Monday 28 April 2008

Witness in York

Yesterday, 27th April, was the 40th Anniversary of the day when the 1967 Abortion Act became law in Britain. Leeds People for Life together with Europe Pro-Life held a York Martyrs Pro-Life public Witness in the city of York. We claimed the intercession of the York Martyrs as we sought to give public recognition to the 7 million babies aborted under the Act and to seek to make reparation for this sin, and to ask the Martyrs to help us build a better culture with genuine laws.
The Witness began at 1pm with prayers in St Wilfred's church near the west front of the Minster. We were 150 strong as we filed out into the street to begin our procession through the city, praying the Rosary as we went. Some carried banners, others white crosses, others still, bunches of white and red roses. We followed a route closely associated with York's greatest citizen, St Margaret Clitherow. This next photo shows the procession passing down one of York's most popular streets - Stonegate. Shopkeepers and shoppers alike stopped their Sunday pursuit to take in this extraordinary manifestation of Christian hope in the centre of this hugely secular city.

Crossing the Ouse Bridge we came to the place where the old Toll Booth had stood. It was here in 1586 that St Margaret Clitherow suffered the penalty peine forte et dure for refusing to plead at her trial in which she was accused of harbouring Catholic priests. She was pressed to death close to the steps down which our procession filed. Nothing could intimidate her; neither the State, nor the judge, nor the culture - and she gave her life for Christ, for truth, for the Church.

Here, by the bank of the River Ouse we cast our roses into the river; each one a gesture of love and recognition; each one representing 200,000 babies.

We then passed down Micklegate and were welcomed by the Sisters of the Bar Convent. Originally a house of the Congregation of Jesus, the Bar Convent was founded in the 1760s and is a house of the Institute of the Blessed Virgin. It's "discrete" chapel with Priest Hole also contains the relic of the hand of St Margaret Clitherow. It was 3pm when we packed into the chapel and we prayed the Divine Mercy before venerating the relic of this wife, mother and martyr of Christ.

She was laid on the ground, a sharp stone beneath her back, her hands stretched out in the form of a cross and bound to two posts. Then a door was placed upon her, which was weighted down till she was crushed to death. Her last words during an agony of fifteen minutes, were "Jesu! Jesu! Jesu! have mercy on me!"

Our procession then continued another mile out to the site of the York Tyburn on the Knavesmire. Here I spoke to the pilgrims about some of the martyrs who died here and we entered into a time of intercession, relying on the powerful prayers of the martyrs for an overturning of the culture of death in our country and for grace to build a better culture.

This tremendous act of witness will be organised again.

Saturday 26 April 2008

Y2K in Stone

I've just returned from Stone, Staffs, the town which was evangelised by St Dominic Barberi between the years 1842 - 1849. Youth 2000 is holding a Retreat there this weekend. Many thanks especially to the Leaders and Musicians for their time and dedication to the Mission of the Church and for keeping the flame burning brightly.

Speaking in Soho

On Wednesday I took part in the "Love and Responsibility" series at St Patrick's, Soho, giving a talk entitled "Building the Civilisation of Love in a media-driven world". The photo here shows some of the audience settling in before the talk. A transcript of the talk will be placed on St Patrick's Website, and I shall place an illustrated version on the Communityofgrace website in due course.
Grateful thanks to the SPES team for organising these evenings and to Fr Alexander for his foresight and intuition in creating this series as a focus for young people.

Tuesday 22 April 2008

The Holy Father on Education

Fr Terence Henry, the President of the Franciscan University, Steubenville commented on an address given by the Holy Father on 19th April during his visit to the United States. "The most powerful point he made in his entire speech," said the Franciscan, "is that Catholic education is not just a matter of numbers, but conviction. That, in other words, knowledge is not just an intellectual understanding of facts, but it is a lived expression of reality.""That is what I see so present on our campus everyday, that because our students are convicted, they want to bring their whole selves to the playing field. To have three Masses a day packed with 500 students in each one, is a living out of the conviction." Father Henry said the Holy Father also explained, "The fullness of truth opens up for a young person the adventure of life. To see life as an adventure, as something that comes to you, then it is exciting. I think one of the chief causes of death for young people is suicide. They despair because they are drowning in the secularism and materialism." And for those who don't despair, they are bored without knowing the adventure of life with Christ.
Why are we not looking to build this kind of culture in the UK? What are we waiting for?

Monday 21 April 2008

Just a reminder ...

This coming Sunday, 27th April, is the York Martyrs Pilgrimage and Pro-Life Witness. Starting at St Wilfred's church, just outside the west-front of the Minster at 1.00pm, passing over the Ouse Bridge (the river shouldn't be flooded as shown in the pic), and so on to the site of the Scaffold on the Knavesmire.
27th April is the 40th Anniversary of the day when the Abortion Act became Law in Britain. This will be a very great day. St Margaret Clitherow is, arguably, the greatest person ever to have lived in Britain, and she's a saint. And we can remember too the host of Martyrs who gave their lives at the York Tyburn to Christ: St Henry Walpole, St Nicholas Postgate ...

Monday 14 April 2008

Strangers and pilgrims in a foreign land

Well, I'm back from Abu Dhabi. I have to say that it has been a tremendous experience. Just thinking about it today, the one experience which I valued very highly was being in a place where faith and culture are so united. Here in England, and in western Europe in general, probably the greatest crisis we have to deal with in the New Evangelisation is the separation of faith and the actual way of life that people lead, that is, their culture. In UAE, whether Christian or Muslim, the people are seeking to live the faith they profess. There is none of the false dichotomy between faith and culture because there is no secularism. Yes, there is plenty of wealth and consumerism. But these stand side by side with a conservative religious mentality rather than going hand with hand with a ferocious secularism, which we take for granted in the west.

One thing which surprised me greatly in Abu Dhabi is the number of immigrants. The indigenous Arab population is less than 20 per cent of the total population, and immigrants coming from south Asia are in the majority. Among these, the populations of Catholic Indians - chiefly but not exclusively from Kerala and Goa - and Philippinos are very visible at all levels of society, and possibly form as much as 10 per cent of the population. Despite this, the social and religious conservatism of the Arab population means that the Christian churches are only tolerated and not given real freedom. This leads to the Catholic Church being made really into a ghetto religion - allowed only one Church within an enclosed compound, right next to the Anglican compound and a larger and more ornate Coptic church. All these churches are kept on one site 'under the protection of', or rather, under the dominating presence of, a larger and more imposing mosque. So while the Catholics, who number several thousand, all attend one small Church, and have to endure Mass in the glare of the Arabian sun, the small number of worshippers at the next door mosque, who are rather spoilt for choice when it comes to choosing where to pray considering that there is a mosque on every street corner, don't allow the Christians forget that they are strangers and pilgrims in a foreign land. The small size of the church in Abu Dhabi hides the vitality and number of the Catholics who form the community there. In Dubai, I understand the community is even stronger, with 60,000 Catholics making their Easter communion on Easter Day this year at one church. That's more than in a number of dioceses in this country. At St Joseph's in Abu Dhabi, there were 7,000 who attended the Easter Vigil alone.

Despite all this, the mainly Indian Catholics who attended the Maryvale Catechists' Course were very well formed, and revealed a real thirst and desire to be deepened in faith. Their questions and comments revealed that the formation of the young people was also great, probably because of the strength of faith and its integration into family life. I was pleased to be able to preach at a youth Mass on Friday morning (Friday is like another Sunday, as it's the main 'day off' in the week), and had a great response from the 300 or so teenagers and young adults who gathered in the Church hall, while the family Mass was taking place in the Church, attended by far more. One 17 year old lad from Pakistan came and asked about my homily on vocation, asking why God would want persecution to be part of the vocation of so many Christians in Pakistan. This was a truly humbling experience.

On the way back to England I had the opportunity to stop off in Qatar's capital, Doha, and see the new Church of Our Lady of the Rosary which I'd seen reported on Zenit news agency. This is the first time a Catholic Church has been allowed in Qatar. While it was dark - and the Church is not yet connected to mains electricity - the size of the new Church surprised me after seeing the rather small church in Abu Dhabi. The catechetical and social centre next to the Church is also very impressive. The only problem with it is that it is in the desert, with no roads connecting it. No doubt, with the expansion of Doha, the city will come out to meet the Church in time. Once again, the Catholic church has been built next to the other Christian churches, and it can be supposed that eventually a mosque will also be built, just to remind the Christians who is boss. But nonetheless, this is a tremendous move forward for the Catholic community in Qatar, who could only dream of this new church a few years ago, when Mass was only offered in private houses. Let us hope and pray that the freedom to have a church will also be extended to Saudi Arabia very soon, a country where the Catholic presence is minimal (despite this, there was a catechist from Saudi Arabia at the course).

Please continue to pray for the Catholic church in the Vicariate Apostolic of Arabia. Oh, and here are some camels...

Friday 11 April 2008

To be rediscovered ...

Yesterday I was speaking with another priest in Leeds and we suddenly and coincidentally spoke about someone who was obviously in both our minds - the historian and sociologist Christopher Dawson. Now Dawson was a Yorkshireman and a convert Catholic who is buried in the exquisite village of Burnsall in the Yorkshire Dales; he died in 1970. A couple of years ago I was up there in the winter and went to visit his grave and took this photo.
I had come across some of Dawson's books in the nineties and was absolutely amazed by what I found. A social and historical understanding of civilisation from a genuine Catholic perspective. Dawson had been part of the "Sword of the Spirit" movement in the 40s and 50s, a movement to which Pius XII had given his blessing. This group of people had come together during the Second World War in order to consider the rebuilding of European civilisation upon the basis of Christian orthodoxy after the war had ended. I remember hearing how my grandfather had taken part in "Sword of the Spirit" meetings at St Anne's Cathedral, Leeds in the late 40s.
Well, yesterday my colleague was full of insight that Dawson will be rediscovered in a few decades time. I should like him to be rediscovered rather sooner; for too long have we allowed ourselves to be swept along by the post-war syndrome of secularism with its superficial and ephemeral goals. In fact, we need real vision for the building of our culture and not too long ago there was a Catholic movement of significant thinkers who were already pointing the way.

Friday 4 April 2008

And another thing...

You can read about the great pilgrimage of grace which Fr R and I led to Ars last week below. I'd like to record a word of thanks to all the lay people who supported this, and the other pilgrimage to London. These pilgrimages can be rather pricey, but the reward of accompanying young people in this way is immense. So thanks to the people - particularly the Mercy sisters, co-workers of Mother Teresa, members of Birmingham Charismatic Renewal, and attendees at the Maryvale Divine Mercy Sunday - who donated over £2,000 towards the costs. In fact there is money still left for the other ventures we are planning, including another pilgrimage for young men to Ars. So - MANY THANKS!
If you would like to donate to our Pilgrimage Fund to help pay for a young person to deepen their Faith, then please use the "Donate" button to make a Paypal donation, or drop one of us a line to send a donation.

Catechesis under the shadow of a minaret

Whenever I hear of people jetting off to Dubai for their holidays it has always completely turned me off. The superficiality of the experience of the luxurious hotels, decadent casinos, and designer shops isn't my idea of holiday heaven. And the prospect of temperatures up beyond 40 degrees Celsius, with constant sun, just confirmed my supposition that I would never go to Arabia. Well that all changes next Wednesday. Under the auspices of the Maryvale Institute I'm off to Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates, not for a sun soaked holiday, but to run a two-day course for catechists. I understand that there will be about 50 catechists from all over the Arabian peninsula taking part, mostly made up of Philippino and Indian Catholics, who form the majority of the Catholics in the Vicariate. The classes will be on Christology, Ecclesiology, and Mariology - so it's really at the core of the Christian mystery. I am really relishing the opportunity to go to a place where such formation is eagerly awaited, and where there is a real hunger for the solid food of Catholic teaching. It will be quite a contrast to the nonchalant attitude of so many Catholics in this country towards formation in the Faith. The prospect of forming catechists living under the shadow of the minaret is also exciting, particularly as religious tolerance in many of the countries of the peninsula is not great. It feels like real missionary apostolate. Please pray for this venture and for all the participants...and that I survive the heat.
This is my first post for months, and Fr Richard has been getting on to me about posting, so maybe this will be me turning a new leaf and getting back to blogging a bit more regularly.

Youth 2000 in the south-west

Last weekend the most southerly parish in the country, Falmouth - Helston, hosted a Youth 2000 Retreat. Many, many thanks go to Fr Jon Bielawski and his coorinator for young people, Jo, for their generosity in bringing together about eighty young people from the south-west to celebrate the Christian Life.
The Hanson-built church of Mary Immaculate was transformed by the presence of Christ as the Eucharist and so many young people with Him in adoration. This Easter-time retreat was a special joy to me; returning from the Pilgrimage to Ars I was so glad to be spending even more time with young people seeking to be a part of the New Evangelisation.

It was a great joy also to have this view in the morning; it is thirty seven years since I was last in Cornwall,and to go their again as part of a mission and to see all of this was a special grace.

The sheepfold

Reading some of Tony Blair's talk which he gave at Westminster Cathedral yesterday evening puts me in mind of St John 's Gospel, chapter 10, about entering the sheepfold through the Gate or by another means.
Blair's simple apologia expressed in these words does not demonstrate that he has renounced his part within the culture of death in favour of Christ:
There is nothing I look back on now and say that as a result of my religious journey I would have done things very differently but that is expressly not to say that I got everything right.
If Faith is here being manipulated skilfully by an architect of the culture of death, to make it appear as something which we can fashion for our own ends, then there will be more darkness. Faith is a grace from God which enables a person to embrace a relationship with Christ, a relationship which coverts, heals and saves. Our appreciation of the Gate to the Sheepfold can never be overstated - in fact, here lies the heart of the renewal of life and culture.

Thursday 3 April 2008

SJMV Pilgrimage to Ars

On Easter Sunday Fr Julian and myself had the great joy of leading ten young men on pilgrimage to meet St John Vianney. Ars was clothed with snow when we arrived and the Foyer Jean Paul II offered us a friendly welcome. It was a grace-filled pilgrimage; we did some prayer, we introduced the lads to the shrine and the spirtituality of the Diocesan Priesthood which is so tangible there, and we spent a lot of time together in real friendship. The presence of the Cure and his powerful intercession was a guiding force during our stay.
This most approachable of all priests is a much sought and very solicitous guide to so many young people and priests at this time. We took the opportunity of visiting his birthplace and the house where he grew up at Dardilly, marvellously preserved after more than two centuries. Our journeys between places gave us time to converse about our own experiences of life and growing up and to realise anew the providential way in which God is leading each one of us to love Him in a particular vocation and state in life. I asked the others after one journey if they had seen flames coming out of our car - our conversation had been so charged with faith and hope in God.
One day we spent in Pilgrimage to Paray-le-Monial where Christ revealed His Sacred Heart to St Margaret Alacoque. This Shrine is intimately related with Ars, since St John Vianney made his life a very medium of the mercy of God given through the opened heart of the Saviour. Here, in the Chapel of St John, we spent an hour silently encountering that Heart given in the Blessed Sacrament. I think that the prayers which each of us made in that chapel, that day, were prayers for grace which will direct our whole lives in the future.
What a great grace it is for priests and young people to go away on pilgrimage together. Fr Julian and myself were very impressed by the calibre of the young men who were with us, their dedication to God, and their hope in the Life of Grace. We'll certainly repeat this Pilgrimage.