Friday Oct 6th
A packed room and a great atmosphere at the Catholic Women of the Year Luncheon yesterday. We have five Catholic women of the year,among them Abigail Witchells, the young mother stabbed in the neck and left completely paralysed by an attacker in rural Surrey - her courage and faith, her dignity in forgiving her attacker, shine with sparkling beauty in the bleak spiritual gloom of modern Britain. Sadly, she could not attend in person but her mother-in-law came to recieve the Award on her behalf. Among the other recipients was an 18-year-old enthusiast who had attended World Youth Day and become a volunteer at Lourdes and in community work, and a lady who had befriended a life-sentence prisoner and helped to bring her to faith and a sense of new hope and self-worth.....the guest speaker was Professor Paul Williams, whose book THE UNEXPECTED WAY (Continuum - a good read) tells the story of his conversion from Buddhism to the Catholic Faith. He was a fascinating speaker, especially in explaining why the doctrine of reincarnation is a destroyer of hope, and how the Christian understanding of the uniqueness of every human being is not only logical and true but productive of so much that is generous. He made us think - really think - about what it would mean if you truly believed that, if you died tomorrow, you would return to the world a bit later in the form of a cockroach.
The Luncheon raises funds for a different charity each year, and this time it was the turn of Cenacolo, a community which uses the traditional idea of Catholic religious life as a structure for helping people to abandon addiction to drugs and alcohol. We had two moving testimonies from Cenacolo community members, both young, both formerly addicted to heroin. The young voices, one Liverpool-accented, the other American, describing what it was like to be in the presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament, to discover His love, to be part of a community daily praying the Rosary and the Divine Office and adhering to a strict regime of spiritual and physical activities, were immensely powerful.
Afterwards, it was a joy to meet so many people, especially the nice priest who had already communicated with me via this blog - hello, Father! - and people who enjoyed my programmes on EWTN etc.
I just wish the people who sneer at the Church could meet some of the Catholics who work in so many useful projects and taste something of the atmosphere of geniality, friendship, and large-hearted goodwill that is to be found when you get a big gathering of this kind. We had a beautiful and rather affectionate message from the Holy Father who thanked his "daughters" (we all rather liked that) for our work and commitment - it was nice to see the warmth with which people spoke of him and of how they are praying for his safety and thank God for his teaching and witness.
I had arrived by bike, thinking I was being rather clever in that I could cycle on to Victoria station, put it on the train, speak at the Catholic Women's Group meeting in Purley in the evening, and then cycle on to Mother's.....but of course it didn't work out that way. En route to Victoria I got stopped in Trafalgar Square - along with lots of other traffic - by a policeman waving his arms and blowing whistles, and as everything slowly ground to a halt a flotilla (if that's the word) of cars and motorbikes came down the Mall at a serene pace, culminating in a large black car with the numberplate "PW1" which whooshed off in the general direction of the City. I reflected that at least I could thus mention in my Blog that I'd just "happened to get a glance of the Prince of Wales" but it honestly wouldn't be true - it was pouring with rain, and getting dark, and my priority was going across that tricky corner past Whitehall and then off under Admiralty Arch, so I didn't actually see him at all.....and then of course when I got to Victoria I was reminded that bikes aren't allowed on trains between 5 and 7pm, so had to padlock the bike to some railings and head off with my rucksack full of books....
On arrival at St John the Baptist Church in Purley, I kicked off of my shoes, which had been pinching dreadfully (posh lunch, so first time I've worn proper shoes after all summer in squashy sandals) and explained that my feet were very sore. A kind CWG member said "Would you like me to massage them?" and did so, and it was absolute bliss.
A very good attendance at the meeting, and a real feeling of welcome. My talk was on Pope Benedict's life and work - again a warm sense of support and enthusiasm not just for the man and his office but for his teaching and the way he conveys the message of Christ and salvation - and afterwards they were all terribly nice and wanted to buy my book The Benedict Code (Gracewing)........I hadn't brought enough copies so will have to send some on by post to the people who have ordered them. Then the kind foot-lady gave me a lift on to Mother's, where we had a good gossip about the Luncheon (which she'd hugely enjoyed, especially arguing with a lady who said she didn't believe in Confession: M. said "I jolly well told her she was wrong"......golly, I bet she did!) and I collapsed into bed, hoping my bike was OK, all there in the wet and the dark chained to the railings in Buckingham Palace Road.....