Saturday, 30 June 2007

Protomartyrum Sanctae Romanae Ecclesiae

Yesterday’s Feast of SS Peter and Paul, though a celebration for the whole Church, had a particularly Roman slant. One of the ancient hymns for the Feast has the lines, ‘O Roman felix…Rejoice, O Rome, this day; thy walls they once did sign/ With princely blood, who now their glory share with thee./ What city’s vesture glows with crimson deep as thine?/ What beauty else has earth that may compare with thee?’

Rome can also ‘rejoice’ in the multitudes of martyrs who suffered around the time of the two Apostles. We celebrate their witness today, particularly remembering the great persecution under the Emperor Nero, who held the Christians responsible for the great fire that engulfed the city in July AD64. The fire had raged for seven days and destroyed some two-thirds of Rome. The Emperor had been slow to react and showed great delight at the tragedy, famously taking his harp and reciting Priam’s lament over the burning of Troy. This led to the popular belief that the Emperor himself had ordered the fire for his own entertainment. However, official blame was deflected from the Emperor on to the Christians, and hundreds were seized, tortured and executed. According to the Roman historian, Tacitus:

In their very deaths they were made the subjects of sport: for they were covered with the hides of wild beasts, and worried to death by dogs, or nailed to crosses, or set fire to, and when the day waned, burned to serve for the evening lights. Nero offered his own garden players for the spectacle,…indiscriminately mingling with the common people in the dress of a charioteer, or else standing in his chariot. For this cause a feeling of compassion arose towards the sufferers,…because they were victims of the ferocity of one man.
The picture at the top of this post is a statue of St Praxedes (from her basilica of Santa Prassede) who, together with her sister, St Pudentiana, collected the bodies of the early Roman martyrs and prepared them for burial. The statue shows her squeezing a sponge, soaked with the blood of the martyrs. The two sisters (whose mother, St Claudia, is thought to have been a Briton) were friends of SS Peter and Paul, though they themselves escaped martyrdom.

We also commemorate the first Successors of Peter, all of whom were saints and martyrs, and whose names can be found in the First Eucharistic Prayer: Linus, Cletus and Clement.

Indeed, over the first centuries of the Faith, Rome produced an astonishing crop of martyrs, men, women, and children willing to pay the ultimate price. Many of them are household names, like little St Agnes (aged 13 when her throat was cut by executioners), the soldier St Sebastian (normally shown in art pierced with arrows) and St Lawrence (famously grilled to death). But there are many who are known only by name and re-discovered from the sixteenth century with the exploration of the Roman catacombs.

The blood of the martyrs certainly proved to be the seed of the Church of Rome.

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Wednesday, 27 June 2007

St John Southworth

Today, in the Archdiocese of Westminster, we keep the memory of St John Southworth.His significance for the diocese lies in the discovery of his body at Douai in 1927 and his subsequent translation to Westminster Cathedral in 1930. I posted an item on the discovery of his body last year, and Mgr Langham has some good pictures on his blog, including the one above (I hope he doesn't mind me 'borrowing' it). Note that the martyr's consecrated hand is priestly even in death since his thumb and forefinger are joined together (as the rubrics required for the period between the Consecration and the ablutions after Holy Communion).

Southworth acts as a representative figure for the many priests who courageously worked in London in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, at the risk of imprisonment and execution. Southworth originally hailed from Lancashire and began his studies at Douai in 1613. As a priest, he spent time in Flanders and Lancashire, as well as London, where he helped St Henry Morse care for plague victims in 1636. He spent several years in prison, and was finally executed on 28th June 1654, together with two counterfeiters.

At Tyburn, the martyr said: 'I was brought up in the truly ancient Roman Catholic apostolic religion, which taught me that the sum of the only true Christian profession is to die. This lesson I have heretofore in my lifetime desired to learn; this lesson I come here to put to practice by dying, being taught it by our Blessed Saviour, both by precept and example. To follow His holy doctrine, and imitate His holy death, I willingly suffer at present; this gallows I look on as His cross, which I gladly take to follow my dear Saviour'.

St John Southworth, pray for us!

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Sunday, 24 June 2007

The English Franciscan Martyrs

In case anyone is interested, here is the text of my talk on the Franciscan martyrs, which I gave at Christ Church Greyfriars (the site of London's medieval Franciscan house - above).

If we were standing here in 1507 rather than 2007, the first thing you would have noticed was the smell. It’s no accident that a nearby street was called Stinking Lane (now King Edward Street) because this was the butcher’s quarter, and it was consequently considered a rather undesirable area.

Just the sort of place, you might think, for the humble sons of St Francis, who established a house here in 1225. They soon attracted the attention of many rich benefactors and a large church was built in the first quarter of the fourteenth century: 300 feet long and boasting at least eleven chapels. The rose garden, on the other side of the tower, roughly occupies the site of the choir of this church. Where we are standing now was the nave; so we would not have been in the open air but in a large gothic church, near the altars of the Holy Cross, St Mary and St Louis.
Two Queens of England were buried in the church: Marguerite of France, second wife of Edward I, and Isabella, widow of the unfortunate Edward II. These two Queens spent the princely sum of £2,100 on the choir of the church alone. The heart of Eleanor of Provence, wife of Henry III, was also interred here. This shows the great prestige that came to be attached to the London Greyfriars. And if we remember that this was just one of 73 Franciscan houses in pre-Reformation England, we can appreciate the Order’s importance in this country.

Of course, the London Greyfriars has long disappeared. The friary was emptied at the Reformation and the great medieval church and much of the monastery buildings (later used by Christ’s Hospital) were destroyed in the Great Fire of London (1666). Christopher Wren’s smaller replacement church was itself destroyed in the Blitz of 1940 – its remains now form the walls of the rose garden. But, if the buildings and friars themselves have gone, the memories linger. For the next few minutes, I invite you to pause and listen to the voice of the past.

The community here at the London Greyfriars did not provide any martyrs at the time of Henry VIII’s break with Rome. But it is worth remembering that the Franciscan Order provided perhaps the strongest opposition to the King’s divorce. As early as 1534, just as the crisis was breaking, two friars, Richard Risby and Hugh Rich, were executed alongside the ‘Holy Nun’, Elizabeth Barton, a visionary who had attacked the King’s divorce ‘in the name and by the authority of God’.

Another Franciscan to suffer for the Faith, Blessed John Forest, belonged to the Observant friary at Greenwich and was placed here under house arrest for several years. His house was strict and also highly influential, since it was next door to the royal palace at Greenwich. It was in the Franciscan church there that the future Henry VIII was baptised; as were all three of his children, the future Edward VI, Mary I and Elizabeth I. It was (probably) there that Henry married Catherine of Aragon. In 1513 the King had praised the Observants in a letter to Pope Leo X, saying that he could not sufficiently commend the Observant Friars' strict adherence to poverty, their sincerity, charity and devotion. How things would change!

It is little surprising that the Observants of Greenwich were so closely involved in opposing the King’s divorce. This placed them in grave danger. The Warden, William Peto, preached a sermon to the Court condemning the King’s divorce and predicting that black dogs would lick the blood of Henry, like King Ahab in the Old Testament. This was supposedly fulfilled fifteen years later as the King's body was taken to Windsor. Peto, unsurprisingly, had to escape to the continent, though, it is worth mentioning, he returned in Mary Tudor’s reign and was even named a Cardinal in 1557.

Blessed John Forest was less fortunate. He had acted as one of the confessors of Catherine of Aragon, who herself was a Franciscan Tertiary, and he was forthright in his opposition. After several years of imprisonment, he was tried for denying the Oath of Supremacy and condemned to death. On 22 May 1538 he was brought to Smithfield, not far from where we are standing now. A large crowd had gathered, including the bishop of London, the Dukes of Norfolk and Suffolk and the Lord Mayor. Forest made a brave confession of faith; according to one bystander:

That if an angel should come down from Heaven and show him any other thing than he had believed all his lifetime past he would not believe him, and that if his body should be cut joint after joint or member after member, burnt, hanged, or what pain soever might be done to his body, he would never turn from his old sect of this Bishop of Rome.
They hanged him from the gibbet, with a chain placed around his waist. They then lit a fire and placed on it a statue of a Welsh saint, Derfel Gadarn. Curiously, according to tradition, it had been predicted that this venerated statue would one day ‘set a Forest on fire'. ‘The holy man', we read, ‘beat his breast with his right hand, and then raised both his hands to Heaven and said many prayers in Latin, his last spoken words being, Domine, miserere mei: and when the fire reached his breast he spoke no more and gave up his soul to God'.

Many other Franciscans were placed in prison at this time – as many as two hundred, fifty of whom died in captivity. A few of these have been recognised by the Church, including theVenerable Anthony Brookby, a former Oxford lecturer who spoke against the King’s Supremacy and was imprisoned, tortured and eventually strangled in prison, the executioner using Brookby’s Franciscan girdle.

The English Franciscans continued, based in houses overseas, and many of them returned to England as missionaries; some paid the ultimate price. Two of them were included among the Forty Martyrs: the Welshman,St John Jones, who suffered in Southwark in 1598, and St John Wall, martyred in 1679, a victim of the hysteria following the Titus Oates Plot.

There is no time to look at all the Franciscan Martyrs individually, but I thought we might look at the group of English Friars who suffered in the 1640s: Blessed Thomas Bullaker, Arthur Bell, Henry Heath and John Woodcock. All of these, except Bullaker, were members of the newly founded English Franciscan House at Douai.

This group of witnesses were captured in different ways. Blessed Thomas Bullaker was apprehended while saying Mass in London – he had just reached the Gloria and was taken away in his vestments. Blessed Arthur Bell was arrested in Stevenage, Hertfordshire. As he was being interrogated, one of the soldiers exclaimed: ‘What! A Roman Catholic?', to which he replied, ‘How do you mean Roman? I am an Englishman. There is but one Catholic Church, and of that I am a member'.

Blessed Henry Heath had just arrived in England, disguised as a sailor and had even concealed some Catholic literature in his cap. In the spirit of St Francis, Heath refused an offer of speedy transport to London and chose to walk, begging his way. On the night of his arrival he could find no accommodation and was forced to sleep on a doorstep near London Bridge. When the owner of the house found him sleeping on his property he called the local constable and he was taken into custody. The papers found in his cap betrayed his identity.

All of them met death bravely. As Bullaker was leaving the prison he met Blessed Arthur Bell, who said to him, ‘Brother, I was professed before you. Why do you take precedence of me?’ Bullaker answered, ‘It is the will of God. But you will follow me'. When Bell’s turn came a year later, he embraced the executioner. Indeed, he had sung the Te Deum as sentence was passed at court. Woodcock had to endure being hanged twice, because on the first occasion the rope snapped.

There is a beautiful story relating to the martyrdom of Blessed Henry Heath. Several years previously, his aged father, John, visited him in Douai. So impressed was he that he not only converted to Catholicism but decided to remain at Douai as a lay brother. On the day of his son’s martyrdom, he saw a brilliant light ascending to Heaven and he knew at that moment that his son had paid the ultimate price. His premonition was proved some time later when the reports reached Douai of Heath’s death.

Just as the Franciscans provided some of the first martyrs, such as Blessed John Forest, so they produced some of the last confessors of the Faith. We think not only of St John Wall but the Venerable Francis Levison, who died in prison in 1680 after fourteen months imprisonment; we remember Paul Atkinson, who was perpetually imprisoned for the Faith in Hurst Castle in 1700 and died, still in captivity, 29 years later; we also recall Germanus Holmes, who died in Lancaster Castle in 1746, after the Jacobite rising.

We honour these brave witnesses of the Faith today, as we make this pilgrimage and follow their footsteps, now almost entirely hidden beneath the modern, bustling, secular city.

I said at the beginning that where we now stand was once the smelliest part of London, because of the nearby abbatoir. But now this has been replaced by the powerful odour of the roses in the nearby Greyfriars garden, a place of calm oasis in the midst of this busy city. How appropriate this is, because the blood of the martyrs has sanctified this land and been the seed of the English Catholic Revival for the last 200 years, which we now so take for granted. We do not forget our Martyrs – and we pray that we will imitate their example by courageously bearing witness to the Faith in the face of indifference and open hostility. Let us end with the prayer of the Franciscan, Blessed Henry Heath: ‘Jesus, convert England, Jesus, have mercy on this country; O England, be converted to the Lord thy God!’

The Franciscan Martyrs of England and Wales – pray for us!

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Saturday, 23 June 2007

A Walk in Honour of the Martyrs

Today I attended part of the Martyrs' Walk, organised by the Continuity Movement. The pilgrimage started at Tower Hill, the site of the martyrdoms of SS John Fisher, Thomas More and others, and ended at Tyburn Convent with Mass this evening. I was only able to meet them at Christ Church Greyfriars on Newgate Street, within the shadow of St Paul's Cathedral, and stay to give a talk, before dashing back to the parish for an afternoon of classes and meetings.

I had the honour of meeting Catholic Mom of 10, who can be seen in the picture below together, of course, with Auntie Joanna. 'Catholic Mom' won major brownie points by holding an umbrella over me when it began raining, halfway during my talk. Thanks, Jackie.

There were about 150 pilgrims making the walk, including four priests. It was wonderful to talk about the Franciscan martyrs in the open air, on the site of the nave of London Greyfriars - though I developed a repetitive thumb injury through having to press down the button on the walkie-talkie for 20 minutes! Still, it was nothing compared to what the martyrs suffered.

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Blair in Rome

Some interesting photos of Tony Blair at the English College, Rome on Hermeneutic of Continuity. It's strange to see the PM in the refectory where I ate for four years! Apparently it was a free weekend, which explains the otherwise suspicious absence of seminarians.

Whatever one thinks of Blair or his links to the Church (in spite of his poor voting record on moral issues), his visit was historically unprecedented.The young Gladstone visited in 1838 together, if I remember rightly, with the future Cardinal Manning, but Blair is the first serving PM to visit our national College in the Caput Mundi. Moreover, it is interesting that Blair chose the Vatican as the last stop of his farewell tour and gave the Holy Father, as a parting present, three period photos of Newman (a beatus-to-be?).

Perhaps the announcement expected on Blair's departure this Wednesday will reveal what he was up to.

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Thursday, 21 June 2007

Last Friday's Procession

As promised, here are some photos of last Friday's Corpus Christi procession at our primary school, courtesy of one of the teachers. In case any liturgical purists are tempted to leave copious comments about the number of candles or use of albs or the lack of kneeling in one picture or whatever, let me just say that we did our best with rather last minute preparation and in the absence of a proper MC. The children and parents seemed to have genuinely benefitted from it - especially the First Communion children, who you can see in their suits and dresses. The Headmaster has now requested that we have a regular Benediction at the school and the music master has just been asked to teach the children O salutaris, Tantum ergo and some Eucharistic hymns.


Wednesday, 20 June 2007

A Hidden Gem

Today, wearing my archivist hat, I gave a talk to Jill and Brett Kelly's group at their house in Evenley, Northamptonshire. The Kellys run a good Catholic library in their home and people come to the monthly meetings from near and far. They also sell books and I particularly enjoyed their 'bargain basement,' where secondhand books were available at £2 each (I picked up several Ignatius Press titles, mostly by Peter Kreeft). The Kellys (who have 17 grandchildren) made me think of penal times, when Catholic households and families provided such powerful centres of the Faith for the surrounding area.

On the way back to the station we popped into the charming little church of the Holy Trinity at Hethe, just inside Oxfordshire and the Archdiocese of Birmingham. Catholicism survived in this area thanks to the Fermor family of Somerton and Tusmore, who maintained a chapel and priest over many generations. The present church was opened in 1832 to look after the needs of local Catholics after the Fermor's estate passed into Protestant hands. It has just celebrated its 175th anniversary. From the outside it looks unprepossing:

It seats about 150 people, has a glorious presbytery next door and the sanctuary arrangement would undoubtedly meet with the Holy Father's approval:

I loved the little 'harmonium' at the back:

It's good to know these hidden gems still exist.

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Sunday, 17 June 2007

Martyrs' Walk

I'm currently writing a short talk I'll be giving next Saturday (23 June) at the site of London's medieval Franciscan monastery, Christ Church Greyfriars (near St Paul's Cathedral). This will be one of the 'stations' during the Martyrs' Walk, organised by Miles Jesu/Continuity Movement.

Hope to see some of you there, though I'll only be able to stay for my talk and then dash back to the parish for an Adult Confirmation class. The pilgrimage starts at Tower Hill (11am), will reach Greyfriars about 1pm and will finish with Mass at Tyburn Convent (5.30pm). For more details, click here.

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Saturday, 16 June 2007

Ceremonial City

What a great day to be in central London, as it was Her Majesty the Queen's official birthday and (even more importantly) the Feast of the Immaculate Heart. I celebrated the latter by attending a twin Ordination at Westminster Cathedral. There must have been 100 priests there to welcome into our ranks Fr Richard Nesbitt and Fr John Elliott - ad multos annos!

As I made my way to the Cathedral, I stopped off on The Mall, that great ceremonial road leading to Buckingham Palace. The Queen's Birthday Parade (Trooping the Colour) was finishing at Horse Guards and the crowds were expectantly waiting to see the stately procession return to the Palace.

The procession came in stages - first a small detachment of Foot Guards (above) and then The King's Troop, Royal Horse Artillery. Then it was the turn of two barouche carriages containing members of the Royal Family. Here is a picture of the Duchess of Cornwall and (partly obscured by her large hat) Prince William, wearing his Blues and Royal uniform.

Eventually the Household Cavalry appeared, with their magnificent mounted band. Centre of everybody's attention were the two Drum Horses, such as this one:

Then it was the turn of the Foot Guards, with their equally magnificent Massed Band - led by the splendid Drum Majors.

Her Majesty The Queen whizzed into view, accompanied by Prince Philip, dressed as Colonel of the Grenadier Guards. Since the crowd - including (mea culpa) myself - was so pre-occupied with taking photos on their cameras and mobiles, there was very little applause. I hope the Queen didn't think we were rampantly republican. It is perhaps unfortunate that we live in such a technological age.

The Princess Royal (Colonel of the Blues and Royals), the Duke of Kent (Colonel of the Scots Guards), and the Prince of Wales (Colonel of the Welsh Guards) were mounted on horses behind Her Majesty. You can the latter two in this picture (on black horses):

Behind came the Foot Guards, headed by their colour:

Various important-looking dignitaries closed the procession, looking forward, no doubt, to a festive luncheon:

Her Majesty's last duty was taking the salute for the last time at Buckingham Palace and then watching a fly past. Here you can just see the Royal Family assembling on the Palace balcony.

There's nothing like a bit of pomp and circumstance on a Saturday in June. Happy Birthday, Ma'am!

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Friday, 15 June 2007


Just back from our Eucharistic Procession at the primary school, in honour of the Sacred Heart and the Octave (!) of Corpus Christi. Despite the lack of an MC and a few last-minute panics, it went really well and the children were impeccably behaved - especially last Sunday's First Communion children, who were dressed up in their finery and preceded the Blessed Sacrament (while the rest of the school followed behind). The Headmaster was, luckily, happy to avoid the usual temptation of minimalising the liturgy for the perceived sake of the children. So, alongside the childrens hymns, we had old favourites like Sweet Sacrament Divine, and we kept to the traditional Rite of Benediction (in Latin). It is good for the children to be exposed to such things.

Of course, the Lord always comes to our aid in these special occasions, especially in providing a burst of sunshine as we processed outside and had open-air benediction. There was also a good flow to proceedings and the 50 minute ceremonial only felt as if it lasted 10 minutes - even from my sweaty perspective (and it DID get rather warm)!

Pictures to follow when I get them.


Thursday, 14 June 2007

A Gathering of Priests

Spent most of the last two days at our Pastoral Centre at London Colney for in-service training, which is now very much a feature of diocesan life. We were asked to reflect (alone and in groups) on our celebration of the Sacred Liturgy, based on three talks and readings drawn from various sources, including Sacramentum Caritatis.

It was particularly good, as always, to spend time with brother priests. Because there are so many priests working in London, there is always an opportunity to make new acquaintances, especially amongst the Religious. Despite what you read in some quarters, one realises just how many priests quietly get on with the cure of souls, without making a name for themselves or being linked to any particular 'conservative' or 'liberal' camp.

It was interesting, also, how many times the blogosphere came up in discussion, especially now that the blogs of Westminster priests have links on the diocesan home page.

Talking of which, I've just noticed that there is also an article on it about my current parish (Kingsland), described as the diocese's most diverse since we have at least 91 nationalities (and probably, therefore, over a hundred languages represented)!


Sunday, 10 June 2007

A Picture of Parish Life

I don't often write about parochial life and so, at the risk of boring you, allow me to write a little about the last 24 hours or so.

It's been a non-stop weekend, culminating with our First Holy Communion Mass this afternoon. This is, of course, one of the highlights of the parish year and the goal of much preparation and hard work. However, it was hard to fully enter into the joy of the occasion - especially because of the sweltering temperatures, which must have made priests up and down the country look rather miserable under their multi-layers of vestments!

Added to that was the usual problem of crowd control. The 55 children behaved very well and you could see the delight and excitement on their faces. The same did not apply to many of the guests, who seemed to be either lapsed or non-Catholic. Despite an announcement about Church etiquette before the Mass and regular reminders, there was a lot of noise and chatter. However, this is part of the 'First Holy Communion experience' and, with about 600 people packed into a hot and sticky church, largely beyond anybody's control.

A quieter moment was provided half an hour before the Mass. We realised at the last minute - due to some lack of communication - that two of the candidates had not yet been baptised! So it fell to me to correct that deficiency, trying terribly hard (but not very successfully) to avoid messing up their hair as I washed them in the waters of baptism.

Yesterday I had a rather edifying experience, showing the fruits of wearing a collar and being recognisable as a priest. As I walked past the bus stop near our church, a young lady asked if I was a Catholic priest and whether the church was Catholic. We started chatting and she asked if she could make her confession, since she hadn't been since the time of her First Communion, nearly two decades ago. So we went into the church and, on the way out, she asked about Mass times and whether she could join the choir. Such are the random meetings that fill a priest's life!
I had a rather late night since I was invited to the presbytery at Hackney (St John the Baptist) to celebrate the 5th birthday of the two resident dogs, Bosco and Tomas (boxers), who spent the evening slobbering over me. So I think I'll have a quiet and early evening to prepare for the coming week. Noctem quietam et finem perfectum concedat nobis Dominus omnipotens.

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Friday, 8 June 2007

A Modern Martyr

It was sad to read of last Sunday's murder of Fr Ragheed Aziz Ganni, a 35 year-old Chaldean priest, and three deacons as they were driving away after Mass in Mosul. A friend e-mailed to say that he was a student at the Irish College during my time in Rome, but the name didn't ring any bells.

However, when I saw his picture on the front page of this week's Catholic Herald, I recognised him from my six month stay at the Irish College in 2000-01 (when the Venerable English College was closed due to Legionnaire's Disease). Though I didn't know him well, I remember he always wore a clerical shirt and that he was proud of belonging to the Patriarchate of Babylon!

At his Ordination in October 2001, Fr Ragheed predicted that he wouldn't live more than two years as a priest. According to Asia News:

The target of a series of threats stretching back to 2004, he witnessed the pain of relatives and the loss of friends, and yet he carried on to the very end remembering that there was a sense to be found in that suffering, that carnage, that anarchy of violence: it was to be offered up. After an attack on his parish, on Palm Sunday last April 1st he said: “We empathise with Christ who entered Jerusalem in full knowledge that the consequence of His love for mankind was the cross. Thus while bullets smashed our Church windows, we offered up our sufferance as a sign of love for Christ”. “Each day we wait for the decisive attack – he said just weeks ago – but we will not stop celebrating mass; we will do it underground, where we are safer. I am encouraged in this decision by the strength of my parishioners. This is war, real war, but we hope to carry our cross to the very end with the help of Divine Grace”. And in the midst of the daily difficulties he himself marvelled at a growing awareness of “the great value of Sunday, the day we met the Risen Lord, the day of unity and of love between his community, of support and help”.
We honour the martyrs of the past - the martyrs of the catacombs or the English and Welsh Martyrs - but there are also martyrs amongst us. Bishop Rino Fischella used to read out in his Fundamental Theology lectures at the Gregorian University the names of alumni who had been martyred over the past twelve months. Fr Ragheed is the latest of these modern witnesses - and a new martyr of the Irish College, to join St Oliver Plunkett and his companions. Requiescat in pace!


Thursday, 7 June 2007

Ave Verum Corpus

It feels strange not celebrating Corpus Christi today. However, I did spent part of the morning at our Primary School organising next Friday's Eucharistic Procession. We'll be going round the corridors of the school and into the playgrounds, with some of the smaller children throwing petals before the path of the Sanctissimum. There will be Benediction in the new school garden. Prayers for fine weather, please!

Let me mark today by telling a rather quaint Blessed Sacrament story. Since visiting Bologna about seven years ago, I've been fascinated by St Catherine of Bologna (1413-63), whose incorrupt body you can venerate at the Corpus Domini convent. It's unusual in that it sits in the chair that the saint used in her lifetime ( the body is not fastened to the chair in any way):

After death, the body remained flexible and the nails continued to grow until the end of the sixteenth century. She also gave orders regarding the room in which her body was to be kept and its decoration.

Anyway, after several years her body was carried - still sitting in the chair - through the church to a room near the sacristy with an open window in the wall, where she could be more accessible to the pilgrims. As the body went past the tabernacle, it made a profound inclination (I suppose a genuflexion would have been rather awkward). An example to all of us about the honour and respect that is owed to the Real Presence!

(pictures - courtesy of the Santi e Beati site)

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Tuesday, 5 June 2007

The Ambrosian City

I've fallen behind in reporting about last week's Italian trip. On my return journey to Linate airport, I was able to spend four hours in Milan, a city that I had never visited before. In some ways, it's the Italian equivalent of London: modern, bustling, cosmopolitan, wealthy but also full of charm and history. This is, after all, the city of St Ambrose. I only had time to visit the Duomo. The gothic fantasia on the outside is a stark contrast to the dark and austere interior. In the crypt is the shrine of the great reforming Archbishop, St Charles Borromeo.

I was reminded that St Edmund Campion, St Ralph Sherwin and companions stayed with St Charles on their journey from Rome to England in 1580. The Archbishop wrote to the Rector of the English College, Rome, about how impressed he had been by their learning and discourse.

Another saintly Archbishop was Blessed Ildefonso Schuster (Archbishop 1929-54), who was a Benedictine and a most distinguished liturgist (some readers will be familiar with his 5 volume work on The Sacramentary).
On the way back to the station I popped into church where I found an interesting and very simple example of the veneration of relics. A triangular stand holds a small circular reliquary with a relic of Blessed John XXIII. A candle burns in front of it. I have a few similar small relics - so this provided with an idea for the future. Note the marble altar frontal with St Joseph:

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Saturday, 2 June 2007

A Victorian Curate

This is one of my predeccessors, Fr William Lewthwaite - a Cambridge graduate and former Anglican clergyman - who was curate at my parish between 1856 and 1874. I love his top hat and gloves!

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Friday, 1 June 2007

Three Nights in Stresa

I'm just back from a brief stay at the Collegio Rosmini in Stresa (an hour in the train from Milan), where I ploughed through 150 letters written by our first parish priest, Fr Lockhart (a Rosminian).

If the parish had been founded by diocesan clergy, hardly any letters would have survived - indeed, they wouldn't have been written in the first place since most of the Lockhart letters are to the Father General or Provincial. This makes Kingsland one of the most well-documented parishes of mid-Victorian London. Although I did quite a bit of work, the view from the archives window was somewhat distracting:

It shows part of Lago Maggiore (Italy's second largest lake), which stretches to Switzerland. The islands that you can see are the Borromean Islands (Isole Borromee), which still belong to the family of St Charles Borromeo.

On Tuesday afternoon the Rosminian archivist (an English brother - and a distinguished World War One historian to boot) drove me to the Institute's novitiate at Domodossala:

The Fathers here also care for the Sacro Monte Calvario, one of the nine Sacri Monti of Piedmont and Lombardy, which are UNESCO World Heritage sites. At Domodossola there is a Via Crucis made up of a series of stunning chapels, with frescoes and life-size statues.

But, I managed to defeat the temptation to do excessive sight-seeing and, for most of the time, only left the College archive in the evenings for a meal in a local trattoria.

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Italian Trains

I'd say I'm fairly experienced when it comes to using Italian trains - especially since I lived in Rome for four years - but travelling in Italy - and with Italians - is always nerve-wracking.

Take my seemingly straight-forward journey from Milano Centrale to Stresa on Monday evening. Firstly, to check the stops that a particular train is making you have to find a large yellow sheet listing all the daily departures - but there are only a few displayed even in the larger stations, and you have to make sure you're not reading the arrivals sheet by mistake.

Then you have to validate (or stamp) your ticket, making sure the machine you're using actually works: I stamped my ticket immediately on purchase but, once I got on the train, realised it had left no mark!

The train was due to leave at 19.25. Imagine my horror when the train started moving out of Centrale station at 19.10!!! Panic ensued and I asked a Mexican if the train was going to Stresa - he didn't know but did ask me if I was a Legionary of Christ! Finally a kindly man assured me that this was indeed the 19.25 train but that they were just changing engines and would return to the platform shortly.

Here I must confess that I chose to travel First Class, especially after the tedious flight with Easyjet (90 minutes late). The first class carriage was very comfortable and, best of all, the ticket cost EUR 6.80 - that's cheaper than a day travelcard in London AND it was for a journey of 87km. However, the first class compartment soon got rather full and noisy. I anxiously awaited the conductor, to double check that I was on the right train. When he came, 80% of the carriage emptied, as the second class ticket-holders went to their respective carriage!

Still, Italian railways are cheap and pretty efficient - and I got to Stresa in one piece and within half an hour of arriving was happily drinking some vino rosso and tucking into a calzone.


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