Friday, May 31, 2013

Final Update for Now...

There's been so much happening recently that I've not had much time to blog but I hope the recent posts will have been of interest. I preached recently at the investiture of Joanna Bogle as a Dame of the Order of St Gregory the Great and I've been asked to publish the sermon on the blog. I'll have to have a look at it again - it may be too long.
Another exciting work in hand is the preparation of a new website for Southwark Vocations. I'll try to keep you informed.
In the meantime I've been meeting lots of men young and not so young considering a priestly vocation. Please keep them in your prayers.

A Work in Progress: the Chapel

In the two pictures that follow you can see our current project which is to re-decorate the Chapel. When we arrived it smelled as if a cat had died under the floorboards but thanks to fresh air, Henry the hoover and good old-fashioned muscle, that is no longer a problem. Your generosity has helped us buy simple new vestments in the four liturgical colours and I am very grateful to Tad Gareth Jones, the Catholic Chaplain at Cardiff university who gave me a new altar. We have modified it a little by making a plinth to lift it higher and extending the mensa so that its proportions are better for the sanctuary. This was done by Greg, another of our residents who has also just been accepted by the diocese. 

The Chapel is nicely proportioned although the apse is a latter addition and, sadly, obscures two stained glass windows. It also creates a strange echo when celebrating Mass.

Unfortunately, as you can see from this photograph the curve of the apse doesn't match that of the ceiling. The error is accentuated by the shiny red paint on the walls facing the congregation. To reduce the impact our plan is to paint the upper part of the apse and the red walls in the same neutral colour, a soft yellow. The lower part of the apse will be painted with a series of simple panels. The one behind the tabernacle will be an Oxford Blue which will have the effect of making the tabernacle really stand out whilst not detracting from the altar. The four side panels will be a rich yellow. Where the panels meet the upper part of the apse there will be an inscription - yet to be decided upon - in gold lettering.
Eventually the sanctuary carpet will come up and the parquet floor will be restored. The rest of the chapel will be painted in a very light yellow hint and the ceiling will be a skyish blue.

As you can see Greg has started the work and in August there will be a group of volunteers living here to complete it.

The whole chapel will be restored for little more than the cost of materials which is fantastic. If anyone wishes to donate to the restoration work please get in touch with me - all donations can be Gift Aided if you pay UK tax. We also need a new ambo to replace the old one which is very unstable and was knocked over a few weeks ago by a child who toddled up to it. Luckily his parents were there to rescue him and he wasn't injured! So if you know of a dignified ambo or lectern for the proclamation of the Word please let me know.

Before & After Photos: the Lounge

This is the room where I tend to interview people. It is also used by priest groups when they come to stay so it is important that it feel homely. These two before and after pictures speak for themselves...



I'm not sure who thought luminous green on the walls was a good idea but now it has gone the whole room feels brighter and more welcoming. Once again we are so grateful to our generous benefactors for the furniture.

Before & After Photographs: the Conference Room

The Conference Room and lounge now occupies the former library. When it was a library the room seemed very dark and somewhat tunnel-like. It had to be re-decorated to double as a room for meetings and presentations but also a place where young people could gather and relax. These two photographs show what we did:

The grey walls and curtains and the brown carpet gave this room a rather dingy feel. The chairs may have been suitable for people to read quietly or knit but they didn't allow for much movement other than the arrangement you see here because the room was substantially narrowed by the bookcases. Additionally, the lights hanging down from the ceiling gave the impression that it was quite low all of which contributed to making this a rather unattractive and uncomfortable room.

The solution, as we saw it, was to break the room into two distinct spaces with furniture arranged horizontally to give the impression of width as well as depth. We accentuated this by a little optical illusion: lowering the ceiling about six inches and setting the lights into it so that they didn't hang down and also meant we could integrate a projector, sound system and screen. The lower ceiling makes the room appear both wider and higher. Finally we changed the curtains for blinds set into the window recesses. Thanks to our benefactors we were able to buy all new furniture for this room.

Before & After Photographs: the Bedrooms

The Vocations Centre has nine guest bedrooms. Thanks to your generosity we were able to re-carpet them, buy new beds and wardrobes and replace all the pillows and duvets. I don't have any decent photographs that do justice to the state they were in before but these will give you some idea.

A feature of the rooms was that they were all painted in rather garish colours. They also had smelly threadbare carpets and rickety "built in" wardrobes. The photograph above was taken just as we began re-painting this room. You can see the finished product below:

If you look carefully you will be able to spot the same pink tiles - tiling isn't one of our skills and because we were relying totally on volunteers we had to leave them as they were. In fact, having chosen the colours carefully, they don't look too bad now.

This is another view of the same room. Every room now has a solid oak wardrobe bought by one of our benefactors. They also all have a desk and a more comfortable chair to sit and read. The rooms are simply decorated and each one has a different framed image of Our Lady.

I am sometimes asked what we did with the rubbish. Some things we were able to give away. So, for example, seminarians came and helped themselves to books. The Canterbury chaplaincy was the beneficiary of unwanted chairs and the students have received them with immense gratitude and enthusiasm. We also packed up lots and lots of boxes and delivered them to the Sue Ryder Charity shop in Tankerton. But most excitingly of all we had a succession of enormous bonfires as you can see above. I think that was the occasion some anxious neighbours called the fire brigade!

Before and After Photographs: the Garden

I am really appreciative to all the people who take an interest in our work here at the Vocations Centre . Quite a few people saw the state it was in last summer and recently a lot of people have asked me how things are going so I thought it was about time we published a few posts with before and after photographs. 

Here's a photograph of the garden when I arrived last August. It had been neglected for two years and was completely overgrown. Once we had cleared it we discovered paths, benches, ponds, and even a statue we didn't know existed! The restoration of the garden has been done largely by Tomasz, one of the residents here at the Vocations Centre who has just been accepted to train for the priesthood for our diocese.

Believe it or not, this is more or less the same view, just taken from  an upstairs window so it includes the steps. To get your bearings look at the apple tree. In the older photograph it is just behind the washing line. The paths have been cleared and the hedge cut back so that we can now use them. The statue is now visible. Beyond the statue is a small rose garden which has also been restored. The garden extends behind and around the conservatory.  We have also repaired a glasshouse and are now growing tomatoes, cucumbers and lettuces. The gaps in the flowerbeds have been filled with seed potatoes - come September we will have six hungry mouths to feed!

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

CTS Seeks Head of Marketing

The Catholic Truth Society has been publishing more and more excellent material in recent years, culminating in the production of their outstanding Altar Missal for the new translation of the Mass. I am very proud that Southwark Vocations, had its own small part to play in the production of the Missal. A friend had given me a copy of the Missale Romanum printed by MTF in the United States which was seen by one of our applicants when he came for a Vocations Barbecue. He worked for the CTS and asked to borrow it to take back to the office. The rest, as they say, is history!

The CTS is currently seeking a new Head of Marketing and Customer Relations. It is a key post and it is very important they recruit the right person. If you know of someone who may be interested please encourage them to visit the CTS website.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Excellent Vocations Guide Coming Soon

When I was in St Paul's Minnesota earlier this year I noticed that every young man I met who was considering priesthood had read - and in most cases owned a copy of - Fr Brett Brannen's book "To Save a Thousand Souls" which is subtitled "A Guide for Discerning a Vocation to Diocesan Priesthood". I am, therefore, very pleased to publish the news that a special edition of this excellent vademecum for discerners will soon be available for readers in England and Wales as well as Scotland and Ireland.

This new international edition of the book will be available from CTS. It contains all the helpful insights of the original but omits simply those things that pertain specifically to the North American context. Unlike the original, it will contain a special appendix containing the useful text of the Melchizedek Project which breaks the book down into chunks for group reading and reflection as part of a discernment group. This makes it easier to use the book in parish, deanery and university discernment groups but also by groups of friends who want to get together to support each other much as groups have already been formed to study YouCat.

Fr Brannen, the author, has experience both as a Vocations Director and a seminary Vice-Rector which shines through every page of the book. It's publication for a British audience has been welcomed by Archbishop Vincent Nichols who commends it to readers: "Are you considering a vocation to the Catholic priesthood? If so, this book will be of immense help to you". Archbishop Bernard Longley has also endorsed it with the words: "I hope that everyone seeking to discover the Lord's will for his life will find in these pages both encouragement and inspiration".

Do make sure you order your copy!

Invocation Pilgrimage to Rome

To mark the Year of Faith the Holy Father has invited "seminarians, novices and those on a vocational journey" to make a pilgrimage to Rome this coming July. There are at least ninety people going from England and Wales, eighty-five of whom have signed up to join our Invocation Pilgrimage. We will be staying together at the Casa del Pellegrino in the Monte Mario district of Rome.
The pilgrimage will include a visit to some of the houses where saints lived in the past, including the Venerable English College, home to forty-four priest martyrs of England and Wales. We will also have a special guided tour of the Vatican museum and Sistine Chapel. The highlight of the pilgrimage will, of course, be a special Mass celebrated by our Holy Father Pope Francis.

Saturday, May 04, 2013

Franciscan Day of Recollection

This weekend the Vocations Centre has been able to host a group of eight Conventual Franciscans who  came to us with one of their superiors from Rome. The Conventuals have undergone something of a resurgence in vocations in recent years and some of the many younger friars, as well as a postulant, are pictured in the photo above taken by the main entrance to the Vocations Centre. Please pray that they will all persevere and that other men enquiring with them will decide to go ahead and apply. The Conventuals, or Greyfriars, as we know them in England are one of those Congregations that has adapted to take older vocations and found, as a consequence, that younger ones followed on in time.

The New Evangelisation and the Year of Faith

This morning I was at Amigo Hall just by St George's Cathedral to give a talk at the Family Life International Conference. It was great so see a lot of old friends there including parishioners from Balham and a great group of young people most of whom I'd met before at World Youth Days or Youth 2000 retreats.

I had been asked to talk on Evangelisation and the Year of Faith. I began explaining what we mean by Evangelisation and then spoke a little bit about the relationship between Evangelisation and Catechesis before speaking about the New Evangelisation and the qualities of an evangelist. Above all I was trying to emphasise the fact that we all have not just the right but the duty to evangelise. It was interesting, therefore, that in questions and comments afterwards a lot of people asked (or complained) about what priests and parishes are or are not doing. In my replies I kept coming back to the fact that it is the individual who must pass on the faith: "always evangelising - evangelising all ways". I found it interesting, therefore, to have a bite of lunch with some of the young people present. For them the questions revolved not around what other people are doing but what they themselves can do to pass on the faith. This is a generation that will resonate with Pope Francis and his invitation to roll up our shirtsleeves and 'take on the smell of the sheep'.

One person asked why I hadn't recommended any specific organisations that are evangelising. I think it is a fair point to make that we can be greatly encouraged in our efforts if we have the support of a group or movement that has the need to evangelise written into its DNA. I wasn't sure, however, that it was appropriate for me to mention any specific groups - I would certainly have omitted some excellent ones which wouldn't be fair. Instead I suggested that there are certain characteristics that we should look for in a group or movement: docility to the Magisterium, devotion to the Eucharist, and emphasis on Confession and devotion to Our Lady. You can't go far wrong when those four things are present!

As we headed back to the Cathedral after lunch we noticed a lot of police activity and wondered what was going on. Pretty soon we were met by the sight above: the Rosary procession from St George's Cathedral to Camberwell. 

Vocations Seminar for Religious

On Thursday we had the fourth session in our seminar for Religious entitled: Contemporary Developments in Vocations Ministry. The first three sessions had looked at questions of religious identity, the paradigm shift from recruitment to discernment and the challenges posed by the New Evangelisation. The fourth session was always meant to be a "from vision to action" forum and so it turned out to be. 

One of the questions faced by Religious Communities whose profile is ageing is whether they can accept with any hope of success younger vocations. It would be easy to give an either or answer to that question: either you do or you die out. However the group came up with a much more interesting response. It was recognised that it would be very difficult for a girl in her twenties to join a community whose average age was sixty or above. But it wouldn't be so hard for someone in their forties. A twenty year gap is much more manageable than a forty year one. If someone in their forties joined a community and stayed through to final vows they would be in their fifties by then and, working on the principle that a twenty yea gap can be managed, they could then consider taking someone in their thirties so that bit by bit the age profile begins to decrease.

It is an interesting thought and I know that I occasionally get emails from people complaining that the Vocations Office is not targetting later vocations. With that in mind, we have decided to hold a Vocations Retreat for older people this coming autumn. We had hoped to have it in October but that won't be possible this year so, instead, it will take place at the Kairos Centre in Roehampton (London) from Friday 22nd to Sunday 24th November. It is good to flag it up and get it into the diary now. The retreat will be open to men and women between the ages of 35 and 50. 

It will be important to provide follow up for those who join us for the retreat and that is something we will be working on over the next few months. We also would like to know which religious communities would consider taking older vocations.

Everything we do must be rooted in prayer and so we hope to organise a diocesan Day of Prayer for Vocations to the Priesthood and Religious life in one or more venues across the diocese. This will be an invitation to men and women to come together to ask the Lord of the Harvest to send labourers into his harvest.

I am very grateful to the Religious who gave their time to join us for the seminar. It certainly gave me a lot to think about and will, please God, bear fruit in lots of ways over the next few months.