Friday, November 30, 2012

Vocation Directors Conference

Untitled by Southwark Vocations

Untitled, a photo by Southwark Vocations on Flickr.

As I mentioned in a post short while ago, we recently had our annual Vocation Directors Conference which was hosted this year by st John's Seminary, Wonersh. St John's is the seminary for the Southwark province but also welcomes students from other parts of the country and, this year, from Scotland as well.
During the Conference Fr William Massie gave a presentation of the document from the Holy See with pastoral guidelines for promoting priestly vocations and Mgr Paul Grogan spoke about the New Evangelisation - a talk that certainly produced some discussion. Later Fr Terry Martin, who lectures on spirituality at Wonersh, spoke about spiritual direction and the specific 'secular' spirituality of a diocesan priest. I gave a couple of presentations, one on the nature of the Conference as an association of diocesan vocation directors and on its future, and another on the importance of getting priests involved in the work of vocations promotion. 
Fr Christopher Jamison was there to receive feedback on the vocations resources offered by the National Office for Vocation and on our experiences of the launch of the National Vocations Framework. He and Judith Eydmann, the development officer at the National Office for Vocation, gave a presentation of their work over the last year to the assembly on the Friday morning.
This year's meeting coincided with the election of officers that takes place every three years. I was re-elected chair nem con, and Mgr Paul Grogan and Fr Terry Martin similarly retained their posts as Vice-Chairman and Treasurer respectively.
As a consequence of the renewed mandate and following discussion with the members of the Conference I have asked Chris Smith from Birmingham to help us develop the role of Executive Director for the conference. Basically, the idea is to establish a structure whereby all the good ideas as well as the thinking - blue sky or wishful - that takes place at the conference can be distilled into an achievable programme of action, developed further and, indeed, complemented in various ways.

Word Games

On Wednesday I attended the Wives and Clergy Night of the London South West Circle of the Catenians. Before leaving Balham we established a Catenian Circle which still seems to be going strong. This year the London South West Circle have adopted a special cause for their President's Charity. The Catenians have always been great supporters of vocations and nationally have the Catenian Vocations Initiative. Taking this down to a practical level, the President's Charity this year raises money to send seminarians to various events where they may be able to promote vocations among young people. This year the money raised is being used to send Joseph Ansah to World Youth Day in Rio next year. 
It is great to have this practical support from the Catenians. I know they would like other Circles to adopt a similar initiative - I also know that there are a number of dioceses who simply cannot afford to send their students out in this way so such help from the Catenians would be very welcome. Feel free to contact me if you have any ideas.
What does this have to do with the title of the post and the picture? Well, having accepted the cheque I sat down and we moved to the raffle (which is how they raise the money). The first ticket pulled out was mine - and so I have also come home with a new Scrabble set for the Vocations Centre!

Thank You Once Again

There have been more deliveries from the Amazon wish list. Many thanks to our generous benefactors. We had now nearly exhausted the list - so I've updated it with more kitchen equipment. It is a great way of helping our work here in Whitstable and I am really grateful for your kindness.
Don't forget I celebrate Mass twice a month for the intentions of our benefactors - including the anonymous ones!


Having gotten back to the Vocations Centre after the weekend in Plumstead, I was able to meet up with the new group of students who had come Whitstable for a retreat. They arrived on Sunday night and left late on Tuesday evening. The group included two Australian seminarians from Melbourne who were very impressed by our Southwark Vocations Surfboard - although perhaps not as tempted to make use of it on the North Kent Coast as they may have been back home.
The retreat was the first in a series I shall be preaching within the next couple of weeks including the Advent Retreat coming up at St John's Seminary.  Please keep them in your prayers.

St Patrick's, Plumstead

After the Vocations Directors Conference I went on retreat for a week and then came back to the Vocations Centre to catch u on a few things before heading off to Plumstead for a weekend at St Patrick's. Fr Michael Branch, the parish priest, had asked me to come to preach at all the Masses about vocations. As t happened, it was the Feast of Christ the King which coincides with National Youth Sunday. The various elements seemed to fit well with the underlying principle of the Vocations Centre which is that Discipleship Discerns Vocation
St Patrick's is one of the parishes in the diocese that has adopted enthusiastically Eucharistic Adoration for vocations and it was wonderful to discover that very many of the parishioners are already committed to praying for vocations in our diocese as well as for our seminarians. In September the parish welcomed David  Howell, one of our students who was there for over a month to get parish experience. I knew David loved his time there but it was great to realise how much the experience of having a student meant to the parishioners themselves.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Vocations Retreat With Friars of the Renewal

Fr Emmanuel from the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal has been in touch with news of a Vocations Retreat that will be taking place in the Friary in Canning Town from 7th-9th December. It's only a small Friary and space is limited so if you want to go please contact Fr Emmanuel beforehand. The telephone number of the Friary is 020 74740766. The Friars don't have a computer so you have to call rather than email. If there's no reply, or if the phone is engaged, please leave them a message with your telephone number so they can get back to you.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Holy Father's Message for WYD

I will post the whole message over the next few days.

Full text of Pope Benedict XVI's message to young people
“Go and make disciples of all nations!” (cf. Mt 28:19)

Dear young friends,
I greet all of you with great joy and affection. I am sure that many of you returned from World Youth Day in Madrid all the more “planted and built up in Jesus Christ, firm in the faith” (cf. Col 2:7). This year in our Dioceses we celebrated the joy of being Christians, taking as our theme: “Rejoice in the Lord always” (Phil 4:4). And now we are preparing for the next World Youth Day, which will take place in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in July 2013.
Before all else, I invite you once more to take part in this important event. The celebrated statue of Christ the Redeemer overlooking that beautiful Brazilian city will be an eloquent symbol for us. Christ’s open arms are a sign of his willingness to embrace all those who come to him, and his heart represents his immense love for everyone and for each of you. Let yourselves be drawn to Christ! Experience this encounter along with all the other young people who will converge on Rio for the next World Youth Day! Accept Christ’s love and you will be the witnesses so needed by our world.
I invite you to prepare for World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro by meditating even now on the theme of the meeting: “Go and make disciples of all nations!” (cf. Mt 28:19). This is the great missionary mandate that Christ gave the whole Church, and today, two thousand years later, it remains as urgent as ever. This mandate should resound powerfully in your hearts. The year of preparation for the gathering in Rio coincides with the Year of Faith, which began with the Synod of Bishops devoted to “The New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Christian Faith”. I am happy that you too, dear young people, are involved in this missionary outreach on the part of the whole Church. To make Christ known is the most precious gift that you can give to others.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Location:Chilling Street,,United Kingdom

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Going on Retreat

I am going on Retreat tomorrow and won't be back until Friday. I will remember all the readers of this blog in my prayers and ask an Ave from you in return.

Una Messa in Italiano

IMG_0495 by Southwark Vocations
The willing cooks for our Italian lunch!

Today I joined Fr Peter Geldard at the Canterbury Chaplaincy to celebrate Mass in Italian. The Chaplaincy has occasional Masses in different languages to reflect the varied backgrounds of its students. We celebrated in Italian today because two young members of staff from the university, both Italian, were to be confirmed during the Mass.
Afterwards we retired to St John Stone House, the chaplaincy building, for a delicious lunch of antipasto followed by spaghetti alla carbonara, spied ini and tiramisu - all cooked by the students themselves. There can't be many places where students get such a hearty lunch these days for a mere £3.50!

Another Thank You!

I got back on Friday evening from St John's Seminary, Wonersh, where the Vocations Directors' of England and Wales had gathered for their week-long annual conference. This year we welcomed Mgr Andrew Burnham from the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham who presented to us Fr Paul Burch, the new Vocations Director for the Ordinariate. We also welcomed Fr Christopher Jamison from the National Office for Vocation who was with us for part of the week and who gave an account of the work of the National Office over the last year. This included the recent launch of the the National Vocations Framework an initial draft of which he had presented to us last year and which we were able to help recast to be more of a 'framework' than a series of action points.
More about the Conference later, for now I just want to acknowledge gratitude to the benefactors who have sent us things from the Amazon wish list on the side bar. We now have new bedside lamps for nearly all our bedrooms as well as a smart new dustbin for the kitchen. I am really grateful to everyone for their help and want to remind you that, by way of thanks, I celebrate Mass twice a month in the Vocations Centre for our benefactors.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

On Remembrance Sunday

On this Remembrance Sunday I want to pay a tribute to Military Chaplains. Here's an extract from a letter of Fr William Doyle SJ, an heroic WWI chaplain. It describes a Mass he celebrated for the dead at the Somme on Saturday 9th September 1916:

"By cutting a piece out of the side of the trench, I was just able to stand in front of my tiny altar, a biscuit box supported on two German bayonets. God's angels, no doubt, were hovering overhead, but so were the shells, hundreds of them, and I was a little afraid that when the earth shook with the crash of the guns, the chalice might be overturned.
Round about me on every side was the biggest congregation I ever had: behind the altar, on either side, and in front, row after row, sometimes crowding one upon the other, but all quiet and silent, as if they were straining their ears to catch every syllable of that tremendous act of Sacrifice... but every man was dead!
Some had lain there for a week and were foul and horrible to look at, with faces black and green. Others had only just fallen, and seemed rather sleeping than dead, but there they lay, for none had time to bury them, brave fellows, every one, friend and foe alike, while I held in my unworthy hands the God of Battles, their Creator and their Judge, and prayed Him to give rest to their souls.
Surely that Mass for the Dead, in the midst of, and surrounded by the dead, was an experience not easily to be forgotten".

Feel free to re-tweet this post. Fr Doyle's comments deserve to be read and re-read. If you are preparing for ordination, take them with you on your ordination retreat. Amidst all the hardship, suffering and tragedy of the Somme, he dug an altar into the side of the trench so that he could celebrate the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. And when you are ordained, if ever you are tempted not to celebrate Holy Mass one day, quod Deus avertet, remember Fr Doyle scraping at the side of his trench to make an altar and offer it for the repose of the soul of a faithful priest who was killed at Ypres on 15th August 1917. His body was never found.

A few days later a remarkable tribute was paid to him in the English newspapers:

"The Orangemen will not forget a certain Roman Catholic chaplain who lies in a soldier's grave in that sinister plain beyond Ypres. He went forward and back over the battlefield with bullets whining about him, seeking out the dying and kneeling in the mud beside them to give them Absolution, walking with death with a smile on his face, watched by his men with reverence and a kind of awe until a shell burst near him and he was killed. His familiar figure was seen and welcomed by hundreds of Irishmen who lay in that bloody place. Each time he came back across the field he was begged to remain in comparative safety. Smiling he shook his head and went again into the storm. He had been with his boys at Glinchy and through other times of stress, and he would not desert them in their agony. They remember him as a saint - they speak his name with tears".

Requiescat in Pace.

Vocations Directors Conference

Over the last few weeks I've been working on preparations for our forthcoming Vocation Directors Conference which starts tomorrow at St John's Seminary, Wonersh. Every diocese will be represented except, sadly, Menevia where the Vocations Director can't get away because he has three funerals in the course of the week. Very few dioceses in England and Wales have full-time Vocations Directors and so most have to combine the role with at least one other major responsibility. Given the importance of our work in matters to do with the selection of candidates and safeguarding procedures, it may be sensible for bishops to consider appointing an assistant to the Vocations Director. Both Nottingham and Salford diocese have two priests sharing the role which ensures that at least one can usually get to the Conference. This year we will also be welcoming two delegates from the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham. The Ordinariate is in the enviable position of having, in a sense, a surfeit of priests and many dioceses are benefitting from the help they can offer in parishes and chaplaincies. It will be interesting to hear from Mgr Burnham whether he regards this as temporary in that many of the Ordinariate priests are also nearing retirement. It will also be interesting to hear what plans, if any, there may be for the establishment of an Ordinariate seminary.

This year we will be looking at the new Pastoral Guidelines for Fostering Vocations to Priestly Ministry. If you haven't read them yet you really should. They are available on this blog by going to the relevant page tab at the top. It is the Year of Faith and we have just had the Synod on Evangelisation so we will also be looking at some of the Vocational Challenges of the New Evangelisation. A major theme of our conference will be how we might get more priests involved in the work of promoting and supporting vocations. In addition to the talks already mentioned, another key presentation will look at spiritual direction and the spirituality of diocesan priesthood.

Oftentimes it is simply a question of giving priests confidence. Please pray that our Conference this year will be a great experience for us all.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Thank You

Many thanks to the benefactor who bought me an item from the Amazon Wish List (see side bar). We offer Mass twice a month in the Vocation Centre for all our benefactors.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Launch of the National Framework

Today saw a remarkable event take place at the Amigo Hall by St George's Cathedral, Southwark. It was the fourth and final gathering to mark the launch of the National Vocation Framework, the three principle aims that will direct the work of the National Office for Vocation over the next few years. These are: (1) to promote an understanding of vocation; (2) to communicate vocation; and (3) to foster the discernment of vocation.

Over a hundred people gathered for the event. In my discussion group one of the sisters made an interesting comment: she said she was impressed by the fact that there were so many men present because in her experience it was usually sisters who gathered to talk about vocations. A good number of the participants said the day gave them hope and others said they appreciated the fact that there was no sense of competition. One very interesting observation came from a Novice Mistress who said her three most recent vocations were all former atheists.

The day began with a welcome from Archbishop Peter followed by an address by Fr Christopher Jamison in which he spoke of the disappearance of a 'total Catholic culture' which had, in the past, been the seedbed of vocations and how John Paul II had spoken of the need to promote a vocation culture as a response to this. In the afternoon there were presentations on the various sorts of discernment groups operative in England and Wales today. Sr Cathy Jones did a very good job of presenting these in a systematic way. I had the opportunity to speak a little bit about the challenge of the New Evangelisation and possible responses to them.

All in all, I think everyone has been given the chance to reflect on what they might do to promote a general culture of vocation within their communities, parishes and places of work.

Monday, November 05, 2012

Posture & Carriage

The Handbook on the Social Behaviour of Seminarians doesn't have much time for those who confuse contortion with piety...

"Slumped, crooked, or slovenly posture in church could easily be interpreted as an indication of your mental attitude towards the recitation of prayers... A man with any degree of self-control kneels squarely on both knees. The position is not a natural one and is not meant for comfort, but it looks very disedifying to see a seminarian or cleric continually squirming during divine services to obtain a more comfortable position.  Letting the head roll to one side during prayer gives a pietistic or idiotic appearance, and letting the entire weight of the body rest on the elbows which are dropped on the pew in front is very slovenly".

Oh dear, I'm not sure what they would have said about me using a cushion to support my arm...

Saturday, November 03, 2012

The Social Behaviour of Seminarians

Recently someone was telling me about a former seminarian who was complaining about the lax regime at his seminary. Since it is a place I know quite well, I was able to suggest to my interlocutor that perhaps the account he had received had undergone a certain transformation as it passed through the disgruntled mind of a young man who never really wanted to be in seminary anyway. I often wonder how long those who complain about their seminary formation would have lasted in a former regime - where, for example, you could be instantly dismissed for a misdemeanour such as forgetting to wear the ferraiola when you went out for a walk. I recently came across an interesting little guide to the social behaviour of seminarians.

Today let's consider Clothing:

"Care of shoes demands that they be polished. One of the last duties of every seminarian or cleric before retiring at night should be to shine his shoes for the next day. In the rush for morning prayers they are liable to be overlooked. And he should give them a swipe of the brush again during the day. Well-polished shoes, like well-ironed trousers, may be a small item but it has a big influence on one's appearance".
"To sum up: Slovenliness in dress, either in the seminary, in the classroom, or on the street, is a mark of carelessness unbecoming of a gentleman. At the other extreme is fastidiousness - the soft, unmanly type. This too is unbecoming. The seminarians or cleric isn't an actor, nor a fashion plate. He is a neatly dressed gentleman".
I am going to have such fun quoting this book to some seminarians...

Spare a Prayer for our Friends in New York

I received an email today from Rosemary Sullivan, the Executive Director of the National Conference of Diocesan Vocations Directors in the US which has its headquarters in the diocesan seminary in Huntingdon on Long Island. I was supposed to have stayed there in September but had to make do with NHS hospitality instead. I'm copying the email here to encourage you to remember to pray for all those suffering in the wake of hurricane Sandy. Over here in England we rarely get affected by events of such magnitude and it is perhaps hard for us to imagine what it is really like for people on the ground. Also, there is a great resilience to the American spirit. My Facebook friends seem galvanised to help each other and sort things out and we have a lot to learn from that but at the same time there is also another side to tragedy - Rose catches it in the young priest sitting on the beach not knowing what to do. Before long the news stories over here will move on to other things but let's not forget to pray for our brothers and sisters in New York...

Not sure when this will go through – The hot spot Fr. Henning has is very weak so Internet has really been nonexistent for us the last two days.
All continues to be well here at the seminary.  Our generator is holding, so we have power, but we no longer have heat so the building is cold at night, hopefully it will be fixed today - but absolutely no complaint we just pile on another blanket. Still no phones. We did get a food delivery yesterday - only non-perishable items, but again no complaint; all things considered we are in good shape.
Things are tough outside the walls of this house of Mary. Long, sometimes violent lines for gas.  Gary was on line with my sister yesterday for 2 ½ hours to get gas for the car. People are stealing generators from each other and Thursday night in downtown Huntington (where the restaurants are) there was looting; thankfully the police chief seems to feel he has that under control now.
The seminary has been open for people to take hot showers, charge their phones, get some hot coffee, etc. We have not seen many people but as the days continue without power we are prepared for the numbers to increase. The new estimate is that some places on Long Island may not see power until after November 11th or longer.  We were also contacted yesterday by the State Police who are looking to house 100 troopers here at the seminary who are coming in from across the country to help with the relief efforts.  Bishop Murphy is also looking to possibly use the seminary as temporary housing for those who have lost their homes. We are ready to welcome and help wherever we can, but decisions on what is happening when, and where, seems to change by the minute. Its frustrating as we want to help and are ready to and yet need to wait. Trusting the Lord is something I am being reminded of everyday in prayer. But honestly it is all keeping my mind off, if only momentarily, the conditions on the South Shore where my home, my friends and neighbors are.
With each sunrise there is hope that things will begin to level out and we can take a breath and begin to move forward.  It is just so hard to see the photos and hear from friends who have lost so much.
I have attached two photos.  One is the seminary with the damage on the main driveway.  We lost trees all over the property but again, no damage to the building.  Also, attached is a photo of the beach - Robert Moses, Fire Island - which some of you may remember.  The beach is about a 5 minute drive from my home. The lighthouse is still standing, be I am not sure if it was damaged, but as you can see from the photo the beach itself is gone. But it WILL come back.

My focus has been on helping Fr. Rich and reaching out to my recently ordained.  The fellows who are only ordained 1, 3, 5 years are finding this very tough.  Some of them were still in high school/college for 9/11 so this is the first real test for them.  Some are finding it harder than others.  I ask them to focus on how their presence, and if nothing else, their willingness to just listen to the people of their parishes/communities will make all the difference.  Duffy told me a story today about how the people were banging on the church doors looking for food and there was nothing left to give them.  The parish has no power - nothing.  But they have been saying masses by candlelight and doing all they can. Sean was just assigned to Breezy Point, which is where the major fires were. 111 homes were lost and what the fire didn’t claim the ocean did.  The first floor of the rectory was completely flooded out.  He called me, sitting on the beach not even knowing where to start. It was the first time he was allowing himself to take it all in. My heart just broke for him but I refuse to be soft and had to give him some tough “Mama Rose love”  – which was in fact what he was looking for.
What can we do? The question that so many from outside the path of Sandy ask and is in fact comforting to hear, but truth is, the best thing you can all do is what you do best – pray.  Ask your parishioners to pray, ask the seminarians to pray. Pray for patience, pray for calm, pray that so many can keep their spirits up, pray that in the coming days as the shock of it begins to wear off and the scarring reality sets in for so many people, that they will remember Christ is here among us.



Thursday, November 01, 2012

Samuel Group in SE London

Sr Anne Griffiths has been in touch with news that plans are afoot to start a Samuel Group in South East London. 
Samuel Groups are for single young adults (18-30s), who are wondering what God is calling them to do with their lives. The aim is to help participants discern their direction in life, whether this is to marriage or dedicated single life, to priesthood or consecrated life. It would also suit those who are making decisions about their career, or about spending time as a missionary or volunteer. 
All those who take part grow in their understanding of what it is to make decisions as a Christian; the main aim is that participants will end the programme with a clearer view of God's will for their life.
Participants take time to listen to God and to His Word speaking to their life. They commit to attending monthly meetings with the group, and to meeting individually with a spiritual guide.

Samuel Groups are one example of what we call a "discernment group". Others models of discernment groups are the Quo Vadis Groups in Southwark and Birmingham and the St John Vianney Group in Arundel & Brighton. They are all very different but if you can find the right one to suit your personality you may well find it a great help in recognising and responding to your vocation.

For more information about the SE Samuel Group or to find one near you contact: .

Benefactors' Masses

So many people have been so generous in supporting the establishment of the new Vocations Centre that I have thought it appropriate to establish two monthly Masses for our benefactors' intentions. They will start this month and continue as long as I am Vocations Director - obviously it will be up to my eventual successor to decide what to do in the future.

Many thanks...

A big "Thank You" to our benefactor who bought three items from the Amazon wish-list (see side bar) for the Vocations Centre. Every little helps - and three bedside lamps is much more than a little!