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!