Saturday, September 30, 2006

Marriage Enrichment

Today we hosted a marriage enrichment day in the parish. It was led by Fr Martin O'Connor, a Legionary priest who has run a number of similar days in different parts of the world. Fourteen couples were present and seemed to enjoy the occasion. They had two talks on the meaning of marriage, a holy hour with Confessions available and ending with Benediction, and then a session when the couples spent time alone talking to their spouse about what they had heard. They then joined us for the evening Mass during which they publicly renewed their marriage vows.
I was pleased that Fr Martin had come to run the day as it meant I had time to talk to two young men about a vocation to the priesthood. I ask you to keep them both in your prayers.
Later I went to visit a couple who married August last year and who had their first child two weeks ago. She will be baptised tomorrow. It was lovely to see how much they doted on their new baby: always being aware of her and checking on her needs. Together they wondered at the gift of life: this precious infant, the fruit of their love. It made me think how much a child enriches a marriage. As Pope John Paul reminded us, we have to promote a culture of life. Part of this is encouraging couples to be generous towards God in bringing new life into the world, reminding them that children are a blessing, and that the presence of brothers and sisters is more important than providing material goods for their children.
Tomorrow that couple will hand their child back to God from whom they received her. She will be born into eternal life through the waters of baptism and her parents will assume the duties and responsibilities of bringing her up in the faith. As priests it is good that we too look with awe and wonder on the gift of a newborn child. We are called to draw people's attention to the supernatural dimension of ordinary life. That includes reminding couples that their love is called to reflect the love of God and that children will enrich that love.

Friday, September 29, 2006

The Elephant & Castle

It may be an urban legend, but I have often heard an amusing account of the origin of the name for the large junction just down the road from St George's Cathedral, Southwark. It is called the Elephant and Castle, and if you look carefully enough, just before you hit the congestion charging zone, you may well see an emblem of an elephant supporting a castle tower.

If you happen to be reading this blog with a minimum knowledge of London geography you will have an idea of where the Elephant and Castle is situated. In fact, it sometimes feels as if all signposts south of the river want to direct you to it. However, if you've not been to London you may be suffering from a misapprehension. You may think the Elephant and Castle sounds like a nice place to visit: near a Catholic Cathedral, just down the road from the Imperial War Museum, not far from the London Eye... Please don't take the fact that it's mentioned here as a sign that it's worth a visit. It's not. It's a large road junction - well, two large road junctions actually. Pollution seems high and crime feels even higher and, oh yes, the buildings are pink!

So why mention the Elephant and Castle on this blog? Well because according to the urban legend, this is where the Infanta de Castilla lived when she was married to Henry VIII (boo!). Now your average 'sowf londoner' couldn't quite get his tongue round 'Infanta de Castilla' and so the place became known as the 'Elephant & Castle'. Simple really!

Why mention it on this blog? Well I could say that it is important for anyone applying to Southwark to have undergone a processs of inculturisation, and the be well-versed in local history and geography. I could say that. But I won't. The real reason is that I've just come back from holiday in Spain. While I was there I visited the rather magnificent Bishop's Palace in Alcala de Henares (see top photo). Round the corner was a square tower carrying this plaque which recalls the fact that Catherine of Aragon, Queen of England, was born there. These days it is no longer used as the birthing chamber of Spanish infantas. Now it's a religious bookshop and I was there because the priest I was with needed to pick up some more hosts. Which just goes to prove that "If you've got a blog always take a camera"!

Vocations Committee

This afternoon we had a very useful meeting of the diocesan Vocations Committee. It gave us a chance to look back at some of the activities we've been involved in over the last few months and also to consider where we should focus our energies this year.
There was general agreement that the opportunity we offered for young people (under 18s) to come together was a good idea and one that should be developed further. "Summertime", the annual summer camp for altar servers had shown that we have a good number of young lads open to the idea of priesthood. What we hope to offer is a one-day event each term, if possible hosted by one of the area bishops.
Another success was the week together at Woldingham for our Seekers and Seminarians. This had been really successful and the participants themselves were keen that it should be repeated so we've booked the same week next year.
The Seekers' Meetings will, of course, resume and there will also be the Christmas event for Seekers and Seminarians. We will be contacting the priests of the diocese, through the deans, inviting them to participate in the Campaign of Prayer for vocations through parish Holy Hours.
I'm keen to open up the discussion. Do you have any good ideas about how we might promote priesthood here in Southwark? Why not leave a comment on this blog? We'd be grateful!

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Glad to be Home?

On Monday evenings in the parish we have 'Open House'. It is a time when I am in to receive parishioners without the need for them to make an appointment. Of course it doesn't take place every Monday and we encourage parishioners to check the newsletter before turning up. Anyway, Monday this week I was returning from Spain. What with the weather causing a delay to the flight and one thing and another I arrived at 6.30pm, luggage in hand, to find a queue of people on the presbytery steps. I would have asked them to come back another time except that the first lady said' Father, it's about a funeral'. Two and a half hours later, having seen nearly everyone who turned up, I switched on the computer to check my emails (I hadn't been able to access them while I was away). There were 375 new emails and they took nearly 20 minutes to download. I couldn't work out whether I was wishing I had never gone away or that I hadn't come back! Yesterday morning I woke up feeling as if someone had hit me across the face with a cricket bat - and that was before I got a phone call at 1.20pm reminding me that I was supposed to be at lunch with a group of priests. "Sorry, I'm running late. Start without me". "But you're providing the food!"...
Twenty minutes later as the car was pulling out of Tesco's, I was thinking about the call of the apostles. Humanly speaking they were pretty disastrous before Jesus called them. I suspected they would have developed a throbbing headache as quickly as me. And then I remembered that Jesus didn't call them for what they were but for what they would become. The same is true with us. He called those whom he had chosen - because it was his will, not because of any inherent merits they may have had. With his grace they would be transformed but they had to take the step of saying yes and putting their trust in the Lord.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006


Today I am leaving the parish of Santorcaz and heading north towards Huesca. The final destination is the Shrine of Our Lady of Torreciudad where I will be joining a group of about forty priests for a convivencia. There will be talks on the faith, particularly recent magisterial documents, as well as plenty of time to share experiences and learn from each other. There are excellent sports facilities at Torreciudad which is situated at the foot of the Pyrenees - so plenty of exciting walks as well. The convivencia is a good way for priests to re-charge their batteries, rest, pray and make new friends. I am looking forward to it.
I don´t know whether I will have access to the internet while I'm there - so this may be the last post until I get back to England on 25th September.
Hasta la vista!

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

The Royal English College, Valladolid

This morning a message from Tom Lynch. He is at the airport waiting for the flight to Spain. With him, I suppose, Sam and William. Possibly also Frankie Doodle who stayed in the parish last year while appearing as Wishy Washy in Panto at the Richmond Theatre (until now Frankie has been a professional comedian). Their common destination is the Royal English College in Valladolid. This is the seminary established by the king of Spain for English students to prepare for priesthood during the Reformation period. Similar colleges existed in France, Portugal and Italy. The seminary in Valladolid and the Venerable English College in Rome are now the only ones still in existence.

I think it is a good thing for our students to have a chance to study abroad when possible. Despite the Commonwealth and being part of Europe, England is still very much an island. There is a danger that we can be like ecclesiastical hobbits - fearful of stepping out of the shire! Of course the mere fact of studying in a foreign country doesn´t in itself broaden our outlook (the English College in Rome of the 1980's had its own shire-like qualities) but it can facilitate the process. The Church is bigger than England, and is certainly bigger than any individual parish. The experience of a different culture with its customs and traditions can help us distinguish between 'form' and 'substance' - between the outward show and what really matters.

Some years ago I got back to England after visiting my brother in Monaco. The British press was carrying articles on an English bishop who had commented on the need for England to be more open to Europe. In Monaco and France all the Churches were strongly pushing the forthcoming World Youth Day in Rome, an event almost unnoticed in England. I have to admit, my first response to the articles was that perhaps the Catholic Church herself in England could lead the way in this new oppenness! When I was a seminarian I was sometimes told not to use the expression 'Roman' Catholic - we were supposed to be 'English' Catholics. English, Roman or Spanish - hopefully the experience of studying abroad will simply help our students be more 'catholic' in their outlook.

Monday, September 11, 2006

New Term at Wonersh

Hat tip to Fr Tim Finigan for this picture of Our Lady Queen of Clergy taken in the Lady Chapel at St John´s Seminary, Wonersh.

Today the new term starts at Wonersh with five new students from Southwark. They are: Kurt Barragan, Oladele Craig, Johnathon Routh, Jason Thomas and Stephen Whittaker. In addition we have three new students starting at the English College in Valladolid, Spain. They are: Sam Davey, Tom Lynch and William Walter.

These eight men bring us up to a total of sixteen seminarians currently studying for the priesthood in Southwark. We ask you to keep them all in your prayers. Additionally we are you to pray for deacons Sean O´Connor and Behruz Rafat who will be ordained to the priesthood in October.

European Directives - Spanish Style

Just before my holiday I met one of our elderly parishioners being accompanied home with blood pouring from a head wound. They told me that Mary had tripped and hit her head on the way to Mass. In good spirits she said: "I can sue the parish!". I knew it was a joke but nevertheless when I got home one of the first things I did was to check where exactly she had fallen. As it happens she hadn´t yet reached the Church when she tripped. Thanks be to God she is now fine.
We often get communications from some department of Head Office reminding us to carry out ´health and safety checks´, ´risk assessments´, and ´´disbility audits´ with warnings of dire consequences should we be found lacking. I employed a non-Catholic, professional to carry out our ´disability audit´because I wanted objective advice and I had heard horror stories of priests being told to lower their sanctuaries, hack out the marble, and abolish the Choir loft. The result was a very reasonable report which basically said we were okay.

In Spain a rather more relaxed approach is taken to such things: dead trees are left in village squares so that children can play on them, metal boxes jut out of walls at head height to remind you to look where you´re going and wild bulls are let loose on the streets so that you can have some exercise running away from their horns.
There is, of course, disability legislation. Disability access to establishments is required and so ramps are de rigour but, as the photo shows, it´s still a case of "they make the laws but we keep them"!

Sunday, September 10, 2006


Yesterday´s post was about the patronal feast in the parish of Los Santos de la Humosa. I was only present for the celebrations in the morning because that evening I had to preside at the Mass and Procession in the parish where I´m staying: Santorcaz.
The Mass began at 7pm. The Church was packed and I had three servers to help. There was also a professional choir with a variety of instruments including a Mandolin - all very reminiscent of Captain Corelli!
Everyone listened attentively during the sermon, and there wasn´t even the usual shout of ´Where´s he from?´by the villiage idiot (I´ve grown accustomed to such interjections!). After Mass three girls were enrolled into the Fraternity of Santorcaz which meant that I had to bless oversized blue scapulars, sprinkle them with holy water, and impose them with great solemnity on the candidates.
Then, as the choir continued singing popular Marian hymns, I headed off with the servers to the impressive sacristy to change into a Cope for the the Procession. The Statue of Our Lady was already fixed firmly to an anda or processional float that was manouvred with some dexterity by the ladies of the Fraternity out of the Church and then through the streets of Santorcaz. The whole procession was accompanied by singing except the last fifty metres or so of steep upwards slope back to the Church.
Afterwards we were treated to cakes and alcoholic lemonade in the Square in the shade of the ruins of the old palace of the bishops of Toledo.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Los Santos de la Humosa

Yesterday morning I was in a local parish to participate in their patronal Feast. We waited outside the Church to receive the Mayor and local Council accompanied by the Queens and Dames of the town and, of course, a band playing the Spanish National Anthem.

The Church was full, although many of those present didn´t seem to have much of a clue about what was going on. The parish priest reminded everyone that if they didn´t ordinarily attend Mass they couldn´t receive Communion without first going to confession. Later one of the town´s three socialist councillors complained asking who gave him the authority to make such an announcement. He had to point out kindly that the Catholic Church is not subject to any earthly authority (especially hers!).

After Mass the Queens and Dames were photographed presenting bunches of flowers to the image of Our Lady - which they then took back before leaving the Church to keep as souvenirs! The band then led us back to the centre of the town where there were drinks and tapas for everyone, before a splendid lunch in a local restuarant presided over by the Mayor, with the town Council (the socialists didn´t come), the Queens and Dames, a local Naval Commander, the head of the Civil Guard and other dignitaries all suitably attired.

In Spain the Socialists have a (well-deserved) reputation for being very anti-Catholic. But local politics is an amorphous beast in Spanish towns. In Los Santos de la Humosa the Mayor is from the Partido Popular (conservatives) although all his life he was a communist. On the other hand the socialist councillor who complained about the announcement at Mass used to be a member of the Spanish Phalange, and organised the coach from the town that went to Franco´s funeral. A couple of facts which explain an exchange of insults at a recent council meeting when the socialist denounced the Mayor for being a communist and he responded that she was a fascist!

The ´Santos´in the town´s name are saints Justus and Pastor, two child martyrs. ´La Humosa´is the local invocation of Our Lady whose statue was rediscovered in a smoking pit after the reconquest of Spain. The hymn in her honour speaks of her being ignored for six centuries before being liberated ´del moro invasor´- from the invading Moor.
Clearly these Spanish towns are not the best place to study politics or interfaith dialogue!

Inculturation - Spanish style!

Many of you will have seen the film El Cid which recounts the story of the expulsion of the moorish invaders from Spain. The final battle took place just outside Valencia and you can still visit the great portal through which the dead hero is supposed to have charged, strapped to his horse, leading the Christians to victory.
What´s less well known is that the whole region of Valencia and Alicante still keeps very much alive the memory of those days. In particular, many of the towns celebrate an annual festival of ´Moros y Cristianos´. The photo is of a poster advertising the festival in a town called Villa Joiosa, in honour of St Martha, and describing it as being of ´touristic interest´!
Although the celebrations last a week, the festival itself takes place over three days with the townsfolk being divided into two groups: Christians and Moors. On the first day some sixty boats arrive on the coast, flying the emblem of the Crescent moon and laden with Moors. These make their way to the castle of the Christian king to demand his rendition. The King rejects ´worshippers of idols´and a great battle ensues which the Moors win, and so on the second day it is the Moorish king who inhabits the Castle and the Christians who arrive to reconquer it. Another battle takes place resulting in the definitive Christian victory and consequent celebration throughout the town.
In all the towns of the region the plot is more or less the same, although in Vila Joiosa some modifications have had to be introduced - largely to do with limiting the consumption of alcohol! The invaders leave their boats firing rifles charged with gunpowder. One year they were so drunk that most of the gunpowder ended up on the floor where it was ignited by a stray cigarrette injuring a number of the participants and resulting in the cancellation of the celebrations. Another year the Christian king, also four sheets to the wind, refused to leave the castle and the Civil Guard had to be called to evict him!
We like to think there´s freedom of speach in England but just imagine if we tried to do something similar. Under current legislation we´d be arrested!

Friday, September 08, 2006

Priestly Fraternity

As well as giving us time to rest, holidays are also great opportunities to learn from other people. Sometimes young people tell me that they would rather join a religious order than the diocesan priesthood because they perceive the latter as a lonely existence. (I have to say that not infrequently it´s a thought planted by religious anxious to get vocations for their own orders. Listen bro´s, let´s not play dirty here! I´ll limit my comments to what´s specific about a secular as opposed to a religious vocation if you do the same!)
While in Madrid I visited San Quintin, a centre where diocesan priests and seminarians can meet up each week for some spiritual input, a meal, a bit of a get-together as well as spiritual direction and confession. San Quintin also offers monthly days of recollection and the possibility of an annual retreat. It´s a great way of bringing priests together, of helping them maintain a strong spiritual life, and of keeping them up to date with diocesan initiatives as well as those of the Holy Father. It is also a great source of vocations for the seminary. The vocations initiatives of San Quintin are impressive - but more about those in another post!

A Simple Message

Everyone involved in the the promotion of priestly vocations is aware that one of the hardest things is designing posters. There´s no point in designing a poster that´s so subtle you need a doctorate to understand it. Our ´Men in Black´ poster gives some priests goose-pimples when they see it - yet it is loved by young people. I took fifty copies to the Youth 2000 festival and they went an the first day! It´s also been praised by a number of marketing professionals.
The university chaplain in Madrid gets straight to the point with this simple message on a parish noticeboard: Hazte cura - become a priest and be what God wants!

The Birth of Our Lady

Today I am in the parish of Santorcaz just outside Alcala de Henares, Madrid. This evening I will preside at a special patronal Mass, impose scapulars, and lead a procession of the image of Our Lady round the town. Welcome to Spain!

To those of you who are still reading this blog after ten days´silence I recommend doing something special to mark today´s feast. The protestant reformation may have robbed us of our processions - but the faith remains intact after all! (By the way - although I´ve got use of a computer in Santorcaz, I don´t have access to my email account, so Istill can´t reply if you´ve tried to contact me).

Until yesterday afternoon I was staying in the parish of Our Lady of Cana, Pozuelo (see the photo). It´s the Holy Ghost Parish of Madrid -although admittedly on a somewhat larger scale.
While the Holy Ghost boasts a weekly Mass attendance of eleven hundred, Cana has the rather more impressive figure of eleven thousand! Baptisms take place on Saturdays and Sundays with three ceremonies of three babies each on both days. In addition to the four Masses it is not unusual to have two funerals and a wedding on a weekday. Confessions consist of four priests occupying the four confessionals for half an hour before Mass begins and ending when all four have to help with the distribution of Holy Communion.

The parish already boasts a number of seminarians and this month Emilio, an eighteen year old, begins his studies at the diocsan seminary. Let´s keep him in our prayers as well as the eight Southark men also starting this month.