Monday, July 31, 2006

Meeting People

In recent posts I've mentioned the efforts we put in to encouraging people to pray for more priestly vocations in the Archdiocese of Southwark, and also the strong desire to produce publicity material of a high standard with good visual images.
Another aspect of our work is to try to meet as many young men as possible in order to put the call to them directly. I am lucky to be in a parish that is large enough to host a variety of events for young adults. In addition to our weekly Forum Christi group, we have been able to host meetings of the World Youth Alliance and events such as the World Youth Day reunion to take place this Saturday. For a number of years now the parish has hosted the Youth 2000 New Year Retreat which includes excellent and challenging talks as well as perpetual Adoration. About 350 young people attend this retreat. Fortunately we can rely on a good number of priests to help with confessions.
I make use of these occasions to talk to as many young men as possible about the call God has for them. At first I was reticent because I thought there was a danger of causing offence, but I soon realised that most of the young men I spoke to had indeed considered priesthood but never before had a chance to talk with a priest about it. Now I am not so shy!
You can help me in this work. Everything we do must be built on prayer. You can ask God to prepare the hearts of the young men I meet so that they will be receptive to God's call. It's certainly worth a daily Memorare!

Sunday, July 30, 2006

AIDS, Condoms and Africa

The average age of one of my Mass-going parishioners is 26. Not surprisingly I find myself often having to defend the Church's teaching on contraception. I've noticed over a number of years that whenever I gave a talk on contraception the first question would always be, "What about AIDS in Africa". It can be such a burning issue in some people's minds that they don't really listen to the talk, so much so that I now begin talks on contraception by exploding some myths about condoms and AIDS prevention. In this I've made ample use of the information provided by Fr Tim Finigan on the 'Controversies' page of his parish website. Today I notice on his Blog that he has a link to an article in the online version of Crisis Magazine. It's well worth reading.

Here it is...

Okay, okay, I admit it was unfair! Too tantalising to have a post about a poster without actually putting up the poster.
So here it is...

De Gustibus...

Since taking over as Co-ordinator of Vocations Promotion for the Archdiocese I've been keen to use good quality images in any written material we produce. Of course it is true that posters don't create vocations but a vocations poster at the back of the Church might just keep putting the call before a young man who would rather keep it out of his mind! The material we produce should be of a high standard because we are competing in a visual world. We could also apply the 'pay peanuts get monkeys' principle: shoddy posters say a lot about how much we value the priesthood.
Of course there is no image that will appeal to everyone. I prefer to take an honest approach: if we are promoting priesthood let's use images of clearly identifiable priests. With due respect to anyone who may think differently, to my mind the worst vocations poster I ever saw was the one which said: "Godisnowhere". How's that for a mixed message!
Our current poster features the photo on this post. I hesitated a long time before producing it, and generally most priests find it slightly uncomfortable. Although not posed, the photo is reminiscent of the advertising for Reservoir Dogs, and the text that goes along with it makes reference to two other films: Men in Black and Blues Brothers. Although not necessarily a great success among my brother priests, it has proved really popular in chaplaincies and schools and with young people in general. Which just goes to show...

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Eucharistic Adoration

Our work in Southwark to promote vocations falls under three headings. We promote a Campaign of Prayer for priestly vocations; we try to make people aware of Christ's call; finally we try to have direct contact with as many people as possible.
Of these three the most important is the Campaign of Prayer. During the Year of the Rosary we printed forty thousand leaflets with special intentions for each of the Mysteries, including the new Mysteries of Light. These were very popular and recently we had an email from Australia asking permission to copy the leaflets - which of course we were very happy to give.
For the priests and religious of the diocese we printed Breviary Cards with a specific intercession at Morning and Evening Prayer for each day of the week. These intercessions can also be used at weekday Masses. We are also awaiting the delivery of Prayer Cards for the Sick to be distributed to all those in the diocese who receive Holy Communion in their homes.
Every parish in the diocese is asked to participate in the Campaign of Prayer in a special way by hosting Eucharistic Adoration for vocations. Currently about 60% of our parishes have agreed to take part although we hope the percentage will increase this year. I consider this Eucharistic Adoration to be the basis of everything we do and the reason for the increased interest we are beginning to see in priestly vocations among young men.
When Adoration takes place in a parish a number of things begin to happen. First of all, people are asking the Lord of the harvest to send the labourers we need. God always hears our prayers. They are never wasted. Secondly, when we come before the Blessed Sacrament we ar face to face with Jesus. If we open our hearts we will hear his call. Thirdly, regular Adoration affects even those who do not attend and whose faith may be confused: they are led to ask what it's all about. That desire to know disposes them to receive answers.
After Benediction this evening a lady asked me to pray for a special intention. "It needs a miracle", she said. Our Lord teaches us to ask for such miracles. Let's keep encouraging everyone we meet to ask the Lord for more priestly vocations.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Where there's a will there's a way!

Who says vocations promotion has to consist of small groups sitting on uncomfortable chairs staring awkwardly at a candle in an untidy and cramped presbytery room somewhere? If we want to attract normal young men to the priesthood then we have to do normal things with them! This was brought home to me recently by a visit from two priests Fr Nicolas and Fr Pablo who work in the same parish in Spain. They have been in England on holiday. Fr Nicolas, who also teaches at the seminary in Madrid, spends his holiday looking after a small parish near central London giving its parish priest a chance to get away each summer. But instead of coming alone he brings with him a mixture of seminarians and young men from the parish who might possibly have a vocation to the priesthood. In the mornings the lads go to a language school on Oxford Street and in the afternoon they have a chance to visit the sights of London. They do this in the context of daily Mass and opportunities for prayer, observing the work of the priest from close quarters. Over the years it has proved a simple and effective method of getting young men to think more deeply about their vocation and a good number of these annual visitors are now well into their studies at the Madrid seminary. The photo shows this year's group on a trip to Canterbury.

It sometimes occurs to me that two people who are in love use their human wit to stay in contact during the day. If we love the priesthood then we too will find new and exciting ways to promote vocations. It is not a matter of following a pre-determined programme. It's simply a question of initiative - and works best if we are determined to have a good time ourselves while doing it!

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Southwark's New Men

I had a call last night from Mgr Bill Saunders, the vocations director, confirming the final numbers of students who will start their training for the priesthood this autumn. We ask you to keep them in your prayers.
This year we are sending three men: Sam, Tom and William to the English College in Valladolid, Spain. This historical college has specialised in recent years in offering a pre-seminary year to students. More and more dioceses are making use of the College in Valladolid and all the students who go there speak enthusiastically about the formation they receive.
We are aslo sending five men to St John's, the diocesan seminary at Wonersh in Surrey. Stephen, Kurt, Ola, Jason, and Johnathon will all start there in September. St John's is also receiving a new Rector: we send our best wishes to Mgr Jeremy Garratt as he takes up his new appointment and assure him of our prayers.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Vocations Blogs are catching on

When I was in Spain for the World Meeting of Families I met some Spanish seminarians and priest friends and enthused about our latest venture: the Southwark Vocations Blog. Recently I've heard from two of them who tell me that they've taken up the idea and now have their own blogs. One is a priest from Madrid, Fr Fulgencio who organises lots of activities with young people and is already drawing out many vocations. In the photo he is on a summer convivencia with some of his parishioners. His blog is in the name of his parish: Edith Stein.
The other is a seminarian from Cadiz. The Cadiz Blog is more specifically about vocations and the activities of the seminary, although it does also carry comment like a recent post on the Da Vinci Code (of course you'll have to speak Spanish to be able to read it!).

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Pope John Paul II on his Vocation

Sometimes it helps to take the words of the Pope to our daily prayer. Here are some reflections on priesthood from the great Pope John Paul II. I hope you find them helpful.

"I am often asked, especially by young people, why I became a priest. Maybe some of you would like to ask the same question. Let me try briefly to reply. I must begin by saying that it is impossible to explain entirely. For it remains a mystery, even to myself. How does one explain the ways of God? Yet, I know that, at a certain point in my life, I became convinced that Christ was saying to me what he had said to thousands before me: 'Come, follow me!' There was a clear sense that what I heard in my heart was no human voice, nor was it just an idea of my own. Christ was calling me to serve him as a priest.
"And you can probably tell that I am deeply grateful to God for my vocation to the priesthood. Nothing means more to me or gives me greater joy than to celebrate Mass each day and to serve God's people in the Church. That has been true ever since the day of my ordination as a priest. Nothing has ever changed this, not even becoming Pope." (Los Angeles, USA, September 14, 1987)

"The priestly vocation is essentially a call to sanctity, in the form that derives from the Sacrament of Holy Orders. Sanctity is intimacy with God; it is the imitation of Christ, poor, chaste and humble; it is unreserved love for souls and self-giving to their true good; it is love for the Church which is holy and wants us to be holy, because such is the mission that Christ has entrusted to it. Each one of you must be holy also in order to help your brothers pursue their vocation to sanctity." (Rome, Italy, October 9, 1984)

"His calling is a declaration of love. Your response is commitment, friendship, and love manifested in the gift of your own life as a definitive following and as a permanent sharing in his mission and in his consecrations. To make up your mind is to love him with all of your soul and all of your heart in such a way that this love becomes the standard and motive of all your actions. From this moment on, live the Eucharist fully; be persons for whom the Holy Mass, Communion, and Eucharistic adoration are the centre and summit of their whole life. Offer Christ your heart in meditation and personal prayer which is the foundation of the spiritual life" (Valencia, Spain, November 8, 1982)

"The world looks to the priest, because it looks to Jesus! No one can see Christ; but everyone sees the priest, and through him they wish to catch a glimpse of the Lord! Immense is the grandeur of the Lord! Immense is the grandeur and dignity of the priest!" (Rome, Italy, October 13, 1979)

"Pray, therefore, to the Lord of the harvest that he send harvesters into his harvest …" Considering that the Eucharist is the greatest gift our Lord gives to his Church, we must ask for priests, since the priesthood is a gift for the Church. We must pray insistently for this gift. We must ask for it on our knees." (Rome, Italy, March 25, 1982)

"Called, consecrated, sent. This triple dimension explains and determines your conduct and your lifestyle. You are 'set apart'; 'segregated,' but not 'separated.' What would separate you, would be to forget or to overlook the meaning of the consecration that characterizes your priesthood. To be but one more in your profession, in your lifestyle, in your way of living, in your political obligations, would not help you to fully carry out your mission. You would betray your own faithful who want you to be priests through and through." (Valencia, Spain, November 8, 1982)

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Thank You, Our Lady of the Rosary, Blackfen

I've already mentioned the article on vocations in the Italian newspaper Avvenire, which found that some 70% of those who considered a vocation but gave up before doing anything about it mentioned that they had no one to guide them.
All priests have a role in promoting priestly vocations. Sometimes it is simply the joy we exude in our priestly ministry, or the attention that we pay to people which will give them the confidence to approach us. In our parishes we can speak positively about the gift of oneself - especially one's youth - to Christ. We can also organise times of prayer and Eucharistic Adoration at which the faithful are encouraged to pray for vocations.
Many parishes these days havew a website. Fr Tim Finigan's site at Our Lady of the Rosary in Blackfen has won a number of web-awards. He has now added a vocations page with some excellent advice for any young man who may be thinking of the priesthood. It is well worth a visit and is a good model for other parishes to take up.

A Great Barbecue

Tonight we had our annual Southwark Vocations Barbecue. As usual we had our monthly Seekers' Meeting at 7.00pm but this time joined up with a number of Spanish seminarians studying English for the meal. Josemaria proved himself a dab hand at cooking while everyone else piled in helping out in whatever was needed.
After we had eaten Eduardo found a guitar and, true to Spanish form, before long everyone was singing. Well - everyone except the English of course! Although David and Kurt made a brave attempt to galvanise us.Why is it that we Brits can never remember much beyond the first line? Next year, to safeguard our national honour, we will have to prepare a book of lyrics!

Friday, July 21, 2006

This Sunday: Day of Prayer and Penance for peace in the Middle East

Fr Tim Finigan's blog, The Hermeneutic of Continuity, draws our attention to the call of Pope Benedict XVI to make Sunday a day of prayer and penance for peace in the Middle East:

The Holy Father, Pope Benedict, has asked us to observe a day of prayer and penance this coming Sunday to "implore the precious gift of peace" from God in response to the increasing violence that has developed in recent days in the Middle East. Faced with worsening situation in the Middle East, the Holy See Press Office has been directed to communicate the following:

The Holy Father is following with great concern the destinies of all the peoples involved and has proclaimed this Sunday, July 23, as a special day of prayer and penance, inviting the pastors and faithful of all the particular Churches, and all believers of the world, to implore from God the precious gift of peace. In particular, the Supreme Pontiff hopes that prayers will be raised to the Lord for an immediate cease-fire between the sides, for humanitarian corridors to be opened in order to bring help to the suffering peoples, and for reasonable and responsible negotiations to begin to put an end to objective situations of injustice that exist in that region; as already indicated by Pope Benedict XVI at the Angelus last Sunday, July 16.In reality, the Lebanese have the right to see the integrity and sovereignty of their country respected, the Israelis the right to live in peace in their State, and the Palestinians have the right to have their own free and sovereign homeland. At this sorrowful moment, His Holiness also makes an appeal to charitable organizations to help all the people struck by this pitiless conflict.

Vatican Information Service 20 July 2006

Young People and Vocations

The news agency Zenit today reports on a survey on vocations published in 'Avvenire', the Italian Catholic newspaper. Its stark conclusion is that one of the main reasons young people do not answer the call to consecrated life is that they feel a lack of support.
Of a thousand young people between 16 and 29 years of age who were interviewed, 10% of them admitted that they had at some time felt the call to priesthood or religious life, but that the majority of them abandoned the idea after a few months.
71% of those who did not pursue their call said that they didn't know anyone else who was thinking about repsonding to a vocation. 70% of them could not cite a priest or religious with whom they could discuss their call. Thus, the newspaper concluded, "There is a crisis of vocations also because there is a crisis of credible guides."
These are sobering figures that serve to underline the importance of what we are trying to do in Southwark. First of all, if 10% of young people have considered a vocation, then we should be very confident about talking to all young people about the call God has for them. We shouldn't hold back when it comes to talking about the priesthood. In that way young people will have 'credible guides' - they will see priests and religious, happy and fulfilled in their vocation, who are not scared to call others to abandon everything in order to follow the master. Secondly, in Southwark we try to bring young men together before they apply for seminary. Our model is that they should enter seminary as friends, pass through their seminary formation and friends, and bring those bonds of friendship with them into the diocesan presbyterate.
Our work is underpinned by prayer - especially the Eucharistic Adoration for Vocations that takes place in our parishes. Please pray for what we do and encourage the young men you know to get in touch with us.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Spoof Memorandum

Years ago I met the Vocations Director from Lincoln Nabraska. The North American College had lots of students from that diocese and I asked him his secret. "It's simple" he replied, "I don't let anyone go forward unless I've spent a hundred hours with them". If I remember rightly he was also university chaplain which probably facilitated the hundred hours. His comment always emphasised to me the importance of knowing a candidate well over a period of time before they apply to the seminary. I was reminded of it forcibly when I joined the diocesan Vocations Team and heard one of the previous Vocations Directors comment that in his experience it was 'last in first out' - in other words students who come along at the last minute are often the ones most likely not to complete their formation.
So it's important to know a candidate well. The dangers of a superficial knowledge are amusingly brought out in the following spoof Memorandum I was sent recently:

To: Jesus, Son of Joseph, Nazareth.
From: The Advisory Board for the Church's Ministry.
Subject: Selection of Candidates for Ministry.

Thank you for submitting details of the 12 men you think suitable for Ministry. All of them have now been interviewed by the Board. It is our opinion that most of the Candidates are lacking in the background, education and vocational aptitude necessary for full time Ministry:

Simon Peter is emotionally unstable and given to fits of temper. Andrew has absolutely no qualities of leadership. The two brothers, James and John the sons of Zebedee, place personal interest above vocational commitment. Thomas demonstrates a questioning attitude and he needs to be sure of his own faith before being involved in Ministry to others.
A bad business reference has been forwarded for Matthew.
James, son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus have unhelpful political opinions and both appear to be manic depressive.

One of the candidates however shows great potential. He is a man of ability and resourcefulness, meets people well, has a keen financial mind (so necessary in today's Church), and has good contacts in government. He is highly motivated and innovative. We can certainly recommend Judas Iscariot without hesitation as being an outstanding and successful candidate.

We have written to all the candidates accordingly.

I don't know where the 'memorandum' originates, but I can assure you it's not like that in Southwark!

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Art and Catechesis

Fr Marcus Holden is the curate in my parish. He was ordained last September and since then has been working hard at the Holy Ghost here in Balham.
Fr Marcus has a particular interest in the use of art in catechesis and has even been working with priests from other dioceses to produce Evangelium a complete presentation of the faith for RCIA and adult formation that draws heavily on Christian art. On Thursday he joined us at Woldingham for the vocations week and gave an illuminating presentation on how we can use art to illustrate the Church's faith.
Later he led his side to victory on the football pitch: Oxford contra mundum (bad luck William!). At the get-together in the evening he amused and edified us with some stories of his first few months as a priest in Southwark.

Fishers of Men

Fr Tim Finigan's Blog, The Hermeneutic of Continuity, has a recent post recommending the new vocations video from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Southwark Seekers will already have seen the video (probably more than once!) and can testify to its excellence. It is called Fishers of Men (Fr Tim has a link to the trailer - but my blogging skills don't reach that far) and is the work of Grassroots Productions. They are a new company associated with the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal (some of you might even recongise one or two shots from some Fr Stan Fortuna videos). I was given a copy by Frankie Mulgrew who was over there this year. We've put it to good use in the diocese. Frankie made me promise not to pirate the video, so I've put in an order for twenty copies in the hope that we can put them to good use in our deaneries and schools.

Monday, July 17, 2006

World Youth Day Reunion

On Saturday 5th August Southwark Vocations is hosting a reunion for all those who have attended past World Youth Day events, expecially last year's bonanza at Cologne. We invite you to come along with photographs and other mementos of those days. The event will take place in the Holy Ghost Parish, Nightingale Square, Balham. It starts with refreshments at midday and ends after Holy Mass at 5.30pm. For catering purposes do let us know if you are coming. You can email us at: Cologne +1.

The Vocations Week

Three views of our recent Vocations Week which everyone enjoyed so much. Apart from the various inputs there was also ample opportunity for sports and other activities. Woldingham School is a wonderful venue with superb facilities. We received a warm welcome from the school authorities and hope to be able to go back there next year.

A Time to Consider Christ's Call

The annual Southwark Vocations week began as an initiative of the Archbishop two years ago importing to Southwark what had already been his practice in Northampton.
The week is an opportunity for our seminarians, seekers, and those interested in priesthood to come together in a relaxed atmosphere. Holy Mass is celebrated each day and there is ample time for prayer. There are also talks on a variety of topics, and 'get-togethers' after each meal where we develop our speaking and listening skills by inviting one of those present to talk about their life or something that may interest them.
The Vocations Week is not a retreat. It is a time of relaxation and friendship which provides us with an opportunity to spend more time considering Christ's call.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Woldingham Week

During our Vocations Week at Woldingham we had an excellent talk by Matt O'Gorman, the brother of one of our Seekers, and press officer for Life.
Matt is a master at one-liners. He spoke of the need to remind some doctors that "the patient's in the petri dish", of the pro-euthanasia lobby as 'autonomy junkies, and that the culture of life is not anti-anything: "it is pro-women, pro-embryo, pro-life".
It was a great talk, very enlightening and well-received. We're grateful to him for coming down.

Vocations Barbecue

On Friday this week (21st July) we have our annual Southwark Vocations Barbecue. As usual we begin with a Seekers' Meeting at 7.00pm followed by an impressive barbecue in the parish garden. Once again we will be joined by the seminarians over from Spain who are currently in various parishes studying English.
All are welcome, but for catering purposes we do need to know numbers so send us an email if you are coming: Fr Stephen.
We look forward to seeing you on Friday.

Friday, July 14, 2006

A Very Good Week

Although the Southwark Vocations Blog was often spoken about this week, there wasn't any opportunity to update it. Woldingham has an added advantage for technophobes: in addition to being beautiful countryside it is also a mobile free zone. So even if you have web access on your mobile it's not much use in Woldingham.
Over the next couple of days I'll try to fill in how things went. It was a great week, but for today you'll have to make do with the photo of the whole group with the archbishop.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

A World Wide Web

I first conceived of this Blog as a useful way of keeping in contact with young men who may be thinking about becoming a priest in Southwark. Then one day someone told me by adding a meter to the site I could check how many visitors it was getting. So I did - you can see its little green icon at the bottom of the page. One of the features of the site meter is that you can view on a world map where your visitors are coming from - or at least where the exchange of their internet provider is. So far our readership includes: England, Scotland, Ireland (come on Wales - where are you?), Canada, the USA (pretty well all over), Australia, the Philippines, Germany, Spain, Italy, Russia, Poland and even Dubaii!
Not bad for a beginner!

Meeting with Seminarians

We didn't actually have tickets for the meeting with seminarians and their families, but over the years I've learnt not to be too English in such matters. On Friday evening I concelebrated at the Mass for seminarians after which the tickets hadto be collected. I simply waited around in the sacristy until most people had gone and then got one of the Spanish seminarians to get me a couple of the tickets that were left over. I knew that security wouldn't be as it was in Germany and that the fact the tickets had someone else's name and passport details on them really wouldn't be a problem.
We arrived early and got quite close to the front. The Holy Father went first to the Cathedral where he met the Spanish bishops and enclosed religious. Then he went to the Basilica where the image of the patroness of Valencia (Our Lady of the Forlorn) is venerated. There he met and prayed with the families of those who died in the metro accident in Valencia earlier that week. Finally, he came out into the square to a rapturous welcome from the seminarians and their families. This is what he said specifically to the seminarians:

I wish now to offer an affectionate greeting to you, dear seminarians, together with your families, who share in the joy of your vocation. Your parent’s love, devotion and fidelity, and the concord which reigns in your families, is the setting which best enables you to hear God’s call and to accept the gift of a vocation. Live intensely the years of preparation in the seminary, with the guidance and help of your formators, and with the docility and complete trust of the Apostles, who followed Jesus without hesitation. Learn from the Virgin Mary how to accept your vocation without reserve, with joy and generosity. This is what we contemplate and ask in the beautiful prayer of the Angelus, which we are about to recite together, while begging "the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest" (Mt 9:38).
And now, with filial love and in the Valencian language, I turn to the Blessed Virgin, your Patron. «Standing before La Cheperudeta, I want to say to her: ‘Protect us night and day in all our needs, for you, O Virgin Mary, are the Mother of the Forlorn’».

Valencia 2006

The atmosphere in Valencia this week was fantastic. A group of us from the parish attended the fifth World Meeting of Families. Pope Benedict XVI arrived on Saturday morning and celebrated the closing Mass on Sunday. It felt as if the whole of Spain had descended on Valencia for the occasion. Estimates put the number of faithful attending the Mass at between 1.5 and 2 million. Anyone I spoke to who hadn't attended the papal events said they watched it on television - including our taxi driver who took two days off work! All over Valencia buildings were decked with papal colours and Spanish flags. The photograph shows a typical building, more than thirty stories high with the legend: Benedicto, amigo, la familia esta contigo (Benedict, friend, the family is with you).

Despite the crowds I kept bumping into people I knew, including Don Jesus a parish priest from Madrid. He had come down to Valencia with 1500 parishioners - 30 coaches from one parish! At the meeting with seminarians and their families Don Jesus was there with seven seminarians from his parish!

In this photo I'm with three seminarians from Seville. We arrived in Valencia on Wednesday and immediately headed off to collect our passes for the various events. As we were leaving the accreditation building we heard someone behind us calling my name. It turned out to be Andres (far right) who had stayed in the parish one summer while I was away two years ago. We never met but he recognised me from a photo he had seen in the house. Now that's some memory! Here we are waiting in the Plaza de la Virgen for the arrival of Pope Benedict. We are with thousands of seminarians and their families from all over the world. What an experience!

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

World Meeting of Families

Tomorrow morning I'm travelling to Valencia with a group of young families from the parish. We are going to the fifth World meeting of Families taking place in that city this week. On Friday Pope Benedict arrives and we look forward to being in the crowd to welcome him. It will be like World Youth Day - but even bigger as they are expecting more than a million participants. It is a very difficult trip for Pope Benedict. His predecessor visted Spain more than any other foreign country and always received a rapturous reception.
At a meeting with 800,000 young people in the Cuantro Vientos airfield, John Paul II encouraged them to seek Christ, to listen to his call and to follow him. A young seminarian stood up and gave his testimony. He said: "Holy Father, when I was an adolescent I heard you speak in Madrid. You told us that if we hear Christ's call in our hearts saying, Come, follow me! Do not silence it. Holy Father, although there were thousands of us present at that encounter, I heard your words as if the Pope was speaking to me personally. I know the same is true for many of my fellow seminarians. I want to say thank you, Holy Father, because of your witness and example, there are now hundreds of young men in this country who are studying to become priests".
It is hard to imagine Pope Benedict wagging a finger or shaking a stick at crowds of young people. But they love him nonetheless, because he was the collaborator of their beloved John Paul; becuase he is a teacher; and - above all - because he is the successor of St Peter.
In Spain at present the family is under attack from an anti-clerical government which is seeking to push all sorts of alternative life styles as equivalent to the family. You may have heard of the moves to abolish terms like 'mother' and 'father' because they discriminate against children who may, under current legislation, have two 'mothers' or two 'fathers'! Even if it will be ignored by the British press, the eyes of Spain and of the world are looking towards Pope Benedict this weekend. Spain is the land of matadors. Let's pray for Pope Benedict as he takes up the sword against the latest bull!
I guess it's going to be hard to keep posting this week. So here's possibly till next Monday evening...

Monday, July 03, 2006

Vocations Week

Plans are going well for the forthcoming Vocations Week at Woldingham School. So far we are expecting twenty one full or part-time participants. I'm aware that for many people getting time off work is an issue and so we've decided to let people come along just for the evening if they wish. Dinner is at 6.30pm, after which we will have a bit of a get-together before spending some time in prayer in the Chapel.
I find I have to keep reminding people that it is not a retreat - simply a chance to get away with other men considering a vocation to the priesthood. There will be inputs on various aspects of vocation and priestly ministry, but there will also be ample time for sports and other activities. The Archbishop will be with us for part of the week, and of course there will be priests on hand to chat with anyone about their vocation.
If you want to know more about the week email me

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Just an Ordinary Sunday

It was a big day in the parish today. We launched next year's 'Cradle to the Grave' catechetical programmes. Catechesis is a very important part of our parish ministry. Many people only have a confused understanding of the faith cobbled together from partly remembered RE lessons at school and the editorials of secular newspapers. Ours is a young parish (the average age of Mass goers is 26!) and it is really important that today's young parents be equipped to pass on the faith to their children. We've always had lots of catechetical programmes but in the last few months we've been looking at the gaps and how to fill them.
Today we presented two series of activities. One programme is for children from 3 to 16 years of age and offers courses and activities for each year group. The other is for adults and targets specific groups: yo9ung adults, parents, returning Catholics, non-Catholics, as well as some general interest courses. It really is catechesis from cradle to grave! Last year some four hundred people took part in our catechetical activities which is a good proportion given our Mass attendance is 1100. Next year we want to reach even more people.
Apart from launching the programme, for which we ask your prayers, I also had the joy of baptising five babies today. Tomas, Emily, Sofia, Jack & Marie are five brand new Catholics and members of Holy Ghost parish. It is always a joy baptising babies. In my sermon I try to encourage Christian families to take their lead from the Acts of the Apostles. The first Christians were identified by their fidelity to the Teaching of the Apostles (faith), the Fellowship (charity), and the Breaking of the Bread and the prayers (hope). I also remind them that children are a gift from God and a tremendous blessing. It is very humbling to be the minister who imparts "the hope of eternal life" on their children. Parents are always grateful but for us it is a privilege. We still baptise individually, which is a bit difficult especially when it's as hot as it was today. One little miracle was that no-one chose Gospel No. 4 - 'suffer little children to come unto me'. I reckon that along with the Lord's my Shepherd, that Gospel is the one most read by priests in their priestly ministry.
It's now 11pm - a bit late to be writing this blog, but after the evening Mass we met up with some of our youth workers who are joining me in Valencia for the World Meeting of Families. It may be late and with four Masses, confessions and five baptisms a busy day - but after all, in the vocations video Fishers of Men it does say: "Priesthood is tough. You've got to be a real man if you want to be a priest!" :o)

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Hope in the Heart of Soho

When Fr Alexander went to St Patrick's, Soho Square, he asked himself what was needed in that parish in the seedy heart of London where red bulbs still shine from the windows of first floor apartments. Obviously it had to become a place of prayer. So he started not just all day Adoration but also the SOS prayer line. Each evening young volunteers pray before the Blessed Sacrament in a makeshift Chapel in the Church's tower. They look after a phone line which people can call simply to ask for prayers.
As most English people know, if London's Soho looks a little less down at heel these days it is only because the gay community has moved in to the traditional domain of brothels and sex shops. A second task, therefore, was to offer an alternative understanding of sexuality. To that end St Patrick's now hosts a centre for Natural Family Planning.
The third thing Fr Alexander perceived as necessary was to get out onto the streets and evangelise the people of all backgrounds and nationalities who swarm into Soho each day. So he started SPES - the St Patrick's Evangelisation School, putting hope into the heart of Soho. Young people are invited to commit themselves to SPES for one year. In that time they will live a common life, undertake a formation course in the Catholic faith, and share the Gospel through outreach and mission on the streets of London.
I've had the privilege to help teach some of the courses the students take in their time together and am a first hand witness to how much they value the experience of SPES. For someone not sure about God's call, a year at SPES with other committed young Catholics might be just what you need. A number of former students are already involved with vocations activities here in Southwark.
Click on the link for more details.
Incidentally, St Patricks has a tiny resident population and very little income. With great trust in God's providence, Fr Alexander has nevertheless started a £4 million renovation project for the Church and its facilities. If you can help please do contact him.