'd like to. I've read some of his books and I've certainly heard some of his music - which of course isn't everyone's cup of tea. But it is reaching to a whole generation of unchurched youngsters and introducing them to Christ and the demands of the Gospel. That's what matters.

When I was at seminary we used to hear a lot about 'being pastoral' and 'using a language the people can relate to'. The trouble was that there wasn't enough said about being true to yourself - because you are the person Jesus called. Sometimes students would pretend they wanted to be 'right on' and 'hip' in an outdated sort of way. I've often thought of that since ordination because in my experience young people are much more comfortable when they witness authenticity in a priest than when they see them pretending to be something they're not. Now that's a consolation to someone like me!

So there's no point me trying to learn to rap in order to be more 'pastoral'. Thanks be to God. I'm quite happy to leave it to the experts. And that includes Fr Stan. He's not faking it. He's the real thing which is why he's so popular with young people. I don't suppose he'd be enormously at home with our polyphonic choir and I certainly would be able to do what he gets up to. God uses all our different talents in different ways.

But that's the great thing about a vocation. We're not all the same. There is no pro-forma. Some of us are pretty useless in the eyes of the world. And yet Jesus calls us and, if we are faithful, through us he continues to restore sight to the blind and make whole the withered limbs of our society.

Enjoy the video.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Could it be You?

Those of you familiar with the old adverts for the National Lottery might think the title of this post is something to do with either winning a fortune or a big finger coming out of the sky telling you to go off to seminary. Actually it's neither!

It's really an invitation for you to xroll down the side bar as far as the site meter counter. If you are visiting this blog on Tuesday 2nd December the chances are you will be our forty-thousandth visitor. Pretty impressive! Do leave a comment to say you were here. You don't need to leave your name, although it would be great if you did.

Ignore the second (lower) counter. For some reason the top one disappeared for a while and I added another. Then it reappeared just as suddenly. Now I can't tell which one to eliminate and I've probably forgotten the password anyway!

Saturday, November 29, 2008

St John's Open Day

Tomorrow there is an Open Day at St John's Seminary, Wonersh. This is a good time to visit the seminary and I've used the opportunity in recent years to take down some men who may be thinking of a priestly vocation. I'd hoped to do the same this year but, unfortunately, it has proved impossible to get a supply priest to cover the morning Masses here. It's a shame but that's life!

What I will probably do is stay for the morning Masses and then leave here at lunchtime. I should get there just after lunch and be about for the afternoon activities. I still have to get a supply to hear confessions during the evening Mass but that shouldn't be too difficult. In our parish we offer confessions during Mass. Many parishes have kept a confessions timetable suited to a 1950s way of life. These days, Saturdays are much busier than they were in the past and so we bit the bullet in the year 2000 and started offering confessions at times when people would be in Church. We haven't looked back. We have lots and lots of confessions in our Church and the Sunday evening session is particuarly popular so I'm loath to cancel it.

Deanery Requiem

Recently we had our Deanery Requiem Mass for the deceased clergy of the Balham Deanery. I had calculated that the priests of the deanery had probably celebrated well over a million Masses for the departed loved ones of our parishes. It seems fitting therefore that we come together once a year to offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass for the repose of their souls. The Mass took place at St Boniface Church, Tooting, and was attended by people from the various parishes in the deanery. Afterwards we were all kindly invited to a buffet supper in the parish hall. This photograph is of the parish priest, Fr Bonvini, a few days earlier at the visit of Bishop Paul to open the new parish youth centre.

The Year of St Paul

On Thursday night we had the final talk in our series of four lectures to mark the Year of St Paul. The talks were given by Fr Jerome Bertram who shuns the title 'scripture scholar' because of its association with a dry, faithless approach to the Word of God. Instead he offers a lively presentation of key biblical characters. Recently Family Publications published his People of the Gospel which is well-worth getting. Fr Bertram is a priest of the Oxford Oratory.

I hadn't noticed it until a parishioner mentioned it to me, but something striking about this series of talks was that it was particulalry attractive to men. Certainly men far outnumbered women each evening. Another interesting feature was that it was also attended by some leading characters from our local non-Catholic ecclesial communities. I was particularly pleased by this because sometimes non-Catholics can think Catholicism isn't a 'biblical religion', and also because a Protestant reading of St Paul can easily overlook just how 'Catholic' he really is.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008


It was good to visit Dermott and the other students in Valladolid last week. Everyone seemed on really good form and there was a great atmosphere in the house. Dermott had recently one the poetry prize at the College - which seemed to entail being dressed up rather as someone from a Harry Potter script.

Little things help, of course, not least the fact that the Rector put his culinary skills to good use in the kitchen and provided porridge for breakfast one morning!

The College is very attractive. It was founded by Philip II of Spain at the time of the protestant 'reformation' to train priests for the Mission back home in England. Today it's corridors are lined with portraits of its Martyrs. Thanks to Philip's generosity the College has sufficient endowments to enable it to be well-maintained and the rectors seem to have spent wisely. These days the rooms are somewhat more comfortable than those the Martyrs would have known. This is a view from my room onto the inner courtyard:

There is a tradition that when priests visit seminaries they try to take their co-diocesans out for a meal. Since I already knew quite a few of this year's men I invited some of the other lads to join Dermott and me for supper. We went to an excellent restaurant recommended by the Rector on a pretty little street just off the Plaza Mayor.

Of course, in Spain the culinary traditions are quite different from those in the rest of Europe. Here's a picture of Phil - caught just at the moment he realised what he was eating...

Monday, November 17, 2008

Blog Blackout

There will probably be a bit of a blackout this week. Tomorrow morning I fly out to Madrid where I'll pick up a car to drive up to Valladolid. Unfortunately Ryan Air have stopped their daily flights so I have to take a bit of a circuitous route to get to the English College in Spain.

As vocations director I try to visit our students abroad at least once each year. It is good to let them know that they haven't been forgotten!

In fact I've found these visits to the College very useful. Sometimes a student can feel a bit left out or even homesick. By now the novelty of the year is beginning to wear off and Valladolid isn't the world's largest metropolis! So I think it can be good for the seminarians to meet someone they know from Blighty. This year we happen only to have one student in Spain but I'm also looking forward to catching up with some of the men I know from other dioceses.

I'll have my Macbook with me but I don't know how easy it will be to get internet access so the blackout might well last until the weekend.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

The Sincerest form of Flattery

H/T to Fr Tim Finigan at the Hermeneutic of Continuity for news from Lancaster Diocese. My friend and fellow Vocations Director, Fr Manny Gribben, has taken a lead from us in Southwark and started his own Lancaster Vocations Blog. Even more good news: he is starting a Quo Vadis Group for the diocese.

Southwark started a Quo Vadis Group in response to the tremedndous interest in vocation generated among young people by the World Youth Day in Sydney. It gets a mention in both the Universe and the Catholic Herald this weekend. I'm very pleased to see that Lancaster is going to do something similar.

Fr Manny had a great project to promote family prayer for vocations a couple of years ago. We hope to be able to make use of his idea in Southwark fairly soon.

If you are a reader of this blog who lives in the north of England, do check Fr Manny's blog. There's a Vocations Day coming up in December. To find out more about what's happening in Lancaster contact Fr Manny on mailto:e.gribben@merseymail.com.


We had four more baptisms this wekend bring the total number so far this year to 95. Because we have individual baptisms we've had to change our timetable to fit them all in. There is always the option of one or more baptisms during the 11am Mass on Sunday mornings. Additionally we now have two baptism slots on a Saturday morning and one on a Sunday afternoon. In the past we offered two on a Sunday afternoon but it didn't leave us much time for prayer!

So far the new timetable seems to be working well. This year we have the highest number of baptisms since 1972 which is quite remarkable (particularly since at that time there were two maternity hospitals in the parish!). By the end of the year we will have had over one hundred baptisms pretty well putting us in the top 5% of parishes in the dioceses.

Do pray for all our families.

New Youth Club

Bishop Paul with Fr Bonvini and the priests of the parish

Being Dean for the Balham deanery I was invited this evening to St Boniface Parish in Tooting. For some time now St Boniface has been thinking about how to develop it's youth ministry. In the past they have received funding from Wandsworth Council for a youth worker to run a club for the young people of the area. However, the contract ran out recently and the parishioners have been thinking about how they might come up with a provision for young people targetted more specifically at the parish.
Tonight Bishop Paul Hendricks was there to preside over a Mass to mark the opening of the new parish Youth Club. A Youth Choir provided the music and after the Mass we processed to the Club's dedicated premises for the blessing. I was very impressed to see a bowling lane in the room! Later there was a reception in the parish 'Function Suite' where I was able to meet up again with many of the lay people behind the project. Let's pray it bears fruit.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Lunch at Allen Hall

I had a very nice lunch today at Allen Hall, the Westminster Seminary. It was good to see some familiar faces among the student body and I was very well looked after by my host, Fr Stephen Wang. I'd only been to the seminary a couple of times before, and never really had the chance to look round much, so it was good to be given a post-prandial tour. The student body seemed to be on very good form and it was nice to see a good number of them from all over the world. I sat next to a young man from Brisbane and more or less opposite another from Colombia. Someone mentioed that there are also three Norwegian students at the seminary.
One of the projects for this year is to promote the seminary Chapel as a place of Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament to foster vocations. Each week a different parish from the diocese will be invited to come and prayer there. It seems an excellent idea. Apart from the prayer, I am sure it is a good way of getting the seminary known and of helping to encourage the 'culture of vocation' in Westminster.
After lunch I headed up to Westminster Cathedral - I hadn't yet seen it in the scaffolding and nor had I had much of a look at the mosaics. Calling in to the CTS bookshop I noticed next weekend's Catholic press is already out so I picked up a copy of The Universe which this week carries an article I wrote, and also the Catholic Herald because. following a press release from the National Office for Vocation, it had interviewed me on the 'vocations effect' of World Youth Day. Now I'm back in the parish looking forward to our talk tonight on St Paul.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Catholics Come Home

Last year we had a 'Come Home for Christmas' campaign in the parish. It was a great success and we are planning to do something similar this Advent as well. Sometimes I think we can easily miss how big the Church is. That's why I like this short video from Catholics Come Home. Enjoy.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Jamie Carragher

A comment left on my post about the Faith, Family & Future conference led me to explore the Torch of the Faith blog where I discovered a fascinating post about Jamie Carragher, the Liverpool Vice-Captain and European Cup Winner.
Carragher's autobiography gives witness to his mother's faith. I meet many women who are pressurised into terminating their pregnancy. It is particularly hard for them to battle to defend their unborn child's life when the medical establishment claims that, in the eyes of the world, there is something 'wrong' with that child. Fortunately many of them are strong enough to resist.

In the opening pages of his book, this is what Carragher has to say -

'My book of Revelations begins with the most dramatic:
if my mum hadn't been a Roman Catholic,
I might have been aborted.

Paula Carragher was given the option of a termination
due to complications halfway through her pregnancy.
She was told I had spina-bifida- a birth defect that affects
the spinal cord. She was too religious to consider abortion,
no matter how disabled I'd be.

'Our Lord told me to have the baby', she still claims.
She's the rock on which my family is built.
I owe everything to that decision
she took thirty years ago'.

Discovering Priesthood at St John's

On Saturday we had another 'Discovering Priesthood Day' at St John's Seminary, Wonersh. The idea of the day is to give young men a chance to visit the seminary, meet some of the seminarians and reflect on the nature of a call to priesthood. The day is organised jointly by Southwark and Arundel and Brighton. Fr Paul Turner the A&B vocations director is pictured here alongside those who joined us for the day.

Our Discovering Priesthood Days incorporate a number of different elements. After an initial introduction and tour of the Seminary, we celebrate Holy Mass together in the College Chapel. Towards the end of the day we gather again in the Chapel for a period of silent prayer and Eucharistic Adoration. Benediction was given by Fr Aaron Spinelli, the most recently ordained priest of the Arundel and Brighton Diocese. After Benediction we observed a seminary custom and processed to the Lady Chapel for the singing of the Salve Regina. The Chapel is dedicated to Our Lady, Queen of Clergy:

In the morning one of the seminarians, John Watts, spoke about his discernment process. John began his seminary training when he was nineteen and he encouraged those present not to be scared of applying young if they thought that was the right thing to do.

Unfortunately it rained heavily all day and so we decided to call off the post-prandial football, retiring instead to the student common room, known as 'The Dive', where the more energetic played table-tennis, while others put to good use both the dartboard and the snooker tables.

After the recreation period we were able to watch a new vocations film from the United States.

I was very pleased with the day and hope everyone who came enjoyed it. I know from the conversations I had that it encouraged a number of those present to go ahead and apply when they finish their studies. I hope, in the meantime, they will keep in touch. I should also add, that the seminarians were, as usual, outstanding in their kindness and hospitality towards us - not least in giving up their day off to look after us all.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Time to Apply

Going by this picture from their website the Diocese of Austin has decided that young vocations is clearly the way ahead which is interesting because there was some discussion of promoting young vocations at our recent Vocations Directors' Conference.
Today we had our Discovering Priesthood Day at St John's Seminary, Wonersh - more about that when I get the camera's battery re-charged. Two of the young men present confirmed that they wanted to apply this year and a number mentioned that they would like to apply for their respective dioceses when they finish A Levels. It looks as if Southwark will have at least six applicants for next year. It would be great if we did. But just in case any readers of this Blog are hoping to apply but haven't mentioned it to me yet, I'd encourage you to confirm it to me soon. This year the Selection Conference is very early and we need to get all your paperwork in order in good time. So don't delay getting in contact. I wouldn't want you to miss out!

Friday, November 07, 2008

God's Plan for You

I forgot to mention that last Saturday I was in New Malden for a special Vocations Day organised by one of the parishioners who attended World Youth Day iwth Arundel and Brighton Diocese where she works in a school. The theme was 'God's Plan for You' and the day went very well. It had been carefully planned with everyone's talk fitting seamlessly into a Powerpoint Presentation so there was always visual as well as spoken input. Since I'd onyl prepared my own presentation the night before I was amazed to see how easily it was inserted into the pre-prepared one.

The day began with Holy Mass followed by refreshments in the new parish hall where different groups had been invted to set up little displays. Fr Paul Turner (Vocations Director for Arundel and Brighton) was there with some youngsters from his diocese and there were a good number of religious sisters from a variety of religious orders. The young people present had mostly, but not all, been to Sydney for World Youth Day.

After a theological relfection on 'vocation' by Sr Finbarr, a faculty member from St John's seminary, we had presentations on the priesthood, the diaconate, marriage and the lay apsotolate. This latter was given by a member of the Theresian association. We also had presentations from three of the sisters on the charisms and work of their respective congregations. One of the older young people present, a nurse, spoke on the difficulty of living the faith in contemporary society and three of the young people also gave interesting presentations.

I had to leave before the end in order to get back for the evening Mass in the parish but I was very impressed by the day. The format would work well in a school setting and also as part of a confirmation retreat. As well as time for reflection it had pace and content - two important considerations when you work with young people!

I was sorry to have forgotten my camera.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

From Down Under

I was amused to find this photograph on the Friends with Christ Blog. It was set up by the students at Campion College in Sydney where Fr Richard Aladics is chaplain. We may feel that ghosts and ghouls have taken over our celebration of All Hallow's Eve, but it's not all bad. I noticed here that a lot of the children went round dressed as Angels and a few as saints. That shows the effort by the local Christian Churches to reclaim Halloween may be having some effect. During the Vocations Directors' Conference one of the priests mentioned his habit of handing out prayer cards when children came trick or treating. I must get in a supply for next year and encourage parishioners to do the same!

Quo Vadis Group

On Friday we have another meeting of the new diocesan Quo Vadis Group for young men and and women (college through university age) who are considering God's call for their lives. We meet at St Osmund's in Barnes where the group is hosted by Fr Dominic Allain. Do let us know if you can come. Send me an email by clicking here.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Owning Up

If you emailed Southwark Vocations in the last few days I probably haven't received it. So please email me again! Last week, while I was away at the Vocations Directors' Conference, I had set up an automated 'out of office' reply. I set it up just after sending out an email to the Quo Vadis Group - with a copy to myself. Disaster! When I got back, the automated reply had created a loop which generated hundreds of replies. Result: a 'full inbox' on the server which had to be deleted today.

As the old adage goes, to err is human - but to really foul things up you need a computer!

Discovering Priesthood Day

On Saturday (8th November) we have another Discovering Priesthood Day at St John's Seminary, Wonersh . Last year we had a great under 18s day there and I am sure the event this weekend will be even better!
Participants are asked to arrive between 10 and 10.30am. There will be plenty of opportunity to meet the seminarians, have a tour of the College and ask questions. We will celebrate Holy Mass at midday and eat with the students. In the afternoon there will be some time for relaxation and sport, before meeting up again together and ending with Benediction at about 4.00pm. The day ends at 4.30pm.
In order to sign people in for lunch I need to let Wonersh have numbers by Wednesday so please let me know if you would like to come.
N.B. the Southwark Vocations email is not working at present. Please send me an email by clicking here. Thanks

Vocations Directors' Conference

Last week I stayed at Ushaw College near Durham. An impressive building overlooking Ushaw Moor, the College is the seminary for the Northern Province. In its heyday it had some five hundred students. Only twenty years ago or so it had a hundred. Sadly it now had only a third of that number. I have to say however that I do not subscribe to the opinion that it should be closed. First of all, over half Britain's Catholics are said to live in the Northern Province. If that's true what sign would it give if we were to close the one remaining seminary there? Secondly, there may be comparitively few students, but their average age seems much younger than at the other seminaries. There is hope that other young seminarians will come forward. Thirdly, Allan Hall in London is now nearly at capacity and St John's Wonersh had another sizeable intake this year. It may not be long before we are looking for extra space in our seminaries. Finally... it is a beautiful building and has a tremendous heritage going back to the days of Douai. In that sense it is part of the fabric, literally and metaphorically, of the Church in our country.
I was at Ushaw for the Vocations Directors' Conference. My first ever conference took place six years ago at Ushaw just after I had been appointed one of the vocations promoters for the diocese. It is interesting to reflect on how things have changed in the intervening years. Many of the Vocations Directors have been replaced and there are lots of new faces from around the dioceses. Lots of good things are happening as well with directors and promoters learning from each other and manifesting a new, confident enthusiasm. In general there is a much greater appreciation of the importance of the New Movements in encouraging vocations. In recent years there has also been a much greater openness to younger vocations. I noticed that particularly this year with a number of directors commenting that the policy of making everyone go off to university had effectively failed. Let's hope that this recognition will result in each case being assessed individually rather than according to some dubious prejudices!

Friday, October 31, 2008

Stephen Whittaker RIP

Could I please ask your prayers for the repose of the soul of Stephen Whittaker. Stephen was twenty five years old when he died unexpectedly of heart failure. Although originally from Stockport, Stephen applied to join the Southwark diocese four years ago while he was working in London. He was accepted and was the first Southwark student to be sent to Valladolid for the propaedeutic year, an experience he really enjoyed. Having completed his year in Spain Stephen started at St John's Seminary, Wonersh, and was currently in his third year of formation.
Because he didn't have a home in the diocese Stephen was welcomed by the parish priest and people of St Raphael's, Surbiton, as a parish base. He very much appreciated the welcome he received there and often spoke about the warmth and kindness he experienced. For some time, however, Stephen had been thinking about his family and friends back home and towards the end of last term sought the Archbishop's permission to transfer to Salford, his home diocese. Thus he started this academic year as the first Salford student to train at St John's.
Stephen went home to Manchester for the seminary half-term and died in his sleep that night. His death is a great shock to his family and friends and also to the College community at St John's. Apart from celebrating a Requiem Mass on Thursday, the College has entered a period of mourning gathering together each day to pray the midday office for the dead.
On Wednesday I spoke with Bishop Terence Brain who spoke of Stephen's joyful personality, a trait which endeared him to everyone. He also assured me of his prayers for the repose of his soul. Please join us in prayer for Stephen, and also for the consolation of his father and for the other members of his family.
The Funeral Mass will take place at 12.00 noon on Monday 3rd November at:

St Joseph's Catholic Church
23 Gorton Road
Stockport SK5 6AZ

Monday, October 27, 2008

Vocations Directors' Conference

If I seem to be piling up the posts it's because I'm going to be away from the parish again this week and probably won't have much internet access. I hate being away so much, not because I don't enjoy what I do but because parishes are unforgiving creatures: the mail piles up and more and more people leave messages wanting appointments. They will, however, have to wait until next week because in a couple of hours I leave for Ushaw College, the seminary on Ushaw Moor just outside Durham. I'm going up for the Vocations Directors' Conference. This is a very useful annual meeting that not only gives us a chance to swap ideas and experiences but also lets us discuss issues and formulate policy.
In recent years a lot of new vocations directors have been appointed in the dioceses of England and Wales and it has been interesting to see how new blood has contributed to a new enthusiasm in the work of actively promoting vocations. There are even a number of dioceses who now try to promote young vocations and it is no longer unusual to see vocations directors at prayer festivals and events organised by the New Movements. This must surely be a good thing.
I look forward to the meeting and will now switch off the computer to pack before the long drive up north!

Faith, Family and the Future Conference

On Saturday some of us drove up to London Colney for the Faith, Family and the Future Conference. I was scheduled to lead a workshop on the Saturday night and then to give a talk on Sunday morning. The conference was attended by about two hundred people, including children. A special programme of activities was laid on for them while their parents attended the talks. The girls were particularly triumphant when they beat the boys in the tug o' war!
We'd missed the morning sessions but were able to hear Fr Lauiz Ruscillo talk about passing on the faith in his inimitable style. We also heard Fr Aidan Nicholls. My talk coincided with Fr Jeremy Davies speaking on evangelising at Speakers' Corner, so we missed that one.
The workshop on Saturday was entitled 'Discerning your future spouse'. On Sunday the title I was given was 'Responding to the Call in our Secular World'. Afterwards I took some of the lads home and met up with Fr John Armitage. It was good to see him again and catch up on news.

Back from Spain

On Friday I got back from five days in Madrid. The return was a bit complicated: a suspected terrorist attack had closed City Airport so after a long delay on the ground our flight was eventually re-directed to Stansted. This was particularly unfortunate as I had some lads coming over that evening to discuss a vocations promotion project. Luckily it was half-term at the seminary and I was able to get one of our students to look after them until I eventually arrived.
The week in Madrid went well. On Wednesday we had a tour of the factory and met with a number of architects, designers and project managers. We were also able to see the progress of an impressive current project: the construction of a replica of the baldicchino in St Peter's Basilica for a new Church in America. We saw the carved wood pillars and presumed that these were then to be painted but in fact, it was explained to us, they were to be used to make molds so that they could cast bronze pillars. It was very impressive. After lunch Fr Peter explained some of the principles employed by his art andarchitecture committee and, while encouraging the company to work in England, also alerted them to some of the practical considerations that would have to be kept in mind. In the afternoon we went to visit some recent projects and I was particularly surprised to find a young lady praying in one of the chapels we visited who used to come to Mass at the Holy Ghost - as they say in Spain: 'The world is a handkerchief!'.
On Thursday we were picked up by the Architect for Toledo Cathedral and also one of Spain's foremost restorers. We drove to Toledo where we were treated to a three and a half hour tour of the Cathedral, with our guide able to summon keys at will to let us into the parts tourists don't ever get to see. Antonio, who was responsible for some of the restoration work, was a fascinating guide particularly to the wonderful works of art hanging in the Sacristy and beyond.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Where I will be this week

Hopefully a dose of 'Nightnurse' will help shake off the flu-like cold that really took hold of me yesterday because tomorrow I have to catch a flight to Madrid. A friend of mine, Fr Peter Newby, chairs the Art and Architecture committee for the Archdiocese of Westminster. He has to advise and oversee Church re-orderings. Currently he is engaged in the important project to restore St Patrick's, Soho. Fr Alexander Sherbrooke is carrying out a tremendous apostolate in one of the seediest parts of London and the plan is both to repair the delapidated Church and to provide facilities for the various activities that go on there.

Fr Newby can't impose anything on parish priests but he has produced some sensible guidelines for the priests of his diocese. These days it's not often a priest gets a chance to build a church from scratch but being an architect himself Fr Newby is very interested in the whole 'form and function' debate. We will be staying the parish of Our Lady of Cana which has a large modern Church to cope with its Sunday Mass attendance of some 15,000. If there's time we might also visit the parish of St Theresa Benedicta of the Cross, another vibrant parish with a new church building.

On Wednesday we are going to visit Talleres de Arte Granda just outside Alcala de Henares. TAG has a team of architects and also a factory for both the design and production of ecclesiastical art. Many parishes in England, including my own, have vestments and chalices from TAG. Their Tabernacles are second to none and are a truly fitting place to repose the Blessed Sacrament. Our Sacristy was also designed and built by TAG. The purpose of our visit is to let Fr Newby see the quality of workmanship TAG offers because it cannot be matched here in England. Apart from a tour of the factory we also have scheduled a meeting with the architectural team which should be very interesting and we plan to visit some of their current projects in Madrid. On Thursday we are going to Toledo for a tour by Jaime Castenon, the Cathedral architect.

It will be a busy week but, since I'm acting as interpreter, I hope it doesn't involved too much technical language! On Friday I get back to the parish to discuss a film project with some members of the Quo Vadis Group before heading off to London Colney on Saturday where I'm down to give a couple of vocations talks at the Family Conference.

Friday, October 17, 2008

St John's Association

Yesterday I was at the seminaru for the St John's Association day. It began with the celebration of Mass presided over by the Rector. After Mass there were refreshments with a fine lunch at 1.00pm. There are a number of similar events in the course of the year and the one best attended is usually the AGM. It was good, however, to see priests from all over the province and I think their presence and example would have been an encouragement to the seminarians. The Student Dean and the Rector both spoke after the meal. The Rector mentioned that there are currently 36 students in the house and that a third of them come from Southwark.

I was able to chat with a couple of our seminarians both before and during the meal. After lunch I tried to get round to see everyone else. I was pleased to see how well the new men are settling in and to note a general upbeat enthusiasm amongst the Southwark men. In some ways seminaries are like schools and by this point in the term people can be quite tired so I wasn't surprised to hear that everyone is looking forward to half term next week. Some are going to spend it quietly at home and in their parishes while others are going to exotic places such as the Lake District and Wales! There's a group of seven who will be walking in the Lakes and I must say I would like to be going with them. I used to visit the Lakes a lot and always enjoyed my walking holidays up there.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The Year of St Paul

To mark the Year of St Paul we have organised a series of lectures on his writings. They will take place at 8.00pm on Thursday evenings during November and everyone is welcome. The talks will be given by Fr Jerome Bertram Cong.Orat. Fr Jerome is an excellent scripture scholar as well as being a gifted and entertaining speaker. He gave an outstanding talk here as part of our 'Catholicism for the Curious' series.

The November talks will take us on a systematic journey through the Pauline texts:

6th November
First Difficulties
: The Letters to the Thessalonians and Corinthians
13th November
Knotty Problems: The Letters to the Romans and the Galatians
20th November
Organising the Mission
: The Letters to Timothy, Titus and the Philippians
27th November
In Captivity
: The Letters to the Colossians, Philemon and the Ephesians

I hope you will mention the talks to your friends and join us if you are free. I am sure you won't be disappointed. The talks will take place in The Holy Ghost School, Nightingale Square, London SW12 8QN.
There's plenty of parking and we are only a few minute's walk from Balham Rail and Underground stations.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Forum Christi

We had a good turn out tonight for the first meeting of our Young Adults Group this term. We had drinks together after the evening Mass and then watched the film Bella, which I've posted on before. I was glad to have this film as part of the Culture of Life, partocularly since some of my parishioners have been telling me about the new "Brideshead" film.

If you haven't read Brideshead Revisited you really must. It is the story of grace and salvation in spite of human waywardness and it is a magnificent novel. When it was turned into a series in the early 1980's I was an undergraduate in Oxford, where a large part was filmed. I remember how the streets of Oxford would be devoid of students on a Wednesday night when it was on television. The response of the secular media at the time was fascinating. A reviewer in the Telegraph described Lord Marchmain's deathbed confession as "sickening" (presumably he preferred him to go to hell!).

Sadly the new film is the story as it would be re-told by such reviewers. It has become a shabby anti-Catholic rant. What a pity! But what do we expect if we don't encourage young Catholics to get into the mainstream and create a culture of life? Thank God for Bella and the work of Metanoia Productions!

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Blessed Dominic Barberi

I got back on Friday night from a very good retreat. The preacher asked us at the beginning to spend some time discerning our 'predominant fault' - a salutary exercise. Where does one begin?! We weren't a great number - only six retreatants - but since it was silent that didn't matter. During meal times we listened to tapes of Geroge Weigel's biography of Pope John Paul II. I'd heard it before and have read the book but I was very pleased to have the chance to listen again. I was able to spend some time in prayer every day for the men I know considering a vocation to the priesthood, asking that the be given the grace to become dedicated and holy priests.

Knowing that there would be time to read as well as pray I took with me Alfred Wilson's biography of Bl.Dominic Barberi. I was very glad I did. Until then I just knew of Blessed Dominic as the Italian Passionist who had a burning desire to evangelise the English, was mocked for his poor grasp of the language, and ended up receiving Newman into the Church. I didn't realise that he was also a clear-thinking and perspicacious theologian and philosopher who was able to see through false ideas at a time they were being embraced by all round him. His confreres even accused him of unorthodoxy for daring to disagree with the prevalent opinions. Dominic responded with total humility, not compromising on the truth but also never attacking his accusers. He patiently waited for the judgement of the Church which inevitably went in his favour. There is a lesson there for us all.

The other thing I didn't know about Blessed Dominic was that, having grown up as an oprhaned and unlettered farm boy, he struggled with his vocation - particularly once he discovered the fairer sex! Dominic was, on the one hand, convinced of his vocation to become a Passionist and, on the other, easily smitten by a number of girls of his acquaintance. He would vacillate between a desire to serve God and a natural desire to be one with the object of his affections. In his autobiography he writes of one girl: "I had become so bemused that, if I had been given the choice between giving her up or losing God eternally, without any hesitation I would have chosen to lose God. I was firmly convinced that in her company I could have been happy, even in hell".

Although he had developed habits of prayer, Dominic found that he easily gave up mental prayer once he struck up a relationship. This should have been sufficient warning to him - if the relationship were of God he would have wanted to pray more! However, he never abandoned his practice of praying the Holy Rosary every day. In the end, of course, he realised that he had to embrace God's will. He attributed it to the maternal intercession of Our Lady and to the fact that he had always been faithful to the Rosary.

When Newman was thinking of becoming a Catholic he had already been convinced intellectually. What he looked for was the mark of holiness. In this poor Passionist he found that mark and so was received in the little chapel at Littlemore, having spent two days making his confession. It reminds me of something Pope John Paul said about Mother Theresa: the world today needs not simply the arguments of reason and logic. It needs above all the example of holiness.

Monday, October 06, 2008

On Retreat

Each year I get away from the parish and all my other activities to make my annual retreat. It's a time to withdraw and spend time with the Lord in order to take stock, renew my interior life and prepare myself for the following year with some concrete resolutions. I always look forward to the annual Retreat and my monthly Day of Recollection. Without them we could get so taken up in the work of the Lord that we forget the Lord of the work.

This aeyr I am attending the priests' retreat which will take place at Thornycroft Hall near Macclesfield. It begins this afternoon and ends on Friday so there won't be any blogging this week. Spiritual activities at Thornycroft Hall are looked after by priests of Opus Dei. There is a whole programme of such activities for men and women throughout the year and its certainly worth checking the website to see if anything suits you.

Please say a prayer for me. I will be praying for you.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Quo Vadis Group

Yesterday evening we had the inaugural meeting of our new Quo Vadis Group. There were seventeen young people who came down for the meeting and a further seven who had come over from the Cardinal Vaughan Schola to sing at the Mass.
It was a great evening. Fr Dominic, who is looking after the group for me, preached an encouraging sermon reminding us of some of our World Youth Day experiences. We then had supper together in his new presbytery amidst his boxes and his predecessor's 'remains'! Fr Dominic had only been there two days but he said the meeting had helped him already being to feel at home. After supper he spoke about the purpose of the group and its forthcoming pilgrimage to Lisieux. Then I gave a reflection on the 'defects' of St Therese! I was able to give out some Holy Land Rosaries from one of our benefactors and encourage them to take care of their devotion to Our Lady. I was also able to pass on a special blessing from Cardinal Pell. I had seen him a few days earlier and told him about the new group and that it had taken a motto from his sermon during the opening Mass at World Youth Day: one mission is worth a thousand possibilities.
After Night Prayer and Benediction we stayed for a hot chocolate and then those who had travelled furthest came back to Balham where they stayed overnight in the Vocations House. This morning we had prayer together at 8.30am and, after Mass, a day dedicated to apologetics. It was one of those 'priests on the hot seat' experiences with me trying to answer the excellent questions they came up with.
This evening Fr Marcus came back to the parish for a farewell Mass. It was good to see the Church full and I was pleased that lots came into the school hall for a reception afterwards. The cake was well laced with spirits by the ladies of the parish - I hope he didn't eat too much because he is driving back to Tunbridge Wells tonight!

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Called From the Crowd

Here's a vocations video from my friends over in Melbourne. Against the background of the World Youth Day Cross we are introduced to a number of short reflections on the priesthood. 'Called from the Crowd' is the current theme of the vocations promotion in Melbourne.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Young Adults Group

We've just been finalising the term card for our young adults' group, known as Forum Christi. We are going to start with the Film "Bella" by the Metanoia Production Company. One of the Friars of the Renewal will give us some background to the film and its profound pro-life message before we see it. Matanoia, like Grassroots, is one of those companies producing excellent quality films with Christian values without being overtly 'religious'. A mark of Metanoia's professionalism is that Bella won the Toronto Film Festival - a prestigious film award made all the more remarkable by the fact that the film was produced by a 'rookie' company.
If you can join us please do so. Meanwhile, here's a trailer:

Saturday, September 27, 2008


Perhaps it's something in the waters but we have an unusually high number of baptisms this year at the Holy Ghost parish. Balham has long been known as Nappy Valley because it has a high birthrate and, I'm told, the highest density of under tens in western Europe. By the end of the week we will have baptised the largest number of children at this point in the year since 1972 - more than a quarter of a century ago. It's great although I wonder what will happen in four years time. Our parish school is oversubscribed and even combined with our new independent Catholic school there won't be enough places for practising Catholic children.
This is one of the reasons it is so important for us to offer classes for children not attending Catholic schools - what in the parish we have come to call catechesis from the cradle to the grave.
It's good. And it sure keeps us on our toes!

Friday, September 26, 2008

Quo Vadis Group

A few weeks ago I posted about the new Quo Vadis Group being established on my behalf by Fr Dominic Allain. The initiative is a direct result of our experience at World Youth Day in Sydney this year. By the end of the trip so many of our young people were seriously considering the possibility of a vocation to priesthood or religious life that we wanted to provide some forum where they would have space to continue their discernment.
The Quo Vadis Group is for those still at school or starting university - male and female - and it offers a chance to come together for prayer, friendship and formation. Joining the group does not mean that the boys will become priests and the girls nuns. Far from it! The idea is simply to create an environment which encourages young people to think about their future in terms of God's call.
Our first meeting will take place in Fr Dominic's new parish on Friday 3rd October. We begin with Holy Mass at 6.30pm. If you are between 16 & 20 years old and would like to join us please send me an email (click here) and I will send you more details. For catering purposes we need to know numbers in advance.
Meanwhile, we ask the rest of you please to keep this new venture in your prayers. Thanks.

Franciscan "Come and See" Weekend

I am very pleased to respond to a request from Sr Marianne who involved with vocations promotion for the Franciscan Sisters Minoress. She asks that I give some publicity to their forthcoming Come and See weekend.
The weekend will take place at their convent in Derbyshire from Friday 17th to Sunday 19th October. It is open to women who are at least sixteen years old. Sister Marianne tells me it is a weekend to explore the possibility of a vocation to the Franciscan Religous Life, and consider ways of discerning one's call.

The address of the convent is:
St Clare's Convent,
Stretton Road,
Clay Cross,
S45 9AQ

You can also contact Sr Marianne through one of the following websites: Franciscan Vocations or St Clare's Convent.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Youth 2000

We had a good Seekers' Meeting last night. Numbers were down because many of our regulars are now at seminary but it was nice to have two students from Wonersh join us for the first part of the evening. I already have five applicants for next year and am hoping to pick up a few more before Christmas.

Today I had a meeting in central London and hadn't yet printed or indeed finished the newsletter. The only way to fit my prayer and Office in was to get up early. As happens when you're pressed for time things got complicated. When I started printing the newsletter the machine stopped working. Usually I can fix things when they go wrong but this seemed to be a pretty substantial mechanical fault. In parishes there are always those who adopt the 'kick it 'til it breaks' approach in such cases but I'm not one of them. There is a mechanic we can call on Monday. So having left the parish thinking that I'd wasted two hours preparing a newsletter the people would never see, I was pleasantly surprised to find when I got back that our parish Sister had taken the draft up to Archbishop's House and run it off there!

The meeting took place in the crypt of St Charles Borromeo, Ogle Street and was a follow up to the Youth 2000 retreat at Walsingham. It was the first such meeting I'd attended and, having found my name on a handout, was glad I attended. It was good to catch up with old friends and also to understand better some of the internal workings of Y2K - the premier Catholic evangelisers of young people in England today. Fr Stephen Wang proudly held up a very nice article about Allen Hall from the Universe and pointed out that four of the current seminarians had contact with Youth 2000. Charlie O'Connor, the National Director, had also been doing his homework and was able to tell us that there are currently 69 men and women who had discovered their vocation to priesthood or religious life through Youth 2000 in addition to over thirty marriages.

I was particularly pleased to meet up again with some youngsters thinking of priesthood. This year I met at Walsingham at least six young men thinking about their vocation. I am sure there were many others. It shows that there are plenty of vocations out there. As it says in a well-known vocations video, we have to go out and fish! It takes time and it's hard to balance with a busy parish but it is nevertheless worthwhile.