Friday, November 29, 2019

I was at London Bridge today...

...for the lunchtime Mass here,  chatted for a bit in the Rectory office, and then  went for a sandwich.  On opening the door into the street - drama!  Helicopters overhead, clattering loudly....police sirens wailing...people hurrying...some one told me to get into shelter quickly... so without delay I headed for my usual cafe...

At the Pret a Manger in the Borough High Street, information coming in, and a sudden request - "We have to lock the doors. If you want to leave - do so now, but the way towards the bridge is closed...."  Apparently  there was  police concern that the terrorists - by now everyone was talking about a terrorist attack - might be trying to make a getaway down the street. The young staff were excellent. They served us all free tea and coffee - wouldn't take any money for my lunch either - and while obviously excited by what was happening in the street outside, remained calm and organised.  Of course, like lots of other people I took to my laptop to find out what was going on. "Oh, it probably isn't a terrorist attack" I said "it's just another of these ghastly fights...gangs..."  But no: it turns out it was indeed terrorists, and as the drama unfolded I was drinking tea and finishing emails ... while the young staff went from table to table asking if we were all right.

No Tube at London Bridge, so  in due course I made my way home via Waterloo. No sense of panic as dusk fell...commuter crowds seemed as usual, and if terrorists are trying to make Londoners freak out they aren't succeeding so far. The Prime Minister  struck the right note in his statement...

and Red Wednesday really was a powerful experiience...

...in London, with great public buildings buildings (notably the Foreign and Commonwealth Office  in Whitehall ), lit up, and a kilted piper  playing a lament leading a procession up the aisle of Westminster Cathedral  with a great heavy wooden Cross carried by a team from Aid to the Church in Need.  Govt spokesman noted that 80 per cent of the people in the world being persecuted for their faith are Christians..  The prayers and messages also reflected the importance of religious freedom for all.  A powerful speech from a leading Jewish spokesman, who as a child was one of the last Jews in Baghdad, forced with his family to leave a city where a large Jewish community had thrived for centuries along with people of other religions and none...

The Cathedral was packed, and there was  music from the Schola of the Cardinal Vaughan School, and from pupils from St John Bosco Academy...and prayers and readings....and more...and a final Blessing given by Fr Dominic, chaplain to ACN... an evening to remember.

Reports here...and here...

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

...and a newer tradition...

...will be honoured in London today: RED WEDNESDAY.,  honouring religious freedom.Come and join in!  Come and make a stand for faith and freedom. Follow that link for more info...

The traditional Mass...

...and Dinner to mark the Feast Day of St Mary's University is on Dec 9th, as the Univ. is under the patronage of  Mary in her Immaculate Conception. Having spent much of the past two years researching and writing the history, I think I will find it  be rather moving to be attending this Mass and celebrations. The Univ was founded as St Mary's College in 1850 - next year, 2020, marks its 170th anniversary...

Today's young students, gathering in the chapel,  doing the readings and singing in the choir, hearing about the College's  story, celebrating over a formal meal, are in a great tradition...especially those who are training to be teachers, as the College was founded precisely for that.  In the unimaginably different world of Victoria's reign, the College pioneered teacher-training for men (there were already colleges for women) and was turning out teachers who ran popular schools and brought education to some of the poorest children in the land... decades before state education began.Without the schools run and funded by the Church, the poor would have had no schools at all. The Church still runs some of the best and most popular schools in Britain.  The National Secular Society has never run any schools  - or indeed hospitals, care homes, clinics, holiday schemes, youth clubs, or anything else - for anyone. Remember that, when they demand a ban on the Church's schools.

Monday, November 25, 2019

Chelsea...

...rather attractive in the dusk of a November afternoon, and a cheery History Walk with a friendly group. We ended up at Allen Hall, and a warm greeting from the Rector....

On to Birmingham by train...to Maryvale where I was to lecture as part of the BA (Div) course. Another warm welcome, a sense of belonging...and then followed a tiring but immensely enjoyable weekend, with lectures and discussion and more...

One is woken in the morning by the gentle sound of the Brigettine Sisters singing their morning prayers: the chapel is just beneath the bedroom area where I sleep. Mass will follow in half an hour, and there is just time to wash and dress etc...then a good breakfast. They used to have instant coffee but much pleading and the acquisition of a cafetiere have resulted in good coffee as we gather at the breakfast tables...

Letters and notes from St John Henry Newman are on display in the hall, and there was of  course a large Maryvale presence at the canonisation in Rome...

The Birmingham that JHN knew has of course largely vanished beneath concrete and steel. The city is, alas, in general very ugly and especially so in the case of the area around New Street station with the odd "steel bubble-wrap" building looming in a vaguely menacing way. A bus ride away,    Maryvale still holds its atmosphere along with its lawns and reassuring trees - an odd, comfortable, solid old house with its sloping stairs and hidden chapel and its own special chapters of English history...

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

A return...

...to my old school, which despite many changes is in its essence so much the school I knew...

The beautiful Queen Anne mansion, approached across the frosty playing-fields. Did we really appreciate being in such a lovely setting? Actually, I think we did...and that's partly why I carried away many good memories...

The girls today wear a much nicer uniform - sort of tartan-pattern skirts, worn rather long. I am sure they all moan about them, but they look much nicer than we did in our brown mini-skirts.

The school is vast now, well over 1,000 pupils. Huge new science labs etc. Lots of hi-tech equipment. Vast new hall where the old dining-room used to be.  The  new hall is named after the foundress of the Order that established the school, and there is a statue of her outside...we didn't hear much about her in our day, but she's now much honoured as her role in history is increasingly recognised...

Spoke about St John Paul. The girls knew about the Cold War, USSR cruel domination of Eastern Europe etc  but the name Soldarity didn't mean much to them....it felt strange talking about the adventures of those days, taking  books and materials into Poland for Solidarity activists etc...it doesn't really seem so long ago but of course to them it is as remote as WWII was to us, or even more so...

On to London by train....committee meeting to review the Catholic Women Praying Together event and to plan for 2020...

Thursday, November 14, 2019

...and after an overnight journey on the Caledonian sleeper...

...another History Walk at Westminster. We walked from Westminster Cathedral  exploring the story of Horseferry Road, the Greencoat and Greycoat and Blewcoat schools,  Mary Sumner House, the Church Union, and more...(and if you want to know about any or all of these, book in for a History Walk in due course! We are now planning Walks for the New Year...).

We finished at the crosses and wreaths in the Garden of Remembrance at Westminster Abbey, the scarlet poppies bright against the showers of golden and russet leaves, and just as I finished the Walk and we were all shaking hands and so on,  the glorious bells began to peal out,  adding their own message to the  London Autumn day...

TO GLASGOW...

...for a meeting re FAITH magazine. Always great to connect with the beautiful work being done  by the Sisters of the Gospel of Life.

The day finished with an invitation to a magnificent ice-hockey match. It began with a passionate singing of  what was announced as the  Scottish national anthem.  Written in the 70s, but with older echoes,  it  carries deep resonances - Battle of Flodden etc...

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

An Act of Remembrance...

...yesterday at the University where I have spent the past two years as Visiting Research Fellow. A goodish number of staff and students gathered, and the service was traditional, reverent, and moving. It is sad to see that large numbers of young people do not know the Lord's Prayer -  or perhaps are shy and uncertain about saying it -  and are unfamiliar with traditional hymns.  But there was solemnity, silence, and  - attendance at such events being voluntary - something touching about the gathering.

With ecumenical goodwill...

...and in a spirit of real friendship and co-operation, the Schools Bible Project has thrived for 30 years. In a couple of weeks' time we will have our 2019 Prizegiving, with pupils from schools across Britain arriving at WESTMINSTER ABBEY to receive their prizes for essays on  New Testament themes. The  project is simple: pupils are invited to imagine themselves present at a major event in the life of Christ - we offer a choice of six events, including some of his great miracles etc - and to write about it. Some choose to be, for example, a bridesmaid at the Wedding at Cana, or a Roman soldier  at the Crucifixion, or one of the Apostles during the storm at sea. They can invent a character  or be some one who is actually recorded in the Scriptures as being present. The aim is simply to offer the opportunity to encounter Christ and to understand the significance of it all. The Project fulfils the requirements of the standard RE curriculum, and  has proved popular with pupils and teachers alike.

Preparing the arrangements for the 2019 prizegiving, my mind goes back to the very first,  with the then-chairman of the whole venture, Bishop Maurice Wood, the retired  Anglican bishop of Norwich...I remember him reading from his pocket New Testament, a battered volume which he had carried with him on the Normandy landings...and I remember, too, a splendid Tea given to us all at the headquarters of the Salvation Army at a later prizegiving, and the gentle, thoughtful words of Cardinal Basil Hume at Archbishops House in Westminster on a further occasion, and the wonderful welcome at Lambeth Palace with Dr George Carey...

The project is open to all secondary school pupils in Britain, and a brochure goes to every school. More info here...




Monday, November 11, 2019

GREAT CELEBRATIONS...

...to mark the 10th anniversary of Anglicanorum Coetibus,  the call  to groups of Anglicans to come into full communion with the Catholic Church. Cardinal Vincent Nichols preached at a splendid Mass at the Church of the Most Precious Blood at The Borough, London Bridge, and you can see it all in pictures here...

....and a Mass to launch....

...the new initiative Catholic Women Praying Together.   This has grown out of the splendid Catholic Women of the Year event which reached its Golden Jubilee last year. All the main Catholic women's groups - Union of Catholic Mothers, Catholic Women's League, Assn of Catholic Women, LOGS etc - are represented on the committee and it was agreed to have an annual Mass, the inaugural theme being prayer for our young people. With so many young people in our country losing their lives and their happiness through drugs, knife crime, suicide and addiction to social media etc, we felt that one thing we could do was to pray together. Mass was celebrated at London's Farm Street church  by Mgr Keith Newton of the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham and there was glorious singing from the choir of Coloma Girls School.  Their young voices were so beautiful: many of the older ladies were moved to tears.

A  talkative lunch afterwards in Farm Street's panelled parish hall - familiar to me as the current home of the Catholic Writers' Guild. Each member of the choir was given a bag with a holy card and a medal.  We had a raffle and funds raised will go youth projects run by the Salesians.

Chairman of the event, Anne Emblem of the UCM is to be warmly congratulated for taking on the running of this major new project.  We have a committee meeting next week to evaluate it and plan ahead. I think this is a venture which holds real promise...

Graduation...

...of students at the Maryvale Institute. The traditional ceremony  at St Chad's Cathedral in Birmingham. There is now a sense of familiarity as I walk in the academic procession. The teaching staff come from a variety of universities and I enjoy wearing my Challoner-rose MA hood from St Mary's, Twickenham.   There is a special joy at Maryvale this year  because of  St John Henry Newman's canonisation:  Maryvale was his home after leaving Littlemore, and it was he who gave the house its name...

The graduation  ceremony concludes, as usual, with Vespers, led by Fr Guy Nichols Cong.Orat.  and we sing Newman's Praise to the Holiest  with the music surging up to the  great gothic arches