Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Traditional Hallowe'en

Cycled through London yesterday, a crisp Autumn evening, from Waterloo to a committee meeting of the Catholic Writers' Guild at St Mary Moorfields, via the CTS Bookshop to get some small gifts for the choir at Saturday's Festival. The choir is from More House School - come and hear them sing! Excellent meeting, with dinner provided by our Chaplain Fr Peter Newby: we have all sorts of good ideas and plans for the Guild in 2008. Our AGM is always on January 24th, in honour of our Patron, St Francis de Sales.

Today I went to our local parish in New Malden as I needed to photocopy some things for the Festival - arrived at 12 noon and the little team at the presbytery were saying the Angelus. Somehow this gave the whole day a nice, villagey feeling. Valuable help with photocopying, and a cheery chat with the lady organising the parish Hallowe'en festivities, which celebrate a "Night of Light" with prayers in church, then a procession of all the children dressed as saints (they've been preparing their costumes over the past weeks) with home-made lanterns. They go through the local streets, and all passers-by get a little leaflet with a pumpkin picture and an explanation of Hallowe'en as the Eve of All Saints' Day. Then back to the parish hall for games (apple-bobbing and buns-on-a-string, all the traditional things) and party food.

Now that's the way to re-Christianise Hallowe'en.

Monday, October 29, 2007

So this is where I'll be on Saturday...

...Westminster Cathedral Hall. But it won't look much like that, because the Towards Advent Festival is always packed with people, and we have displays and stalls from a huge range of Catholic groups and organisations, and a programme of events ranging from a choir giving us a feast of sacred music to specially-arranged tours of the Cathedral treasures...

The Catholic Herald...

...newspaper has a splendid full-page advertisment for TOWARDS ADVENT which is most satisfying and spurred me on as I hurried about today making various arrangements. To the Catholic Truth Society to collect some leaflets - in the early years of Towards Advent, the admin of the venture was run from their office in Harleyford Road, with Adrian Thacker, and going there today brought back memories of busy meetings, planning, printing, lots of hard work...

Inconveniently, my bike choise today to get a puncture, so I had to walk across the river from Vauxhall to Westminster, but I didn't really mind as it was a most heavenly Autumn day with cascades of golden leaves wherever trees stood together, and the Thames looking grey and swirling and Westminster Cathedral having that gently glow from lamplight as dusk approaches...

A note from a friend tells me about a glorious CONCERT on Saturday evening - conveniently a couple of hours after TOWARDS ADVENT ends - at Brompton Oratory. Fabulous music, with wine and nibbles beforehand, starts 7pm, and funds raised will go towards LIFE (pro-life group,helps mothers and babies) and the Oratory Church. Get more info from 020 8 788 3115 or click here.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

In the rain... the Sacred Heart Church in Wimbledon, where they have a useful 8pm Mass on Sundays, a boon for anyone who has been travelling or had a complicated day. Exhiliaration, cycling through sheets of soaking rain and then entering into the warm, gently candlelit church. I usually hand out leaflets in this parish each Autumn to advertise the Towards Advent Festival at Westminster Cathedral Hall, but the trip to America prevented that this year, so I will do it on All Saints Day, when they have two evening Masses. Cheery conversation with fellow-cyclist by the church's bike-rack, as we prepared for a soaking ride home. A cosy feel as I came into our kitchen and now I'm going to have a mug of tea with my dear J.


...followed me all the way to the airport as I left EWTN. I was rather sorry to be leaving, although home called me with 1,000 responsibilities and a busy week ahead...

While you are away from home, you are in a sort of bubble, living in time-out-of-time. Everything, from doing the hoovering to answering letters, is on hold - and, these days, emails ensure that the most urgent messages get tackled and news from home is guaranteed, so the bubble is a cosy one with anxieties removed but everything still at a distance.

Normally, I'd add "cooking" to the list of things left aside while away from home, but this time it wasn't the case, as my TV series involves lots of cookery demonstrations. I was producing masses of stuff every day, cakes and pies and biscuits and even some roasted lamb. Much of it had to be done twice - once to produce on the show as "here's one I've done already', and another created in stages in front of the cameras. Some items were actually produced three times. At EWTN, there is a shelf in the staff kitchen where food, books, clothing, or anything else that can usefully be passed on, is left: I found that trays of edibles left there disappeared with gratifying speed. Incidentally, this don't-waste-anything-and-let's-help-each-other atmosphere is one of EWTN's most pleasant aspects: a mix of everyday kindness and good cheer with a faint dash of ecological thrift and a large dollop of sheer generosity.

Home to a rainy London - which is the way I like it, so I wasn't complaining - a mountain of letters, and the rather endearing discovery that Jamie had been able to follow some of my domestic instructions, so laundry was drying and the fridge had food in it.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Home soon....

...and I'm writing this hurriedly at EWTN while waiting for the car that will take me to the airport. It's all been fun - yesterday recorded a couple more programmes and then had time for some souvenir-shopping (bought some gloriously American things - pumpkin soap for Mother, and some sort of Blueberry Syrup for Jamie to have on his morning porridge).

Also had time to watch some American TV...golly there are some odd things out there. EWTN is a relief after seeing some of the dippy things on some other TV channels, especially the religious ones! One showed a big religious rally with lots of people waving American flags, and at first I thought it was all rather nice - jolly wholesome and so on - but then it all went political and there was a great deal of ranting and a chap told everyone they should 'expect great blessings' for having attended the rally and started to list lots of things the President should do on foreign policy because it was all in the Bible. It was quite enjoyable to watch in an odd sort of way, an Evelyn Waugh novel come to life.

But it's impossible to visit America and not be hugely touched by the other side of all this - the huge kindness, the generosity, the largeness of people's hearts. Americans give generously to charity - huge projects of all kinds simply funded out of people's gifts, large and small. They are neighbourly - and regard all sorts of people as neighbours, not just convenient ones. They cope with things. There is a cheeriness here which is - at present anyway - missing in Britain.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Mother Angelica... of course the famous foundress of EWTN and the work has grown and flourished since she began it in a garage some 25 years ago. I have to say that working here is energising, friendly and at times hilarious.

Catholic TV, fish pie, and fun.... EWTN, the international Catholic TV station based in Alabama. I am having a busy and very happy time, making a series of programmes which, among other things, involves me doing a lot of cookery...they were amused by the Britishness of my recipe for fish pie (fish with shrimp and cheese sauce, topped by mashed potato, since you ask). Terrifically interesting conversations, as there are people coming and going with many insights on different aspects of the Church and the world...did a chat-show with Fr Mitch Pacwa and will be doing an intervew re my new book etc etc...gosh I do enjoy America and the breakfasts with scrambled egg and good coffee after a very early morning Mass with glorious singing...the TV series on which I have been working will be broadcast in the Spring. Producer is Deb Piroch, who is talented and fun and is also very kind and helpful in every way. It really is a delight to be working here...

Friday, October 19, 2007


Joyous news!...a phone call brings the delightful message that niece-in-law F. has given birth to a baby girl! Welcome to baby Francesca! A joyful buzz of phone calls and family rejoicing...I have permission from the young parents to put this news on my blog. Is there any greater joy anywhere than that which comes with the arrival of a darling new baby into a family?

Golden bright...

...Autumn day with a crisp fresh feel to it. Off to give a talk at a Catholic secondary school, about the work of Aid to the Church in Need, supporting persecuted Christians.

Interesting to observe trends in Religious Education. Have you heard the daft packet-of-sandwiches theory about the Feeding of the Five Thousand? It's the modernist take on this great miracle, deliberately invented to try to steer young people away from understanding the full Eucharistic significance...I heard it again today and it's clearly one of the bits of rubbish given to gullible RE trainees: the idea is that it wasn't really a miracle when Christ took the loaves and fishes and raised his eyes to Heaven...nooooo, what really happened was that when the small boy produced this simple food all the other 5,000 people who had apparently been hiding their packets of sandwiches greedily for themselves now produced them to share...

Quite apart from the racist idea of assuming selfish inability to share picnics was somehow the norm among 1st-century Palestinians...this daft theory doesn't even fit the facts. Why would it be considered remarkable if people simply enjoyed food they already had? What sense can be made of the link made in the Scriptural account with the manna in the desert - and Christ's extraordinary words about feeding people with his own flesh?

No wonder young people seem bored with their religion, finding it apparently hard to grasp its reality, or surrender to its joy, when they have it thus gutted of real meaning.

However...the school was welcoming, efficient, friendly, generous. Pupils mixed: some (a few) open, interested, capable of response to my talk about faith and ACN, and tales of derring-do in assisting Christians in various parts of the world... others with rigid body-language saying don't-come-near-me-with-all-this, shrugging, pushing away the holy cards, downcast faces hidden behind sheets of hair. It's something I always notice: among the young today some, especially the girls, have a wounded and alienated look...the pressures in today's vicious culture are so huge, and already in late teens there is a sense of violation somehow, of lost life. This makes it tough for teachers.

Interesting point made in discussion: those who believe face derision from their peers. "Persecution" isn't something far away from these young people, it can already be a reality, if you admit to being a believing Christian...yes, even in an RC school.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

TV, Tradition, and Hard Work...

...more or less sums up my relationship with EWTN, the Catholic television network. Spent all of Wednesday in Balham, where Fr Stephen Langridge at Holy Ghost Church allowed a TV crew to invade the parish while we filmed a series of six interviews for CATHOLIC LIVES...these included Nicole Parker of the London Fertility Care Centre, Josephine Robinson of the Association of Catholic Women, Fr Alexander Sherbrook of St Patrick's Soho Square, Kristina Cooper of GOOD NEWS magazine, and more...on Saturday I fly to Birmingham, Alabama to make a whole new series about Traditions Marking the Feasts and Seasons of the Year (I don't quite know why I've put that in capitals but it somehow conveys the flavour of the thing...)

Wednesday's work was fun but, golly, it was exhausting, and at the day's end, when the little crew, after sorting things out and packing up and dealing with everything, met in the quiet church for Mass - said by a visiting priest from the Brothers of St John, who had come from Holland to watch our work as he works with a similar TV project in Amsterdam) - it was so good just to be there with the rhythm of the words and the bright glow of candles. I have only ever been in that church when it is teeming with families and chanted music on a Sunday morning, and having just a small group gathered (in exhaustion!) before the altar on a weekday evening with the darkening windows and the glitter of a lifted Chalice was a suddenly powerful experience.

Up early this morning to get to a committee meeting of Aid to the Church in Need. Afterwards, to a bookshop to treat myself to a new, looooong, interesting book for the flight to the USA on Sat. I do have some work to do on the flight, but there will be several hours in the air and I feel I can give myself up to the pleasure of deliciously uninterrupted reading. (I am actually planning to take some sewing to do as well - cross-stitch sampler which needs finishing and is rather fun to do - but have been warned that needles are sometimes confiscated as being potential terrorist weapons...anyone know anything about this?).

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Auntie in a rush, in the rain... Oxford, to address the Newman Society, because a planned speaker had to drop out at the last minute due to a family illness. I caught the Oxford Tube from Victoria (note to US readers: it's a bus, that's just its name) and through a most magnificent rainstorm it battled its way to Oxford. The city looked glorious in the rain, glittering pavements and golden leaves and glowing windows. I knew I'd be given sherry and dinner so relished a rain-soaked walk to the meadow by the river, through the war memorial garden which is just opposite the Old Palace. Then dinner (candlelit, with delicious food) and the talk - which was about the work of Aid to the Church in Need. Members of the Newman Society are formal and wear a special tie. It made me feel quite bohemian in my denim skirt. Everyone v. kind...and then the return bus - I couldn't stay the night, as I was due to make an early start in London the next morning for a day of TV work.

Home extremely late, and with rain still clattering down as I hurried in the the kitchen door and shook off my wet things.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007


A very happy 21st birthday celebration and book launch at St Etheldreda's Ely Place. A birthday, because it is 21 years since my "Book of Feasts and Seasons" was first published by GRACEWING, and a book launch, because my brand-new "Yearbook of Seasons and Celebrations" made its public appearance....the crypt at this magnificent gem of a Medieval church was twinkling with hundreds of candles, wine and snacks were served, and small niece E. helped me to cut a celebration cake. Tom Longford of Gracewing made a hearty speech and said all sorts of kind things. Lots and lots of friends came, and it was a lovely, lovely evening. Many thanks to Fr Kit Cunningham for welcoming us to this party - 21 years ago there was a launch at St E's for that first book, and over the intervening years I have been in the crypt for many wonderful evenings with the Catholic Writers' Guild (a plaque in this crypt now marks the association with the Guild).
This was an evening to hold in the memory, full of happiness and friends and talk and laughter.

Preston... a place of happy associations for me, with family links. Bit depressing, therefore, on my Sunday evening visit to find the usual dreary British-city feel, gloomy louts in the main streets chucking beer cans and yelling obscenities, pounding beat from packed but uncheery booze-places (somehow the jollier word "pub" doesn't apply), groups sitting on the pavement drunk, sense of loneliness everywhere. Seeking St Walburga's, I asked the way from various people, included a busy Catholic church where a huge crowd of Indian families had evidently been enjoying a gathering in the parish hall, now dispersing. A lot of children running noisily around the church and shouting as people gathered, talkatively, for Mass...I felt a bit out of place, but everyone v. nice, the kind priest directed me to St W's, and then when I got a bit uncertain at a road junction a bit further ahead, some youths drinking on the steps of an Elim Pentecostal church got me right again, although inadvertently hitting a sad note as they did so: "Yeah..that's the one they're gonna close...right? Yeah, OK, it's just down there...

At the big old prestbytery at St W's, the Franciscans - in traditional brown robes with knotted ropes round their waists, bare feet and sandals - run a chaplaincy for students at the University of Central Lancashire. Numbers small for this Sunday evening gathering, but a warm welcome, delicious spaghetti, international group with lovely friendly atmosphere, much enthusiasm for my talk on Pope would be glorious if, through prayer and dedication, this chaplaincy could grow and breathe new life into St W's, currently threatened with closure...

Sunday, October 14, 2007

To Westminster...

...Cathedral, where I ran into a friend, Patti, in the excellent CTS bookshop in the piazza. We went for a quick and enjoyable chat-and-cup-of-coffee. P. is a colleague in the Association of Catholic Women, and we have shared in many useful projects and campaigns - she'll be helping, as always, with the mammoth task of serving food and rink to the 1,000-odd people who throng the Nov 3rd Towards Advent Festival. We last chatted when working on the ACW Schools Religious Education Project...

On to the Rosary Rally, which starts at Westminster Cathedral and goes through the streets, with banners and statue, to Brompton Oratory. Mother and I always meet it at the Oratory, having had an agreeable trip there by bus via a visit to a teashop, making it a pleasant day out. Oratory packed, of course, lots of good hymns, and a sermon that started with a vivid description of the Battle of Lepanto and the role of the Rosary in its outcome, establishing the feast of O.L. of the Rosary which is marked each year on Oct 7th. It was all very challenging, aimed at making us think about what is happening today and to our civilisation...

Afterwards, having seen M. safely on to the train home, I went to Westmin. Cathedral for Mass. Glorious singing from the choir of Farnborough Hill school, and a group of young people coming forward to start their preparation for Confirmation. Sometimes the future of Christianity in Europe seems small...but it's there...


-on-Thames was the County Town of Surrey when I was a child and I went there to take an important pre-scholarship exam when I was ten: can still remember the sense of trepidation as we got on the bus, and the weird feeling of being in a big school with lots of strange children. Then many years later I worked here as a reporter on the Surrey Comet newspaper - old-fashioned offices right next to the parish church.

Cycled there for tea on Friday with a priest from a new movement based at Hampton Wick - of which more in a moment - but found the centre of the town a rather depressing experience. Crowded shops, lots of people, thronging and spending...but louts hanging around the church shouting obscenities, chucking beer cans, while other people (?? I think actually students from what is now Kingston University) also hung about, also swearing and looking glum and cross...this gave a nasty and slightly scary feel to things. I had wanted to pause to enjoy things a bit. The Regimental Colours from my father's regiment hang in the parish church - I remember going there for the ceremony when I was about eleven. Autumn sunshine and the river sparkling. But police on the alert, their radios crackling into life "Yes...could you just send along another couple of, not sure...that would be of help...thanks..." so my sense of menace was shared by others.

Later, over tea, I was told that this is normal :"And it's much worse at the weekends, when there are groups hanging about with their black teeshirts with that satan symbol on, and litter everywhere..." Oh dear.

The group I went to meet is based across the river, at Hampton Wick, and is called the Heralds of the Gospel. Evidently a new Catholic movement, fostering very traditional Marian devotions.

Friday, October 12, 2007

The Red Mass... the annual Mass celebrated by the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster for the start of the new legal year. It's attended by judges, barristers, and solictors - and here is Jamie (on the right) in his wig and gown, at the Reception in Archbishop's House after the Mass.

It's all very splendid and traditional - judges in red robes, full-bottomed wigs etc - and the Cardinal preached very well, about St Thomas More, citing him as an inspiration for lawyers today faced with laws that do not dovetail with the ethical principles of the Gospels, and urging that his courage and prudence were good examples to follow. You can read the whole of the Cardinal's sermon here, and it's recommended.

Needless to say, some ghastly Government bureaucrats have announced that Britain's traditional legal attire - wigs and gowns and so on - is to be abolished or restricted soon. (The legal profession was asked for its opinion and when this was opposed to the change - for important reasons including preserving the message of impartiality and anonymity of judges - this was of course ignored). So the Red Mass will be one of the few occasions when it can all be seen - and with it some idea of the solemnity of the idea of law based on wisdom and justice.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Graham Greene...

...was the subject of a fascinating talk at the Catholic Writers' Guild last night. Speaker was Father Ian Ker, whose books include The Catholic Revival in English Literature. As always, it was a great evening - lively conversations over supper, good questions and discussion following the talk. Debate about Greene's beliefs - the great drama of his best novels focuses on the question of Hell for those who die in mortal sin, the Church's ministry of dispensing absolution, the hugeness of God's mercy which is beyond what we really deserve...Guild members present included writers, columnists, a young sub-editor who has dealt with some of my features for the Catholic press, a young visitor from Germany working on texts at the British library...all made for very lively and interesting discussions. Novelist Piers Paul Read who knew Greene well gave the vote of thanks.

On the way to St Mary Moorfields I stopped to enjoy a great pealing of bells at St Paul's Cathedral...various important-looking people were standing around on the steps and I ran up to ask one what was happening "It's the annual seafarers' service". Golly, I didn't know we even thought about seafarers these days...and how nice that the old name is still used on such occasions.

But few people stopped to watch the Lord Mayor arrive with mace and dignitaries and all the trimmings, and as I cycled away I felt vaguely sad - we still have the trimmings, and things are done in style, but the heart has gone out of traditional London events somehow.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

London's annual Rosary rally...

...takes place this Saturday, and has been advertised in parish newsletters across London, the suburbs, and the further afield, so there should be a good crowd. The procession starts at 1.45 pm from Westminster Cathedral, and ends at Brompton Oratory with hymns and Benediction.

It is remarkable that, while 150 years ago there might have been some controversy about Catholics marching a statue of Mary shoulder-high through Westminster and Kensington, today no one turns a hair. In fact, people rather like it - if they notice the procession at all (and many people are so used to various groups in today's London that they barely remark on yet another one) it is generally with mild interest and pleasure. Whereas, if we walked through the streets with banners affirming that two men can't marry one another, or that babies shouldn't be deliberately killed by abortion, we would provoke massive - possibly violent - opposition...yet 150 or even 50 years ago, such opinions were mainstream. A complete reversal of things. What a weird world this is at times...

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Auntie goes to Soho... give a talk to the excellent young people at the St Patrick's School of Mission. A great team, with students from China, Germany, and the USA as well as Britain. We prayed the Rosary together, as they do every day, in the little downstairs chapel before going into the big church for Mass. A little-known fact is that St Patrick's is home to a big Chinese Catholic community - the room where we lunched had lots of cheery Catholic posters and notices in Chinese and is host to the social gatherings after Chinese Masses.

Next week is a party to launch my new Yearbook of Seasons and Celebrations. I shall wear the beautiful new skirt sent to me by my sister in New Zealand, which I also wore for the Catholic Women of the Year Luncheon (see blog entry for a few days ago)....I know it's a bit daft to write about clothes on a blog, but this skirt really is a joy, all swishy and delightful, fits like a dream, and gives huge pleasure, and was commented on very favourably by other guests. As I not infrequently have a just-arrived-by-bike-sorry-I-look-a-mess appearance, it was gratifying to have a different feel...

In November I'm off to Bath where I'm speaking to Catholic groups at Bath and Bath Spa universities. I'll also be speaking at Prior Park School, as part of the Tamezin project on journalism.

An excellent report from Rome, at the ordination to the diaconate of a number of young men, including the son of friends of was evidently a glorious occasion. The North American College, where all the young deacons have been studying, now has more students than at any time in the last 40 years...

News today about the Holy Father having a warm and friendly meeting with Jewish leaders. A while back, I was sent some horrid anti-Jewish material, denouncing the Pope, from a group claiming to be Catholic. I am proud of our courageous Holy Father who quietly and prayerfully does the right thing and shows us how we should behave.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Brompton Oratory... magnificent in its solidity, standing appropriately next to the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. I spent all of Sunday morning there - and indeed part of Saturday evening too. I was handing out leaflets for the Towards Advent Festival (Sat Nov 3rd, Westminster Cathedral Hall...oh I know you are tired of having me mention it all the time...but be there!!). The Saturday evening Mass has the Schola of the London Oratory school - wonderful singing. The 10 am Mass has an excellent children's choir - both girls and boys - and then of course there is the famous professional choir at the big 11 am High Mass, all very glorious. Always lots of small children - there is a strong family feel to the 10 am Mass, and at the eleven o'clock small wriggling running-about children are awed into something like silence by the fabulous music and - if they are pointed towards the altar and given a chance to see things - by the candles and incense and so on.

I do wish parents would take advantage of some of the really lovely prayer-books and other religious items for children that are now available. It seems mean to bring them into church empty-handed, as Mass can sometimes seem long. The publishers at Second Spring have done a superb job with their beautiful Mass book by Susan Bateman - incidentally their website has lots of other very good things too.

Jamie has been in Rome, at the diaconate ordination of James M, son of some friends. He brought home the beautiful order of service, which has most interesting information about St Peter's and especially at high altar and the Chair. Mass has been celebrated there, and St Peter's successors have been there, all in an unbroken link, down all the years from the Church's first dawning years.

This afternoon an Autumnal walk with F., a friend visiting from Ukraine - we followed the trail of our local small river, the Beverley Brook, which sparkles along behind houses and in sudden culverts, and still forms the official boundary between the two local Boroughs, as it has done since Medieval times. We diverted to drop into the local Catholic church as I wanted to pick up a copy of the Catholic Times (my feature this week was about St Denis - why not just buy the paper and read my column each week, if you enjoy this Blog?). F. was impressed by the large numbers of young people as the place was very full.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Pottering in the kitchen...

...this morning, I heard the sound of a strumming guitar and young voices singing next door. It was not, to be frank, very good guitar-strumming. One found oneself vaguely allowing it to float into the brain...and I suddenly realised I was hearing the words "Christ is risen..Christ will come again..." and that the girl next door and some friends were practising something for Mass.

I'm not a fan of guitar-music in church - it doesn't work well, kills off the possibility of good congregational singing, usually has tunes that are trite and often words that are pretty soppy too (though these have marginally improved since the '70s). I would perhaps have been happier if I had heard young voices raised in a simple but beautiful Kyrie, a glorious rendition of the Credo, or just a fine old hymn with a good tune...but for all that...somehow...there is something mildly heart-lifting about teenagers singing about God in a suburban garden on a September morning.

Friday, October 05, 2007


... with some 250 other women...golly, the NOISE!! But the Catholic Women of the Year Luncheon is always fun, and this year I sat between Aghi Clovis, who is one of the four Catholic Women of the Year, and Sara Johnson, author and journalist, who was our guest speaker. Sara spoke extremely well, amusingly and frankly, putting the human and biological reality of marriage and children across in a superb analysis of why human beings need families. It was funny, forthright, and honest - and she murmured to me beforehand that some of it might be just a little too frank, and should she give a warning about this as there were some children present? We discussed, and I hurried off to warn the young mother of the children in question - who said breezily oh, not to worry, they very likely wouldn't be listening anyway, it would all go over their heads...and she was quite right. The boys, very cheery and looking v. nice in their best jackets and crisp shirts, were enjoying themselves and like most sensible children didn't bother about all the grown-up speeches at all.

The four Catholic Women of the Year included pub landlady Bridie Morrissey, Jo Norton a worker for seafarers with the Apostleship of the Sea, Ann Widdecombe MP - unfortunately unable to attend - and Aghi Clovis, already mentioned, of Human Life International. Chairman Jan Woodford presided, and there were speakers from the two charities we were supportinmg this year, Rainbow International - which helps children suffering bereavement or family break-up - and the Medaille Trust, which runs homes for victims of sex-trafficking.

There is always an atmosphere of goodwill, with people able to celebrate values that matter in a friendly and cheerful way... The Catholic Women of the Year are chosen from a vast number nominated, all with inspiring stories, and you realise just what a lot of goodwill there is around. They invariably dislike having their achievements paraded, but I can't resist mentioning Mrs Morrissey, with whom I had a lovely chat...her nomination had described so many quietly good things..helping out people in difficulties, taking in children needing care, running a prayer-group, and having an open-house at Christmas for anyone who might otherwise be alone...and Mrs Norton, whose work involves meeting ships and helping with the things matter to seafarers miles from home: phone calls, getting to a bank, buying neccesities for the next journey - and also arranging for them to get to Mass, to have rosaries, prayer-books, contact with the Faith, the knowledge that the Church is there for them even when miles out at sea...

Aghi Clovis is a great friend so it was a joy to be next to her at lunch. You simply must come and hear her speak, about her journey from Islam to the Church, at the Towards Advent Festival - Saturday November 3rd, Westminster Cathedral Hall.

Latest edition of VOICES, magazine of Women for Faith and Family, in the USA, arrives. If you enjoy this blog, you might enjoy some of the features I've written for the magazine, so try this link.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Traditional Catholic teaching...

... on marriage can be conveyed in new ways and has the power to inspire, especially if it's all seen in the fresh light of Pope John Paul's "Theology of the body". It is a privilege to be part of a team leading talks and discussions on this with young couples preparing for marriage in London. I was doing this on Tuesday with couples gathered at St Mary's Cadogan Street, Chelsea. Rain was lashing down, and it was rather exciting cycling there from Waterloo, across the river and round Parliament Square, up past Westminster Cathedral and on past the Royal Hospital (which is having a major rebuilding programme - giving our old soldiers good quality care, which they certainly deserve and have earned).

Earlier, I had had a gloriously long talkative lunch with a longstanding friend, C. - we first met years ago when I was editing the Roman Chronicle magazine, to which she contributed regular features. Over pizza and a series of cups of coffee, - and, in my case, a delicious piece of chocolate cake - we talked over a great many things ... gosh, what a gift friendship is! She also gave me a couple of religious medals - one shows Pope Benedict (of whom we are both huge fans) and the shrine of Our Lady at Altotting. Later, at Chelsea, the parish priest kindly blessed the medals for me and I am now wearing the Altotting one.

Monday, October 01, 2007


...Catholic church, dedicated to the Holy Ghost, is in a corner of an agreeable square and has a cosy feel on an Autumn evening. Busy parish, and a very young one, lots of families with small children. FORUM CHRISTI is a Sunday evening gathering for the late-teens-and-twenties. Good atmosphere, warm welcome, tolerance of my less than slick use of power-point in talk on Papa Benedict, shared enthusiasm for the subject, real engagement and interest, and several people bought my books!

John Pontifex was there, having just run a half-marathon around Tooting Common raising funds for Aid to the Church in Need (see yesterday's Blog - helping beleagured Christians in the Holy Land). He had gone home, showered, changed, and was at the meeting full of energy!

I had begun the day in my own parish, where there was a Fayre in aid of the young people going to World Youth Day. I bought some nice things for Christmas ( hidden now in cupboard. Makes one feel v. smug to be so well prepared this early) and chatted to two students from Wonersh seminary who were there for the day - most encouraging. There was also a most gratifying moment when a lovely reader of this blog told me she'd bought some of my crab apple jelly!

From there I cycled to Carshalton, where Mother and I had our usual agreeable Sunday afternoon walk and Tea - seagulls around Carshalton Ponds as they have flown in from the coast as Autumn gathers, children shrieking and squeaking on the swings and slides in the park by The Grove. After seeing M. on to the bus, I cycled off, following the Wandle river down to Mitcham. I have lived this this corner of the world from childhood but never followed the Wandle along this stretch - there's a whole area that is really semi-rural tucked in between Mitcham and Colliers Wood, lots of it, with suburban houses facing away from an enchanting river-path, and clear water gurgling along with trees and grassy areas...then you emerge into South London proper, and are back on that great road that was old in Saxon times, and today is all Asian shops, and a great Islamic centre, and lively cafes and street-stalls, and shops selling great sticky sweets after Ramadan.

After my talk at Balham I cycled all the way home, so I must have covered a good many miles in all. I passed what was my old office when I worked on the South London News - it's now an ordinary shop. It was shabby and tired when I worked there in the 80s, and there was a horrible scary basement reached by a trap-door, where the old back copies were stacked. No one ever went there except to haul up an old bound volume for research when writing the "fifty years ago" snippet each week. Huge spiders, and a dusty placard on the wall which, through its layers of grime, still read "Please leave this air-raid shelter as you would like to find it".