Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Wyoming Catholic College

Earlier this year a young American undergraduate spent a few weeks staying in the Vocations House as he completed an internship with a company in London. While here he was also discerning whether to go back to university or take up an offer of a place at Wyoming Catholic College, the newest of the Catholic Liberal Arts colleges in the United States. So I was interested to see this on YouTube:

In the end he decided to accept the place and later wrote to me about life in Wyoming:

"Wyoming is getting cold lately. It is usually below freezing in the mornings already. Haven't even seen any bears yet, unfortunately, but several of my friends have. I have eaten an elk, though, and seen several large moose at close range. I think that they know what they are doing here at the college; we get a pretty good Catholic formation here, with frequent access to the sacraments, a reverent liturgy, and we're learning Latin orally from a student of Professor Foster! Two nights ago we had a Tolkien appreciation banquet, with hobbit-style food and readings from Tolkien's works and letters. We can't get enough of you English over here".

Friday, December 02, 2011

Adult Education

Adult formation in the faith is a big part of life in my parish which has the unusual characteristic of being very young. Our average age is only 27! The reason it is so low is that we have lots of families with very young children. Over the years we have run a variety of courses for parents to help them grow in knowledge and understanding of their faith. In that way we hope to better equip them to pass it on to their children. Of course all this is possible because we have Hannah, our full-time coordinator of catechesis. Hannah has her own blog which you can check out here.
In January she has been invited to run Fr Robert Barron's "Catholicism" course at the new Centre for Catholic Formation which is in our diary. Sessions take place on Thursday evenings from 7.30pm until 9.00pm. Anyone interested in signing up should email me before Christmas and I will pass your details on to her.
This is the trailer for the course:

Here are some testimonies from three of our parishioners:

"I am a cradle Catholic, baptised and brought by Catholic parents, educated at a Catholic school until the age of 11.  However, that is pretty much where my Catholic education ended, although I continued to attend weekly Mass until going to University at which point, I attended an Anglican church.  For the last seven years, I have attended weekly Mass at Holy Ghost Church, with my husband (also a Catholic) and our young family. [The] course made me realise how much I myself have to learn about the Catholic faith – and that I was taking my faith for granted, by simply attending weekly Mass as a formality.  I have since helped out with both the Pre-catechumenate course and the RCIA course, supporting the candidates, but also gaining hugely from the weekly discussions, enabling me (and therefore my family) to understand our faith more deeply."  (Mother of 3)

"I had spent many years comfortable in my faith without really challenging myself.  I believed that I was doing "enough" in my relationship with God by going to Mass and making the time to talk to God and to pray.  It wasn't until I was a sponsor for someone else's Confirmation and attended several of the RCIA classes which featured short extracts from the teachings of Father Robert Barron that I realised there was so much more.  It made me understand that formation is a critical pillar of my relationship with God as how can you really love someone without knowing them?  There is so much to learn and be amazed by." (Mother of 2)

"To discover that someone loves you unconditionally; that you have a purpose in life and that you can achieve peace and happiness through prayer and sanctification, is a path I started on as a result of Faith in the Family Programme 4 years ago.  I am truly grateful that a few people thought I was worth it and thank God daily that we have people that perform such vital apostolate especially in today's ever secular society." (Mother of 3)

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Disconnect to Connect

Have you ever sat in a restaurant wondering why the couple at the next table ever came out at all since they spent the whole evening on their mobile phone's? Here's an advert from a phone company in Thailand:

The slogan at the end simply recommends that we use our phones just enough...

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Guidelines for the Promotion of Vocations to the Ministerial Priesthood

DSCN0868 by Southwark Vocations
DSCN0868, a photo by Southwark Vocations on Flickr.
A couple of weeks ago I was in Rome for a special meeting to mark the 70th anniversary of the founding of the Pontifical Department for Priestly Vocations "Pontificia Opera Vocazioni Sacerdotali". Apart from celebrating the work of POVS, the meeting was also to present a new document entitled "Guidelines for the Promotion of Vocations to the Ministerial Priesthood". Although not yet published, Mgr Diego Coletti gave an interesting talk summarising its contents. He listed eight "conditions" necessary for a vocation to find fertile soil in a Church which "creates, through the quality of its faith and the transparency of its witness to the Gospel, the conditions for authentic and generous vocational responses".

These are the eight conditions as his gives them:

  1. In general a rich soil of Christian life in the ecclesial community. [...] As in the most pure womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary, so also in the maternal womb of the Christian community, it will be only the fire of the Holy Spirit, received and guarded in an authentic life of faith, that will raise the temperature of the vocational climate to the level necessary for the seeds planted by the Lord in the hearts of many young people to bloom and to give abundant fruit;
  2. The irreplaceable role of prayer which calls from the Lord of the harvest an abundance of workers;
  3. The importance of an integrated pastoral work ensuring those responsible for Christian education effect a coherent convergence in their educational programmes and proposals;
  4. A new approach of evangelisation and of mission that will awaken in young people a strong passion for the Gospel;
  5. The irreplaceable and central role of the family;
  6. The coherent and joyful witness of the life of priests;
  7. The educative efficacy of the experience of service and of a life freely committed to others;
  8. Finally the value of schools and of universities that introduce opportunities to encounter and to develop the experience of Christian living.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Here's How It Could Be Done...

Following on my last post I was sent a link to this video. Someone get this guy a ticket to St Paul's...

The St Paul's Demo

St Paul's Demo by Southwark Vocations
I have to admit if I were a protester outside St Paul's I'd be feeling pretty confused and probably not a little cheesed off! There I am campaigning for the abolition of money when suddenly it all turns into a debate about ecclesiastical politics.
However, I'm not a protester outside St Paul's so I have the leisure to be bemused in another way and to wonder how that motley congregation might be evangelised. People have been asking "What would Jesus do?" Having already pitched his tent among us, I suspect he would be continue to call men and women to repentance. However, I think we know what St Paul would do. When he went into the Areopagus St Paul didn't say to those present, "I stand with you". He latched onto something they could relate to and used it to proclaim Christ. That's the model of the first evangelisation of Europe and I suspect it will need to be the model of the New Evangelisation as well.
It seems to me that there are probably  quite a few potential starting points for a really useful and constructive dialogue. The right of men and women not to be exploited could be one. Where does that right come from? In fact, are rights conceded by the State or inherent in the individual? If the latter what about the right to life? Carefully handled such a conversation could lead some of those young people from the ubiquitous moral relativism they've been taught since school to an understanding of the notion of moral absolutes.
Would they all be converted? Who knows! St Paul was laughed at by some but others said, "We will hear you again on this". Anyone thinking of the priesthood today needs to think also how they would engage with young people to proclaim Christ to them.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

World Youth Day

World Youth Day by Southwark Vocations

When we were in Madrid for World Youth Day we stayed at the parish of Our Lady of Cana. We were staying in the rooms underneath the main Church which meant we had access to our own chapel for Mass and prayer each day. Meanwhile in the main Church, from the Monday of the week of World Youth Day, there was perpetual Adoration to pray for the event. It was impressive to see so many people coming day and night to pray before Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. Each night at 10.00pm there was a Holy Hour preached by Don Jesus Higueras, the parish priest. On the Wednesday night the Quo Vadis group provided the music for this. Since there were 83 in our group it was relatively easy, after a bit of practice, to produce some music that was both reverent and substantial enough to aid the prayer of nearly four hundred people. Don Jesus' meditations are recorded and made available to those who can't get to Church so we were flattered the following morning when the person in charge asked us to re-record the first hymn as she hadn't caught it all. The photo above is of our 'choir practice'.

An Unexpected Discovery

Moscow by Southwark Vocations

In September this year I visited Glasgow for the first time. I was quite keen to go as I have a number of parishioners from the city or thereabouts and I had heard a lot about it. For a long time Glasgow was synonymous with social deprivation but a lot has happened recently to improve things. In fact I suspect the reputation was never really fair as there are parts of the City that would certainly rival London in terms of large houses and well-heeled population. The centre is also elegant with many fine buildings although sadly some of them are still run down. 
I was in Glasgow for a sort of in-service course for priests and one day took a ride out into the countryside where I found a place I hadn't expected to discover in Britain!

Visiting Ards Friary

Church near Ards Friary by Southwark Vocations
A week ago I flew out to Belfast and then drove over to Donegal. The purpose of the trip was to visit Ards Friary, a retreat and Conference Centre which used to be the Capuchin seminary in Ireland. Set in two hundred acres of land and overlooking a dramatic bay the Friary is in a stunning location. It is also quite accessible from London, particularly if one flies to Derry rather than to Belfast. I am always on the lookout for good places for vocations retreats and other vocation activities so if you know of any do let me know. A prayerful Chapel or Oratory for Holy Mass and times of prayer is one of the most important factors. After that, beautiful surroundings, and reasonable accommodation are all a bonus. 
These days it is becoming harder to find things here in England because so many religious houses have closed down and been sold. The few that remain tend to get booked up a long time in advance.
The photograph above is of the local village chapel near Ards Friary. It was built to resemble the shape of the mountains behind it. Once you get inside it is surprisingly light and spacious.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Schools Vocation Project

Pupils at Catholic primary schools in the diocese of Southwark are being invited to find out about what it means to be called to be a priest or a religious sister.

In a special project, they will talk to priests and nuns, and also study the lives of Blessed John Paul II and Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta. Schools are inviting priests and sisters to come in and talk to the children and answer their questions.

There are prizes to be won – personal book prizes for the children and cash prizes for the schools, and all taking part will receive commemorative religious medals.

The  project, run by Southwark Vocations, is designed to help children understand what it means to be at the service of the Church as a priest or a Sister, to share in the experience of the first Apostles and all those who have served the Church in this way at different times and places, down to the present day.

The children will write essays and produce artwork, and the deadline for entries is December 15th. For more information contact the Vocations Office.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

World Youth Day

The QUO VADIS group gave its heart and enthusiasm to World Youth Day 2011 in Madrid – and shared in an experience of faith and prayer that was quite extraordinary.
No one who was there will ever forget the heat and dust of the Cuatro Vientos  airfield as some two million young people gathered there, nor the drama of the thunderstorm that erupted as evening fell, nor the beauty and peace of the great prayer vigil that began as the storm abated. To be kneeling there in silence with the Holy Father, with Christ in the Blessed Sacrament before us all, and to be part of that great gentle wave of prayer, was to experience the huge reality of the Catholic Church and all that it means.
The vigil, and the morning Mass that followed on the Sunday, were the climax to a week of prayer, talks, singing, international encounters, friendship, fun and pilgrimage.  At the core of the QUO VADIS group were seminarians training for the priesthood at Wonersh, Valladolid and Rome. They and all the others in the group shared in a great sense of unity during the unforgettable days in Madrid: morning prayer and Mass together in the church of Santa Maria de Cana where we were housed (and made very welcome) throughout the week, talks and concerts and presentations on many aspects of the Faith, a great celebratory gathering to greet the Holy Father on his arrival, opportunities for confession and Eucharistic adoration beneath the trees in a great park near the city centre. Bishop Mark Davies from Shrewsbury and Archbishop Peter Smith both celebrated Mass for us and spent time answering questions afterwards.
Part of the special quality of World Youth is the joy: a real sense of young people celebrating God’s love.  It spills over into exuberance so that the whole place becomes alive with it. Our QUO VADIS group made its own – often very noisy – contribution to the singing on trains and at street corners, to the shouts of “Benedicto!” and “Viva el Papa!”, and to the chatter as people from different countries exchanged greetings and jokes and news and general enthusiasm. We had brought with us a couple of big British flags and a Welsh flag, and these proved useful in helping to keep the group together on the various journeys around the city – and especially on the long walk out to the airfield for the final events.
The heat, throughout the week, was terrific – we’d all been warned about the need to carry water and protection from the sun. Our special WYD backpacks included hats and fans as well as a Gospel book, a copy of the new (superb!) YouCat youth Catechism, drinks, a teeshirt, tickets which obtained us meals at all the restaurants in the city that displayed a special WYD sign welcoming us.  We also had our own QUO VADIS teeshirts, and a special gadget that we all appreciated – a waterspray which we used liberally on ourselves and others throughout the sun-scorched days.
No one is unchanged after a World Youth Day. It challenges you, brings new friendships, gives a massive experience of the worldwide Church, brings you into contact with the successor of St Peter. It is a time of prayer, penance, and lively talk, of physical discomfort and sudden laughter, of solemn reflective moments and long late-night discussions.  The TV and news reports didn’t get it: they tried to focus on non-events such as discussion about the costs  (the city of Madrid of course did very well out of it –  restaurant meals , shops, train and bus fares, etc – so complaints about the funding petered out) or about people who disagreed with the Pope (not really news: protesters gathered and shouted but that was that). The reality was – and is – a great and moving affirmation of faith: the Catholic Church’s John Paul generation reaching its adulthood as the Benedict generation, and showing its love of Christ and desire to serve him. It was thrilling to be part of this.

Monday, July 04, 2011

Congratulation to our New Candidates

Last week I was at St John's seminary, Wonersh for the Candidacy Mass which was presided over by Archbishop Peter. Kurt Barragan and Ola Craig are both Southwark students who received candidacy at the hands of the Archbishop. This means they are now in the final stages of preparation before their ordination as deacons which, please God, will take place shortly before Christmas.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Getting a Feel for Invocation 2011

Lots of people have asked me how Invocation 2011 went last weekend. It's hard to capture the excitement and buzz we all experienced but you might get an insight by having a look at the Invocation Blog some of the participants kept up to date. It's advertised on the Bishops' Conference website but you can also get direct access to it here by clicking this link.
In time I will upload some photographs but at the moment there seems to be a problem with the upload facility on Blogspot :o(.

Do have a look at the Blog!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Apostolic Nuncio visits Invocation 2011

We had a great weekend at Oscott for the Invocation festival which culminated in a visit from His Excellency Archbishop Antonio Mennini, the new Apostolic Nuncio to Great Britain. The Archbishop presided at the closing Mass of the festival accompanied by Archbishop Bernard Longley, Bishop David McGough and Bishop Peter Doyle as well as over twenty secular and religious priests from all over the country.
This is the text of the Nuncio's sermon:

Dear Friends
I must say that it is for me a very great joy to be here with you at the second Invocation Festival at St Mary’s College, Oscott. But much more important, I have no doubt that it makes God, our loving Father, very happy to see so many of you, spending time in prayer and reflection about your response to his love. In the Gospel for today, the Feast of the Most Blessed Trinity, we have heard the words of Jesus to Nicodemus: that God loved the world so much he sent his only Son that we may have eternal life. To respond to God’s call is to continue the work of the Son. Those who respond to a divine call are strengthened by the Holy Spirit to make present the Father’s powerful and transforming love.
Here, at St Mary’s College, we remember the visit, just last year, of Pope Benedict XVI, when he beatified Blessed John Henry Newman. Blessed John Henry wrote that, when he was about fifteen, he began to be influenced by a definite Creed and received into his intellect “impressions of dogma, which, through God’s mercy, have never been effaced or obscured” (1).
He had begun to realise that Christianity is not some vague sentiment or empty feeling. It is a meeting with Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh. We encounter him in the Scriptures, the teachings of the Church, in the Liturgy and in our personal prayer. This is where we learn to recognise the face of Christ and to hear his voice.
My dear friends when we are young our whole life lies before us. There are so many possibilities and hopes. Our choices and actions will determine what sort of person we become. As we reflect on our lives we discover an inner yearning that we cannot satisfy by ourselves. It is a longing that requires communion with another person and ultimately – because this is how we have been made – with God. St Augustine expressed this truth with the famous words, “You have made us for yourself; O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee” (2).
In time we discover that the longing within us cannot be fulfilled by what we accumulate, experience, or by the power we wield. If we want happiness we must resist the temptation to act in ways that will alienate us from God and from our neighbour. Without God something will always be lacking. This was the experience of St Augustine who in his youth looked for excitement in external pleasures. It was only when he found that he remained unsatisfied and started to look within that he was able to recognise the presence of God and so discover true happiness and deep joy (3).
Never forget too, that when God calls us by name and asks us to follow him, he offers us true freedom, which is not just a freedom from..important though that be. Rather we are being offered a positive freedom and loved and trusted enough to be his workers in the world. God asks us, in the face of all that seems wrong in our world, to be positive, to build up his Kingdom and to change the world for the better. There is no place for pessimism here, for his call to each one of us is, in fact, liberation.
Blessed John Paul II referred to your generation as the “heralds of the new millennium” and he constantly invited you to be apostles to your friends, showing them the path to true happiness. The Christian faith is marked with an irrepressible hope. A significant part of that hope is expressed in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. So do not be afraid to tell your friends about this lovely Sacrament and how it has affected you.
Today, sadly, some people believe that they cannot be forgiven. They need to be reassured that, as we have discovered personally, the Sacrament of Penance brings pardon and deep peace. It is also the sacrament which helps us grow in the spiritual life, which is why the practice of examining our conscience daily and regular Confession is so important. Even in those persons who experience the real absence of God there remains a yearning for his Real Presence.
My dear young people, to discern God’s call we need to withdraw from external activity and to dedicate time to prayer. At the last World Youth Day Pope Benedict reminded us that “Jesus is always present in our hearts, quietly waiting for us to be still with him, to hear his voice, to abide in his love”(4). Be convinced that the Lord is waiting for you to open your hearts to him in prayer. He wants to meet you personally and to enter into a dialogue with you. This conviction will till you with an urgent desire to seek periods of silence in your daily life where you have the space to be drawn into union with God in prayer.
In this regard I should like to commend to you the practice of Eucharistic Adoration which you have experienced during this weekend of discernment. Adoration draws us away from external distractions into a growing communion with Jesus present in the Blessed Sacrament.
Encourage your friends to join you in this practice. In Eucharistic Adoration, whatever our personal circumstances, we are drawn out of ourselves towards the Sacramental Presence of Christ who came so that we might have life.
Be prepared for the fact that your growing friendship with Christ in prayer will lead to discipleship. This discipleship will need to be expressed in concrete actions that show your love for God and your desire to serve him in others. You are called to change the world, to build a culture of life, a culture forged by love and respect for the nature of man. Jesus has a specific vocation mind for each one of you. Let me remind you of the words the Holy Father addressed to young people in Hyde Park:
“Christ has need of families to remind the world of the dignity of human love and the beauty of family life. He needs men and women who devote their lives to the noble task of education, tending the young and forming them in the ways of the Gospel. He needs those who will consecrate their lives to the pursuit of perfect charity, following him in chastity, poverty and obedience, and serving him in the least of our brothers and sisters. He needs the powerful love of contemplative religious, who sustain the Church’s witness and activity through their constant prayer. And he needs priests, good and holy priests, men who are willing to lay down their lives for their sheep. Ask our Lord what he has in mind for you. Ask him for the generosity to say yes. Do not be afraid to give yourself totally to Jesus. He will give you the grace you need to fulfil your vocation”.
This College is dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary. St Luke tells us that from Our Lord’s birth she treasured the events of his life in her heart (5). Learn from her. When you feel in your heart the call to respond to a particular vocation do not be afraid. Learn from Mary so that your lives will be filled with joy and “the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the communion of the Holy Spirit will be with you all” (6).
(I) Newman, Apologia Pro Vita Sua, Chapter 1
(2) St Augustine, Confessions, 1.1
(3) cf St Augustine, Confessions, X.xxvii
(4) Benedict XVI, Homily at Randwick Racecourse, Sydney, 20/7/08
(5) cf Luke 2:19, 2:51
(6) 2 Cor. 13:13

Friday, June 10, 2011

Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham

On Saturday I  attended the ordinations of the first seven priests for the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham. The were ordained by Archbishop Peter Smith in St George's Cathedral, Southwark, and the photograph above shows him kneeling to receive their first blessing.
I had previously attended, as Chairman of Conference of Diocesan Directors of Vocation, the ordination of the Mgr Keith Newton and his two companions, and I thought it was important to be there in the same capacity for the first of eleven or twelve ordination ceremonies across the country. By a happy coincidence it took place in my home Cathedral.
The priests of the Ordinariate are not priests of Southwark diocese although many of them may well be working here at least for the present. Although he has not been ordained a bishop, their Ordinary is Mgr Newton. In other words, he has the same juridical authority as a diocesan bishop although he lacks the sacramental powers associated with episcopal ordination. In time the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham will raise up its own vocations to the priesthood and also to the religious life (it already has a community of religious sisters). I look forward to the appointment of a vocations director to join the CDDV.
Please keep Mgr Newton and the members of the Ordinariate in your prayers. It is still early days for them and I am sure there will be teething problems none of which will be insurmountable with God's grace.

Re-opening of St Patrick's Soho

I was very pleased to be able to attend part of the celebrations for the re-opening of St Patrick's, Soho Square, after its extensive refurbishment. If you didn't know St Patrick's before it will be very hard for you to appreciate the wonderful job that has been done to restore it. The old wooden floor has been replaced with marble. The ceiling has been totally restored so that what was a gloomy, run down, dirty building in a rat-infested part of London (last year, standing nearby, a rat ran over my foot!) is now a pristine, spacious, clean and welcoming place in which to celebrate the Church's liturgy.
What you see from inside the Church, however, is only part of the story. Underneath, the pokey crypt has been excavated to provide excellent facilities for St Patrick's varied outreach projects especially to the poor and to those with drug dependencies. SPES, the St Patrick's Evangelisation School, now has a fitting home from which to restore hope to the heart of London.
One of the things I noticed at the ceremonies was that the congregations were predominantly young adults. When you are committed to the New Evangelisation you will always attract young people!

Monday, June 06, 2011

New Website for National Office

The National Office for Vocation has been going from strength to strength as Abbot Christopher Jamison OSB builds on the work of his two predecessors, Fr Paul Embery and Fr Kevin Dring. Fr Christopher has now established a framework to guide the office in its work for the next couple of years. He has also secured funding so that a member of a religious congregation can be employed to enrich its work and establish strong links with religious communities.
The National Office for Vocation has also recently renewed its website. You can visit the site here. Do be sure to watch the welcome message from Fr Christopher.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Fr Stan Fortuna in Balham

On Saturday night we hosted the inimitable Fr Stan Fortuna here in the parish. Fr Stan is well-known as the 'rapping priest'. I've heard him on a number of occasions and I think in Fr Stan's case its wrong to separate the from from the content. The musical genre is rap but the content is pure John Paul II, whom Fr Stan describes as his hero.

Fr Stan was in the parish for a session of Catholic Underground which meets here every half term. The evening begins with a candlelit Eucharistic Holy Hour in the Church during which we sing vespers and priests are available to hear confessions. We then move to the school hall for an evening of contemporary musical entertainment.

This weekend Fr Stan was in competition with the cup-final between Manchester United and Barcelona but despite that a good crowd of nearly two hundred young people turned up for him.

Pier Giorgio Frassati Society

One of the great activities we host in our parish for young adults is the Pier Giorgio Frassati Society which currently has over a hundred people on its mailing list. So many, in fact, that the President has to limit the number who attend the monthly meal and talk because we can't fit everyone in the room!
The Frassati Society offers young adults a chance to come together each month in different ways. Some of its activities offer service to the poor such as helping the Missionaries of Charity. I've heard back from the sisters who value the help given by the members. Each month there is a meal with a talk on some aspect of Christian life. At the last meeting I addressed the group on the theme: "Blessed are the Persecuted". The important thing in these talks is to try to find ways of making them applicable to the daily life and lived experience of young adults. Bl Pier Giorgio Frassati was a great fan of outdoor activities and so from time to time the group holds a hike or other excursion. The photograph above is of some of the group members enjoying a pub lunch during a hike in the Surrey hills.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Invocation 2011

I guess many university students are coming to the end of their exams, so now would be a good time to book your place for this year's Invocation Festival. It takes place at St Mary's College, Oscott, in about three weeks time: from 17th to 19th June. The only thing is that you need to book beforehand - otherwise there won't be enough food to go round!
This year we have the new Papal Nuncio coming to celebrate the closing Mass for us. It will be a great opportunity to meet him at the very place Pope Benedict met all the seminarians of England and Wales before flying back to Rome last September.
You can download a booking form for Invocation at: invocation.org.uk

I wouldn't delay. Do it today!

Friday, May 20, 2011

Coach to Invocation

As last year there will be a London coach going to and from the Invocation festival. We need some idea of numbers so as to know what size coach to book. Please contact your Vocations Director if you would like to book a place. Or email me at Southwark Vocations.
I'm currently in Spain finalising our Quo Vadis World Youth Day trip but I'll be back tomorrow afternoon in time to welcome Fr Stan Fortuna CFR to the parish for Catholic Underground.

Friday, May 06, 2011

Working on a New Vocations Film

The last couple of days have seen some quite intense work on a vocations film project we've been engaged in for about a year now. We have quite a lot of footage, including some great shots of a Papal audience but need now to put the whole thing together. The film will be about twenty minutes long and will move from a generic inquiry about vocation to specific consideration of the priesthood. As yet we don't have a title but I'm sure one will come before too long. The sound-track for the film is being produced by Benedict Nicholls whose compilation in honour of Pope John Paul II inspired "The Quality of Mercy" a recent Oxford play directed by Teresa Caldecott. The film work and editing were done by Matt Goodman whose innovative style has won him much praise as well as the recent attention of some well-known Catholic producers.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Invocation 2011 - Time is Running Out...

With only a few weeks to go to this year's Invocation Festival, I thought it would be sensible to remind you all of the need to book beforehand. Catering for over four hundred people is no joke and the staff at Oscott will need to have a pretty good idea of how many will be attending. So PLEASE don't leave it until the last minute. Download a booking form or book online.
We need you help to reach as many young people as possible. Last year a number of young people mentioned they came because they saw Invocation advertised in their parish newsletter. However, lots more said they had heard about it from a friend but hadn't seen it advertised in their parishes. So it seems to me that we have two tasks:
1.   To get it advertised in every parish newsletter in the country. Potentially this would enormously increase the numbers of people attending. Can you mention it to your parish priest?
2.  To get it advertised through all other available channels: university chaplaincies, ethnic chaplaincies, youth groups, youth services, and any others you can think of. Why not leave a comment in the combox to share ideas....

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Blessed John Paul II

Much as many of my parishioners found it hard to believe, I wasn't able to be in Rome on Sunday for the beatification of the great Pope John Paul II. The assistant priest is away and on Saturday I had a wedding. We also have a large group of pilgrims that comes every year for Divine Mercy Sunday. So, although my heart was in Rome, I was doing what so many of us learned from the saintly Pope: tending the flock entrusted to my care. So I was really pleased to open the inbox this morning and find a link to the latest video from "May Feelings":

Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Catholicism Project

Hannah Vaughan Spruce, our co-ordinator of catechesis, has alerted me to the Catholicism Project a new and exciting venture that will go live in the autumn. You might also care to visit Hannah's new blog on her experiences as a catechist. It's called Transformed in Christ and you can visit it here.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Holy Week

Palm Sunday is always a dramatic celebration in the life of a parish. Following the custom of the early Christian community in Jerusalem who processed from the Garden of Olives into the city, we gather outside for the blessing of palms and then walk in procession to the Church singing 'Hosanna' as we go. It is as if we are now part of that original crowd welcoming Jesus into their city and acclaiming him as their King and Messiah.
In fact this sense of becoming ourselves protagonists in the drama of Holy Week goes back to a very ancient understanding of time and salvation. When the Jews remembered God's saving action they were not simply recalling some past event. Through their remembering it was made present and they became part of it. This is the key to a correct understanding of the words of Our Lord at the Last Supper: "Do this in memory of me" means that when this event is recalled it is also made present.
The days of the Triduum are like a drama in three acts. In the early Church there was no Triduum. It was only when the number of adult converts became so large at Easter that some of the associated rites were carried out on the preceding days. We can see this pragmatic need affecting the liturgy, for example, at the time of St John Chrysostom. So instead of thinking of the ceremonies of the Triduum as three separate events it would be better to consider them as one liturgical action extended over three days. Perhaps it helps to remember that at the end of the Maundy Thursday Mass of the Lord's Supper there is no blessing or dismissal. The Good Friday Commemoration of the Passion begins without a introductory rites or welcome because it simply take up what began the night before. It too ends without a dismissal. Finally the first Easter Mass has no other beginning than the rites of the Vigil.
Understanding this structure can help us recognise that the Last Supper, our Lord's Passion and death and his Resurrection form one liturgical reality which is made present whenever the Mass is celebrated.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

New Online Vocations Newsletter

 In the column on the right there is a sign up box for Vocations News, our online vocations newsletter. If you would like to receive it please simply submit your details.
The newsletter will not be one of those annoying publications that appear almost daily in your inbox and that you end up never reading. It will contain details of what is happening on the vocations scene both in Southwark but also further afield. The plan is for it come come about about once a month. 
You can unsubscribe at any time simply by clicking a link at the bottom of the newsletter.

If you would like to submit news or articles for the newsletter please email me.

Sunday, April 03, 2011

Laetare Sunday

In the parish this weekend some of our parishioners had the good idea of organising a Mothering Sunday cake sale. This no doubt got more than one father off the hook and was a nice way to mark the lessening of our Lenten fast occasioned by Laetare Sunday!

Vocation Voices Training Day

On Saturday we had a training day for the Vocations Voices project. The National Office for Vocations has offered every parish in the country a young person to come and talk about the importance of vocations to the priesthood and consecrated life on Good Shepherd Sunday which this year falls on 15th May. This was the first of a number of regional training days run by Fr Christopher Jamison. If we are to meet all the requests from parishes we will need a lot more young people to get involved so do please email me if you can help. A number of the people who came on Saturday were quite nervous initially but found the day really boosted their confidence and it was great to see how they will all give excellent testimonies. It was an ideal occasion for a photograph with the new Southwark Vocations Surfboard! The board was made by a young friend of mine who can make bespoke designs and who is working on a project to make surfing accessible to disabled people. For more information visit his Surfbod website.

Confirmation Retreat in Bury St Edmund's

I didn't get round to mentioning a very impressive Confirmation Day I helped with a couple of Saturdays ago in Bury St Edmund's. About a hundred youngster came from all over that part of East Anglia and from as far away as Peterborough for a day coordinated by Hamish McQueen, the Diocesan Youth Officer. I was invited to give a couple of talks and to celebrate the Mass. Other guests included the Franciscan Sisters of the Renewal, who came down from Bradford, and Paschal Uche from Brentwood diocese. Paschal spoke about his experience meeting the Holy Father on the steps of Westminster Cathedral and took part in a panel answering questions. I was very impressed by his answers. My two talks were on the Holy Spirit and on the Mass. The day was animated by Edwin Fawcett who came with some members of a Gospel choir from the parish where he works. Again it was impressive to see his great skill at taking a group of highly self-conscious teenagers and getting them to sing!
Obviously the main focus of the day was not for me to promote vocations but it was easy to introduce the theme to both of the talks and the presence of two young sisters also helped ensure that questions surrounding vocation and vocation discernment were very much on the agenda - often raised by the young people themselves as they wondered what led these two young women to walk away from worldly excitement and enter religious life.
These days are in many ways simply sowing seeds and one never really knows how well they went. So it was nice to receive an email later from one of the Catechists who handed out evaluation forms at the next Confirmation session. She writes, "I was expecting a positive response but nothing like the one I got. They were all begging to go on another retreat... The young people spoke about how much they had learned and how much more seriously they were taking their faith after Saturday".
Let's pray that the diocese gets two or three vocations from this year's Confirmation groups!

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Vocations Study Day

Yesterday I was at Oscott College for a study day organised by the Conference of Diocesan Directors of Vocation (CDDV). Each year the CDDV has a plenary meeting in November but since last year we have also organised a day open to a wider audience so that Vocations Directors can invite anyone they think might benefit.
This year the focus was on youth ministry and we were very pleased to have Avril Baigent come to speak to us about some recent research carried out on behalf of CYMFed.  A copy of the research, called 'Mapping the Terrain' can be found on the CYMFed website. The website also has useful resources for anyone planning a World Youth Day trip, including a risk assessment starter and safeguarding guidelines.
Avril's input led to some lively discussion particularly about how effectively the Church is passing on the faith to young people. Talking to young university students Pope John Paul II identified four stages in this area. He told them that first of all they must know their faith. Then they must ask questions so that they can understand their faith. Only then could they assimilate it and so live it in their decisions, choices and actions. And in that way, he said, faith becomes culture. What CYMFed's research seems to show is that there has been a failure at the first stage.
In the afternoon we had a presentation from Chris Smith, Vocations Promoter for Birmingham, on the current preparations for Invocation 2011. Plans for the festival are going well although, as ever, finances remain a concern. The most expensive items are the Marquees and Tepees but without these we wouldn't have the space for the event. (If any reader of this blog wants to make a donation please send me an email). Archbishop Mennini, the new Papal Nuncio will celebrate the closing Mass of the festival. The task now is to try to give it as much publicity as possible in order to ensure the word goes out to all our young people.
The final part of the afternoon was given over to an update from the National Office for Vocation on the preparations for Good Shepherd Sunday and the Vocations Voices project. So far we are very short of 'Voices' - young people aged between 18 & 35 willing to speak at the end of Mass on Sunday 15th May. The idea is that they will be given training to talk about the importance of vocations to the priesthood and consecrated life in the Church. It is a project that could be very beneficial and a lot of young people have expressed an interest but - probably because they think May is a long way away - very few have put themselves forward for the training without which we can't promote them as Voices. The training will be available online but people have to enroll for it soon or we will miss this opportunity to do a great deal of good for the Church....
Finally Fr Christopher Jamison spoke about a proposed new framework for the work of the National Office for Vocation. It has already received, in principle, episcopal approval and so the National Office is moving into a consultation phase. The framework will then give a steer to the National Office for its work and priorities over the next few years.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Forty Days for Life

Today we had presenting in our parish Robert Colquhoun from "Forty Days for Life". Robert spoke briefly and to the point about the need for Christians to take seriously their role in building a Culture of Life. I was reminded of Mary Ann Glendon's speech at the Beijing Conference some years ago when she asked whether we can be content to accept that all our society has to say to a woman who is alone, frightened and pregnant is that she has the right to an abortion.
To create a Culture of Life we need to begin in our schools. Over the years I have known many young men and women involved in a pro-life ministry to schools. Lamentably the story is always the same. Occasionally they are welcomed in by those Catholic schools known for their Catholic ethos and their work is valued. More often than not, however, they are invited along as one of a number of speakers presenting different 'points of view' including school nurses and others actively opposing the Church's teaching.
However, in my experience more and more young people are beginning to take their faith seriously and to recognise that they are called to make a difference. Perhaps, before long, we will see English youngsters using their talents in the way these American young people do in the following video...

Thursday, March 24, 2011

New website for St Cecilia's Abbey

First Vows
I was delighted to hear today that the Benedictine Sisters on the Isle of Wight have a new website. It loos great and I do encourage you all to have a look. Those of you who were at Invocation 2010 will remember we had a letter from the nuns telling us they were praying for the success of the weekend although, of course as enclosed religious they couldn't join us in person. 
Having said that, the eagle eyed among you may recognise one of the girls from Invocation among the postulants. St Eustochium tells me there is a nice group of sisters who are in their twenties "but we should welcome many more if they presented themselves".  Let's keep the sisters in our prayers and pray also that many more do indeed present themselves!

Stories of Priestly Vocation

One of our projects for the Year of the Priesthood was a book published by St Paul's called "No Ordinary Calling".  The publication was initially delayed by internal problems at St Paul's and when it eventually came out I was involved with distributing thirty thousand tickets for the Papal Vigil at Hyde Park which took up all our time!
The book consists of thirteen personal accounts of priests explaining what led them to the priesthood. Some had thought about being a priest from an early age while for others it had never figured at all in their expectations. In the book a former Communist explains how his search for truth led him to faith, two brothers describe their different paths to priesthood, a young professional describes how attending Mass for the first time led to his conversion, and a particle physicist at CERN explains how his knowledge of science deepened his faith.
In the foreword to the book Archbishop Vincent Nichols writes: "To choose to become a priest is indeed no ordinary calling: it requires faith, trust and confidence to respond to God's call. Yet today more than ever the Catholic Church needs holy men to be priests to her people. In this book priests tell their own stories of how they were able joyfully to answer that call. It shows that young men are still becoming priests today, and will be helpful to anyone interested in knowing more about the priesthood".

"No Ordinary Calling - Stories of Priestly Vocation" costs £9.95 and is available from St Paul's as well as from the Southwark Vocations Office.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Holy Father's Words on Vocation in Hyde Park

On Saturday 18th September 2010, in his address during the Vigil of Prayer at Hyde Park, the Holy Father launched a direct call for young people to consider their vocation and respond with generosity"

"Here I wish to say a special word to the many young people present. Dear young friends: only Jesus knows what 'definite service' he has in mind for you. Be open to his voice resounding in the depths of your heart. Christ has need of families to remind the world of the dignity of human love and the beauty of family life. He needs men and women who devote their lives to the noble task of education, tending the young and forming them in the ways of the Gospel. He needs those who will consecrate their lives to the pursuit of perfect charity, following him in chastity, poverty and obedience, and serving him in the least of our brothers and sisters. He needs the powerful love of contemplative religious, who sustain the Church's witness and activity through their constant prayer. And he needs priests, good and holy priests, men who are willing to lay down their lives for their sheep. Ask our Lord what he has in mind for you! Ask him for the generosity to say 'Yes!' Do not be afraid to give yourself totally to Jesus. Her will give you the grace you need to fulfil your vocation.
Let me finish these words by warmly inviting you to join me next year in Madrid for 'World Youth Day'. It is always a wonderful occasion to grow in love for Christ and to be encouraged in a joyful life of faith along with thousands of other young people. I hope to see many of you there!"

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Canon John Devane RIP

I attended this morning the Requiem Mass of one of the great characters of our diocese, Canon John Devane, whom the Lord called to his eternal reward after more than fifty five years service as a priest. Seen above on the left, Canon Devane was Provost of the Cathedral Canons. For thirty seven years he was parish priest in the Church where I was baptised: St Matthew's, West Norwood. It was there that I got to know him when I was in a nearby parish and he was my Dean shortly after ordination. We soon struck up a friendship and most Sunday evenings I would call over to visit him for a cup of tea and a chat. He was a treasure trove of amusing stories. I honestly think he never forgot anything that ever happened to him.
Canon Devane had a great passion for young people. The Scouts and other uniformed groups flourished in his parish. In his earlier years he organised a Sunday soccer league (those who missed Mass weren't allowed to play!). His love for young people led to a great concern for education and he served not just as Governor for various schools and Colleges but also on the Education Committee of the Local Authority. He was never scared to speak his mind. It was always fun to sit next to him at official meetings where he would declare his opinion of speakers in 'stage-whispers'.
Of all the countless memories I have of the Canon there is one that always comes back to me. Shortly before Christmas I called in one year. I knew he had been collecting food parcels for the poor families of the parish and that they were to have been distributed by the SVP and other parish groups. I was surprised, therefore, to see about twenty or thirty packages in his room and asked had there been a problem with delivery. "Oh no", he replied, "all the others have gone out. These ones I'll deliver myself at Christmas - they are for the families people don't know to be having a hard time".
If I knew it before, I had forgotten, but I was very pleased to hear today that in recognition of his years of devoted service, Lambeth Council had named a road after the Canon:

Eternal Rest grant unto him O Lord
And let perpetual light shine upon him.
May he rest in peace!

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Vocation Voices

Catholic Voices was an excellent initiative in the lead up to the Papal Visit last year. After observing a few train-crash interviews on the media and very aware of the potentially problematic welcome afforded by the British media, Austen Ivereigh and Jack Valero landed on the idea of training young adults to appear on the media. The idea was to give them an understanding of how the media works and also some insight into what the secular world would consider the more controversial elements of the Church's teaching. They could then not only be interviewed but also write articles, talk part in debates and use the new media to get over a more positive message.
Of course whatever is done will be controversial for a few. The project was criticised for focusing on young people and also because candidates had to undergo a selection process. To me this seems perfectly reasonable. I am certainly conscious that the project was a tremendous success and it was nice to see young people being interviewed and happily defending the Church's teaching on a wide range of interviews.
Drawing inspiration from Catholic Voices, the National Office for Vocation has come up with a new idea for Vocations Sunday, the fourth Sunday of Easter (15th May). "Vocation Voices" is a project to send young people into the parishes of the country to talk at the end of Mass about the importance of vocations to the priesthood and religious life. They need not be thinking of one of these vocations for themselves. We feel that a young person giving witness will be very effective in itself.
For more information about Vocation Voices or to volunteer to get involved send me an email at the Southwark Vocations Office.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

World Youth Day

So far seventy five people have signed up for our Quo Vadis "World Youth Day Pilgrimage". Please keep us in your prayers as we prepare and try to raise funds. We have opted for the most basic package: sleeping on floors in parish halls, but even so, by the time we have added flights, it is quite expensive. I'd like to thank all those people who have sent us some money. Your generosity is greatly appreciated!

Invocation 2011

The video below gives you something of the flavour of Invocation 2010. We hope you will join us for this year's festival: Invocation 2011. It will take place at St Mary's College, Oscott, from Friday 17th until Sunday 19th June.
In addition to excellent keynote speeches and workshops on different religious charisms, we look forward once again to having a number of our bishops with us and especially to the presence of the new Papal Nuncio. Don't forget to check out the website and also to follow us on Facebook.

Vocations Retreat at Wonersh

Retreatants Joined the Seminary for the Liturgy of the Hours
Last weekend twenty-three young men descended on St John's Seminary for our annual Vocations Retreat. The Retreat began as a joint initiative between Southwark and Arundel & Brighton but in the last couple of years it has welcomed participants also from Portsmouth and occasionally Plymouth as well, so it was nice to have Fr Mark Hogan from Portsmouth join us for the activities on Saturday.
The programme of the Retreat isn't intense, partly in recognition of the fact that those attending come from fairly hectic schedules and partly to ensure there is time for anyone who wishes to have a chance not only for personal prayer but also to chat individually with a priest.
One of the noticeable things about this year's retreat was how much the average age has decreased since we began five or six years ago. The majority of participants were university students or had recently left university. This probably reflects the important work now being carried out in our dioceses by discernment groups for younger vocations such as the inter-diocesan Quo Vadis Group.
For more information about Vocations activities in Southwark contact the Vocations Office.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Back from Milwaukee

I got back last week from the Vocations Conference at the Sacred Heart Seminary, Milwaukee. It took a while to get over the 'jet lag' but I reckon I'm pretty well there now. The Conference took place at the Sacred Heart Seminary and I thought you might like to see some photographs. It was, of course, still winter and the snow was deep on the ground. Although there is much more snow than we get over here, it is also much more manageable. For a start it is much colder: when was the last time you experienced -15 Celsius in England? With temperatures that cold there is no moisture in the air and the snow is 'dry'. In those conditions when the sun comes out the snow melts but the moisture evaporates quickly. Add to that the fact that snow-ploughs are everywhere and you get a situation where the roads are clear and pavements slush-free!

Friday, February 18, 2011

Got the Certificate!

Last night the Sacred Heart Seminary here in Milwaukee hosted a banquet In honour of the Institute of Diocesan Vocations Personnel. At the end there were various warm speeches including a heartfelt encouragement to us all from Rosemary Sullivan, the Executive Director of the National Conference of Diocesan Vocations Directors, the American equivalent of our Conference of Diocesan Directors of Vocations. Everyone who completed the week also received a special certificate to certify that they are now fully trained Vocations Directors. So, after five years in the job, I can now regard myself as fully qualified! I must say that I have been very well treated all week. All the other participants are either recently appointed or just about to be appointed as vocation directors. When presenting me to people Rosemary always made the point of saying that I wasn't a new vocations director and that I had come as Chairman of the CDDV. She invited me to answer questions on a panel and also to preside and preach at one of the Masses. They may seem small things but are, I think, indicative of the exquisite courtesy we encounter on the other side of the "pond".
The Institute itself was extremely well organised and structured. We began with a Day of Recollection and, on the subsequent days, were taken through the work of a Vocations Director from how to organise the office on day one to a presentation on formation by a seminary rector on the last day. It was all very useful. I'll post more about the content later.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Institute for Diocesan Vocations Personnel

I mentioned yesterday that I am currently in Milwaukee attending a vocations conference. It is a meeting organised by the National Conference of Diocesan Vocations Directors (NCDVD)held every two years in the Sacred Heart School of Theology - a seminary for later vocations. The meeting is a sort of induction week for new Vocation Directors and there are just over thirty of us here.
Of course, I am not a new Vocations Director but I've come for a couple of reasons. First of all to see how things are done over here and to get fresh ideas. Secondly because part of the week is dedicated to psychological assessments - an area of selection we are examining in greater detail in England and Wales at present.
We began with a day of recollection yesterday. In the evening we had a presentation of the "Nine Principles of Vocations Ministry". This morning we looked at the "Promotion and Development of a Comprehensive Program(sic)". This afternoon the presentation is "Administration and Running the Office". Tomorrow we have Mgr Stephen Rossetti giving us sessions on psychological assessments and psycho-sexual maturity. we also have two sessions on Discernment and two on Formation.
There is a lot to hear and I am finding it a very stimulating programme. It is also great to meet other Vocations Directors and hear from their experiences.
Apart from the benefit I am deriving myself from the week I am also growing in appreciation of what more we can do in the Conference of Diocesan Directors of Vocation, which I chair, to help us in our work back home.

Monday, February 14, 2011

The Prodigal Blog Returns

Over the last few months many people have asked me what has happened to the Blog? The answer is surprisingly mundane: having updated the website on Apple's excellent iWeb, I found I couldn't update the newly integrated Blog unless I was at the office computer. This meant that a lot of potentially interesting posts got delayed and eventually the Blog fell into disuse.
However, since so many people have asked me, and since quite a few have said they found it helpful, I've decided to go back to the more flexible Blogger in order to start posting again.
Of course it's never easy to resurrect a blog - so no promises! I'm grateful, however, to one of our seminarians who took the template and gave it a fresh new look. Makeovers seem to be the in thing at present.
Oh, and I should mention - I'm posting from Milwaukee!