Saturday, December 29, 2012

Cistercian Alternative Experience Weekend

The Cistercian Community at Hyning
invite you to an alternative way of living the Christian life
Fri 25th January - Sunday 27th January

"What kind of person is God calling you to be?"
Pope Benedict XVI

For 18-35 year olds (male & female)
Cost by donation

For more information contact Sr Mary Bernard
Monastery of Our Lady of Hyning, Warton, nr Carnforth
Lancs. LA5 9SE

Friday, December 28, 2012


An email from a friend in America while I was away in Rome contained an unexpected observation: "I tried calling you but you don't seem to have an answer phone". I guess if you live in the US it is possible to imagine that there could be places in England without such basic equipment but as it happens we do have an answerphone and it should kick in if a called is not picked up. Having arrived home the telephone appeared to be working properly until one day I picked it up to make a call and found someone on the line trying to call in. After various tests it became apparent that I could dial out but that incoming calls did not ring. BT assured me it wasn't a fault on the line and that it was probably faulty equipment but that they would send an engineer. He came this morning. It turns out the problem is not uncommon and was with the exchange - not my equipment. It is now fixed and everything is working fine.
It does, however, leave me with some questions: what would have happened if I had spent a fortune on a new telephone - would BT have refunded me? There must be lots of people who do just that. The other question is that I wonder how many calls I have missed - especially from religious booking for the  course that begins in January.
If you tried calling I apologise for the inconvenience of not getting an answer. The best way to get me is by email. If you do call to book for one of the January courses please note that I will be away at a conference from 1st January and it would be best to get in contact before then.

Candidacy at the English College in Rome

Last week I was in Rome to attend the Candidacy of Matthew O'Gorman, one of our seminarians. Matthew was one of four men receiving Candidacy, there were also two men from Leeds and one from Clifton. The Mass was celebrated by Archbishop Arthur Roche, the new Secretary for the Congregation for Divine Worship who is currently living at the English College while an apartment is being prepared for him in Rome. The Archbishop preached a very thoughtful sermon inspired by the Book of Songs from which the first reading of the Mass was drawn. 
As the name suggests to receive Candidacy is to become a Candidate for Holy Orders and, in England and Wales at least, is usually the last formal step before ordination to the diaconate. Matthew continues his studies in Rome and is due to be ordained a deacon in July 2014.
It was nice to spend a few days in Rome meeting up with our students. The Rector of the English College, Mgr Nicholas Hudson, is a Southwark priest and it is always clear that link is very special to him. He is also outstanding in his hospitality and the warmth of his welcome.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Contemporary Developments in Vocations Ministry Insights for Religious

As part of its mission to promote the Culture of Vocation the Vocations Centre is offering a special seminar to members of Religious Congregations interested in promoting vocations to the consecrated life today. In recent years the Conference of Diocesan Vocation Directors, which I chair, has developed a privileged understanding of the nature of Vocations Ministry today. Where it has been possible to translate this into action we have seen a remarkable increase in the numbers of young men coming forward to consider the priesthood. In many ways our insights are also applicable to religious vocations and this seminar seeks to share our insights with men and women religious so that together we can promote more effectively an awareness of the vocational dimension of Christian life in all our different apostolic activities with young people.

The Seminar takes place over four one-day sessions which will cover:
  I.  From Recruitment to Discernment: Developing Models of Vocations Ministry;
 II.  The New Evangelisation: Opportunities and Challenges;
III.  The Heart of the Matter: Discipleship Discerns Vocation;
IV.  Taking Things Forward: From Vision to Action.

Fr Christopher Jamison OSB, the Director of the National Office for Vocation, will be a guest speaker at the first session which will take place at the Vocations Centre in Whitstable on Tuesday 15th January.

The seminar costs £50 per session or £150 for those who book all four sessions.

For a booking form please contact me by email at the Vocations Office.

A Video from the Iona Institute

I m catching up on emails and was pleased to find someone had sent me a link to this video...

Discerning a Vocation to Marriage

Fr Richard Aladics will lead the weekend
A lot of people have asked whether the Vocations Centre can do anything to help young people understand better the marriage vocation. Having thought about it, I think it is certainly worthwhile offering a weekend on the Catholic understanding of marriage and the principles of Christian courtship and so I am pleased to announce that there will be a Discerning Marriage Weekend at the Vocations Centre in Whitstable from Friday 25th until Sunday 27th January.
To understand better what it is, it might be worth stating what it is not! It is not a marriage preparation weekend. In other words it is not for people who have already discerned what their vocation is and are already planning to get married. It is for people who either want to learn more about the vocation to marriage or who are hoping one day to get married. Having said that, however, I should stress that nor is it a weekend for someone looking for a future spouse.
The weekend will be led by Fr Richard Aladics who studied at the John Paul II Centre for Marriage and Family Life.
Places are very limited at the Vocations Centre. To be sure of yours please book early by sending us an email. We will then send you a booking form. This is a donation only weekend.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Another Special Delivery

Sorry to have been a bit quiet on this blog recently. I'm been quite tied up since the Advent Retreat at Wonersh. This included the diaconate ordinations on 15th December (I've been promised some photos by the Rector so I'm holding off posting on that wonderful occasions until they arrive) and then a flight to Rome on Sunday 16th where I was able to catch up with the seven Southwark men studying there and also be present for when one of them was admitted to Candidacy for the Priesthood by Bishop Arthur Roche. Again, I will post more about this once I have unpacked my camera!
I got home last night and was able to help with Confessions here in the parish this morning before driving to Bluewater for some Christmas shopping. Father Christmas, however, came early to the Vocations Centre where there were no fewer than two items from the Amazon Wishlist waiting for me on my return. This time one of them had a note telling me who sent it and perhaps the other one was from the same person. Either way I am extremely grateful to our Benefactors who are remembered twice a month in the Masses celebrated for their intentions.We now have a new toaster to replace the somewhat damaged one we've been using until now, and we also have a drainer for the kitchen sink.
Do take a look at the Wishlist if you get a moment. At present we are trying to foci primarily on things we need for the kitchen.

I hope to catch up with some posts - and lots of emails - on St Stephen's Day...

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Another Advent Retreat

I've just returned from St John's Seminary where I have spent the last few days preaching the Advent Retreat to the students. Although the retreat began on Sunday night and ended this morning there were only three days of meditations or spiritual conferences. On the first day we looked at the wonder of a priestly vocation and the need to draw strength from the One who calls. On the second day we looked at the society we are called to serve and what it needs. I also posed the twofold question: what sort of priest would you like to be and what sort of priest will you actually be? Yesterday we looked at celibacy as a way of loving and the Holy Eucharist. We finished this morning at Mass with a reflection on Our Lady who is invoked at Wonersh as Regina Cleri -or Queen of the Clergy.
I was very impressed by the students who entered the spirit of the retreat with great seriousness - even to the point of an almost universal observance of the silence. The motto of the seminary is Spes Messis in Semine - the hope of the harvest is to be found in the seed. It seems to me that there is currently very good seed germinating at St John's.

Sunday, December 09, 2012

Advent Vocations Retreat

This weekend seven young men joined us for our Advent Vocations Retreat. The retreat coincided with the Feast of the Immaculate Conception which we were able to celebrate in both liturgical and culinary splendour thanks to the presence of a couple of seminarians from St John's, Wonersh.
It is not the first retreat we have had here in Whitstable but it is the first time it has been a retreat exclusively for men considering their vocation. Next year we have a number of retreats and "Discovering Priesthood Days" scheduled. You can get their dates by visiting the Vocations Centre page on this blog.
All our retreats, seminars and other courses need to be booked in advance as space is very limited here. For more information please send me an email.

As it happens, I move from this Retreat to another one as I will drive over to St John's this evening to preach the Advent retreat to the seminarians who study there. The retreat ends on Thursday morning. Please keep it in your prayers - both and the students will need them! Friday is a day of preparation for the diaconate ordinations that will take place on Saturday. Two Southwark men are among the ordinandi: Samuel Davey and Thomas Lynch. I am sure they and their companions would appreciate a decade of the Rosary offered that they make good and holy priests.

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Prayers Please...

Tomorrow evening we start our Advent Vocations Retreat here at the Vocations Centre. So far we have seven, possibly eight, participants. Please pray that they all turn up and that they get a lot out of the retreat.

School of Faith

Liam Connolly from the Centre for Catholic Formation has been in contact with news of an exciting new study series on the Catechism of the Catholic Church for the Year of Faith.
It is called School of Faith and runs from Wednesday 9th January until Wednesday 23rd March and offers a chance to hear expert and dynamic speakers addressing different aspects of the faith. A light supper is included.

Guest speakers include: Archbishop Peter Smith, Bishop Philip Egan, Dr Petroc Willey, Mgr Keith Newton, Fr Tim Finigan, Sr Judith Russi, Fr Stephen Wang, Fr Kevin Hale, Mgr John Armitage, Fr David Gibbons, Dr Caroline Farey & Canon John Redford.

The link on the CCF website does not work for some reason so contact Liam directly for more information. You can email him here.

Prima Nix

It was a bit of a surprise to wake up yesterday morning to a clouds with that brown tinge that always denotes snow. More of a surprise still to leave a couple of hours later for the station only to find the trains had been cancelled - which meant I missed my dental appointment. It was only a check-up so no real inconvenience for me although I had to reschedule an appointment with someone in London later that afternoon to today. 

When I was at seminary the Gregorian University observed 'prima nix' - on the first day snow fell in Rome each year all lectures were cancelled. I didn't know this in my first year and, having spent New Year with a family in Padua, was on my way back to the College when the snow fell. The train moved at a snail's pace. An eight hour journey became seventeen with people getting more and more jittery until eventually the driver gave up and we were disgorged into buses at Settebagni for the last leg of the journey. I got in just before Morning Prayer on the Monday morning, the first day of term, and headed straight to the Chapel congratulating myself on not being late only to find it completely empty. Somewhat puzzled I waited for a while before heading up stairs where I found an announcement on the noticeboard: "Prima Nix - No School Tomorrow".

I was reminded of this today when I visited a diocesan school to help with confessions. There was a great concern to ensure we were all signed in. When I asked why I was told it was because the day before one of the pupils, upset at not being given the day off when it snowed, activated the fire alarm. While disapproving of what he did, I have to admit to being somewhat sympathetic to the expectation!

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

A Kindly Mum...

The ink was barely dry on that last post when this came through the mailbox:

Dear Father Stephen,
I hope your arm is getting better. I noticed on the Vocations Blog that you had a photo of Luke with Pope Benedict .If you go to VA NEWS The Vatican Today on the right hand side there is a mention of the English College’s Visit. If you click on that and then on tv video news you will find a short video of the Papal Audience which will please a great many mothers !

Venerable English College Welcomed by the Holy Father

Southwark Seminarian Luke de Pulford meets the Holy Father
This year the English (& Welsh) College in Rome is celebrating its 650th anniversary taking it back to its origins as a hospice for pilgrims from England and Wales. All year there has been speculation among the students that the Holy Father has wanted to mark the anniversary in some way. I've occasionally had emails suggesting I venture out for a particular date because, nod nod, wink wink, the Pope is going to come to the College and that's when it will be!
In fact, in his inimitable style, the Holy Father did find a way of marking the anniversary by inviting the whole College to a private audience with the request they take with them the relics of the first of its forty four martyrs, Ralph Sherwin, so that he could venerate them. The audience took place yesterday morning, a couple of days after the feast day of the College martyrs.
In the photograph above one of our Southwark students, Luke de Pulford, meets Pope Benedict. I don't know whether the other students were presented in the same way and got similar pictures - I hope so or there will be a lot of upset mothers out there!

Monday, December 03, 2012

The Vocations Centre

Thanks to the generosity of the Catholic Printing Company of Farnworth, I've now had printed the term cards for the Vocations Centre. We have a pretty busy few months coming up. If you click onto the Vocations Centre tab at the top of this blog, you can see the wide variety of activities we will be offering down here in Whitstable. Wherever you find yourself on the map above, I hope you'll find your way down to the North Kent coast to taste our hospitality (and our oysters) before too long.

Because facilities are limited here, the courses need to be booked beforehand. If you would like more details about any of them please email me.

Year of Faith Initiative

While at Oscott I also caught up with Matt Roche Saunders a first year seminarian for the diocese of Menevia. Matt kindly passed on to me the newly approved Welsh version of the logo for the Year of Faith.
Dan Fitzpatrick, whose ordination I mentioned in the previous post, has been behind a special initiative for the Year of Faith, a series of Oscott videos on different aspects of the Catholic faith. Like the logo they deserve to be more widely known, so here's one which features Matt talking about the problem of evil.

Diaconate Ordination

Dan Fitzpatrick with me and Southwark Seminarian Sam Davey

On Saturday an early morning start from the Vocations Centre ensured I avoided the Christmas shopping traffic on the motorway network to arrive at Oscott College in good time for their diaconate ordinations. The trip was uneventful apart from the last couple of hundred yards when I passed a fellow dressed as an elf waving wildly to drivers to get them to turn off into a Christmas emporium. No matter how desperate I might be for Christmas tree lights, I thought, the sight of a scene from "Home alone' or some other cheesy Christmas movie was enough to ensure I would never call in there. Having arrived early at Oscott and met up with some seminarians we decided to pop out for a quick coffee - and just a few minutes later I found myself waling past said elf into his Winter Wonderland! The sight of such an array of Christmas baubles was too much for one of the seminarians who was moved to reveal the most traumatic event in his life - the year his father took down the Christmas decorations... Fortunately he made a swift recovery and no appointments were made with counsellors. A quick latte later we were back at Oscott where me met Dan Fitzpatrick, one of the day's ordinands, looking petrified but able to muster a smile for the photograph above.
Dan lived at the presbytery in Balham for a month while getting experience with the Bishops' Conference Communications department in London. He is from Hexham and Newcastle Diocese and spent a year working at the wonderful Youth Village they have up there. He initially started training for the priesthood at Ushaw where he and fellow seminarian Frankie Mulgrew started a series of Vocations Podcasts which have featured previously here on the Blog.
It was great to be there for Dan's ordination and to catch up with many seminarians who have attended Quo Vadis, Invocation and other events over the years. Please keep them in your prayers.