"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: ... 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. He will give you the grace you need to fulfil your vocation". Pope Benedict XVI, Hyde Park, September 2010
I was very pleased to be able to pop over to the Sacred Heart School in Woldingham for this year's summer camp for altar servers. The camp is a mixture of learning about serving, catechesis and fun. It is organised by Fr Stephen Boyle who is the chaplain to the Guild of St Stephen here in the diocese.
A group photograph in the Chapel.
It was a special pleasure to meet up with some of my servers from my former parish. I noted that one poor fellow had his fingers bandaged and was sorry to hear that he was injured when the group went ice-skating. I said Mass for the servers and had lunch with them but didn't stay the afternoon as they were heading off to Chessington World of Adventures.
Mark Wharton, one of our seminarians, was helping out with the group and kindly sent me the photographs.
Zenit, the Vatican news agency, recently carried the following article on our Invocation pilgrimage to Rome. The original can be seen here.
UK Initiative Shows Growing Interest in Priesthood, Religious Life
The pilgrimage group was organized by Invocation – an initiative begun three years ago to offer an environment where young people from England and Wales who feel they might be called to the priesthood or religious life can discern their vocation.
One of the organizers of the pilgrimage was Fr. Stephen Langridge, chairman of the vocation directors of England and Wales, and vocations director for the Archdiocese of Southwark. Speaking with ZENIT, he explained how "often, young people are invited to vocations events, and in a sense it's a step too far – sometimes they just need space to think and reflect without any pressure being put on them."
"Invocation exists," he said, "to create that space for young people to give them the context within which they can pray and reflect, to give them the opportunity to meet other young people, to be inspired by other young people, to make friends with other young people, and to have the questions that they might have answered."
Despite decades of lagging vocations, in recent years vocations in England in Wales have been on the rise. Fr. Langridge cites World Youth Day (WYD) as contributing to this increase. "Over recent WYDs, more and more young people have just gone to WYD independently… but it's had a big effect on them. That desire to be better disciples has created within them a desire also to answer the question: What the Lord is asking of them. It becomes safe to ask that question, and they have the courage, then, to answer it."
The pilgrimage from the UK gathered young people in various stages of discernment – ranging from those who are in or are about to enter seminary, to those who simply wanted to participate in a pilgrimage to Rome.
Fr. Langridge said he was most struck by the "number of people who have come [on the pilgrimage] a little bit scared, thinking that perhaps the Lord is calling them: how are they going to tell their parents? And two of them have said to me: 'I've decided. I'm going to respond.'"
One of the participants in the pilgrimage was Chris Stowell, a young man from Sandwich, England, who is currently discerning a religious vocation. Raised in a Catholic family, he told ZENIT: "I'd always been sort of drawn to it, but I'd never seriously thought about being called as a priest."
Stowell had attended various Invocation events, and next year intends to enter a discernment center, run by Fr. Langridge, to determine whether he is prepared to make the next step in his life. Over the course of a year, he and five other young men who are discerning the priesthood will live in community, praying together for three hours a day.
Although it is only as recently as this past Easter that he has taken more definitive steps in his discernment process, he said that the process of "conversion" has been taking place throughout his life. "I don't think it's a 'one big moment' thing: I think it's something that happens your whole life, and you build up, and often the times when God is working most hard is when you don't notice Him."
"I think it's important to think of who you want to be," Stowell said. "Whereas before I had always thought I couldn't be fulfilled without having a family, maybe if this is what God is wanting me to do, maybe He will give me the grace. Then this Easter, I thought: this could be me. I could be a priest. And it's just making that positive choice for Christ."
Zenit can be received by email. Simply subscribe here.
I will be in Walsingham and I am hoping to see you there! Have you been to the Youth 2000 retreat that takes place there every year? If not why not join us this year. Walsingham is a special place - it is known as England's Nazareth and is an ancient place for Catholics to go on pilgrimage and also more recently for some Anglicans as well.
The annual Youth 2000 retreat is hard to describe to someone who hasn't been there before. It is a time of encounter with Christ where evangelisation gives birth to conversion. It is a time of catechesis and discovery of the faith. It is a time to take stock of one's life and resolution for the future. It is a time of prayer. It is a time also of fellowship and friendship with other young Catholics.
This year's festival takes place in the wake of Pope Francis' first ever World Youth Day and so it is also a time to re-live those incredible moments and to share them with others as well as to reflect on and allow ourselves to be challenged by the powerful messages he gave in each address in Brazil.
If you haven't booked your place why not do so today. There are coaches going there from most parts of the country. You can get all the details on the Y2K website.
If you are Blog or are on Facebook or Twitter please re-tweet or share this post so that we can reach as many young people as possible. I look forward to seeing you there!
Last weekend I had the pleasure of visiting the Church of the English Martyrs in Strood where the parish priest, Fr Bill Keogh, had invited me to preach about vocations. It is always nice to have the chance to celebrate Mass in the parishes of our diocese and I am always very struck and moved by the warm welcome I receive both from the parish clergy and from the parishioners. I have the impression most people are moved to joy at news such as the ordination of five new priests for the diocese and also that they really desire to have more priests. On these visits we try to have whenever possible a second collection for our work here at the Vocations Centre. This is important and is a big help to us - next year we will have eight hungry mouths to feed! - but above all people are willing to commit themselves to praying for our work, asking the Lord to send us more priests here in Southwark.
I very much hope to continue these visits next year but am also pleased that our Vocations Mission team will also be able to go out in pairs to let people know what is happening in Southwark and to ask for more prayers for our work.
Don't forget that you can commit yourself to praying regularly for vocations in Southwark or your own diocese by joining the Invisible Monastery. Click here for more details.
The photograph above shows a very special moment in the life of our diocese: the ordination of five men to serve God's people as priests. At this moment in the rite of ordination they are lying prostrate on the floor while the whole congregation kneels and seeks the intercession of the Saints. Afterwards the Archbishop will stand to face them and pray the prayer of consecration. This ordination brings to a total of seven the number of men ordained at the Cathedral for the Archdiocese this year.
The newly ordained priests are:
Fr Samuel Davey from the Good Shepherd Parish in NewAddington.
Fr Valentine Erhahon from the Holy Ghost Parish in Balham.
Fr Stephen Haines from the Cathedral Parish.
Fr Thomas Lynch from St Bede's Parish in Clapham Park.
Fr Leonard Tatt from Christ Church Parish in Eltham.
Please pray for our new priests. When was the last time there was an ordination from your parish? From next term we will have a number of young men ready and willing to speak about the need for vocations in your home parish. Just contact the Vocations Centre for more details.